No Country for (Old) Rap Men: Don’t Believe the Hypebeasts

Robbie of Unkut on why hip-hop journalism ain't what it used to be

Posted By Robbie Ettelson |

I’m not going to kid myself and pretend that rap music criticism was ever the pinnacle of journalistic integrity, since early rags such as Word Up! and Rap Masters were basically just a collection of Big Daddy Kane posters and crosswords about Heavy D, but things have gotten out of control to the point where celebrity culture worship has infected the ‘hip-hop’ media to such a degree that I can’t see any other cure than to set fire to its rotting corpse like this was the effin’ zombie apocalypse.

Some examples of current “breaking news” include Rihanna tweeting about whether or not she’s “dating” Chris Brown, pictures of Kanye’s leather skirt, descriptions of what Beyoncé bought Jay-Z for Illuminati Day Christmas and why Ice-T is mad at his hideous inflatable wife for taking photos in Las Vegas with random dudes wedging themselves in between her chesticles. Funnily enough, I could watch the E! Network daily show and see exactly the same stories.

Meanwhile, the Hipster Music Mafia that is Pitchfork and VICE seem to dedicate an inordinate amount of time to Rapsloitation features such as sending underage rappers like Chief Keef to gun ranges, instructional videos on how to sell drugs and an unhealthy obsession with Gucci Mane. “Edgy” huh? In between the TMZ rap coverage and rapsloitation lies the rest of the rap media, which is so hard on Kanye’s jock that even his weed carriers get headline coverage. Where did it all go wrong?

There was a time when The Source magazine actually ran features on issues bigger than who was dating Amber Rose and what kind of cereal flakes were discovered in Rick Ross’ beard. Political and social topics were addressed and debated along with album reviews and Q&As, reflecting that hip-hop was more than just music for a lot of people. It could be argued that as the public face of rap has morphed into a cross between WWE wrestling and Days of Our Lives soap opera, the hip-hop media is simply a reflection of that. But that would be a cop-out. There’s still a lot of hip-hop that addresses more than popping molly, but the race for pageviews has made less gimmicky rap a niche market.

Everyone who’s heard Roc Marciano’s new album appreciates its quality, but to the rap media and mainstream hip-hop radio he’s just another “minor league” artist who’s great at rapping but lacks a “complete story.” The program director at Hot 97 revealed on this week’s Combat Jack Show podcast that only records that “test well” are going to get major airtime in order to please the advertisers. But how can a Sean Price song score high in their market research if the market doesn’t have the chance to hear him in the first place? Talk about a vicious circle. Meanwhile most rap blogs only post music that every other blog posts, which largely counters the claims of old that music blogs were “the new A&R’s”.

Is there an easy fix to this problem? Not at all, but at least level-headed rap veterans such as Sadat X recognize the situation and have adapted themselves to this new climate. He offered his view of the “Rap Bubble” when I interviewed him this week: “Let’s just look at the last year. Inside the “Rap Bubble” you’ve got people ranging from Drake to Eminem to Jeezy. The Kanyes, the Jay-Zs. Every year they let two or three new people in. This year they mighta let A$AP Rocky and Chief Keef and Big Sean and Action Bronson. It seems like they were able to slip inside the Bubble. Only two or three new people get to wear that suit every year. Then you got a lot of people that gotta work beyond that Bubble. That’s when you gotta know your lane and how to work it. How to get out to Europe and keep your contacts going”. At the end of the day, the only way to stay immune to the bullshit is to work harder to find good music, support it when you do discover it and ensure that the hypebeasts of the hip-hop media are accountable for their actions to some degree.

Keep up with Robbie’s weekly ‘No Country For Old (Rap) Men’ here.

8 comments on “No Country for (Old) Rap Men: Don’t Believe the Hypebeasts

  1. There are a few blogs out thee that actually break new artists but the majority recycle everything, all trying to keep up their image of being up on the latest shit. Hopefully people will learn the power of digging through the web to find the good shit out there

  2. Good piece, but in paragraph 3, you talk about how The Source expended into topics outside of hip-hop music, and well…
    Honestly, I don't miss the days when The Source had giant fashion sections, generic news articles, movie reviews, Skymall-style pages that pitched the latest electronic gimmicks on the market, long, self-indulgent editorials that had nothing to do with hip-hop, video game reviews by people who knew nothing about the industry, etc. In the 90's, almost every page of a Source issue was compelling… Reviews I cared about, in depth articles on artists who I loved but got no other exposure, interviews with the legends… and as the magazine went into the 2000s, it got bigger, more mainstream, and less about hip-hop. Those were far from the glory days in my book. A cover piece on Biz Markie? Yes! A brief editorial on the beef between Krs One and X-Clan? Yes! But if I want multi-page articles on the president's foreign policy, I would go to Time or Newsweek or something. I don't really care what my favorite music reviewer thinks about the latest elections, I didn't want their uninformed film criticism, and I definitely didn't want a big sports section. Fuck all that shit. I don't want to see SOHH posts reviewing Crest whitening strips; and I don't care what ridiculously implausible conspiracy theory Funkmaster Flex believes in this week. That stuff's not progress.

    …But, apart from that, right on. 8)

    • I used to enjoy the features that focused on the bigger picture, such as the examination of the crack epidemic in the two issue special. Cross Colors photo shoots? Not so much.

  3. > The program director at Hot 97 revealed on this weeks Combat Jack Show podcast that only records that test well are going to get major airtime in order to please the advertisers.

    Good article overall, Robbie but I wouldn't exactly call this part above a 'revelation' on the part of Ebro. This has been a long-understood bedrock principle of how the programming at commercial radio works for at least the past two decades by anyone with even a passing knowledge of that world.

  4. Robthom on said:

    "the “Rap Bubble”"

    I didn't know that it had a name

    But I noticed that its only the same 4-5 people (drdreeminemkanyejayzrickross), sometimes re-arranged into arbitrary combinations that ever get talked about in mainstream rap media

    And good lord the comment sections!

    Thats why I only read blogs about old school rap and listen to new stuff thats alternative/retro

    Admittedly thats is no longer the voice of the streets that it once was

    So be it

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