Do You Fools Listen To Music Or Do You Just Skim Through It?

“Do you fools listen to music or do you just skim through it?”- Jay-Z “Renegade”

I’ve been giving this quote by Jay-Z a lot of thought lately. I know it’s Thanksgiving weekend and all, and nobody wants to think about anything except Turkey (I can’t blame you).

But seriously, how much time do you really spend listening to the music that artists try to offer up for your consumption? Lately, I’ve been shying away from downloading music illegally. The past couple of months actually. The only stuff I’ve been grabbing online has been mixtapes and things that are put on the net specifically to be shared.

It’s not that I don’t want to contribute to the inevitable downfall of the traditional brick and mortar music business. I actually want that business model to break completely. It’s just, I want to give music it’s proper respect, and the attention it deserves.

It sort of bothers me that an artist can sit in a studio for 9 months, maybe a year, maybe even longer, and try to create something– anything really– and in the span of a minute I can download that project for free, listen to each song for a couple of seconds, and if I don’t like it I can just delete the files from my computer. Or if I love it, I can send it to all my friends, with no real compensation handed to anyone who was involved in making the record.

What I’m talking about is obviously an oldschool way of thinking about music, and I gather that I’m in the minority on this, at least as a journalist and person who receives compensation as a critic of music. But as someone who also works on the creative side of the business, as well as in other aspects, it’s really disheartening to see how disposable people’s creative work has become. I don’t think writers and critics, and pretty much everyone who treats the music in such a disposable way, really understand the sheer man hours that go into making a piece of recorded music.

Those were the thoughts that I had this past weekend, when I listened to two very different albums, through streaming them on their individual myspace pages, respectively. They were the new Kanye West album, 808s and Heartbreak, and the new Guns N Roses album, Chinese Democracy. Now I know this is a blog on a hip-hop website, but above and beyond rap, I’m a music lover and creator before anything else in life. I listen to and appreciate everything.

So we have two albums. 808s and Heartbreak was supposedly recorded in Hawaii in a span of three weeks. Chinese Democracy was recorded over a span of 15 years. Everyone in the world, but most particularly in the music and media business, has their 2 cents to offer on both of these records.

How are they related?

Other than the fact that they both dropped this week, they’re both incredibly good. I’ve always been a big GnR fan, and with everyone saying their record is overproduced, I can’t help but feel like critics just have to say something negative about this album, no matter how great it actually is. Kanye West’s album, though, is largely underproduced. And people are citing that fact as one of its sticking points as well, when in actuality it’s probably the project’s biggest asset.

Point being, an artist really can’t please everyone. They can try to appease the label and the public, like so many do, but that’s usually the cause of their epic fail.

When Van Gogh was painting, do you think he was in his studio thinking, “Man, if I put this color here, it’ll make the bitches in the gallery go crazy.” No. Not in the least bit. But I’m sure that if he knew his work would only be glanced at for a few seconds, only to be moved on to the next one, it might have made him go crazy. Actually, he did go crazy, but that’s another story.

Point is, whether the music takes 15 days or 15 years to make, we as fans and critics alike, need to respect the creator’s vision, and really acknowledge just much time and energy goes into bringing it to us. And give it the proper attention. Really listen to it, not skim through it.

I remember friends of mine in the 90s buying CDs and skimming through them. It was the start of music becoming disposable art. Everyone had an opinion, without actually listening.

When I listened to Kanye’s album, I had to take it back to living at home, in my bedroom, to being a fan again. I had to just shut the lights off and turn the music high high high-er. Just so I could give it the respect I feel anyone who truly makes music would want it to have. Same with Chinese Democracy. I definitely feel like I soaked up their creative offerings a lot more having treated their music that way. If I were sitting on the computer multi-tasking, listening between emails and phone calls, or maybe even driving through heavy traffic, stopping and starting at lights, I might not have felt the same.

It kind of sucks that as a society we’re too busy to really pay attention to our musicians. I think they at least deserve that much, no?

I kind of noticed it the other day at Atlantic, when I was in their conference room with a bunch of other industry folks to hear snippets of Plies newest LP, The Realest. People were definitely talking over his music, and he was right in front of them! Now maybe what Plies is saying on record isn’t important enough for people to stop talking about the latest industry fuckery (or what people ate for breakfast), but still, it’s kinda lame.

How do you listen to your music… do you actually listen or do you just check each track for a hot beat and skip to the next song if it doesn’t peak your interest?

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  • Pierzy

    You’re right that an artist can’t please everyone but I think it’s pretty clear when an artist is trying their best to put out what they see is a concept or an art as opposed to just putting out an album that they think will sell. Jay-Z post-Black Album is a good example. Regardless of how one feels about Kingdom Come or American Gangster, you could feel the difference between the two from the way they were presented – he sounded lazy, bloated and arrogant on Kingdom Come, while he was much sharperon American Gangster. Even if you didn’t like either, you could simply tell that he was feeling something during American Gangster while Kingdom Come felt forced.

    Kanye’s album is much better than I thought it would be (and I’m wrong for doubting him) because that is a guy that always puts his heart into music.

    I think most people’s biggest complain about Eminem’s Encore (other than it “sucked”) was that it sounded recycled and he didn’t sound alive and fresh on it. It’s the same reason why most artists’ best album is their debut album – they’re raw, hungry, desparate and that comes across on the record.

    Wasn’t that the big complaint with 50 after Get Rich or Die Tryin’ – that he wasn’t hungry anymore? Personally, I think that’s one reason why an artist like Styles P is still able to stay as raw as he has for so long – he hasn’t been spoiled by success.

    Yes, you’re right, some artists spend upwards of a year in the studio trying to craft a classic and it falls on deaf ears (Bubba Sparxxx’s second album was excellent but no one cared), but more often than not, they stick to a formula and mail it in, resulting in a lackluster product.

    To answer your question – I never make a judgment on an album until I’ve listened to the entire thing front-to-back at least twice. That’s only fair. You can’t comment on how good a book is by reading half of chapter 4, can you?

  • Hate Hate and more hate

    “Point is, whether the music takes 15 days or 15 years to make, we as fans and critics alike, need to respect the creator’s vision, and really acknowledge just much time and energy goes into bringing it to us”

    Nigga Please, I wonder how much time and effort was put into making songs like Lollipop, Bust it baby, Pop Champaign, Crank Dat Soulja Boy, etc.

    “It kind of sucks that as a society we’re too busy to really pay attention to our musicians. I think they at least deserve that much, no?”

    No nigga, fuck the artist, the producer, the nigga running the mixing board, the artist weed carrier, and anyone else involved with making wack ass music. They don’t deserve shit, except a glass bottle being thrown at their heads. And fuck you for writing this wack ass blog, bitching and shit.

    Niggas skip songs because 90% of cd’s are full of bullshit music. Why waste time listening to the whole album when you can be doing better things?

  • amar

    i completely disagree with your point that there is a correlation between how u get your music (assuming it’s the same) and how much you appreciate it.

    If i had to buy cd’s, I simply wouldn’t be able to afford most.

    When I download music, I download it by album, i listen over and over, first on the bus or at the gym and then if i like it after the ___teenth time, everywhere else. I think the ability to put music on my ipod, on cd’s, on dvd’s, in my car or leave it on my computer allows me to take it anywhere, spend more time on it and with it and appreciate it way more.

    people just WANT YOU to think that buying the shit means you’re appreciating it. It’s a bullshit-ass sales pitch.

    And I don’t buy this bullshit about artists not making money either. Had I not downloaded the cd (I wouldn’t have bothered to buy it otherwise), I wouldn’t have spent 80 bucks on seeing you live either.

  • Gooch

    I don’t think I made the point that you have to buy it. I didn’t buy Kanye or the Guns N Roses album. I streamed them on myspace. I haven’t bought more than 10 cds in the past 8 years.

    • amar

      my bad, it was a good piece to read but one of the impressions i got from it is that with technology and the way artists AND fans approach hip hop these days, music is becoming more and more disposable.

      I think especially with the ability to choose from any album in the world for free, i can now afford keeping an open mind and giving everything in the range from lil boosie to nas to lil wayne to q tip a shot. If i can tolerate it after 2-3 listens of the entire album, i keep listening. At the same time, this massive free selection also spoils us in a sense and i can see how it would lead to more ppl skimming than listening.

      • Pierzy

        I actually got the same impression(s).

  • http://XXL TheGodJustice

    I listent to the whole damn thang.



    Even though I heard the majority of the album online when it got leaked and went to damn near every HIP-HOP website known to man, I still managed to listen to it like it was my first time hearing the songs. Especially with me being a NAS fan, I just had to give him a chance. Hearing the songs online was enough to make me go buy it. So I had to give him that much respect, ya know?? But anyway, once I got all the way through the whole album, I came to the conclusion that even though “Yall My Niggaz,” and “Untitled” were the weakest out of the whole album, that didn’t necessarily mean the songs themselves were wack, because I could still bear with them regardless. Nor did it mean that the whole album was garbage because of those two songs. That album is what I consider a near-classic, and one of the best of ’08.


    Now GAME’s album, could’ve been ALOT better. I didn’t buy it, but my brother did, and I managed to borrow it to listen to it, and see how it was. I was pretty dissapointed I must say. Now, knowing that I only heard a handful of songs before the album dropped, I had to listen to it all the way through to get a good feel of the album. And with that being said, it was only a handful I liked, with “BULLETPROOF DIARIES” going from dope, to just okay. I started to not like the song once I gave the song another listen. The beat didn’t actually fit RAE, (or either RAE just didn’t come hard enough). And that “TOUCHDOWN” joint was waaaayy too bland. Some of the other beats were bland as well. High-quality producers, that made the album sound like it was full of leftovers from them. Altogether, it was only just enough to rate it a good 3.5 IMO. And that was just off of listening to the whole album.

  • Jova

    I always make sure I buy the actual album, i dont use itunes or zune marketplace. Once I get home though I download it to my zune, and listen to the entire album there. I just chill in my room and listen to the entire album.

  • Cinsere

    To this day, I try to give eevrything a listen all the way through, even if I have to force myself. With that being said:

    1st half of 808′s = pretty dope (peak: Heartless)
    2nd half of 808′s = straight downhill (low point: Nightmares)

    Coldest Winter at the “end” was nice, but too short to fully regain my interest, and then was followed by the meandering bonus Pinochio Story, which was more than twice as long, but amounted to not much more than Kanye rambling.

  • Worley

    I agree that the way a person encounters the music has an impact. Case in point: a good buddy of mine sat me down in ’92, we got blitzed and listened to Whut Thee Album? By the time we got to “Sooperman Lover” it was over. I went and copped the tape the next day and supported Redman’s two subsequent albums (Dare Iz a Darkside is the sh*t). After that he was wack.

    It doesn’t always have to be that way either. One time I was walking down 14th street and this dude came by bumping “U Don’t Know.” That beat was so crazy I walked extra slow so I could be near the truck listening to the track. You know how 14th street traffic is.

    Sometimes the music just reaches out and grabs you. But to be fair, I usually shut everything down, get blitzed and really listen to what the producer and artist are saying with the music. If it doesn’t grab me after a second or third listen I’m done with it.

  • Simba

    I can’t stand when people talk over music! If I’m in the car and someone starts talking I turn off the music until they finish talking nothing irks me more.

  • JDizzel3000

    This was a good ass read brotha… i feel you on the whole lack of appreciation of music thing but what i think causes that boils down to the fact that music takes on different roles and significance to different people …for instance a guy like you can prolly enjoy just sittin back and vibin to a album without any distractions or impedance …people like you as well as myself use music and view music as a form of art morso than just a 3 1/2 min tune to watch some chick shake ass to (although that perspective isn’t the worse thing in the world) some people actually like to enjoy the intricacies of a piece of music for instance on kanyes “say you will” that shit bugged me out .. how he is using like some electro beep sound as his snare on that track …i mean i just thought that shit was dope and shows how detailed a musician the man is ..and those kinds of things you can’t appreciate if your just rushing through an album looking for the hottest bannger or whatever i agree with you for the most part i think the lack of music particularly popular music made for listening and not solely for dance or really just any type of activity besides paying attention to it ..has watered down some peoples listening ear to where they really aren’t worried about actually paying attention to the music ..but as jay said just skimming thru it…

  • Crocker

    The biggest correlation between Axl and Yeezy is there both the two biggest ego-maniacs in their respective genres. Point blank. Period. Now in regard to your comment about people skimming through music, if it’s dope enough, people will listen. Problem is, most of these kids bite and bite, like they’ve had an oral fixation since they were toddlers and never overcame it. Put more creativity into and quit recording a hundred bullshit songs, when you should be concentrating on 10 or 12 masterpieces. If you rush, it’ll sound rushed. If some of these fucks became a lil’ more meticulous, I wouldn’t be so anxious to reach for the skip button.

  • capcobra

    i think i was alot more patient when i knew i had to fast forward and rewind….but once i got a cd player and it had a skip button…i used it and used it and used it and used it…to the point i could hear milk dee screaming…”stop skimming and listen haaard”….but it was just too late…i am now a professional skimmer…so if it ain’t a hot beat.a good intro or a highly anticipated collabo then you know the routine…SKIM!

  • MDB

    if you seriously thought 808′s was a good album then you’re a fucking moron….and i listened to the whole thing the whole damn way thru

  • DANJA29

    Big co-sign… I know for a fact that I’ve even been transformed into a skimmer. I used to sit and listen to albums from track 1 to the end, and I’d at least give a song until after the 1st verse/hook before I moved along. Now, I even catch myself not even gettin’ that far or really remembering an album once I get done “listening” to it. I gotta say I enjoyed music a lot more when I would buy it, listen to it on the bus coming home from the store, or wait until I was in the house and play it in full. If it was wack, it was wack… if it was good, it was good… but I would know it for sure because I actually listened.

  • N DOT C

    Short and sweet. Anything else is too long

  • Mika

    i can co sign this much

    “Niggas skip songs because 90% of cd’s are full of bullshit music. Why waste time listening to the whole album when you can be doing better things?”

    Theres too much material to ‘listen’ ….so if im listening to the first few songs of say…plies ….and it dont have substance….im gonna delete. though i do make it a point (at least if i rem whn im out) to purchase the CD. Hip Hop is not hip hop no more.We need proper subgenres so we know whts coming.

  • Curtis75Black

    Whether it’s a R&B or Hip Hop, I have to listen to the opus fully to give it my critique and appreciate the music more. I compleltely Co-sign the writer because I’ve been in arguments with niggas who would say so and so was wack, say they listened to the cd but when you out the blue on their random day of chillin’ play a track for their reaction, niggas are surprised as Hell when they hear the shit, asking the most funny question, “when did this shit drop ? ”

    I’ve been saying for years that Hip Hop has alot more classics than said nowaadays but sincee the music is so easily attained, fickle fans don’t put their heart into truly listens, checking to hear the beat only but complain and say the music is wack !! I can truthfully say I have 7 cd’s I haven’t even opened yet because I don’t have the time to listen but I’m such a fan of their work, I will in the coming month blast their shit and appreciate their vision, not just judging by the singles they dropped.

  • Shawty J

    I generally listen to an album three times before I rate it. Everything doesn’t come across the way it should on the album’s first listen in my cases, sometimes something may go over my head or I might just not understand something until the second or third go round.

    As far as 808s & Heartbreaks goes, I’m not gonna give that a chance particularly because I can’t stand auto-tune after too long. I feel auto-tune distracts me from the artist’s voice. A T-Pain collabo here, a T-Pain track here, a Weezy track there, is all I can take, but I’m not gonna listen to 12 tracks recorded in a style I already don’t like.

  • Jerod

    I don’t think this should be a debate. If you skim because you don’t want to listen to what you consider garbage, then skim. If you want to listen to an album all the way through just so you can understand the artist better, then listen. But damn, I don’t think either way is right or wrong.

  • Curtis75Black

    Jerod, I feel you 100 % but why listen to something you already gave yourself an impression on ? If I don’t like the artist or I don’t have any interest in his or her music, I won’t listen – Point Blank !! One thing I won’t do after the fact is talk shit about a cd I know nothing about, I’d rather not be in the conversation which is something you read on blogs and reviews most of the time, because if you heard the cd, You’ll wonder “What the Fuck is this guy talking about ?” or they basically talk about the artist, less about the music.

  • oskamadison

    I think that people’s listening habits, especially nowadays, are shaped by the current climate of the music. Of course, in the mid-’80′s to mid ’90′s, you really listened to everything because the bar was raised way higher. Almost EVERYONE was coming with some sort of heat, be it with their rhymes or their production. Since 2000 or so, with greater corporate influence/interference on the music, hip-hop is musically a shell of its former self. So, when you’ve been beat in the head with countless albums that you think will be good and end up being a waste of time and money, you’re going to get a lttle cynical after a while.
    In regards to Kanye, I listened to maybe 4 or 5 songs off 808′s and decided I heard enough. Was it fair to him? Maybe not but I at least listened to it. I bought his first 3 joints but I’ll have to sit this one out. Maybe 5 years from now 808′s will be deemed one of those overlooked classics but right now, it does nothing for me.

  • Urban Noize

    I totally agree with what you were saying paul. i feel the same about music, when it comes to appreciating it for it is. i use to be one of the ones that just listen for beats and stuff, but not its totally different. now i actually sit there and listen, and give it a chance. its a lot better when you give yourself a chance to actually listen and take in what is being said.

  • Moi

    format and an abundance of choice makes a difference and its killing the album as a complete statement, as well as the notion of letting songs, albums, and concepts grown on you and reveal themselves, change, and become better over time. i am on the older side of a generation gap when it comes to this . . . records, tapes, and then CDs. a lot of artists stopped putting in the craft though so it’s not completely the listener’s fault. but axl rose and kanye come from an older school of thought . . .

  • seo surrey

    a lot of the readers of this piece probably listen to music mainly whilst on the ‘puter reading (i.e. with divided attention)