So once again I’m revisiting my opinionated post identifying Biggie as the greatest. My affinity for hip-hop has actually fallen off slightly so this may be a more objective analysis of these artists. I’m playing more and more D’Angelo and Sia these days and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I wanted to take a closer look at the arguments I would make for some of the guys that may challenge Biggie for the crown. Since so many of us have our “top fives,” there will never be a clear victor. But I will say that there are popular and unanimous vote-getters in the GOAT department.
Let’s start with Jay-Z.
Shawn Carter is the most iconic hip-hop artist of our time in terms of truly coming from the bottom and evolving into a wealthy entrepreneur right in front of our eyes. He is the quintessential American Dream for rap artists. While rappers like LL Cool, Ice Cube and Queen Latifah have enjoyed much success transitioning to Hollywood, Jay was always in the “best to do it” convos and he is still a relevant artist and businessman…or business, man.
Why Jay-Z is the greatest:
He did it on his own. When the labels fronted on him, he invested in himself (well maybe Kareem Burke helped) and created his own company which allowed him to spit rhymes about being able to match a triple platinum artist buck by buck with only a single going gold. He picked up where Biggie left off and infused the street life, drug talk with radio friendly hits and eventually began to sell records. Hov then became the number one trendsetter and wherever his sound went, the industry followed. Whether it was Swizz’s sample-free keys, Timbaland’s futuristic synths or the soulful backdrops provided by Kanye, Bink and Just Blaze, he led the followers year after year.
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So the last few weeks, I recorded my thoughts in front of a camera instead of writing them and I received extraordinary responses. I kind of contemplated making video rambles permanent, if not for the folks that hit me saying they missed actually reading words in their own voice. Either way, I’m just thankful that I get any kind of comment about what I do outside of rapping.
I never read comments on my music online. Why you ask? Because once I record something and I’ve decided to put it out there to the world, it is what it is. Sure I could learn what people like or dislike for next time or take what someone says as constructive but no thank you. One “please die” comment and my day is ruined. One guy hit me on Twitter and told me he followed me just so he could say he “unfollowed” me because I suck so bad and need a new hobby. It was hard not to respond and spark a back and forth about who he was a fan of and then inquire what he does for a living and find some way to insult his existence but I left it alone.
This is an opinionated business, you can’t win ’em all, blah blah blah, long story short, I have concluded that I’m not the best at receiving bad criticism. I come from an era where we listened to music, read the credits and wondered what the artist meant or what their life was like. And I didn’t get that info until I saw them on a Video Music Box interview, or Soul Train, or Arsenio or something. Even though I may have wanted to tell Big Daddy Kane that his love songs were out of place via Myspace, or go on Facebook and ask Rakim why he didn’t smile or use inflections in his voice, or maybe even read a Tupac Tweet, I couldn’t because those things didn’t exist, and I survived.
Nowadays people take their opinions and force them on others but that’s not enough, they find the human being that they have the opinion about and inform them as well. “Hey you, I’m not a hater but if you were to discontinue life, I wouldn’t be mad.” How does one respond to that? I’m not opposed to criticism; I think it can be very helpful. In the studio, tell me what you think about my verse…if I send you a song and I say, “I’m working on this, how can I improve it?” feel free to chime in with your advice. Or if I wrote a piece, tell me what I can do to get my point across more efficiently. But I find myself similar to a singer that only croons in church because I know no one’s gonna boo from the pews. You never hear “Hallelujah he stopped singing, thank you Jesus it’s over.” Church has the protective artistic shield that boosts your confidence, and I am admitting that I need that love.
The reason I’m not a good receiver of critiques is not because I think I’m perfect, it’s actually quite the contrary. I believe that I have thought of everything wrong or faulty possible with each writing, song, video or whatever content I put out and when someone says something negative I cringe because I knew they were gonna say that. Why didn’t I correct it then? Ah and here we have the ever elusive point. Perfection is not my mission…expression is. I am not interested in trying to improve as an artist as much as I want to get better as a person…so on both paths, I make mistakes. Or maybe a better way to put it would be that I make moves that aren’t universally accepted. And that is fine.
I know you know a few people that are chasing dreams you wish they wouldn’t chase, but you don’t know how to tell them. Or maybe you’re one of those people that aren’t getting the hints. Let’s say someone plays you a song or sends you a Youtube link and asks, “What did you think?” Here are some good responses incase you draw a blank. And if you’re the rap guy wall-posting and link spreading, maybe you should be aware when your homie hits you with one of these. I get ’em all the time…
1.“What did you think?” Turn it back around on them, they’ll have to do a quick self-analysis then you follow with, “Me too, I feel the same way.”
2.“How long did that take you?” Time is always a good tactic. Artists love to tell you about how long something took to create.
3.“I like the beat.”
4.“I didn’t like the beat.” Always blame the beat…unless they did the beat. Then you’re on your own.
5.“Reminds of this Jay-Z song, or was it Eminem, I can’t remember which song though.” All he’ll hear are the letters J, Z, and M; you’re off the hook.
6.“I like this more that the last one.” Hopefully there’s a last one, improvement is big for artists.
7.”Aight!!” This only works for email. It’s hard to read a yelling “aight,” looks like, “alright you’re doing your thing,” but it could really mean, “Alright that’s enough.” CAPS are optional.
8.”I have to listen again, I heard it on computer speakers.” This only works if it’s not an in-person listen but it buys time. Then you implement whichever one you like.
9.”You got some shyt!” This can be perceived as a positive or negative if stated correctly. I got caught with this one once or twice. I said, “Thank you” when I should’ve been saying, “Eff you.”
10.”I like it, it’s hot.” Everyone knows that if you ask someone if they like something, if he or she has to tell you they like it…then they don’t like it. People hunt you down to give you feedback if they’re feeling something but most of us don’t get the hint. I give CDs out all the time, and when someone doesn’t say anything about it, I know I’ve got work to do.
Then there’s the truth. The sugarcoated truth, the hurtful truth, the compliment sandwich truth, I’ve received ’em all and dished them all out. And honestly my day has been brightened and my career has progressed simply because I took note of other people’s opinions…so maybe criticism and comments aren’t all bad, feel free to leave yours.