Style Weekly has been a place to find my writing for almost a decade. They’ve allowed me to write virtually anything I’ve wanted and we haven’t had any major concerns over the years. But things change. Style isn’t the paper it used to be. Like most print publications, the internet has changed the way they do business. Their staff is smaller. There editorial choices are more vulnerable to outside forces than they should be. This has led to Arts & Culture articles written by publicists who were paid by Style to promote their friends and their music. It seemed any rapper with a press release and Youtube account was fit to print. This insn’t the way to build trust, credibility or respect with your readership. I was embarrassed for Style. I questioned whether I should continue to write for them. After this week’s cover story, “WWREHH,” the answer is becoming clear.
But first, a little background. For more than a decade a produced a hip-hop video show called Wavelength for several different local television outlets. I interviewed local rappers and national artists, such as Run-DMC, Gangstarr, Bahamadia and De La Soul. I played cutting edge music videos with some help from friends like Andre Christian, who I’ll get back to later. I did all this with my own money, equipment and tenacity. I quizzed rappers at record stores, nightclubs, on the street, at sound checks and once in a girls locker room. I loved hip-hop and I wanted to see it treated with the respect and critical analysis it deserved. There is a web page of missing videos and busted links somewhere on the internet that can tell you all about it.
Back to this week’s 6,000 word cover story. It’s a rambling, manic article that’s the work of someone who isn’t sure who or what is important, so everything is thrown in. This guy talks to rappers, promoters, historians, journalists, hookers, club owners, producers, meter maids, janitors, mailmen and a guy named “Cheats.” (Okay, three of those sources I made up. But you get the picture.) Imagine someone making a burrito this way, adding all the ingredients they could find (peanut butter, pineapples, cough syrup, string beans, etc.) and sliding it to you on a plate. That taste in your mouth right now? It’s this article. I’ve excerpted some of the more distasteful morsels below.
Richmond is still defining itself when it comes to hip-hop. The music’s history runs deep here. The area was an early stopover for original stars coming from New York traveling Interstate 95. Yet the city never developed its own sound or identity, and never fully integrated its dance floors.
So who were the original stars of hip-hop? Do they matter? I guess not, since there wasn’t enough space in this magnum woepus to mention them by name. This was a chance to provide context and continuity to an article that sorely needs it. We should know that artists such as Stetsasonic, FunkDoobiest, Notorious B.I.G, Black Moon and Yo-Yo came to Richmond, because they are important. And that makes Richmond important. See how that works? It’s as Easy as E. That line about segregated dance floors is something I’m still trying to sort out.
In the article, a caption refers to Mad Skillz making a cameo at an Art of Noise event in July. Anyone who has actually attended one of these events or glanced at this particular artists’ social media would know that he has co-sponsored this event since it’s inception. He’s at every Art of Noise event, for the whole time. He couldn’t make a cameo if he put on red codpiece and hollered “Ow!” It’s like a rapper making a guest appearance on his own album or you being a guest in your own home. He’s supposed to be there! Speaking of Skillz, the article correctly states that he put Richmond on the map for hip-hop in the 1990s. Moreover, he repped Richmond and the Commonwealth throughout his career, which spans over two decades. But he wasn’t even interviewed for this story. Instead we have deep thoughts from artists who are considered underground because not many people like them.
Elsewhere, another picture features three of the members of one Richmond’s most influential collectives, the SupaFriendz. However, only one of them is identified. The missing names are DJs Danja Mowf and DJ Marc. The latter’s name was on the marquee for the event, which is was visible from the heavily-traveled thoroughfare known as Broad Street.
Richmond is known mainly for rapper and ghostwriter Mad Skillz, who also serves as a tour DJ for Nicki Minaj, rapper Nickelus F. and the neo-soul and funk crooner, D’Angelo. The latter has a history of legal problems in his hometown and has done little to promote local ties or area artists — .
Ok, we know that D’angelo is a soul singer. We should also know that he’s not a rapper, so why is he in this article? Is all music created by young black men automatically considered hip-hop? Should Breezy and Trey Songz be here as well? The article states that D’angelo hasn’t done much for Richmond. I question that assessment. Two of his music videos were filmed here, “Lady” and “Send it On.” He could’ve been on a sound stage in L.A. or a beach in Aruba, but he chose the cinematic jewel of Belt Boulevard, Southside Plaza, as a backdrop instead. That’s a hood pass that never expires, no matter how many people you allegedly spit on. Now all that was a while ago, but as any fans of D’angelo know, he’s been preoccupied in recent years. Staying out of jail, producing an album after a long hiatus, touring the world except Richmond, etc. In this article, D’angelo is like the main character in the movie “Clerks,” who ends up at work on his day off and bad things happen. He’s not even supposed to be here.
This is from the article’s sidebar, about an hip-hop historian: ” … and he’s talking to a former employee at Phono Booth record store, once on Laburnum Avenue near the Essex Village apartments, where major hip-hop stars always stopped in the ’90s.”
Again, we have the nameless but “major” stars of hip-hop making an appearance. Another chance to drop a mile marker in this epic trudge of an article passed by. Adding to that is the writers’ assertion that the historian is working with a former employee of the Phono Booth record store. Guess what? That store had one employee, the aforementioned Andre Christian, and he doesn’t know this historian.
While the writer claims hip-hop in Richmond hasn’t found it’s identity, it’s this article itself that’s wandering and adrift. It asks, “When will Richmond embrace hip-hop?”, as if the city is under some Footloose-style bylaw that prevents gatherings of more than one turtable and a microphone. This city embraced rap music decades ago, maybe a few months before the rest of the country. Even now, it’s still a dominant cultural force among young people. So whatcha’ sayin’? If the writer is trying to prove that it’s hard out here for new artists, we got that. But it’s supposed to be hard. That’s what makes you a better artist, if you’re willing to put in the work and suffer through rejection, indifference and criticism. No, it’s not easy and if you’re waiting for someone to embrace you just for uploading your daydream, your arms might get tired.