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I'm Not A Hip-Hop Critic, But I Am

Sometimes I like to Google myself to see my digital footprint. This is as vain as much it is curiosity. It is also validation as much as it is curiosity. I’m not so much interested in seeing my own performance but seeing the way rappers engage me, because I was insecure and inexperienced first starting out. While I had experience interviewing poets being an Assistant Editor for Chaparral, I was fully aware of the way rappers talk to or even down to women. I worried about being taken seriously.

Similar to where I was when I first started writing, artists are often insecure and sensitive about their own work. They constantly put themselves up for display and beg for mercy amidst the public eye. By having someone who holds some semblance of a platform (ie: me) legitimize their work, that person's opinion is highly revered.

Earlier this year, when I gave an album a low rating (2.5 out of 5), I received backlash from the artist’s fan-base and my own contemporaries. The criticism behind my actions went: “How could you rate an album you knew you hated?" Because it's my job. Simple. I am doing a grave disservice to everyone who reads and invests in Upcoming Hip Hop by doling out perfect scores and not talking about work which is lackluster. It's inauthentic and I should be questioned if I am so quick to give someone a 5. I even state I don't know what makes a perfect album. If I did then it would be too facile, too formulaic. This would make an artist complacent and lazy and I'm wildly uninterested in work that is such.

My perception someone’s music affects the way other people will listen, for better or worse. If I dislike the album, then it could discourage people from even giving it a chance. Many people have told me how much they value my opinion & I'm wildly grateful for that. Truly. I am still growing. I've only been writing editorials for a year and some change now. I'm still surprised at how much I've done. I still feel like I haven't done nearly enough to be amazed by myself.

Truth be told, I am my own worst critic. I rarely cut myself any slack. I don't lose enough sleep over my craft. I miss deadlines. I don't arrive when I need to. I get on my own case for not being ‘creative’ enough. I wish so much to have Dr. Dre and Beyonce level co-signs. God flex co-signs. I compare myself to my contemporaries even though I know better.

When that previously mentioned album review dropped, someone commented: "[He's] not an artist so what does he know?" It amuses me to no end how some people still misgender me when my name is so ambiguous. It’s even more amusing how the person assumed I wasn't an artist. For clarification, I'm a poet #shamelessplug. This person was angry because I did not like their friend's music. They resented me because they came wanting a thing from me and I refused to give it to them. I also learned the hard way from this to never do an album review at an artist’s request. Not to say they ruined it for the rest of you, but he did. I also had to learn some artists will really respect you for telling the truth and some will resent you. I have called out a lot of misogyny and artists have either messaged Matt or myself thanking us for having a space that isn’t interested in pandering to an artist’s ego. We already have far too much of that in this line of work.

The artists who have aggressively come for me are the ones I find the most intriguing. An artist by the name of Larstheladylover came with such vitriol over my article "Here's Why You Won't Make It As A Hip Hop Artist". The title is misleadingly cruel on purpose because people will click on it. I too hate click-bait titles and people in the comment section can complain all they want about them, but they are effective. I think his rage came from a great hole of insecurity in his own work (hence his rap name). It even got as far as him declaring he would never support The Encore Radio Show as I am an editor (and former co-host) there as well.

I struck a nerve and I hope he is better for it. Having a mirror held up to our shortcomings is the often the only we get better. Even in my own work, a friend challenged me with the question, “What is the impact of your poetry?” I still don’t have the answer and I feel exposed for not knowing what it is. This past week I was tasked to write about home. As a child of immigrants and someone who has never had a stable home for long, I don’t know what ‘home’ means. This also makes me feel insecure, but for that reason it’s very exciting. Now I have even more new territory to tackle and explore in my work.

To be a critic is to hold up the mirror to an artist’s strengths and weaknesses. To be an artist, we constantly expose ourselves to healthy and adverse feedback about our work. Regarding my own work, I fear often not making it, whatever ‘making it’ looks like when I get there. When I see older poets never getting where they wanted to, or even poets who are overly complacent in what they could have done, I'm filled with such dread. I do this to myself often. More than I would like to admit. I keep thinking "Oh girl, you could have been so much farther by now if only you had taken yourself more seriously".

I say this to you, rapper / DJ / producer / reader / whoever you are on the other side of the screen, because you have to understand: I too stress over what I will leave behind. I'm only one gatekeeper. I am a small gatekeeper at that. I've helped a handful of artists indirectly and personally and I hope to help much more. I worry myself to the bone about whether or not anyone cares about what I write let alone if they're reading it, so I keep writing in hopes of overcoming myself. Before when readers wanted to insult me, they would say my grammar is poor and my writing is trash. This used to send me into a self-conscious frenzy. I would pour over every comma and period trying to find the error in my carelessness. Yes I made mistakes. Yes, I was careless in my proof-reading, but I've come a long way. And I’m only going up from here.

As much as I push away from it, I am a music critic. I dissect lyrics and look for its double-jointed intention. I'm mindful of rhythm, cadence, flow. I attempt to classify what kind of rapper I am listening to. I am aware if the work has longevity or if it's only meant to sustain itself for a season. I do this even when I’m not thinking of an album review. These things are important because I love hip-hop. I want hip-hop to survive.

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