A Labyrinth, A Maze (5): The Internet’s Trying To Kill Me
I thought I escaped these movements. But today a blogger who doesn’t particularly like street minded hip hop set me off again by blogging about the instant classic status of one such album. Yeah, I’m back in the labyrinth, this time to consider another variable: the critical darling status of country rap revivalists Freddie Gibbs and Pill.
Don’t get me wrong, Gibbs and Pill are both good to great rappers but they have become blog/msm favorites for an entirely different reason. They make music for a certain type of fan – ones who either grew up on UGK/Outkast/Ball&G or ones that wish that they did. They are what Little Brother was to Pete Rock and Tribe Called Quest. The new Okayplayers of Country Rap Tunes. The (perceived) golden age of Southern rap is now a good 10-15 years behind us. The cream has risen and with it critical norms that never existed. Where Pete Rock coexisted with Da Youngstas, UGK shared the same space as Silkk The Shocker. But we no longer have to acknowledge the latter, aesthetically inferior examples. The imperfections have been erased. What forms is a fictionalized nostalgia, a rewrite.
I imagine Gibbs’ Master P homage is lost on a large chunk of his internet fanbase, or at best it’s read as ironic. And when Shawty Lo or Wacka Flocka quietly channel less easily canonized southern legends like Kilo or Pastor Troy they are met with critical crickets, but Gibbs paying tribute to Pimp C it’s comfort food to the same rap writers that weren’t entirely sure what “PAT” stood for when they first heard “Big Pimpin’.”
Pill and Gibbs are artists who have studied their predecessors closely, who have the intellectual capacity and skill level to follow their formula, but have thus far been too wrapped up in those standards to evolve beyond them. Like Little Brother before them, they are able to synthesize just about everything but the flair (dare I say swagger?) of their rap heroes. Their personalities don’t engage on the level of an Andre 3000 or Pimp C. And I’m sure if you were to ask them, they’d tell you of course not, those are the greats. They, like their audience, put their predecessors on an unattainable pedestal, which is a self limiting standard. This might also be part of the reason that “Trap Goin’ Ham” hasn’t seen the same localized love as, say, “Oh Let’s Do It.” (Aesthetically the two songs aren’t all that dissimilar.) For all their talents neither Pill or Gibbs have been able to engage the current day audience (the vaguely defined youth) on the personal level that Waka has. I’m not sure they intend to either.
But they have fully engaged the critics, through both false nostalgia (2 Pac and Biggie tributes, mixtape-as-album constructs) and other rockist/criticist gestures like artful videos. And it doesn’t hurt that both have incredibly internet savvy teams behind them. Bog gatekeepers like Eskay, Gotti, the 2DBz don’t have the patience or interest to whittle through seventeen pages of Jon Geezy studio outtakes to find the greatest rapper on Traps N Trunks, so they latch onto the ones that are prepackaged and formally delivered to them. This tunnel ends not with fans but with mainstream critics like Weiss, Frere-Jones and Caramanica. Guys who don’t seem all that invested in street music on a day to day basis. Meanwhile similar talents with lesser web finesse – All Star, Attitude, P. Dukes – get lost in the shuffle. Even the Gucci Mane story was ignored by the mainstream over the past 18 months as he became the most popular street/underground rapper in the country. Only because his team wasn’t working the high brow internet angle. (And still today, where is the Times/New Yorker love?)
This is all understandable This is the game and it is meant to be played. But let’s not act like it’s anything else, that the press Freddie and Pill have received is any purer than that given to Wale or Asher Roth. Or that the (relative) success of those (gag) gangster killers is somehow holding them back from being big stars. All four of these artists are on the exact same circular track. There is no stardom to be earned from blog or critical resonance, only niche respect.
 Case in point – Weiss suggests: “Had [“Womb To The Tomb”] been released in 1994, it would’ve owned Yo! MTV Raps for months, earned terrestrial radio play, sold 250,000 cassingles, and won the duo face time in various rap magazines.” This is just pure fantasy. Street rappers from Indiana most certainly did not get Yo!, The Source or radio love in the 90s. In their time acts like Gibbs and Pill would have been relegated to regional favorite status like the Dayton Family and Ghetto Mafia before them.
 Shouts to Lambo and Whiteboy D.
 #noshots. Following rap music has become a fully immersive experience, I don’t imagine anybody who is also covering pop music across the board would have the time or energy to explore hip hop accurately.