Build or destroy?
The cat’s out of the bag, folks. On the off chance that you don’t already know, let me just get this out there: I’m a lover, not a hater. Make no mistake, I don’t love anybody in the music world personally, but I do love plenty of the music that they make. And I vastly prefer focusing on what’s good in hip-hop to endlessly chronicling what sucks. Call me an optimist, but I feel like if I feed the positive, the positive might just grow. Now, that’s not to say I don’t enjoy reading the pessimists’ critiques, because I do. I admire their knowledge and their craft and their sense of humor, and I see the merits of their stance—even the necessity for it. But I can’t bring myself to be one of them.
I haven’t always felt this way. At different points in my writing career, I’ve tried my hand at the cutting, irreverent, flippant sort of commentary that is now de rigueur in hipster publications and on the Internet. Truth be told, I didn’t really have the stomach for it. When my writing was mean-spirited, I didn’t feel good about it. Plain and simple.
What’s more, for me, that style of writing felt a tad bit self-indulgent. It felt like an exercise in intellectual masturbation, a pissing contest between The Clevers. In the end, I had to ask myself: why am I ripping to shreds the culture that I purport to love so much? Am I writing for my own amusement or am I writing to contribute something?
Years of interviewing artists only strengthened that feeling. Once you’ve sat across from somebody and talked in detail about their lives, it’s difficult to see them as anything but a human being. Touré touched on this in his compilation of essays Never Drank the Kool-Aid. He shared about writing an essay for the Village Voice about Tupac after he was shot the first time. Touré said that he felt that Pac was presenting an exaggerated character to the media, and published a fairly scathing critique of that character. But Pac was a man—not some abstract, mythic figure—and he cried when he read the article.
None of this is to say that we shouldn’t, as music critics, go ahead and critique music. It’s just to say that it’s not particularly cool to carelessly lob shots out into the abyss of the Internet. We need to remember that, more often than not, those shots hit their target. And they hurt.
Critics are going to funk up artists’ days sometimes. But we shouldn’t be reckless with it. We shouldn’t revel in it. There’s a point at which legitimate criticism crosses over into something else. It’s happened a lot this year on the web. There’s been a rush to see who can be the most outrageously critical. It’s resulted in some fantastic writing. And a lot of bullshit.
I’m trying to go in a different direction. As such, I can look at an artist like Jeezy and see the lame-ass trends that he epitomizes. Or, alternatively, I can listen for his strengths. I can listen for what it is that he’s bringing to the table, why his movement is so strong, why so many people are so personally invested in his music. I can use my writing, my voice, to explore that.
Nobody will deny that it’s been a messed up year in hip-hop. The majority of the records that have dropped have been absolute garbage. There’s been a ton of irritating, destructive trends to contend with. But there’s no shortage of gifted writers pointing all that out—both here and at other sites on the Internet. I don’t feel like doing that right now. I feel like supporting what’s actually working. We all have our position to play. So I’m just going to keep on loving for the cause.