I awoke this morning to find two interesting tidbits of hate directed at journalists; one that will go largely unnoticed by readers of this website, and one that should garner much attention. The internet is a fickle place, but not hard to predict in the slightest.
The less noticeable affair occurred when Paste Magazine pasted a less than stellar review for the band Hollowpaw's Academy Songs Volume 1. To be fair, it's not a band we've given much exposure to, so I cannot weigh in on the merits of said review, but in an interesting twist, Misra Records, the band's label, issued a press release chastising the publication for listening “to the concept album in the wrong order.” This is worth noting because, A: It drives straight to the heart of music-criticism and the “qualifications” of music “journalists.” I.e.—what makes YOU deserving to criticize MY passion? MY work? MY art? B: Whether the criticism is fair or not, the mass exposure the label is trying to achieve through negatively blasting the publication seems hypocritical in hindsight. And C: It received a rating of 7.0. As one who does not believe in assigning number values to rate art, I'm not sure what Paste's numerical scale is, but in most circles, a 7.0 is 3/4 good.
Which brings us to the very noticable beef that started yesterday between Meyhem Lauren and the big brother of music websites, Pitchfork.
First, the quick summary:
Pitchfork posted a 5.2 review of Meyhem Lauren's Mandatory Brunch Meetings mixtape. Kelly Kapowski might say it's a less-than-knowledgable review, but I'll leave that to our resident expert. Meyhem responded with a swift “FUCK PITCHFORK” that resulted in a steady stream of Twitter support, lambasting the “hipster elitists” for not understanding “real rap.” Then came the all-important diss track.
Now, at the risk of sounding discontent, it must be noted that Pitchfork, for better or worse, is the pinnacle of music websites; they get the all-important page views. But it also means they are the Wal-Mart to the countless mom and pop shops out there. I bring this up because, whether they want to bear the burden or not, the choices they make as music critics have an effect on everyone within this industry—most notably, the musicians they pan. Much like Wal-Mart's decision to carry or not carry a certain product can weigh heavily on its retail success (see: GUNS), a negative review from the website that garners the most eyeballs can quite literally be a career death sentence, especially if that artist's demographic resides somewhere along the line of Girls (either the band or TV show will do in this case).
At the heart of this discussion we also need to address the motive behind such criticisms. “Back in the day” Pitchfork reserved their best hatred for major label tripe that one would expect to see shit on. Yet as they've grown, so has their alignment with larger companies. Maybe the major label is something of a relic these days, but is the concept any different if they prop up an artist so he/she can reach the heights of a Target ad? As an “insider” it's easy to dissect these moves with a cynical scalpel, but the average reader doesn't detect these differences anymore than you or I can taste the difference between Cheerios and America's Choice Toasted Oats. All they know is that the independent, hard-working, “old-school” street rapper from Queens isn't worth the time, but major label prodigy A$AP Rocky is Best New Music. And this doen't even address the racial ramifications; to put it bluntly—and ironically—the “dangerous” black man with grills is much safer to stand behind than a soft-bodied, theory-spitting late 20-something who doesn't have a marketable persona.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. We've heard it all before. Everyone agrees a myopic view on music is bad, but we're all quick to suck at the teat of what will garner those all-important page views. The real question is, what music critic is going to grow a pair of balls as big as Meyhem and do something about it?
So let's discuss the review, shall we? I'll let Impose Senior Editor, and decade-long hip hop writer Blake Gillespie handle that:
I read the Mandatory Brunch Meetings review prior to Lauren issuing a feud via Twitter and dismissed it as poor within the opening sentence. No rapper has a flow I want melting in my mouth, not even Roc Marciano. The review was doomed from the jump and dug a grave deeper than six feet from the first shovel load. Pitchfork has made clear efforts to better its name in hip hop with hired guns that carry clout in rap reviews and championing the safe wins with Best New Music or an invite to festivals, but the Mandatory Brunch Meetings review was like reading a throwback article circa '08—the courtship years of rap on Pitchfork. A review that excelled in the art of cringe.
Criticize Meyhem dropping 17-tracks when it could have been 12. Criticize Meyhem for being too much of a posse-in-the-studio dude when it comes to crafting records. Criticize him on a hunch that he's taking minor cues from Action Bronson. Ask when he plans to let a record live purely on his own breath. Claim he's not challenging himself enough and that it's just taking the music a baby step further than Respect The Fly Shit (which only received a 6.0). Don't by any means criticize an artist for crafting a lack of identity, while disregarding his Lo-head obsessions, fine dining acumen, and clever way with words. Why would duality on record, the fun loving behemoth vs. raw Queens goon, be a setback and not an honest offering in a genre that is too often muddled with empty bravado and gilded persona? It wasn't Best New Music-worthy, but it didn't earn a shaming 5.2 either. They've placed an undeserving Scarlet Letter on his career, leaving “Fuck Pitchfork” as his only option, lashing out with a diss track to prove he's that raw Queens goon, rather than getting the invite to bless their Selectors video series. Jonah Bromwich wanted one or the other and Meyhem put a flaming lunchbag of dog shit on his doorstep.
Man, if only Mandatory Brunch Meetings got a 7.0 like those lucky bastards in Holowpaw.