"I’ve Got Plans, Nigga…Big Plans…" Part I: The Problem

30 Dec

I was in a car accident Wednesday night. Drunk driver ran two red lights – the second of which was the intersection I was at – and hit the drivers side of my 93 Buick Regency, causing my car to go in a complete circle before stopping at the corner. I’m OK, but my car isn’t – it’s totaled, and we’re still waiting on insurance, etc.

But let’s not talk about that. Let’s talk about the title of this blog, which is a quote from The Notorious B.I.G. on his debut album, Ready To Die.

A couple months ago, I had a conversation with a fellow mediamaker about goals in our fields. While she dabbles in everything from magazines to documentaries, she’s really set on what her primary goal is: “Basically, I just want to make people think more.” But as she grilled me about my aspirations in hip-hop journalism, I realized that I didn’t really have a clear objective in what I was doing. I loved hip-hop, and I loved journalism, but that was where it ended. I bluntly told her that I wasn’t a visionary, to which she responded, “That’s a problem.” After further thought, I now have a goal of my own.

I got into hip-hop in the late 90s, which is much later than most in my field, so my fascination with the culture and the music is still fresh. I religiously read hip-hop publications like XXL, URB, and THE SOURCE (yep, it still has some bright spots), primarily because of my deep infatuation of hip-hop itself. I like reading about my favorite MCs, I like seeing opinions of new albums, I like seeing “what’s hot” in the hip-hop world. As I read these magazines, starting in high school, my writing started to reflect it – I’d review CDs for my school newspaper, complete with the allusions to different instruments, usage of magazine terms like “club banger” and “gem of the album,” and dramatic phrases like “Word Of Mouf is Ludacris’ best effort yet.”

But the same friend pointed out that the standards of hip-hop journalism are considerably lower than other forms of journalism. And once again, I realized that she was right. I pick up hip-hop magazines primarily because of my infatuation with the culture, and while there are some incredible journalists out there whose work really appreciate, I don’t consciously pick up these magazines because of the writing quality. I consistently buy new issues of GQ and Newsweek because their articles get my wheels turning, and I feel that I’m guaranteed compelling, interesting pieces that I’ll learn something from. Magazines like Rolling Stone and SPIN have huge reputations in the entire music world, whereas THE SOURCE is only well-respected in the hip-hop community.

I’ve concluded that three main factors contribute to hip-hop journalism’s lower standards.

  • Hip-hop has always been looked at as less than an art form by those who aren’t involved, simple fact.
  • Hip-hop journalism has a gigantic online community; and while the Internet has been a beautiful outlet in terms of giving people the opportunity to share their opinions with the world, many Internet hip-hop journalists aren’t capable writers (there are still exceptions, though, i.e. yours truly). As my man Mark Lelinwala said, “Editors are hiring their friends to write about rap;” people are doing hip-hop journalism as a side hustle, and the quality reflects that.
  • The average hip-hop reader thinks the same way that I said earlier – he buys the issue that has his favorite artist mentioned on the cover, or the issue that said that the new Kanye West album has a classic rating. They don’t have any hopes of reading an intriguing article when they pick up the magazine.

    Later on in that conversation, Mark said, “Hip-Hop Journalism is dirty…the game needs to be mopped.”

    If that’s the case, then I’m the new janitor.

    Coming Soon: “I’ve Got Plans, Nigga…Big Plans…” Part II: The Solution

    Comments requested, especially from fellow journalists and writers – Sound off!

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10 Responses to “"I’ve Got Plans, Nigga…Big Plans…" Part I: The Problem”

  1. Adam December 30, 2005 at 1:39 pm #

    Sorry bout your car, bro.

    You’re right about Hip-Hop Journalism, in fact, just the idea of having Hip-Hop Journalism shows it’s not really on par with other forms of Journalism. We really should, at least us GOOD ones, call ourselves Journalists who cover Hip-Hop.

  2. Bougie Black Boy December 30, 2005 at 3:25 pm #

    You’re a brilliant writer. Glad you make people think. One of the items that truly impress me is that you say, “hip-hop journalism’s lower standards”. And you identify these problems.

    Recognizing these problems is a good thing. Now the problems can be fixed.

  3. M-Dubb December 30, 2005 at 9:37 pm #

    Like I told you from jump: the field tends to get a lower rep for the fact that it’s never been about the quality of writing, rather than the topic of discussion. An article about Beyonce could be three lines long – as long as Jay-Z and Destiny’s Child were mentioned.

    But I feel you. It took me working here to understand how I wanted my work to affect others.

    And in your case, if you’re happy playing the role for the hip-hop community, so be it.

    Clean up in aisle 5!

  4. Bougie Black Boy December 31, 2005 at 1:13 am #

    m-dubb has a good point. but in the same breath the sarcasm drips like an unwanted faucet — and importantly as someone who works in the publishing industry myself, and have worked with some of the major publishers, I’m aware that low quality does sell (temporarily). But as those of us who consider ourselves good writers, I think that we strive to want a bit more from ourselves than just a 3-line article about Beyonce that may be poorly written. I seek to serve longterm, not for the moment. And, as a good writer yourself, I’m sure you’d agree.

  5. Soopa Starr December 31, 2005 at 11:10 pm #

    Ding ding ding ding…

    You are correct. It’s frustrating but at the same time, you have to be a part of the solution. I’m trying to be but it’s just a slow process getting my feet in the door (cliche, I know). And you, Mr. Ketchums are mos def on the right track. Keep doing what you do homie. We already talked about this so you know where I stand.

  6. ShawnQt January 1, 2006 at 8:03 am #

    Interesting topic… I was reading a copy of King with Ms. Cole on the cover, and some of the articles and interviews were pretty short and uninspiring, except for the Kanye article, which I beleive he wrote himself, or someone wrote it through his voice. In any case… i guess its more about the photos then anything. Or maybe the artist arn’t that inspiring to write really good stuff about.

  7. ShawnQt January 1, 2006 at 8:04 am #

    by the way, thanks for coming by my spot, ur a really good writer!

  8. M-Dubb January 6, 2006 at 5:28 am #

    was I being sarcastic? I didn’t know…

    Actually, if that was what was meant by the “sarcasm drips…” comment, it wasn’t meant to be sarcasm.

    If he’s going to go into the field, he’s taking one of the best ways of thinking into it…

  9. Bougie Black Boy January 7, 2006 at 12:56 pm #

    yeah M-dubb, the comment–at least to me–appeared to be sarcastic, hence the “clean up aisle 5”

  10. GhanaianSneakerHead June 16, 2006 at 8:22 am #

    sorry to hear about your car, also. yeah man I decided to get a blog on here, a lot of the stores I like to visit, have blogs and I like this format, so I figured I’d join. I hear on the journalism thing, I believe you know I dig your writing, I been a fan even before I knew you were journalist for a living. oh and i have to thank you for recommending that gza album, prolly one of my favorites that i’ve bought in recent memory…besides of course the classic that i bought.

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