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Rappers vs. Internet thugs

Sometimes I wonder if the Internet is the worst thing to happen to rappers yet. Tipper Gore, Bill O’Reilly and the Hip-Hop Cops have nothing on the beast that is the Internet.

I know, I know, MySpace is supposed to be a super way to generate buzz and build a fan base. And yeah, the explosion of hip-hop discussion boards and blogs has dramatically increased exposure for artists. (Not to mention providing entertainment for the rest of us.)

But here’s why the Internet can sometimes hinder careers more than it helps: it levels the playing field. In days past, artists weren’t very accessible. Someone would have to put in a lot of work to get at them—i.e. stand in the rain at the backstage door, hunt them down in the mall or at their hotel or at the club, hang around for hours at in-store signings, write fan/hate mail, send a letter to the editor at a magazine. And most people aren’t willing to put in that kind of time or energy.  

As it stands now, Joe Public has instant access to hip-hop stars. All someone has to do is log on and find their MySpace page, and viola, the channel of communication is wide open. It isn’t just MySpace either. One can simply post a comment on a blog, discussion board, or fan site. (Artists skulk around online as much as the rest of us, and have been known to constantly google themselves, so regardless of where you post, chances are good that they’ll read it sooner or later).

Some fans use this new Open Door Policy to show love. (I’m guessing the Internet works extremely well for groupies and/or strippers looking to get naked in booty clap videos.)

But more often than not, the ones who actually bother communicating end up being (a) nutty Stans that are addicted to CAPS, (b) angry haters who can’t spell, or (c) bloggers who get a kick out of baiting artists. Basically, whatever random shit these folks can think up gets spewed into the atmosphere within seconds of them thinking it—and often anonymously. There’s no effort required and no filter to weed out the bullshit.

The result? Many, many meltdowns. More and more often, we’re hearing from artists that are massively fed up with the impact that net nerds are having on their public profile.

Take Fabolous, for example, who aired out his beef with “internet thugs” yesterday over at MTV News. Apparently, he’s pissed that a bunch of people put up false MS pages in his name. (Elliott Wilson isn’t the only one getting jacked for his identity.)

F-A-B-O responded with a diss track, “MySpace Freestyle.” (Since when did rappers start making diss records to get at music nerds?) The track gives voice to the frustrations a lot of artists are experiencing right now—frustrations that seem to be hitting a breaking point. “You shooting e-mails, you a Internet thug,” Loso raps. “You a MySpace addict, caught on Internet drugs.”

This reminds me of something Oliver Wang wrote a while back on his blog. “Nowadays, thanks to the Internet, there are no sacred cows, no artist is above being crapped upon. I’m not saying this is an improvement but clearly, something significant has changed. If artists like Jeru and Ice Cube (not to mention, um, J— G—) were pissed off at writers in the past, I can’t imagine what shit must look like as the blogger community gains even more influence and visibility. Bloggers these days write stuff that makes the criticisms of earlier writers seem like back rubs by comparison.”

Clearly, the Internet—be it MySpace, blogs, or discussions boards—is the best thing ever to happen to rap fans. But I have to wonder if it does rappers any good. I’m not sure if the web has the power to dead a career as of yet, but it’s got to be messing with rappers’ heads anyway. At the very least, you can bet that taming the Internet beast represents a giant headache for publicists everywhere.

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