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Rafi has an interesting piece up over at Oh Word right now, titled “What the Hip-Hop Media Thinks of You.” The post accuses the hip-hop media of treating its audience as if they are stupid, gullible, savage, petty, disconnected and confused, and drives home the fact that media coverage has replaced music as the main product of hip-hop culture. It’s a ridiculously on-point critique—and long overdue—but the target is off. 

It’s true that online hip-hop is mired down in bullshit right now.[1] But I’m not sure that the hip-hop media is to blame.

Let’s be honest, the online world and the media are not the same thing. At all. For some time now, the web world has served as a satellite to the industry, orbiting the music biz constantly, but rarely having direct contact with it. Media folks, by and large, are part of the media community. They have jobs. They have business relationships. Particularly in New York, L.A. and Atlanta, they’re likely to have face-to-face interactions with the artists they cover. As a result, the media is tame in comparison to what goes on online. I can’t imagine any magazine printing the sort of thing we regularly post on blogs. And yet, in the wake of the blog explosion, these same magazines are now giving us bloggers unprecedented levels of creative freedom to do our writing on their websites. Is it their fault that we go and use that freedom for the sole purpose of talking shit?

As I see it, there’s three factors responsible for the mania that is online hip-hop right now:

1. The medium
Online heads’ hunger for content is driving hip-hop coverage right now (and music/pop culture in general). People want news, opinion and music instantaneously. The news cycle has been shortened from monthly, to weekly, to daily—to hourly. Websites (manned almost exclusively by freelancers—i.e. the broke farm team for the hip-hop press) scramble to find enough content to feed that insatiable appetite. Hence the reporting of every single incident that goes down in/around hip-hop, particularly if it involves sensational themes such as crime, sex or violence. Also, whereas magazine writers may have a good week (or more) to mull over a piece, bloggers respond to issues within hours, making the writing extremely reactive. It has to be noted, too, that at the same time as appetites for news have grown, attention spans for commentary have shrunk. Attention deficit readers won’t tolerate posts longer than 400 words, which makes presenting any type of thoughtful argument challenging. The type of writing that works best on blogs/sites is clever, cutting, flippant and funny. In general: the more critical, the better.

2. The bloggers
We are obsessed with beef. We thrive on scandal. We have a tough time writing a single paragraph without inserting smug/sarcastic/subliminal jabs. We take shots at our peers. We take shots at our readers. We take shots at the media. We take shots at rappers. Then we take shots at their entourage. It gets tedious. And destructive. The problem, of course, is that it’s just so damn entertaining.

3. The comment section/discussion board folks
I’m talking to you too, my friends. Not the MEKA SOULs out there (you should really have a blog), but those who use the comments section as a dumping ground for their own issues (i.e. “shut up and send me naked pix”). When you post crap that you wouldn’t say out loud, let alone to the person you’re addressing, you drag the level of discussion down. And, not for nothing, it’s worth pointing out that in our corner of the Internets, success is often measured by number of comments: shock posts go platinum, social commentary bricks. If you post tons of comments for shock posts, you fuel the phenomenon. Hate it or love it, that’s just how it goes. It is what it is.


[1] I’m going to do something really crazy here and actually be self-critical. In doing so, I’ll be committing the cardinal sin of blogging (and hip-hop): thou shalt never admit you’re wrong. So be it.

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