The New Yorker on Shot 97

By now, most of the Internet nerds in the yard have already read the cringe-worthy New Yorker piece on Hot 97. Since Joey has a monster post up at Oh Word that does a great job of analysing the article, I’m going to keep this post brief. Obviously—despite making a couple interesting points—Ben McGrath steps on pretty much every landmine imaginable for a layman writing on hip-hop. So I thought I would point out some of those bad boys, for future reference and all.

Without further ado, here’s the top mistakes commonly made by mainstream press folks that try to cover hip-hop:

1. A tendency to over-explain. I am fully aware that the New Yorker’s readership is probably not familiar with the nuances of hip-hop culture, but they’re not freakin’ idiots. They don’t need every minute connection spelled out for them. Case in point: “’Then, after I got a sandwich and came out of the store—da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da!’ Gravy told me later, mimicking the sound of gunfire.” Oh, really? Is that what he was doing? Who knew?

2. Condescending use of quotation marks. No need to play the role of smug cultural translator.

Gravy’s own words—his rhymes—are less jarring, by comparison, tending to fall safely within the established motifs of gangsta rap: boasting of sexual prowess (one’s “bitches”), complaining about “dick-riders” (i.e., copycats), declaring war on the police, and laying claim to neighborhood terrain… He drew a distinction between “the hood” (where “not a lot of dudes got computers in they cribs”) and “the streets,” a larger, amorphous space where public opinion crystallizes.

3. Jumping all over the sensational elements of the story. Thus, you don’t have a relatively unknown mix tape rapper named Gravy. You have:

…a former drug dealer named Jamal Woolard, from the Lafayette Garden housing projects, in Bedford-Stuyvesant… whose songs include “Drugs, Drugs, Drugs,” “Get Wet, Get Wet,” “I Know, I Know,” and “Murder, Murder”

4. Mixing rap names and government names in a way that implies criminality. Jayceon (The Game) Taylor? Nobody cares what his Mom calls him. To the world he is The Game. Stating his name like that is reminiscent of police reports and America’s Most Wanted.

5. Referencing, at least once in the article, the Chuck D comment about hip-hop being CNN for black people. Seriously. Chuck has said other things since then. Lots of people in hip-hop have. Time to retire that one and go for something fresh. I beg you.

One pitfall McGrath managed to avoid? Outdated slang-jacking.


Since it’s Ether Week ‘round here, I’m going to have to lob a few shots at the anonymous jerk-offs in the comment section. Last time I checked, pointing out that I am white, Canadian and female doesn’t constitute a convincing counter-argument to anything I’ve written. Your hater game is très weak. Man up and hit me with decent debate, or else take your ball and go on home. You can keep your lurid little fantasies, too. I could not be less interested.

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  • Bol

    >Your hater game is très weak.

    That’s Canadian for weak.

  • Lennox

    Bol you dumbass thats french for “very” weak… I hate you so much with your perfectly spherical basketball head…

  • Joey

    >”smug cultural translator”

    Spot on. Well said, and thanks for the shout.

  • B-EZ

    I dont know Tara, I think the writer of the article was going for subtle sarcasm.They were mocking rap and its lingo in general just like white hipsters tend to do.

  • Pingback: » Tara Henley dissects the New Yorker’s article on Hot 97 - XXL

  • Joey

    B-EZ, aligning himself with the disingenuous hipsters is not much of a defense for the author, you know?

  • rafi

    ^^ What’s up with the trackback to an empty XXL page? What’s that all aboot, eh?

  • Dude

    >Your hater game is très weak.

    That’s Canadian for weak.


  • DJ Main Event

    spot on as usual.

  • Meka Soul

    and thus [yet] another disparaging article about hip-hop culture. why dont they talk about something about hip hop that isn’t uber-violent….



    well, at least shaq isn’t dropping any new albums.

  • Paul

    Thanks for establishing the rules of who can and can’t write about hip-hop. Am I allowed to? Is this illegal right now?

  • Busters Mom

    Maybe that self-important D-Bag should read the “self-hate” article by your colleague.

    Way to go, sticking it to the “fruit-flies.”

    *Paul* I see you got the memo for Homo/Self-centered/Anti-Depressant Mixing/Mommas Boys about how Tara Henley is now making Laws for people who take journalism personally.

    You are a 13 year old hippy aren’t you?!
    Get a grip.

    Why don’t you just write “YOU AREN’T THE BOSS OF ME!” and Yes, that you ARE allowed to do.

    f’ing baby.

  • khal

    >>>…a former drug dealer named Jamal Woolard, from the Lafayette Garden housing projects, in Bedford-Stuyvesant… whose songs include “Drugs, Drugs, Drugs,” “Get Wet, Get Wet,” “I Know, I Know,” and “Murder, Murder”

    Does each title repeat a word/phrase?

  • A^G

    Just checked the article:

    “to perform in an improvisatory freestyle session”

    Say what? Improvisatory? That’s not even English is it?

  • TSF

    The New Yorker should stick to writing about rich crusty white dudes in the Hamptons and stop trying to be “hip.” As far as you point #1 goes, could the tendency to over-explain (which Ben McGrath isn’t the only one guilty of, obviously) not be aimed at the reader, but rather be the result of the author’s own lack of fluency with his/her subject matter?

  • Drew

    Considering that the majority of the people who read the New Yorker know absolutly nothing about hip hop culture I thought the article did a decent job and didn’t “over-explain” anything. For most of the readers the last time they read anything about hip hop was probably some op ed piece in ’95 about the “east coast/west coast war”.
    And I didn’t see the use of quotation marks as condescending, they were all direct quotes from gravy, so whats condescending about using the guy’s own words. If he didn’t want to come off like that then he souldn’t have said that ignorant shit in the first place.
    As for the “implying criminality”, if these rappers portray themselves as criminals in their rhymes, what right do they have to complain when the journalists who cover them do the same thing? So only Game can portray himself as a drug dealing killer? When the media does it then its wrong?
    And every journalist jumps all over the sensational elements of ANY story, thats what sells. And wtf is so sensational about giving some background on the guy anyway to put his life in context?
    Was there an overall condescending tone throughout the whole article? Sure, in some parts there were. But you’re grasping at anything you can find to critique it, and just being way too sensitive. It didn’t trash the hot 97 and violence in hip hop situation anywhere near as much as it could have.

  • B-EZ

    I wasnt defending the author per se,just noting that it probably wasnt some elitist 50 year old white guy with no idea about hip hop culture writing the article.more likely a young white hipster poking fun at the obvious ridiculousness of Gravy’s persona and “shooting”.Theres no reason for us to have a problem with someone taking subliminal shots at a rapper named Gravy, who probably had himself shot for publicity,either.yea the articles smug, but seriously, look at the song titles.We’re inviting ourselves to be mocked by humoring this wack shit.

  • Samhain Misfit

    Once again, you focus on ridiculous things like commas, the “tone” of the acticle, The Games real name etc, etc, wile ignoring the absurdity of the whole situation…HELLO ??

  • verbz

    don’t know what these other peoples is talkin about. you write well. keep doin your thang. check out our music…


  • Rey

    B-EZ writes: “We’re inviting ourselves to be mocked by humoring this wack shit”


  • dj madwax

    “I hate you so much with your perfectly spherical basketball head…”

    this made me LOL

  • d.GUTTA

    i co-sign with Drew and B-EZ.
    (would a “no-homo be appropriate here?)

  • Here Comes The Hot Sauce

    Tara, Ben McGrath is a cockboy, but you’re an idiot for #4. That’s a simple rule of journalism. Print real names and ages. I know you live in the glorious world of sloppy blogging where anything goes, but if one is to contribute to a magazine or newspaper of any real calibre (XXL included, FYI) it is necessary that you get the facts in there. If the New Yorker wrote a story about professional wrestlers you better believe that they would print their real names and ages.

  • twerkolator

    i didn’t know you were white. i just thought you was lights-skinnded. whatever, you’re a cutie-pie nonetheless (and your blog is pretty good too)…

  • I Fux

    Dude was definitely mocking Hip Hop “slang” like most white hipsters walking around saying words like fresh,dope,fosheezy, etc… but with a sarcastic white news reporter tone to their voice… straight up suckas they are, by they I mean crackas

  • Tyler

    Niggas, it’s they mag. They can chop it up, away they want 2 U dumb fucks. We lucky they even speaking on us at all yo. Any press is good press.

  • Global Macro

    …paging the O RLY owl…

  • Mikey Ess AKA SukedowN


    1. I would have to disagree; I believe that he was rather efficient throughout the article.

    Couldn’t you have found better support? He used 5 words to define the action in which Gravy was verbally illustrating.

    2. Again, very poor example. The author can safely assume that the readers will have very little to no knowledge of hip-hop culture. Therefore, these types of explanations are needed.

    3. I don’t like how many writers do this. However, in the second sentence of any piece as long as this one, you are going to need to grab attention any way you can. And after having done that, the author preceded to quite objectively describe Gravy and his experience at the building.

    4. As Drew aptly pointed out above, a rapper like Game does an effective job of painting himself as a criminal. As a matter of fact, he let MTV camera crews follow him and his gang around in his hood. Furthermore, if we are to take him at his word in his raps, he is indeed a criminal.

    5. I’m not sure how you interpeted this, though I assume in a negative light. Here is the real quote:

    “Chuck D. famously called rap “CNN for black people,” and, to the extent that the analogy has merit, a more precise application might be Hot 97, which, like the first cable news network, has struggled with an identity crisis in the face of declining ratings.”

    The only reason he uses this quote is to to set up a more accurate example (replacing CNN with Hot 97). Also, he implies that Chuck’s quote itself is not necessarily accurate.

    My question for the commenters is: Did anyone actually read the real article? It is amazing how many of you say how “on point” or “spot on” her response to the article is, when in fact it seems to me another sightless defense on anything that doesn’t celebrate hip-hop culture in all its glory.

    The first 2/3 of the artice was very informative and constructed very well. I failed to read the last 1/3 of the artice, due to symptons consistent of those diagnosed with ADD.

    “Class dismissed”

  • thoreauly77

    i just finished reading the article ( i did a couple rails of coke so as to keep up my concentration mikey) and the simple fact of the matter is that the article IS insulting. yes, informative, yes well contructed….. sort of, but definitely insulting. as far as the readership of the new yorker being predominately white/male, i would imagine that is true, but it does not negate the fact that we are almost 30 years deep into hip-hop and it is not a cultural anomaly anymore, in fact it is the most influential and provocative culture thriving today. mikey, you should realize that assumtion is the mother of all fuck-ups. furthermore, you shouldnt get so upset just because you are indeed a white hipster and are feeling a bit vaginal. the article, regardless of how much knowledge anyone has of hip-hop, was biased, not only insulting the culture but also the assumed audience of the new yorker.

    class resumed.

  • Lindemann

    Much worse than the Hot 97 article was the article on the Trackmasters that appeared a while back, which I ethered here:

    I thought the Hot 97 article was pretty good, actually. The article was kind of condescending, but all articles in the New Yorker that aren’t about Democratic politicians or “high” intellectuals are kind of condescending. It’s not just hip-hop.


    you’re white, canadian, female and… old.

  • guy

    Tara you look like you might be a dime but i cant really tell cuz of how small your picture is on here.You got a myspace or sumthin where we can see some better pictures of you

  • lavicious porterhouse

    mcgrath didn’t make mistakes, he wrote the article how he wanted to. was it condescending? sure. but i’ll be goddamned if i feel the need to ride for a lame rapper who shot himself in the ass as a promotional stunt just because the rotund blob of a man floats around in the same hip-hop universe within which we exist.

    bottom line, this was a story that should have been covered in an urban publication…but wasn’t. so, in order to get a well-researched article about something of import and interest to hip-hop, we’ll just have to withstand a “outsider” writer pulling quotes that make miss jones look like idiots.

    the blog on ohword about this is exceptional. the one above, not so much.

  • Gutta

    first, “Bol you dumbass thats french for “very” weak… I hate you so much with your perfectly spherical basketball head…”…is funny as shit.second,tyler sound ignorant.third, i believe you can have this arguement all day about the intentions the writer had on bringing the story out or whatever gramatical error were made and i agree with mikey in that rappers put themselves out there to be criminals so yes ppl will call them criminals but i dont know of any rappers who actually wanna be successful and still do dirt in the streets. i would imagine the whole point gravy trying to launch a career as a rapper is to get out of the streets and out of a life of crime,so i dont think anyone trying to better themselves should be “labeled” as a criminal but it shouldnt matter since alot of the these “gangsta” rappers claim to not care about commercial success or want mainstream attention. last, its all a matter of opinion on what the writer was trying to do but more seriuosly why would someone purposely have themselves shot just to create a buzz?? crazy if u ask me.

  • Mikey Ess AKA SukedowN


    Until yesterday, I hadn’t realized the extent that hip-hop bloggers attempt to brainwash their readers.

    It seems that many hip-hop bloggers really have some sort of agenda, not unlike cable news channels or various national newspapers; however much less significant on a much smaller scale.

    Is it out of vain? Contempt for culture not parallel with hip-hop? Some other reason I am not aware of?

    The Oh Word piece linked up top was not only based off misinterpetation, but also more redundant than the article in which it berates.

    Peep: (4th paragraph @ Oh Snap)

    “According to this hip-hop fan, the primary reason why hip-hop writing in The New Yorker fails is that the wrong people read the magazine.”

    This quote negates the whole purpose of his retort.

    Is he suggesting that the New Yorker shouldn’t print stories of which its readers aren’t familiar with? Or that hip-hop stories can ONLY be written in hip-hop publications?

    I don’t recall any successful magazines that don’t print stories which are outside the knowledge of their fan base.

    I don’t see how a hip-hop story could have been presented to an unfamiliar audience much better.

    As far as the alleged condescending tone of the article, I see it but I don’t see it. Considering the gripe is legit: So what? If it is condescending, it is the inherent nature of affluent whites vs. hip-hop community (tha fuck yoo thank, jack?).

    I’d say it is considerably worse when when the writers themselves are condescending toward their readers. You may note that including this blog, 4 out of the 8 blog writers on XXL think that their sh*t smells sweeter than their readers’.

    What is worse: A writer’s cockiness towards subject matter or the readers who pay their salaries?


  • Epitome

    Considering this dude was a complete outsider, it’s pretty bad that an outsider article written for an audience of mostly well off, middle-age liberal urban sophisticates, is actually better than much of what passes for Hip-Hop journalism these days. Or for that matter, always passed for Hip-Hop journalism.

    But definitely word to the people @ That place is the shine of Rap on the net & definitely the exception to the rule.

  • hannah smith

    You’re an idiot – basicallly all your points relate to things like grammar, literary construction (Elements Of Style standards) and the New Yorker’s house style.

    That was one of the best mainstream pieces of rap writing for years. But what would you know – you’re contributing to the most distasteful and uncritical hip-hop magazine ever.

  • ColeSlaw

    yea, Tara — she knows. Note the Winnepeg Parka. I wonder if she’s ever seen a black person?

  • \sjios\deio\shnd

    bol needs to take a leaf outta ur book

  • freddiejackson

    whats wrong with the da-da-da-da explanation comment? it was only one line. and the readers might have thought gravy had burst into song at that point, rather than imitating guns. nothing that wrong with that. all it is is that you hip hop writers get all sensitive and nitpicky when some mainstream or high brow writer covers the music, not always necessarily

  • Duncan

    Is it me or was your “analysis” of this actually well-written and interesting article ten times more smug and condescending then McGrath’s actual article?

  • Duncan

    The one thing that gets me about this new generation of “blogger/journalists” like Tara Henley is the antagonistic lack of understanding of how actual journalists and publications work (as opposed to blogs, where any idiot can pretty much say anything and have it “published” without any input from an editor). Even if McGrath didn’t need to explain everything to his readers (he does-think of the non-profit employee lady in the article who works at Hot 97′s building-that’s who this article is being read by), his editors at the notoriously tight-assed New Yorker would make sure that anything that might potentially be unclear to some of its readership be clearly explained. Hence the tendency to “over-explain” what’s obvious to a hip-hop blogger. If this guy did so much of a worse job covering this issue then the hip-hop publications that view themselves as defenders of the culture, then how come they didn’t uncover the part about how the Construction union has just as shady and gangster-ish of a past as Hot 97?

  • ramona

    i enjoyed the new yorker story and firmly believe, as others have stated that often the best hip hop “exposes” are done by those outside of the culture- because the writers have nothing to prove and arent shameless sycophants. AND they’re been taught how to write. as someone who has written extensiveley for the ‘mainstream’ (read that as white)and rap/music press, including xxl, you HAVE to explain things to an audience that is not checking for music or hip hop.Its called journalism. there’s nothing mcgrath did that any good reporter/writer wouldn’t do, that is put the event in a context that a civilian can understand. the new yorker is not a zine- it is a well regarded general interest magazine and if the writer had utilized jargon and come off as being doper than thou and oh so hip then im sure miss henley would be up in arms about that. distance from one’s subject is often a godsend. It was in this case. he was not preaching to the choir- he was attempting, extremely well, to tell a story that is totally unknown to 99 percent of the country. Give the man credit- focusing in on the labor unions’ own security probelms- made the story much more even handed and understandable. Blogging is great but being a writer is more important and knowing how to research, present and make a story accessible to everyone is key- even writing for xxl i have to work under the assumption that someone is going to not know every little insidey detail. we are communicators not part of some cool insider clique. ben mcgrath should be congratulated for a fine, fascinating story. his obligations is not to make rap fans happy- it’s to give information in an informative interesting manner. he did just that.

  • Duncan

    word to what Ramona just said.