In front of a packed house Toki Wright, Desdamona, Guante, the Lioness, and Atmosphere's Slug came together at Intermedia Arts Monday night to discuss hip hop's relationship with the local press. Moderated by the Current's Andrea Swensson and Kevin Beacham, the conversation was aimed to spark ideas for a May 10 local hip-hop celebration at the Fitzgerald Theater. It sparked some venom too.
When asked to sum up how they felt about the press at the outset, the panel used words like "shallow," "biased," "pandering," and "disconnected" to describe Twin Cities music journalists. It was said that local scribes only write about their friends, "or friends of friends," and there's a lack of diversity among writers.
It's tough to hear these criticisms, but not altogether surprising. Amid occasional tangents -- Star Tribune's Chris Riemenschneider said much of the discussion also centered on the community's relationship with itself -- a lot of solid truth about scene-building was passed around. In the spirit of moving forward, here are five thoughts from the night.
It was eye-opening to officially meet several of the talented artists working locally at Monday's event. The night had a roomful of people heading directly to the source of their frustrations and/or fascinations. On the media's end, I'll say the folks who write and shoot for City Pages and other local publications are a passionate, overworked, underpaid, and quite approachable bunch. These are music fans who sometimes deal with a disturbing amount of flak for the type of music they enjoy. They are often tired all day at work so that they can spend a few hours a night at a rap show, and often don't eat very well so that they can pick up a few records at Fifth Element.
I invite artists to contact me at rfischer [at] citypages.com with pitches or questions. As the City Pages music editor, I assign all of our music print and blog stories. I'm constantly funneling stuff to our writers, and they're always hungry for ideas. Jack Spencer writes about local rap every week for us. (E-mail him at ihavehighselfworth [at] gmail.com.) There are over a dozen other contributors who are always looking for new hip hop to listen to and write about too. If there are other folks you'd like to get in touch with, I can send you their contact info, too.
City Pages covers a ton of hip hop, but has never been just a rap magazine. City Pages isn't even exclusively a music rag. The way that we cover music is different from what you'll find on the Current, KMOJ, KFAI, Radio K, Vita.mn, Pioneer Press, MN Daily, TC Daily Planet, TPT, and other local media outlets. When "local media" gets lumped together as one entity, it's just like tossing every local rapper in the same slot. The differences can be subtle at a glance, but they're in there.
If journalists are expected to take time listening to an artist's music and think critically about it, it's easier to improve when our critics meet us halfway and follow what we're doing, too. Be specific about what you like and don't like, and come directly to us to be sure that the message is received.
You want to write about hip hop (or any sort of music) for City Pages? E-mail me some writing samples and your ideas at rfischer [at] citypages.com. All I ask in return is that you meet deadlines, be professional, and let creativity be your guide.
Every semester, we hire unpaid interns. You must be a college student who can get credit to be eligible, but that's it. Same deal. E-mail me.
A familiar (and unfounded) complaint about City Pages is that we only cover Doomtree and Rhymesayers. And add Totally Gross National Product if you wish. All three of them used to be smaller, lesser-known entities. By making smart artistic and business decisions they've sold albums, gotten people to come to their shows, and attracted the attention of the press. These are savvy people who do their research, work with people they might not like personally, and are constantly investing in their live and studio game to stay prominent both here in the Twin Cities and around the globe.
If getting a write-up is important to you, productive outreach is essential. Big Cats, one of our favorite local producers, wrote an excellent guide to hooking up with local press. It's a long read, but everything in there is extremely useful. Basic points: Make great art, work way in advance, have a story to tell, and keep pushing. Seriously, just read it.
One of my favorite comments from Monday night referred to the hip-hop community as individually smart and collectively stupid. The same applies to music journalists, and society on the whole.
A whole bunch of proud, opinionated people in a room (or on social media) together will argue. Expecting disagreement, and accepting that we'll always feel somewhat misunderstood is realistic. I'm not directly involved in the planning of the May 10 event at the Fitzgerald, but I won't miss it. I'm curious to see how things develop, and if it provides some momentum for the future arguments about the validity of ratchet music, how hip hop includes more elements than just rap, the gender inequality gap, why we need local hip-hop awards shows, and a million other quibbles. I'd be more worried if the arguing stops.
At minimum, the night inspired me to talk about City Pages' role in the hip-hop community, and to invite more collaborators in. Hopefully we can all listen and be heard a little more.
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