x CB » No Really, How Do You Feel About Illmatic?

No Really, How Do You Feel About Illmatic?


I know. Meta-blogging is the worst. But I’ve been meaning to formally weigh in on the results of the Bangin’ & Weiss this 25 greatest hip hop albums poll, the subsequent fallout, and, tangentially, the rap blogosphere as a whole.

I don’t know what you guys (the readers) think music criticism exists for, but in my head it’s about sharing musical knowledge for the purpose of education. In my first year of blogging, I probably learned more about music than I did in the 20 years prior. And that’s saying a lot considering I’ve been pouring over liner notes for about as long as I’ve been able to read. When I look at the SB list I’m not sure what I’m learning from it. It’s a blogger group hug. “Yep, we all still love Wu-Tang.” Or, perhaps, more accurately “Yep, we’re all still boring, even in the face of exciting music.”

And me, I’m just bored with being bored by rap writing.

Despite often being branded with the term “tastemaker,” most rap bloggers (and most music writers by and large) have no taste. [1] And I don’t mean they have bad taste. That would be the least of their problems. I mean no taste. Their relationship with rap music is solely about finding what’s hot (the tastes of others) and either reinforcing it or tearing it down. Taste is not a binary decision. I want to read writing from people who are actively going out of their way to find rap music that they aren’t yet familiar with. And when they do find it, I want them to gut that shit and wear it’s skin like a new fur coat. Literarily, of course.

But I suspect I’m in a minority. In writing for XXL I’ve found that most of the readers are just looking to be coddled or alternately start shit when they aren’t being coddled. To many of these fruit flies, critical thinking means finding new ways to say “Fuck You, I disagree.” So by that measure I guess I can’t fault writers for catering to the audience. W.W.D4L.D.?

Besides, in recent times many “hip hop bloggers” have transcended music criticism. They’re about brand building, agenda pushing, cataloging rapidshare, gossip and shock. Anything but what I’m about. [2]. So why should I give a damn what their 25 favorite rap albums are anyway?

[This is not a subliminal. I am talking to no one specifically and everyone in particular. Myself included. Complacency is a bitch and we all need to kick her to the curb.]

[1] If you’re offended, you probably deserve to be. Anyone with any kind of taste would be secure enough in it to not take this personally.
[2] Even though I’ve been falsely accused of all those things in the past.

20 Responses to “No Really, How Do You Feel About Illmatic?”

  1. toby x Says:

    chuuuuurch!

  2. gforce Says:

    hey noz –

    here is your amen. i’m not really a hip hop blogger, more of a music blogger, but i wholeheartedly agree with your vision of what a hip hop blogger should be.

    if i’m going to bother reading somebody’s blog, i want to learn something, discover something, or at least think about something. and my favorites are the ones like this one: written by music lovers with no agenda other than to evangelize music.

    everything else is just noise.

    anyway, thanks for the thoughtful post, and keep doin ya thing.

  3. monique r. Says:

    This was a really good entry, well written. Could afford some elaboration…are you calling out “Illmatic” just as being a boring choice or not actually good?

  4. SukedowN Says:

    >>So by that measure I guess I can’t fault writers for catering to the audience. W.W.D4L.D.?

    Did you just come clean?

  5. jamie Says:

    I hear you. Honestly, the most frustrating thing about hip-hop blogs to me has been the tendency to give ink to everything that appears in the hip-hop press releases (ie, multiple tired posts about every 50 Cent and Dipset non-event that comes out in the PR), rather than to dig deep to find new sounds and interesting shit going on. To me, the XXL blogs are sort of the worst example of this, doing little more than making commentary on the fabricated mainstream rap “beefs” and “events” of the day.

    This has been a frustration of mine in getting my own music out. Cats seem so quick to listen to every new 50 Cent or hyphy-star-of-the-minute track (Mista F.A.B>?! C’mon!?), but its nearly impossible to get any ink at all for an independent release that is creative, risky, out-of-the-ordinary.

    Are hip-hop bloggers adding anything new to hip-hop, or are they just providing a new marketing platform for the already-huge?

  6. gforce Says:

    @jamie – no, by and large, hip hop bloggers are not really adding anything to the hip hop landscape. they mostly bore me to tears. it’s the same across the board, though.

    marketers have caught on the the “web 2.0″ potential of blogs and forums, and everything is going commercial. trendy brands are all up in online social networking, and mainstream hip hop, being the super-corporate entity that it is, is firmly on that bandwagon.

    it’s depressing, actually.

  7. Joey Says:

    One thing that becomes difficult to go beyond in assessing what taste means is that certain sounds just don’t do the same thing for all people. The elements of a Devin the Dude song that you appreciate may not excite another listener in the same way, for whatever reason. And I don’t just mean Noz, I mean “you” as anyone. I’ve heard a range of opinions about Devin, so he seems like a good example. Some people love that woozy aesthetic; others find it boring. However, they’re hearing the same sounds. Explaining what one likes about it is elucidating for others, but I don’t know that it validates the preference for it to begin with. It can be engaging writing, but that may be all that it is (which is certainly valuable). Personally, I’ve encountered this problem over and over as I’ve tried to better appreciate Houston-area and Bay-area hip-hop; 50′s music, Late Registration–all kinds of shit that I am not really into. I hear the same sounds, and I read great descriptions and opinions, and yet I am so rarely compelled to come back to it since I just don’t like the way it hits my ears.

    I’ve always thought that the best hip-hop bloggers were those who could teach me something, those that offered unique info/ideas, or those who had a coherent viewpoint that was original. Like Jamie, I bristle when I see some of the writing that seems indiscriminant and eager to simply hop on whatever is being promoted elsewhere. And there are multiple styles that work for me, as a fan–a dude like Ian at Different Kitchen is a great blogger in his brevity, whereas I learn a lot here and elsewhere through some of the longer prose.

    As for the Top 25 list, it was largely predictable in its outcome, and that may have been a failing. Or, at least, an indictment that people on the internets aren’t as original as we all purport to be. But it might also mean that there is a clear division between the truly memorable hip-hop that people cherish and so much else that falls elsewhere for whatever reasons. Finding new music, something that is advocated and facilitated on this site, is one way to challenge this orthodoxy. But there is also an emotional component that distinguishes “favorites,” and it is very difficult for new music to challenge those feelings well enough to supplant settled hip-hop doctrine.

  8. rkm Says:

    Noz,
    I can’t read anything besides you and on occasion Tara at XXL. I think this is because I’m older (late ’20s)than most internet hip-hop blog readers, and I have enough going on in my life, so I don’t give a damn about gossip/name-calling, I just want good new music, which you always provide. Honestly, I think you’ve outgrown this medium a little, and I’d like to see you in mainstream media more, talking to a wider audience, which includes more people like me. Is that a long-term goal of yours? Just curious.

  9. noz Says:

    Joey — you shouldn’t have to “try” to appreciate anything. This idea that you have to either kowtow to or aggressively butt heads with buzz is exactly what I’m talking about. If you hear a record and you feel or think nothing, just don’t write about it. I can’t tell you how often I get comments and emails like “What do you think of [current beef/album/event]?” I don’t think about them, so I don’t write about them. If I had something worthwhile to say I would’ve said it already.

    Not to single you out, but take your UGK “Hit The Block” review from a few days ago, which I think exemplifies what I’m talking about. Now, admittedly, I am biased towards UGK, but it really stuck out for me. You seemed absolutely giddy to tear down the popular opinion and in the process added nothing to the conversation. “I think UGK are overrated. I think Bun B is smart because he said ‘Tony Snow’ but I don’t think Pimp C is very smart at all.” Then you adequately describe the beat. What does this accomplish beyond ruffling the feathers of the group’s fans and evoking a satisfied nod from their detractors?

    Don’t get me wrong, iconoclasm has a place (yes, even at the expense of artists I like), but only when it’s backed up by substance. “Like/dislike” isn’t really a worthwhile angle to blog about. Our opinions aren’t that important if we can’t back them up with ideas and facts.

    Monique – I love Illmatic.

  10. noz Says:

    rkm – thanks for the kind words. i do the mainstream media thing from time to time and have been doing so with greater frequency as of late. but it really limits the subject matter, or at least the depth of it. that is to say, you would never see 1000 words on east points greatest hits or rah digga’s unreleased second album on any newsstand. so by the obscurity of my taste, i’m kinda married to the blog game.

    no prenup.

  11. Joey Says:

    by all means, single-out away. i can take it. i actually very much like this because i read a lot of your writing but feel little personal connection to a writer whose work i consume on the regular.

    i get what you’re saying about my ugk stuff. my point was that i don’t usually get down with ugk but that despite a predisposition to ignore a lot of their music, this song had caught my ear. in seeking to explain why “hit the block” had resonated, i highlighted the beat and bun b because i do admire some of what he does, and the tony snow drop was emblematic of an astuteness that i like. i did, of course, also take a shot at pimp c and ugk fans, but sometimes that shit is mostly for my own sake. like, it wasn’t really meant to be provocative. did i add much to “the conversation”? no. but at the same time, there are regular readers of my site whose opinions interest me, and posting a track and sharing what i like about it is a way to solicit feedback. so in that regard, i think that you might be using a narrow definition of contribution. you know?

  12. E AKA THE REAL NORIEAGA Says:

    Nice posts I thought the blogger top 10 list had good music but it was boring and predictable. It offered no insight to peoples personalities. It seems most writers just concede to what the general populace deems good music out of fear of being critiqued.

  13. Mike G Says:

    I agree with you, a top 25 list is such a boring, pointless thing to do. My top 5 changes like the weather so I could never really make a top 25…it would have to be “My Top 25 right this instant.”

  14. Mike G Says:

    Also, I don’t like how they call Wu Tang “nerds”. I have a feeling they’d get their asses kicked for saying that to the Wu’s face.

  15. Crimson Says:

    I’ve hardly ever gotten into a group or artist based on a blog post. The music doesn’t sound right coming out of my computer speakers, and it usually just sounds too disembodied from its time and place for me to really feel it. (I hate to say this, but especially when the blogger in question is usually pretty far removed from the music himself.) The radio, clubs, record stores, other djs, even music bumping out of cars passing by have all put me onto more music than every blog combined.

    But I still read them, because they’re usually interesting and I’m often bored at work.

  16. Elijah Says:

    Mine essentially was “my top 25 right at this instant”. I honestly didn’t realize that this was all something that everyone else was taking so seriously–shit, I just thought making a list would be a fun exercise. Talk about a bunch of my favorite albums, try to fit in whatever lesser known or under appreciated shit that I can, why not? I actually had the urge to really fight the “group hug” mentality and get more weird, but in the end I just couldn’t keep Illmatic and its ilk off there, try as I might.

    (Guess the pressure is lessened for me since pretty much no one reads my shit, and no I’m not complaining.)

    Oh, and really a great post, by the way. Keep the hate coming, Noz! And I do mean that as a good thing.

  17. XXLmag.com | Hip-Hop On A Higher Level | » 101 Illmatic fans can’t be wrong Says:

    [...] Not to be outdone, XXL’s own Noz the Cracker expanded on The Hurricane’s post with his own post in which he criticized hip-hop bloggers for following whatever’s trendy rather than having any actual taste of their own. Ooh.. Having followed music blogging for a few (ahem) five years now, this is the same complaint you see brought up time and time again by dudes upset because no one else likes whatever bullshit they’ve decided to champion in any given week. (In Noz’ case, apparently, D4L.) [...]

  18. Blackmail Is My Life » We can certainly sympathize. Says:

    [...] Cocaine Blunts gets meta, criticizes goldrush/flavor of the month blogging, and notes the viral marketing aspect of so much rap blogging. From the blog: Despite often being branded with the term “tastemaker,” most rap bloggers (and most music writers by and large) have no taste. [1] And I don’t mean they have bad taste. That would be the least of their problems. I mean no taste. Their relationship with rap music is solely about finding what’s hot (the tastes of others) and either reinforcing it or tearing it down. Taste is not a binary decision. I want to read writing from people who are actively going out of their way to find rap music that they aren’t yet familiar with. And when they do find it, I want them to gut that shit and wear it’s skin like a new fur coat. Literarily, of course. [...]

  19. XXLmag.com | Hip-Hop On A Higher Level | » gun powder residue still on my hand Says:

    [...] we recently blamed it on the blogs, but we neglected to take a step back. we’re fucking with a culture of feigned creative spirit. don’t get me wrong, there are a handful of groundbreakers and trendsetters, but it’s mostly too many indians and not enough chiefs. those ahead of the curve stay in constant danger of losing their footing, either by going too far off the edge or by falling prey to the comforts of repetition. creation is a delicate balancing act. and that applies to both writing raps and writing about raps. or however you choose to get your hip hop rocks off. matter of fact, i’m chasing a greased trend by the tail as we speak. [...]

  20. Virgil Walters Says:

    For the realest in rap and other music every Thursday night from 9-10PM Souf to Nawf radio program http://www.prattradio.com
    Tune in and let the beat ride.

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