You Gots To Grill – Vol. 8
“To Pimp A Butterfly Shrimp”
No shows booked at the moment.
For a solid 2 weeks, almost every day, someone at some point said something to the effect of “What do you think about that new Kendrick” to me. I actually didn’t listen to the album the second it came out. I really don’t listen to any album the second it comes out anymore. There’s so much hype surrounding big releases nowadays that by the time the album drops, I’m so sick of hearing about it that I just wait until it’s not trending to give it a proper listen. If I’m going to love an album and it’s going to be a classic, I can wait 2 weeks.
So. What do I think of that new Kendrick?
I think that the new Kendrick album is really good. I can hear Parliament Funkadelic, some Outkast, a little jazz. I’ve listened to it several times already and it’s probably going to end up in my “classics” folder. It’s a cohesive album.
The album is really good. More importantly, the discussion about it is really sad (or rather the fact that the discussion exists). I could elaborate on my opinion of the album but you have 2 ears and access to the album so you can form your own opinion. Instead I’m going to elaborate on the discussion surrounding the album and hype in general.
My musical tastes started to take shape in the late 80s. When I started to build my cassette and CD collection in the 90s as a teenager, I really had no idea what kind of gold I was getting. In retrospect, the quality of the albums coming out at that time and the frequency of their release was unbelievable. Think I’m on my “old man, good old days” shit? Lemme run through a few gems:
(That was me thumbing randomly through my iPhone for about 2 minutes. I could make a list 10 pages long and not scratch the surface.)
As the years pass, I still get lots of great albums. Key word: albums. The list above contains artists who put out amazing albums. Front to back listen the whole way through albums. Not every album they put out was amazing, but all of them have at 1 that is unfuckwitable. Most of the time when I get a “new” awesome album, it’s not actually new in the sense that it just came out, but it’s “new” in the sense that I just got it. Occasionally it actually IS a new release.
Fast forward to today. iTunes, shuffling, SoundCloud, YouTube and ADD, amongst other things, have destroyed the album format. Rappers drop albums and call them “mixtapes”, blurring the line between an official proper release and a promo release. (Seems to me, if it sells, magically it’s an album, if it doesn’t, they call it a “mixtape” and act like they didn’t try to push it.) I’ve gotten individual tracks from artists over a period of a few years and I don’t think they ever put an actual album out. Labels don’t care about artist development so there’s no patience to perfect a body of work. Material has to come out yesterday and sound like the flavor of the month. In the end, we’re left with a diminishing number of quality albums to keep on repeat. (Wanna see the care people used to take in making a classic album, watch one of these. I recommend Def Leppard, even if you don’t like Def Leppard.)
Because nobody would ever want to sound like they’re not up on some new hot shit, people overcompensate. Enter: HYPE. When’s the last time you heard someone say “I haven’t gotten a full album in 6 months that I thought was discussion-worthy”? Probably never, even though sometimes I’m sure that’s the case. Instead, they rave about something, often times before they’ve even heard it, so they can sound informed and cool. Albums are breaking sales records as presales on iTunes and Amazon. Re-read that last sentence. It’s totally ok to admit that you haven’t gotten anything amazing in a minute. In the words of my friend Justin, “Sometimes everyone is on one person’s dick because there’s no other dicks to be on at the moment”.
Beyonce quietly dropped her album. Good. It sucked. It should have been dropped so quietly that nobody heard it. (I guess if you’re unsure of your product, why make a big deal of it?) Beyonce has a half a billion dollars and she’s making songs that sound like dirty south struggle raps. We don’t believe you. By the way, how’s Tidal working out for you? I honestly feel bad for girls that want to go out and dance to fun female pop music nowadays because they don’t have anyone to listen in mainstream rotation. But you don’t hear anyone, especially women, saying “Yeah that new Beyonce just isn’t good / good as her old stuff / good as (insert non-mainstream artist here).” Ladies… You’re stuck on an island with “Dangerously In Love” or “Beyonce”? Let’s be honest.
Madonna kissed Drake at Coachella. Cool. Know what else is cool? Making timeless pop music like you used to do. Your shenanigans are trending. Your music is not.
If the D’Angelo album came out under a different name, nobody would have said a peep about it. It’s mediocre at best. Guys like Drake watered down R&B and there hasn’t been a good album in forever. If you were stuck on an island with only 1 D’Angelo album, nobody is picking Black Messiah. There’s no way you have ever been as excited (or pretended to be) as you were about the new D’Angelo album. Pre or post release. Also, it’s weird how people that discuss the new D’Angelo album with me get reaaaallly defensive. Like they have to defend the hype they spread before it came out.
So what’s my point?
This is a unique phenomenon that I wanted to air out. This is our fault. And by “our” I mean people who consume music, people who discuss music and people who make music. Have some standards. Try harder. We NEED more amazing music, not just discussions and speculations. So what do we do?
If you make music, don’t release your album until it’s as good as it possibly can be. Do you not want to make amazing albums? Take as much time as you need. Take chances. Experiment. If you love an album or artist or producer, take what you love about them and apply it to what you do. I loved Ellie Goulding’s first album so much. It’s amazing. I thought it would be a new standard for pop music, female singers, etc. Fast-forward 2 years, her next album is a turd nugget. She sang at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, the Royal Wedding. I thought she was gonna take over the world. Now she’s an EDM hook singer at best. WHY?! It’s like basketball players in the NCAA try their hardest and then they get to the NBA and they coast.
If you consume music…
-Quit asking for and accepting music that you know is shit. Are you really in love with the coco? Don’t be a fucking clown. Do you drive around in your car listening to that? Have some standards. Your car picks up more than 3 radio stations.
-If you’re a parent, have some influence over what your kids listen to. A woman who contracted me for a private event told me “My daughter really likes terrible ratchet rap music. I don’t know why.” Guess what? Last time I checked, you were her mom. Act accordingly and turn that shit off.
-If you buy an album and it’s shit, complain. Tell the artist. Just tweet right at them. Tell other people that it sucked (then recommend something else similar but dope). Ask for your money back. I’ve gotten albums for free and if I had paid for them, I’d be furious. And quit hyping up albums before you hear them. Please. How does that even work?
-Don’t settle for what just came out. There are countless amazing albums that were put out over the last 100 years and the technology is in your hand to hear any of them anywhere at any time. Quit pigeonholing your music tastes.
-Talk to a DJ. We’re always getting new music. That’s our job. And when we give you a recommendation, check it out. Or we probably won’t give you any more. If you hear a DJ play something you think is dope or you hear something you think is dope in a restaurant / store, etc., ask what it is, then write it down and get it. Do the work.
-If you get music that you truly believe is dope, spread the word. Tastes are subjective but at least you can start a dialogue. Someone flipping it on you and recommending something even fresher than what you said isn’t a bad thing. Do you want the good music or not?
We’re all in this together. Supply and demand. I want the music to be as dope and plentiful as the conversation about it. Music lover and DJ signing off…
The End Of DJing…
First off, if you’re reading this on your cell phone and you’re in the middle of a dance floor at a club, say good night to your friends, pay your tab, walk outside and step in front of a bus. The world thanks you.
I’ve been meaning to write this article for some time and I’m actually glad that I didn’t. So many things have happened in the years since this seed was planted and they all help to buttress my perspective. Whether or not you agree with me after reading this doesn’t matter to me at all. As a DJ and a person who might consider killing himself if he went deaf because he loves music that much, I live this. This is my life. If something happened and I never DJ’d another gig, I would be satisfied with my career. I’ve played all over the United States, in other countries and with too many amazing artists and DJs to name. I’ve supported myself playing music to make people dance. I have no complaints or regrets.
Also, as of writing this final draft, my heart is broken by all the recent calls from DJ friends who are “over it”. These are good people and great DJs who have reached their breaking point from terrible music, unresponsive or abusive crowds, less-than-savory nightclub staff (from bathroom attendant up to owner) and all sorts of other bullshit unique to the profession of DJing. The thing they love, their reason for getting up in the morning is damaged beyond repair.
This article is long because I care. Read the whole thing if you care.
A few years ago on Cinco De Mayo, a club I worked for booked the legendary Crooklyn Clan to perform a 4 turntable set. Some of you know CC from their record pool and classic party breaks, some of you don’t know them at all. But if you’re in the know, you know that Riz & Sizzahandz are 2 of the baddest DJs to ever do it. After the gig we did the late night grub thing and as if almost by accident, one of the most life-changing conversations I’ve ever had happened. I don’t remember the point of the story being told but at one point either Riz or Siz said “after DJing”.
“You mean when you guys stop DJing one day?”, I asked.
“No, when DJing ends.”, they said.
You could tell it was a conversation they had previously had at length and were in agreement about the concept. They broke it down like this…
“One day real soon, all of this is gonna end. Sure there will be people DJing but it won’t matter. When all the veterans retire, us, Jazzy Jeff, Rich Medina, Bobbito, Scratch, Prince Paul, all the good music cats, it’s over. We can’t keep the good music parties going, venues don’t want it because it doesn’t bring a bottle service crowd and all the good music venues are closing. People bought the buildings on either side of APT in NYC and called in noise complaints until it closed. Who the fuck does that?! And all the DJs are becoming interchangeable. All clubs play the same 100 songs so why pay someone extra because they do it better? Most of the crowds don’t care anyways. Can I ask you a question?”
“Yeah.”, I said with my mouth hanging open.
“I have about 5,000 disco records. Lots of hard to find shit I got from labels back in the day. I’m gonna rip it all to digital. You want it?”, Riz asked.
“Yeah. Are you serious?”
“Yep. What do you want?” .
“Uhh… Can I have all of it? Is this a trick question?”, I said.
“You know how many younger DJs I ask that question to and they all say the same thing? They say, “Gimme whatever will work in the club”. They just want 20 disco tracks to have their “disco set”. They don’t actually like disco. They don’t give a fuck about the music. They’d play the same 20 disco songs for the rest of their life and not care.”, Riz told me.
I was sitting at a table with 6 or 7 other DJs and nobody said anything. Good DJs. DJs that had been doing this for decades. None of us could argue with them. Our minds were blown.
I’ve told this story so many times in the past few years to DJs and nobody has argued with me.
Some people say that everything happens for a reason. I like to think that things happen for a bunch of reasons. I listened to an interview with Chuck D one time and he explained how Hip-Hop started because of a specific intersection of technology, geography, socio-economic climate, popular thought, music and other variables. It was a set of circumstances that will never happen again. The same is true for the rise of rock music, the reason certain fashion trends take hold or why revolutions start. There isn’t a singular cause behind “The End of DJing”, it’s a myriad of ideas, actions, trends other factors that will be the death of the DJing that we know and love. The tragic irony is that I’m watching it die at almost the same speed that it becomes more popular than it has ever been.