Thursday, September 16, 2004


I've been listening to Jean Grae's new Jeanius. It's good, really good, easily the best thing she's put out in a full-length package. Some of you may think it's awkward for me to talk about this since Jean called me a "dumb fuck" on her last EP (Bootleg of the Bootleg) and called me out in the liner notes too. I've already said my piece on this and on my part, there's no more beef - I can't speak for Jean but this is all largely irrelevent. I'm just happy to hear quality material from folks like Jean and Masta Ace (his Long Hot Summer is this season's dark horse classic) after wondering if the underground was dead and gone.

Enjoying Jeanius though, made me think about other beef that's been circulating and a specific issue that's cropped up for me as a music critic/journalist. Case in point: I've known for a while that a group of Bay Area artists (I'm not going to name names since this is all grapevine rumor) have held a grudge towards me because they felt that I, as a fellow Bay Arean, had not given their group or its family of artists enough attention over the years (this is when they were still in the Bay; they've now moved to L.A.).

There is some truth in this and there's some invention. As a DJ, I had some of these guys on my radio show, put a few of their cuts on mixtapes because I liked the material. As an editor at URB, I assigned out their 12"s and LPs for review. I did not, however, lay down as much ink on them as I did other local groups, notably Bored Stiff or the Solesides crew or Rasco/Planet Asia, etc. The truth of the matter is that I didn't like all the music they put out and as a writer, I wasn't compelled to cover them as a consequence. It wasn't a dis, it was a decision. Their feeling, if I understand it correctly, is that I had an obligation to cover them in local and/or national press for the simple fact that I lived in the same locale as they did.

This is not a trivial issue, especially at a time where local acts, especially those on the underground, have to struggle for any kind of attention. It's also not limited to hip-hop: I've heard of similar grumblings by other musicians who feel like local press isn't doing enough to cover their output. Knowing that my opinion on the matter may not be univeresal, I polled some colleagues (specifically seeking writers who lived outside of New York since it's not very hard to be a NYer and write about local acts when it sometimes feels like 90% of the music world is at your footsteps already).

The question: "As a music writer/editor, do you feel like you have an obligation to cover local acts? " The answers came from:

Jeff Chang (author of the forthcoming Can't Stop, Won't Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation, longtime freelancer for...everywhere. Longtime resident of the Bay Area w/ stints in Los Angeles and New York)
    "I live here, I walk down the street and see people and they want to know what's up. That's fair and reasonable and I accept that responsibility. No one has ever pushed me too far--some have come close--but eventually everyone understands that I also can't look like an ass. It hurts my credibility and does the acts no good if I'm perceived as the kind of dog that only goes for those bones. I'd certainly prefer to write about local acts in the national press. Straight up it's good for my business if my city is repping. But the acts need to give me enough juice to do so.

    By the same token, few acts have asked me for more."

Hua Hsu (currently writing for Slate, The Wire, URB, Village Voice, etc. Formerly of the Bay, now holding down Boston)
    "I don't really feel this way anymore, though I suppose I once did. at various points in my semi-career, I can remember feeling that weird psychic tug to help out asian-american artists, or bay area artists, or, better yet, bay area asian american artists--these were all identities I felt were 'local' to me. but I realized this was a somewhat limiting way of seeing things. I guess in the end I wasn't convinced that this was helping to promote 'good art,' and as a critic, your only true responsibility is to your craft: sifting and rooting through culture, figuring out what's worthwhile and possibly helping bring light to it. the only reason we're critics is because we hold some deep-seated belief in the idea of art, and cheering something on simply because it agrees with your personality/politics/both doesn't really benefit anyone. especially in a national situation, you really don't want to give shine to something that you don't really feel comfortable 'representing' you, or your 'hood. however, if I come across something that's really good, and that thing happens to be 'local,' I'm more likely to get behind it and really proselytize hard."

Michaelangelo Matos (music editor at the Seattle Weekly, author of Prince's Sign O' the Times. Resides in Seattle.)
    "Not an obligation, not in the least. Thing is, it's often *easier* for me to pitch local acts to nat'l pubs because I have more immediate access to them (though out of courtesy I usually go through their--often out of town--publicists first). that's in terms of features; in terms of reviews, it's a mix of ego (be-the-first-on-your-block syndrome, as Bangs put it), altruism (you people outside of my burg NEED to hear this band), and strategy (I'll get there first because I can, and because they're either deserving enough or about to blow up anyway that I *should* get there first). I should note that being "first" isn't my interest usually; just in terms of something local crossing my path that I really like and want to get on top of."

Sam Chennault (SF Weekly writer, publicist for Future Primitive Sound Session. Now in the Bay Area).
    "I don't really feel like I have an obligation, but there are certain practical advantages to covering local artists that extend beyond "supporting the community."If you‚re writing for a Weekly, readers will automatically be more interested in an artist who is from their area, and by extension editors will be more likely to accept pitches. Generally, I try to incorporate as many local signifiers as possible into the pieces, i.e. the café or club where I interview them, what neighborhood they‚re from, etc. This provides the readers a connection to the piece. When I write for national publications, I tend to pitch local artists first because it allows you to conduct the interview in person - as opposed to the more impersonal phoner interviews - and subsequently construct a physical setting. With phoners, you can recreate a scene that functions as an introductory anecdote or whatever, but it lacks the vitality or texture of being able to experience it firsthand. One disadvantage is that pieces about local artists won't get picked up for syndication.

    Also, I think that the idea of community can't be defined in strictly geographical terms. Somtimes, I feel a closer cultural/spiritual/philisophical affinity to artists from Atlanta than I do SF. So, in a way, I'm always trying to promote members of my community, regardless of where they are."

If anyone else would like to share their opinion, perspective, please email me.