Butlerisms: Why Your Dad Is Wrong About Hip-Hop

by oliver butler (@notoliverbutler)

Ah, 2018. Six days into you and we’ve already had a dick swinging contest between the USA and North Korea and learned that the leader of the former is a petulant child who enjoys cheeseburgers and hairspray. Not even the Gorilla Channel could soothe our already weary souls, as we realise that this year probably isn’t going to get much better. Just more of the same shit under a different banner.

So it was no surprise that everyone’s favourite free puppy training paper, the NME, took time out of its busy schedule reporting on Liam Gallagher taking a shit or comparing some big band with The Beatles (because every band’s benchmark in life is to be the fucking Beatles) to furrow their indie brows, scratch their chins and cluck “Is Hip Hop now bigger than Rock?”.

Side note: I once got into an argument with the nice lady who works in my local record store because she tried to give me a copy of the NME and I really, really didn’t want it.

 

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First of all, the data confirms it. Hip-hop artists filled Nielsen’s end of year data on what people listened to, with only Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift muscling in the top ten, the latter proving that an appetite for eating shit is still rife. Really, that’s come as a shock to nobody who doesn’t believe that music peaked with Oasis. Hip-hop has forever been a more accessible genre, able to cross all tastes. The average metalcore fan and the average pop fan would both be able to listen to Drake with relative ease, because it’s easy on the ears with an accessible sound and theme, but would the average pop fan be able to swallow up some Architects? Probably not, whilst it’s not a secret club, any kind of rock music is indeed an acquired taste unless it’s got a poppy, accessible sound.

Hip-hop being bigger than rock isn’t really the problem, because, at the end of the day, it’s all music; good music is good music regardless, and shouldn’t have to be held aloft purely because it belongs to a certain genre. The real issue here and the one that’s grinding my gears to no end is as per usual, the reaction to the statement that hip-hop is bigger than rock.

“God help us” tweets yer da, who’s currently praying that an Oasis reunion will finally show the kids some good music.

“Crap-hop, more like, Kanye West isn’t half as talented as REAL musicians” your boyfriend comments, desperately searching for that clip of Ye singing Bohemian Rhapsody, determined to prove his point by missing out his entire discography.

“Eugh, it’s just people saying ‘yo yo yo’ and talking about their ‘bitches'” says your weird coworker, who’s probably never listened to hip-hop, but is pretending they know something.

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The problem here is tribalism. People are so damn narrow-minded that they think bland, milquetoast indie rock like Oasis is the absolute pinnacle of music, or believe that the true flag bearers of rock and roll are the Foo Fighters. Both of these bands are good, but you need to wake up and smell the fucking coffee man as there’s a whole world of great music beyond a driving songs compilation!

Maybe it’s the folk I’ve encountered over the years, but most of this tribalism comes from people only listening to rock music. That’s it. Just rock music. None of that pop for me thank you, I’m happy listening to just rock music (and from experience, not good rock music), and you can keep that stupid hip-hop away from me, it’s just people in hats talking to a beat – it’s so fucking stupid.

When the Coachella announcement landed this week, former boyband heartthrob Louis Tomlinson took to the auld Twitter to ask where all the bands were. I mean, first things first, there ARE bands there you dumb fuck, with alt-J, Highly Suspect, A Perfect Circle, Alvvays and FUCKING CHIC, THE BEST BAND EVER, making an appearance. But obviously, because The Weeknd, Beyoncè and confusingly, Eminem were headlining, this now meant that there were no bands there, and band music was dead. You see what I’m on about here? Because hip-hop/R&B takes statistical prominence, that suddenly means that all the bands ever have been violently culled and will never perform anywhere again. Pull the fucking other mate, and take a look at the Download line up if you want bands.

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I’mma keep it real with you here chief, I don’t listen to that much hip hop compared to some of the other writers here, but I still keep my ears open and palette clean for fresh beats. Some of the best music I heard in 2017 was hip-hop, including Brockhampton & Kendrick Lamar, and I just know that there’s more of that out there, and it’s clear to see why it’s the biggest genre. If someone like me, who does live off a primary diet of heavy rock, metal & big riffs can appreciate the genius that goes into hip-hop, it’s not hard to see why it’s so popular; it’s for everyone, it’s relatable, it’s without dumbing it down too much, poetry on the beat.

This stupid tribalism in music needs to fucking stop. People need to get their heads out of their asses and realise that there’s more to life than thinking rock music is the be all and end all, and that all rock music is great, because it’s really, really not. If you think The Hunna, Liam Gallagher, and The Courteeners are levels above someone like Kendrick, Future or even Kanye, you need your fucking head rattling, because just because it’s rock music, doesn’t mean it’s automatically better. I absolutely love rock music, I love heavy metal, I consider Motörhead and Black Sabbath to be the best acts of all time, but I’m not so damn blinkered that I believe that is all there is to music.

So go on, go and explore some hip-hop, even if ashamedly, you end up liking it. Nobody’ll tell on you.

Why Music Criticism Is Dying

By Liam Menzies (@blnkclyr

Picture the scene: you’re working 30+ hours a week but you’ve managed to get yourself some free time. You want to utilise it well by catching up on any great music that you may have missed out on so, naturally, you load up a site, let’s call them Tonespoon, and go have a look at their reviews. As you glance at the archive of albums you’ve missed out on…something doesn’t quite feel right – is it a coincidence that one of the artists set to appear at their festival is getting a “Best New Music” label? Then there’s this review that, yes, is well written but reads like a thesaurus had been used extensively and doesn’t really analyse anything the album says bar a quick line or two that could be taken from Rap Genius.

So, left just as uninformed as you did before you started this venture, you close your browser, open your choice of streaming service and listen to the new Linkin Park, dying a slow, painful death in the process. Well, that may be a gross exaggeration but sadly, sites like this do exist and slowly but surely, they’re causing a crack in trust between music journalists and fans, much like traditional journalism. Many may protest that these reviews have no impact on their opinions but for the majority, these pieces are widely considered when deciding to listen to music. We are living in the age of Spotify, Apple Music and…Tidal but while this means we don’t have to pay for each album we listen to, we’re offered a huge library of music that continues to expand with each passing week.

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One sin that many sites at the moment seem to be committing that feeds into this can be split into two different subheadings. The first is the issue of PR being presented as endorsement of quality or reviews: for those unacquainted with the term, PR refers to public relations and in the music journalism sphere tends to relate to press releases that are sent out by the bucket-load, even to a small site such as the one you’re reading this piece on. Sadly, unlike many other forms of entertainment where sponsorships, endorsements and the likes have to be included in headings or somewhere in the content, these PR pieces do not need to be flagged as such. 

This isn’t to say PR is inherently evil as some of the best pieces of music that have came to our attention have been delivered via the format. However, it does cause a bit of ambiguity when these news pieces are infused with review elements, especially when smaller sites assume they have to praise the music, usually with buzzwords and phrases included in the releases sent to them, in order for the piece to get shared by the sender. This isn’t to blame these blogs by any means, it ties very much into the importance of views in this profession which is a different matter altogether, but it no doubt makes people a bit unwary much like what happened with vloggers like Caisey Neistat and other internet celebs for not being clear enough.

The whole “mates club” definitely plays a role in these smaller blogs as well as bigger sites too, though we’ll get more into them soon. There’s nothing inherently wrong with befriending musicians, it helps you to give a better understanding of their music and there’s nothing wrong with being friendly, but when this bond stops you from being able to review their music with a critical eye then that’s where issues start to arise. Full discretion here – there’s been bands and acts we’ve reviewed that I would call friends of mine though this hasn’t stopped me from doing my job correctly as it would put my own morals and ethics into shaky territory.

While we’re on the topic of ethics, it’s an apt time to call into question those of the bigger sites, or more accurately their lack of any. A particularly good example of this would be MTV News, an organisation who have went through a recent restructuring which has revealed some rather tasty revelations, most notably one that shows many artists including Kings of Leon and Chance The Rapper pressured the site into removing negative reviews of their work.

Spin, one of the few sites that are in our good books, pointed this out, reporting that Kings Of Leon threatened to pull their set at the MTV Europe Music Awards, after a review on the new defunct MTV News site declared their ‘Waste A Moment’ single “almost aggressively anonymous”. As a result, MTV’s corporate executives instigated a rule that no reviews shorter than 500 words were to be published by the site. It would be so easy to point the blame at these artists, who should receive criticism for these attempts to censor, but for MTV to show absolutely no backbone is not only shameful but totally embarrassing. 

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However, MTV aren’t the only ones guilty of committing acts like this. NME have also went through a re-branding back in 2015 and have been criticised repeatedly for some of their actions, one being when the magazine used Stormzy on their cover without his permission. However, one major gripe I have with the magazine that doesn’t tend to be brought up enough is the severe lack of criticism from them: artists like Ed Sheeran who would have been the butt of a joke in an issue just a few years ago are getting plastered on the front cover and given four stars out of five for lazily written music. Quality is subjective but it definitely comes off as counter intuitive to market yourself as a music magazine but show no real morals and suck up to artists just so that you’ll be able to interview them in the future.

All these issues mentioned all play a part in music criticism being in a critical condition but the one sin that both the little guys and the big publications commit time and time again is a lack of any real reviewing going on. Repeatedly, I’ll read the same generic opening about how an album was released on a set date or how a certain song will sound so good live: the thing is, I really don’t care about how great a song will sound live, I want to know how it sound now, how it fits into the album’s narrative etc. This criticism brings with it the addition of numerical ratings which could be the focus of another piece entirely but to keep it short, they’re given out to generously – I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read an album review that finally does some actual critiquing, sometimes quite harshly, and ends up throwing it a 7 or 8. 

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Thankfully, there is a positive note to tie all this ranting together. While this piece may come off as harshly angled at small music blogs, the ones that fall into these negative behaviours are far and few between: many actively attempt and succeed in delivering honest, well written reviews. Maybe this is because there’s no pressure of having to appease to big bands and others as, more often than not, these opportunities to interviews are given to the aforementioned invertebrate music publications.

In addition to these blogs, the rise of YouTube has brought with it some influential content creators that have played a fundamental role in music journalism. I’m of course referring to Mr Best Teeth In The Game himself Anthony Fantano, a reviewer who time and time again I’ve disagreed with yet, ultimately, I find myself admiring what he’s done with his channel and what he’s done for a low of music journalists like myself.  Even if you find his taste in music questionable, he still manages to word his opinions wonderfully and presents a lot of professionalism while also not being a faceless entity behind a camera and keyboard. Both Fantano and other small blogs bring with them more trustworthy opinions as more often than not, there’s no meddling from labels and the likes. This doesn’t mean their opinion should be taken as gospel but the level of honesty is enough to convince those who may deem bigger sites as deceitful.

Though the title of this piece may imply that music criticism is all but dead, there’s still faith for it yet. Music journalists like myself can help alleviate this situation by being transparent, honest and thorough with our critique – in the process of this, we may be able to mend the trust between us and the public. As well as this, publications must be called out for horrible actions like the aforementioned which is something everyone can do. We are the many, not the few, and together we can make music journalism great once more.

There’s still life in this old dog yet, folks.


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