Entitlement In Hip-Hop:
How the “support me” first attitude is polluting the process.
As originally published on January 8, 2016 on The Overgrown.
It’s 2016, and I find myself continuing on this path of actively pursuing a music writing career. While every day I work to figure out what exactly that means, I also find myself inevitably noticing things about the industry that I perhaps wouldn’t pick up on if I was solely a listener or supporter of music.
Since I write about music, I’m approached constantly by musicians I don’t know, musicians I may never meet in person, musicians I consider close friends, musicians I’ve met once or twice that I’m friendly with, musicians I’ve admired for years and a growing cadre of musicians that expect me to support them automatically. While I personally find my email inbox to include contents worthy of a reoccurring “Week In The Life Of A Rap Journalist” podcast, the most common theme—unfortunately—is entitlement. I’m sure every single music writer can relate, and I can only imagine what those more reputed than myself in the industry must face on a daily basis.
Sure, it’s just email. I get it. I can delete whatever irks me, send it into cyber oblivion and ignore it forever. I could set up an auto-reply saying I’m on vacation until 2064 like some celebrities have been rumored to do, if I wanted. It’s just email. Some will re-send, perhaps relentlessly. Some will tweet or text, “Did you get my email?” Some will ask me in person when I see them, “Did you listen to my EP yet?” But time and time again, I feel compelled to respond to every email sent my way, much like I do my best to listen to the majority of music that graces my inbox—even if I don’t plan on writing about it.
Perhaps because of my current career level, I still find the time to engage with the artists on entitlement level 10 (the highest). I find it hard to turn away because my love for music -especially independent music- keeps me perpetually curious. My interest and dedication to the independent realm has led me to building some of my most valued friendships and a plethora of favorite songs over the years—and its inspired some of my best writing. Independent artists make up more of my iTunes than those on major labels, and I’ve worked to build rapport with countless artists since I’ve been writing about music. If I am on board with your music, that means I want to hear your new music first, and I’ll work to get to that level of trust. I am not entitled, only realistic, there is a give and take here, and no one owes me the courtesy of an advance listen. It’s an honor, and I understand this.
I try to listen to all of the music that is sent to me, I do, but there has to be a weeding out process. If your introduction to me is too demanding, I’m far more likely to dismiss it, or leave it in “pending purgatory” for awhile. Unless we’ve met in person or until we build rapport online, I’m a complete stranger. As a stranger, I, respectfully, don’t owe anyone a damn thing. I don’t owe you a write-up, a review or a retweet. I’ve had people email me with the sole intention of an Instagram followback—c-mon now, you’re better than that. “Your support would mean a lot.” So many emails contain this phrase, and its accurate. My support would mean a lot. And because it would and does mean a lot, I do not hand it out to any rapper with an Instagram and a cookie-cutter, impersonal email message.
The model for sharing one’s music in hopes of garnering exposure and attention has changed dramatically over the years. Sheek Louch, in our recent interview with The Source, talked about how he used to stand outside of his local radio station hoping to catch a DJ on their way out the door to hand them a CD in person. Today, there are many other paths of entry that have replaced the strict hustle and hand-to-hand mixtape combat of the 80’s, 90’s and early 2000’s. Current artists are lucky to have tools like Twitter, Soundcloud and YouTube at their disposal to instantly reach their intended audiences and interact to gain the attention of tastemakers running blogs. When utilized well, these resources can make a world of difference for an aspiring rapper or producer. This is tried and true.
However, while there are countless examples of success as credited directly to these platforms to share one’s music, the all-too-common introductory message with the attitude of “I rap, therefore you must care” is polluting the process.
To get the attention of a ‘gatekeeper’ working for a media outlet, you must work for it—its about building relationships. Think about how easy it is to turn “I’ll get to it later” into never actually working on something because of indifference or lack of consequence. Then think about how hard it is to say no when someone you highly respect asks you for a favor, and asks politely, at that.
Much like my friend (and rapper) Zach said, in a series of tweets recently, (https://twitter.com/tZachg) “In the last 6 years, I have had a lot of strangers ask me for free clothes, free PR, free marketing, free everything. Because rap music. If you’re a stranger, I have nothing for you. It’s on you to build rapport with me and compel me to support you. I’m an ally, I help people and don’t ask for money. I contribute to this culture and support creative people who I appreciate.”
And with this tweet, Zach had me convinced I had to write on the subject: “If you’re an unknown artist, most of these folks won’t give you the time of day. Respect the people who are approachable and you can go far.”
All this being said, I don’t need to be romanced, and again, I don’t expect to be. I consider myself approachable; my hustle is similar. My expectations aren’t crazy unreasonable. It’s as simple as, when we are meeting for the first time, whether digitally or IRL, I want an introduction. I want a hello – be a human. If you want me to listen to your music, tell me a little bit about what makes your music different, i.e. why I should care. Tell me about some of your career highlights and what you hope to accomplish next. And also, never, ever get angry if I don’t choose to write about your music at a certain point, this accomplishes nothing for you. There are so many factors that go into pieces being picked up—a writer’s life ain’t easy and you should never take any omissions personally. Feel free to ask me why I’m passing on your pitch and I’ll gladly tell you where I’m at.
I want to get to know you as an artist. I want to be on your team, but I can’t be if you aren’t on mine. That comes with respecting the process and understanding that I’m less likely to want to do my job if I’m being greeted and hounded with entitlement.
Hip-Hop, because of the braggadocios nature of the music, tends to create this God-type complex within many emcees. When an emcee is in control, they are untouchable. This pedestal that certain rappers put themselves on translates to the artist thinking they are doing us a huge favor by sending us their music. It’s fine and even expected, to be cocky on a track; but off the track, replace your ego with some etiquette. At the end of the day, all I’m really asking is for is for artists to replace entitlement in their hustle with a little bit of etiquette.
My advice to those looking to build with me: Don’t make my job feel like work. I write about music because I love it. Leave your expectation of rapper’s privilege at the door, and we’re one step closer to getting you where you intended to begin: at the subject of an article, a.k.a. — why you most likely emailed me in the first place.