Birthplace Magazine, I believe, represents a new and transformative style of music journalism, where we spend as much time highlighting the work of mainstream artists as well as those on the come up. Of course, we do so with an editorial focus on New York City, the Birthplace of Hip Hop and its surrounding metropolitan area, in a way that we feel is equally groundbreaking. In doing so, we’ve gotten well acquainted with hip hop media on local and national levels, and gotten to know quite a few upcoming artists in our area pretty well. In many cases, however, hip hop media sources are failing upcoming artists, who spend great amounts of energy seeking their cosign. Here’s why I think this is harmful, and why I think we’re different.
OTiS CLaPP and I have a funny relationship.
In Birthplace Magazine’s early days, I attended the release party for OTiS CLaPP’s album Welcome II Nowhere, held at the Bowery Poetry Club. I didn’t really know him then, though I had heard his name during my pre-launch, local-artist reconnaissance.
It was a small affair, though to be fair there were several events occurring that night that were appealing to the same regulars that might have otherwise attended. My initial impression of OTiS CLaPP was that he was a capable lyricist and performer, had a bit of a rough but likeable edge, marketable enough look, and his music wasn’t horrible.
Since not much more could have been gleaned from a single appearance, OTiS CLaPP made sure to put a CD in my hand, and implored me to check it out.
Though not very quickly, I eventually did. There were a couple of tracks I thought were good, but several that just did not stand out to me. A telephone call interlude, a conversation with his incarcerated brother Ralphie whose release OTiS CLaPP has always been a hugely vocal proponent for, went way too long.
I chose not to write it up, largely because of scheduling, but mainly because I didn’t find it as noteworthy as some other projects I had in my hand at the time. But he was on my radar, and when we crossed paths again, I told him I listened to it, though I didn’t go into much detail.
Some time thereafter, I received a complimentary tweet from another upcoming New York City artist, YC The Cynic. OTiS CLaPP noticed it as well, and replied, taking me to task for not listening to his project, even though I said I did.
Now, I had to take huge exception to being “called out” in that manner. What we do at BirthplaceMag.com, we do for love. Expenses are out of pocket, and I personally spend many nights scrambling around the city, covering shows and events, to make sure that upcoming New York hip hoppers receive their shine on a respectable, professional platform that my team and I sacrifice areas of our lives to painstakingly build.
You know. Just like some of you artists do.
So I immediately replied to OTiS CLaPP, telling him that I did indeed listen to his project as I said I did, and that I simply chose not to post about it. To prove it, I let him know which songs I remember liking and which I didn’t, and I let him know I thought that phone call skit was too long.
I was polite, but firm. I let it be known it’s not cool to make me feel obligated.
To his credit, OTiS CLaPP has a great sense of humor and is a very cool and humble guy. He immediately insisted he was more teasing than being serious, that he completely understood my position and he vehemently apologized.
I accepted of course. No harm, no foul.
Since then, we’ve spoken several times, and I’ve seen him perform on many occasions. We’ve posted up some of his work since then, and recently, I personally got involved with one of his projects in a different manner, producing a track from his latest mixtape, Welcome Home Ralphie, a 15-track project, dedicated to brother Ralphie’s release from prison.
(There’s my disclosure.)
The track I supplied is very moody and dark, and fits nicely with OTiS CLaPP’s vibe, particularly how he wrote and delivered it.
I thought it was the best I’d heard from him.
I was pretty confident that my contribution would be a standout.
I was wrong.
When we spoke at a recent event, I told him I had listened to it twice, mentioned one or two songs I remember liking, and promised I would get back with more detail.
(He’s probably wondering why I didn’t, but I don’t think he’ll call me out on it.)
Anyway, I realized after speaking to him that the fact is, this is about more than just OTiS CLaPP. This is about the relationship between the hip hop “media” and underground artists, particularly on my New York Metro beat.
I was an artist once. I can understand how it’s nice to see that a blog or publication site, especially the larger ones with great readership, put up your song or video.
It’s just that from what I’ve seen, in most cases the site is either blindly supporting you because there is a preexisting relationship, or just posts it up because they post everything they can.
In most cases there is nothing but an image and a link.
In these scenarios, what’s missing is the biggest thing that these upcoming artists need, and in OTiS CLaPP’s case, something I can tell he really wants.
It’s more than a posting with little to no commentary. It’s more than the perception of a co-sign. It’s more than just another platform for all of the artist’s already-fans to root them on. It’s more than the new, but largely jaded eyeballs they may attract, that you probably won’t win over anyway.
It’s something that few sites offer, and even fewer offer to new artists.
I constantly see artists that we post about get excited when they are also posted up on 2DopeBoyz or Nah Right or XXL’s Bangers section, or other such sites. I watch as they direct their followers to those sites, imploring them to comment or rate the song highly, in order to attract more listens.
And that’s great. Everyone wants to be heard.
But there is something to be said for old fashioned music criticism. For an impartial voice to offer their opinion of your work. To tell you that this song “didn’t do it for me” and explain why. Or to suggest that an interlude was too long.
You know. So the artist can get better, and find ways to really stand out in an insanely overcrowded upcoming artist universe.
The gatekeeper system in music journalism is horribly broken, and not just in hip hop, yet artists still scratch and claw, and sometimes pay, for blogs and sites to post their material.
To me, in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t really mean much.
Here’s what I think does:
Hey OTiS, in my humble opinion Welcome Home Ralphie starts out great. The intro is cool, and “Mood Swing” was a great starter. While “Get Off My…” was good, I think maybe it should have been later in the tracklist. I think it’s a little underwhelming, compared to some of the mixtape’s standouts anyway, and a bit gratuitously vulgar. I know a lot of people like it, so maybe it’s just me, I just think some other tracks might have been better early on.
You quickly recover though, because “Listening Now” is a strong track, it matches your intensity well and “You Get Yours, I’ll Get Mine,” is smooth, catchy and effective in its introspectiveness. “High Road” is pretty dope, the first real standout track. Great choice in features, great beat. “The Last One Left” is solid, it was good to rock over that style of beat, if only to show that you can.
“Think About Me” is a great beat (recall my disclosure) and your mood fits it perfectly. It’s short, but potent. “On The Rize” is energetic and lyrical with good features, it just didn’t win me over.
“Wasting Away” is good, listenable with a solid guest appearance. It’s a decent song. “Best in the League” was solid. I think it was a good inclusion, in case you thought maybe it shouldn’t make the project because of what it was originally used for.
“The Interview” was strange, silly and a perfect length for an interlude (wink, wink). The beat for “Gutta Shit” was a bit monotonous for my tastes, but good verses helped save it a bit. “Mind Games” has a great classic NYC sound and you, Prem & Raz did their collective thing on the vocals. The chorus works well, this is a strong track.
“If You Talk II Much” borders on epic and was a great use of the original track. Props to whoever conceived and produced that. I really like that joint and I expect that others will too.
Push that one.
Oh, and on a personal note. I get the impression that you’ve come a long way from some place you might have been before, and don’t want to return to. Keep up the good work. Stay focused.
In the end, hip hop media sites need to not be ass-kissers and not be media e-dumping grounds, throwing up everything that crosses their inbox. Otherwise, you’re doing the upcoming artists you pretend to support a disservice.
Of course, it is not in my interest to guide other hip hop media to do a better job, I’ll just make sure BirthplaceMag.com does.
It is in this spirit that we will continue to not post up everything we get, particularly if we just haven’t had the opportunity to properly review and critique it, and especially if it’s from an upcoming artist who really needs the so-called “real talk.”
Sometimes it’s due to time and manpower, as we’re still small and growing.
But sometimes it’s just that the material is not ready for our e-pages. And artists need to understand this, because us just posting up something for the hell of it does relatively little to help your career.
Paraphrasing that age-old adage, if you can’t say something important, don’t say anything at all.
We would hope that other blogs and websites would do the same, but we’ll be perfectly happy if that’s what we get known for instead.