While journalists in all facets of the industry argue about the future of their craft, hip-hop media has been one area of journalism that has almost entirely jumped shipped for anything online and digital.
In a lot of ways, the digital shift has reinvigorated the genre through the access it has granted. But for Chris Faraone, it didn’t really address a fundamental problem.
“Unfortunately, there’s never been a lot of good hip-hop journalism,” he said, “because the hip-hop community doesn’t understand what good journalism is.”
Faraone, a writer at the Boston Phoenix, is proudly a self declared old school journalist. Often seen carrying around a reporter’s notebook, with a pen in his ear, you know what you’re getting with him. He’s made his name by covering hip-hop for Spin, YRB, The Source, and the now defunct Elemental.
His characterization of hip-hop journalism isn’t without merit. From Benzino promoting his career as an artist through The Source while he still owned the magazine, to alleged affairs between artists and female writers on staff, the horror stories are well known. Let’s just say its been less than harmonious and respectable.
“A lot of groupie bitches got into it. Male and female,” Faraone said.
The problem with hip-hop journalism as Faraone and many others see it, is simple really. The bread and butter of the craft is the album review, or anything that discusses an artist’s music. The phenomenon became that some people had trouble seperating their fandom from being objective or offering any criticism. They were fanbois, as Faraone puts it. In other genres, it’s sometimes a badge of honor to have never given a good review.
“Some of the early stuff was written by straight white-voyeurs, the Rolling Stone magazines of the world, who went into the South Bronx and wrote about what they saw,” Faraone said.
The trend of hip-hop media migrating to blogs that provide more MP3’s than reviews would seem like the nail in the coffin to journalists of Faraone’s mold. In some instances, this view has been vindicated. The most relevant rap outlets to many are Nah Right, 2 Dope Boyz, and Rap Radar, and most do not resemble Faraone’s brand of journalism at all.
This new reality of content providing left many wondering where journalists fit into the equation. Faraone has hardly let this stop him.
A few years ago, he co-founded the popular Boston hip-hop blog Jump The Turnstyle, his stories are among the most read on the Boston Phoenix’s website, and he maintains a strong presence on Twitter and Facebook. Not bad for an “old school journalist.”
Perhaps we’re all a bit too unfair to “old school journalists” when discussing their ability to cope with new media and finding their place in it. Faraone could easily make you look silly if you dismiss him like that, as he talks about the internet as something exciting and full of new opportunities for journalists.
“Instead of feeling paralyzed, like I know a lot people do, you should feel completely liberated,” Faraone said, “the quality is up to you, especially if you don’t have an editorial process… The potential is fuckin’ limitless.”
Faraone’s optimism is not completely lost on the younger generation either.
Zach Cole is a 20 year old college student and co-founder of Potholes in My Blog, a popular hip-hop site that’s centered around its album reviews and written content.
When you speak to Cole about his approach to hip-hop journalism, it is not that different from Faraone’s. Like Faraone, Cole gets hundreds of emails per week from artists who are looking to get their music reviewed, and much like Faraone, Cole goes through every one of the requests.
“A lot of bloggers complain about that aspect of it, they don’t like getting hit up to listen to stuff. It’s understandable, but at the same time though, when you sign on to be a blogger, you accept a new responsibility that you are a tastemaker and you have a responsibility to take these requests and give it some kind of feedback. Otherwise, there’s not going to be any music progression. Somebody has to listen to that album,” Cole said.
Cole’s enterprising ways have earned him jobs reviewing music at Rhapsody and Urb Magazine.
Whether or not Cole’s personality and approach have been influenced by new media is hard to say. Talking to him however, you certainly get the feeling that he could be a rarity among the new generation (ie: my generation). A hopeless romantic maybe?
“Hip-hop journalism doesn’t really exist,” Faraone said shaking his head as we sat in the Quiznos next to Fenway Park.
I’m not sure I’m ready to give up quite yet though.
To my non-NU Journalism Department readers (ie: most of you): this is an updated version of a similar story I posted a few weeks ago. The story you just read is a modified version for Dan Kennedy’s class. Feel free to comment or dispute either!