The Powerless Pen: Why Hip-Hop Journalism Sucks
“Dull, void without substance or content/ You need to slow your speed/ Stop the nonsense” -
"The Power", Chill Rob G
It had the potential to be the story of the decade. Tired of the current state of Hip-Hop legendary Hip-Hop veteran, Ice Cold, was gonna expose the industry for the illegal and immoral tactics that they used to manipulate rappers in an exclusive interview with Scoop Newsworthy, star writer for "Hip Hop X-Tra Large Weekly." For two hours, Ice Cold went on a tangent about how he was once poisoned at a strip club and forced to sign a 20-year contract to exclusively make murda music. He went on about how his infamous beef with the late rapper, Too Tall Short, was really an industry-orchestrated move to sell CDs. However, when the story ran the following week the headline was “Ice Cold Gets Tipsy and Starts Beef at The King of Diamonds...”
During the late '80s, the power of Hip-Hop was not only evident in the music, but in the writings of those who exposed this rapidly maturing culture to the world. If Chuck D was right, and rap was the CNN of the Black community, then Hip-Hop magazines were the Time and Newsweek of the 'hood.
During that period, the bubble gum stories about Michael Jackson in teen magazines like Right On! and stories in Word Up Magazine, where a young Christopher Wallace used to read about “Salt N Pepa and Heavy D up in the limousine“ were being replaced by more aggressive, hard-hitting magazines such as The Source and Rap Sheets. Not to mention there were Hip-Hop journalists like Public Enemy’s “media assassin,” Harry Allen, who defended the culture against the naysayers. Even as late as 1997, newcomer, XXL Magazine came out of the gate swingin’, with an article on Black Nationalist Dr. Khalid Abdul Muhammad carrying an AK.
But somewhere, Hip-Hop journalism lost its heart.
Today, Hip-Hop magazines usually run the same ol' stories over and over again about redundant beefs, makin’ it rain in the club, and how many blunts your favorite rapper smoked while in the studio recording his latest CD.
Not exactly groundbreaking stuff.
However, there are reasons for the cowardly nature of today’s Hip-Hop scribes.
Historically, being a writer has been a dangerous profession, especially if you were the type who was not afraid to speak truth to power.
It must be noted that David Walker, author of the extremely inflammatory, Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World, died mysteriously in 1830.
During the early '70s, Samuel Yette was, allegedly, fired from his job at Newsweek for writing the controversial book, The Choice: The Issue of Black Survival in America. Also, William Cooper, whose book, Behold a Pale Horse, is the sacred text of conspiracy theorists, was killed by law enforcement officers in 2001. And in 2004, Gary Webb, author of Dark Alliance: The CIA, the Contras, and the Crack Cocaine Explosion, allegedly, committed suicide by shooting himself twice in the head.
Though not to the same degree, Hip-Hop writers have also suffered their share of bumps and bruises.
It was not unheard of for a rapper to threaten a mild-mannered reporter for giving a bad review of his album back in the day. Also, one can remember the clash between the staff of The Source and the Almighty RSO during its early years. Female media personalities have not been spared, as Dr. Dre once punched "Pump It Up" host Dee Barnes, as immortalized in Eminem's song “Guilty Conscience”. Also former radio host and now TV celebrity Wendy Williams was five seconds away from feeling the wrath of the Wu-Tang, courtesy of Method Man, a few years back.
Who wants to go through all of that when it's so much easier to tell a rapper how great he is, pick up your paycheck, and head to the crib?
Perhaps the major reason for the lackadaisical attitude of Hip-Hop writers is the myth that people who listen to rap don't want to be educated; they simply want to be entertained by mindless music and reality shows.
Although, Black Entertainment Television was once the home of legendary journalists Bev Smith, Tavis Smiley and Ed Gordon, their shows were canceled to make room for more music videos. And, although the network may come up with a new news program every presidential election year, the programs are quickly replaced by "Wayans Brothers" reruns, shortly after the election is over.
Contrary to popular belief, the streets have always been hungry for the 411. And because of the work of Hip-Hop online pioneers like the Bay Area’s Davey D and St. Louis’ B-Gyrl, who laid the foundation over a decade ago, the ‘net has largely made Hip-Hop magazines obsolete. YouTube and Internet Radio, etc. have provided a forum for up and coming writers, and provided a way to get around the gatekeepers of the more traditional media outlets.
A perfect example is that, although the talk of a “Hip-Hop Illuminati” has been written off by some as a conspiracy theory, what is not theory, but fact, is that it was not the traditional Hip-Hop media that created the hysteria, but a cheaply done, blogtalk radio interview with Professor Griff on Occult Science Radio. Although the interview went viral three years ago, it still has rappers like Jay-Z, Rick Ross, and Meek Mill mentioning it in their lyrics, today.
Hip-Hop needs its own version of "Wikileaks" that will expose what's really going on in the entertainment industry. We need Hip-Hop journalists with the courage to ask rap artists the tough questions, instead of just repeating propaganda that was co-signed by their managers .
That’s why this column is called “This Ain’t Hip Hop" because it's bigger than that. It’s about getting the truth to the people, by any means necessary, whether writing or rapping.
So, I rep for every truth-teller who has ever been banned, blackballed, or boycotted for standing up for his beliefs. Those who dare to speak about reality, when everyone else is living in a world of fantasy.
Like Lupe Fiasco said on his song, "Real":
"That’s why I gotta give ‘em somethin’ real/ Somethin ‘they could recognize/ Something they could feel.”
TRUTH Minista Paul Scott’s weekly column is "This Ain't Hip Hop," a column for intelligent Hip Hop headz. For more information on the upcoming "No Warning Shots Fired" lecture series, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Paul on Twitter (@truthminista).