Most hip hop journalists these days fall into two camps, neither of which has much to do with journalism.
The first camp includes press release aggregators and groupie types who act more like publicists than journalists. These writers attend all the right parties, score all the right interviews, blindly co-sign “hot” artists, post new singles as soon as they receive them and act as virtual mouthpieces for record labels, never questioning the direction of the culture or the artists who represent it.
They invite readers to look, listen and click, but not think. When confronted about the ills of hip hop, these “journalists” will make endless excuses in defense of rap and why they aren’t addressing deeper issues in their reporting – and they have to make these excuses, because their livelihood and status depend on rap’s popularity.
On the other end of the spectrum are “cultural tourists” at so-called hipster magazines. These writers know little about hip hop as a culture, have only scant association with the community it springs from and subconsciously gravitate toward ignorant strains of rap because they’re more comfortable with black stereotypes and caricatures than real people.
These are the writers who say that lyricism is overrated, that authenticity doesn’t matter, that hip hop is neither a cause of community problems nor a solution for them — it’s just music that can be analyzed in a vacuum, as if it has no roots in reality. Their faux intellectual coverage of hip hop is the equivalent of reporting on prison inmates while ignoring the fact that they’re in captivity.
These hipster publications generally have white supremacist values that manifest in the music they support – though they will deny this fact at any opportunity — so it’s no surprise they fully endorse rap that involves black people destroying themselves.
And somewhere between these two extremes of no critique and biased critique lies informed and balanced reporting – a thoughtful, in-depth analysis of hip hop that reflects an intimate understanding of the culture without a desire to be every hot rapper’s best friend. Though rap music desperately needs this type of critical analysis, only a select few actually engage in it.
Rap’s downfall and rap journalism’s silence
No genre of music has experienced a more dramatic negative shift in values and content over the past 30 years than hip hop. A once-powerful form of self-expression for marginalized communities and a cultural force with the power to pick up where the Civil Rights Movement left off has become a corporate-controlled onslaught of destructive messages and negative black stereotypes.
Among the most damaging of these stereotypes is the image of the ignorant, criminal black man – an image invented during slavery as a means to justify brutality, violence and subhuman treatment of blacks, and one that helps to get black boys like Trayvon Martin profiled and killed in the here and now.
And yet the majority of today’s “journalists” say nothing.
At typical hip hop publications, you’ll see articles about Ja Rule getting released from jail, but not about rap music being used as a tool to fill private prisons.
You’ll see puff pieces about Meek Mill rising up the Maybach Music ranks, but not commentary on MMG boss Rick Ross pushing a fake criminal lifestyle while the drug dealer he stole his identity from has not only recanted but works to expose the CIA’s role in flooding the black community with crack.
You’ll read articles praising the minimalist lyricism of Chief Keef, but never articles analyzing the kind of trauma a person would have to experience to make such violent, dystopian music before they’ve reached adulthood.
You’ll see spreads of half-naked women and hear tracks referring to them as bitches, hoes and expendable sex objects, but you’ll never read an analysis of how this treatment impacts the female psyche, fuels rape culture or contributes to the breakdown of healthy relationships in our communities.
Our music has been colonized and used as a weapon against us, but 95 percent of “journalists” look the other way or happily co-sign the most degraded aspects of hip hop because it reinforces their own privilege.
Though journalism as a whole has suffered in the Internet age, the decline of hip hop journalism has been by far the most extreme.
“If you see your communities being dismantled, gentrified, and subjugated, and you don’t say anything about the music you cover for a living and how their lack of accountability to that community is directly impacting … the endless cycle of violence, the objectification and denigration of our women, and the mirage of materialism, I have a problem it,” said writer Chris Williams in a Twitter conversation about hip hop journalism. “Everyone wants to be friends and not hold folks accountable for their foolishness and recklessness. And the artists who look like us continue to do more harm to us with the tool that was created to liberate us.”
So the problem with hip hop journalism is that it’s not really journalism.
Journalism requires getting close enough to cover a subject accurately and thoroughly while maintaining enough distance and independence to report on it objectively. Today’s “journalists,” by and large, do neither. It seems they’re too busy cut and pasting press releases or making their new Gucci Mane Tumblr backgrounds to comment on the fact that our culture is being destroyed.