Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Ebony Cat Roars: An Interview With Writer/Journalist Allen Scott Gordon (Part 2)

In the second part of my interview writer Allen Scott Gordon (Click here to read the first part), he elaborates further on the collapse of Hip-Hop journalism's golden age, and how publications like The Source lost their cultural perspective.

Scott Tre: What do you think of the current state of hip-hop journalism compared to when you were doing your thing at The Source, Rap Pages and Murder Dog?  What are some of the major changes you’ve seen?

Allen Scott Gordon: I think that a lot of the magazines became slaves to advertising.  The Source, more so than any magazine, stood out as an individual entity because its survival was based upon how popular it was.  So you had a street team.  You had Ouseman Sam who drove the first Source van and then led The Source vans (7) when they did their deal with Mountain Dew and they had like six or seven of them going across the country for the magazine.  You had to credit Dave Mays for that, and the people that he hired: Jeff Jones, Aisha Jordan, Peter Ferrero.  There’s a bunch of names I’m probably missing.  Anyway, those vans, that meant a lot because you had The Source branching out…going to the local high school, showing up at the local barbershop, showing up at a local event.  That started the whole synergy between the NBA, NFL, the entertainment industry, and Hip-Hop.  That presence, passing out magazines, passing out CD samplers or tape samplers from different companies as a promotional tool, was amazing.  

The Source really wanted to be a magazine.  Of course, with Dave’s aspirations in the entertainment business it became a viable institution in that respect.  Other magazines were run by publishing companies, like XXL and Harris Publications which had like 75 other publications.  Rap Pages was a part of Larry Flynt Publications which had 50 or 60 other publications, most of them being centered around the adult sex entertainment industry and the porno industry.  So the priority to make those magazines more than what they were didn’t necessarily exist.  Vibe was on that same road as The Source until they got bought by time Warner, then they were just a part of the machine.  Their brand couldn’t be bigger than the brand that they worked for and that was supposed to be backing them.  So all these magazines became dependent on advertising, and the more you leaned on advertising you’re not just pushing your own brand. 

Russell Simmons

 The record companies started having a little bit more say-so.  At The Source, Russell Simmons used to always threaten to pull the ads when there was something that somebody didn’t agree with about a Def Jam release.  But then Russell would be calling you all week, basically apologizing or saying “Hey, let’s go out to dinner, let’s talk about this” because it was important for Def Jam to have a presence in that magazine every month.  Then of course as more magazines start growing, we all started fighting for advertising dollars even though there were a lot of them to be had.  After a while, publicists would call and pitch an artist and that artist wasn’t picked up and they’d be like “Alright, well we’re not gonna take out any ads in that magazine.”  Depending on what your ad rate base was… for Vibe that might have been between 16 and 20 thousand dollars that they wouldn’t get for a full page.  Even from some artist that might have been whack or might have been dope.  But because they weren’t willing to do anything more than an album review at best, they were like “Well, Okay, we don’t need to take out an ad.”  

Or you get in a situation where you have beef an artist like Ray Benzino did with Eminem, 50, Dr. Dre and what have you.  Then Interscope said “Well fuck it, we’ll just pull all our ads!”  So you’re looking at like, four months of G-Unit ads, four months of Eminem’s/Shady Records ads and whatever Aftermath is putting out: The Game or whoever, and then not to mention the G-Unit clothing ads and the Reebok ads.  So now you’re talking about somewhere in the ballpark of between eighty and one hundred thousand dollars a month that you’re not getting from this collective to go in your pages.  So now The Source was big enough to absorb that hit.  That wouldn’t work for a Rap Pages, it wouldn’t work for a XXL, and it probably wouldn’t work for Vibe if they were dependent upon it.  

Ray Benzino waged war on Eminem in the pages of The Source.

So with that switch, your magazine started doing what was dictated by the record industry.  The magazine became less about the culture of hip-hop, and more about just the music merchandizing.  So it’s just a bunch of fucking music reviews, and of course most of those journalists moved on and another wave came in.  They were just fans.  The staffs of these magazines would just either implode en masse, or were shown the door when another editor would take over, or there might have been a little infighting here or there, or somebody just moved on to what they thought was a better gig at a larger magazine, or they went back to school or whatever.  Then that editor brings in the people they want and they start systematically showing everybody the exit.  Then it becomes about whatever that editor had in mind.  So if you look at Vibe and its editors over the years, Vibe has been an all-purpose entertainment magazine and it hasn’t really had a niche.  Which may or may not be important, but whatever its voice was it was no longer an unbiased voice.  It was just a shill for the film industry, fashion, and music.  You’re using music to sell the cover.  You’re putting Erykah Badu on the cover or whoever.  Some of the articles might be good, but overall it didn’t have a stance on anything.  It had no voice.  It was just kind of like “Well here’s what’s going on this month.”  

So with the advent of the rise of the internet, that became less important because you can get it in a half a second as opposed to waiting 30 days for it.  Then a lot of the other writers were putting out stuff that wasn’t good.  A majority of the stuff wasn’t good, even just the interviews, because they didn’t seem interested in anybody.  Like, if they were writing about Jay-Z and they were a Jay-Z fan you’d probably get their best work.  But when they had to write about Mobb Deep on album number five, they didn’t really have any interest to write the stuff and it kind of reflected their enthusiasm. 
Then I think the other part that a lot of people forget is, again, with hip-hop, your still talking about people.  Not just the dancer, the MC, the DJ and graffiti artists, but people in general.  All the people who are at the party who don’t necessarily partake in any of these particular elements, what about them?  They’re of the generation.  They have an expression too.  So a Karl Kani or the young men who created FUBU are just as important as LL or a Ralph McDaniels.  Those are just music industry people.  

Atlanta's emergence as the "Black Mecca" was largely ignored by Hip-Hop publications.

Look at Atlanta.  Atlanta was like just a town that Martin Luther King was from, a town that Wayne Williams supposedly abducted and cut up little children, a couple of good bands, and of course the little black colleges that were there.  Now it becomes this Mecca of entertainment and a place where black people can actually live out a dream where the majority of the town is African American.  There are all these jobs available.  People can become CEO’s of certain companies down there.  How does that go missing from the pages of all these magazines?  Or the fact that the prison industrial complex is six times bigger than it was when Ronald Reagan was president.  There are all these new prisons popping up and no new universities.  How does that happen?  Those discussions just kind passed by everybody.  

It’s like that last season of The Wire.  That last scene of The Wire where all the important things that happened on The Wire that season didn’t make it into the newspaper or were minor news.  Like when Prop Joe gets killed, it doesn’t make the newspaper.  It’s like a little blurb.  Or when Omar dies, it’s a blurb, but for us (the viewers) it’s a big event when you’re watching the show.  They went with what was more sensational than what was hard news.  Whatever the school budget was for the city, it got dumped for this serial killer story.  

The fifth season of The Wire examined the decline of American news media.

Whatever was significant to the culture of the music crowd was over looked because it didn’t reflect what was going on in the “greater” culture at the time. That’s problematic.  The journalists of today are just along for the ride without even looking at the big picture or questioning anything, and the ones who do may not be around that long.  So there isn’t any balance there and they might not have had anybody there to show them.  They might not have cared.  Having talked to only a few of them I can only speak from their perspective.  And there are some people who had other aspirations and didn’t want to be journalists anyway.  They were just along for the ride.  They wanted to be A&R’s or they wanted to be producers or they wanted to get into film or whatever.  They used this platform for whatever it was they wanted and then abandoned it (talent) and the magazine and that’s how it left with them.  Or that lack of talent left them.  Then somebody else filled the space who just wanted to be a fan boy.  

It’s like Jack Kirby leaving comics, and then you get Rob Liefield without a progression.  There’s no Jim Lee in between, there’s no John Buscema, none of that.  You go straight from Kirby to Liefield.  I actually like Rob Liefield as a person so I’m not dissing him, but we all know what Rob Liefield art looks like.  Liefield can draw, there’s no doubt about that, but his art doesn’t tell a story.  So when you look at his comics work, whether it was Marvel, Image, or whoever, the art doesn’t tell a story.  It’s just a bunch of poses and posters.  It’s like “Wow.  These are really good splash pages but in these six panels your art is not telling a story.”  Like if you look at Jack Kirby art, there are universes going on and cityscapes and it’s all this stuff happening in the background.  Then you have whatever it’s concentrating on: Spider-Man swinging through the city or Reed Richards putting another gadget together or whatever.  You look at comics now and it’s like that black background and a talking head or whatever the case is.  It’s like “Oh my God, none of you can draw.  Who taught you about sequential art because obviously you don’t know much about it.”  Or somebody told you “Hey, he should be throwing a punch here or throwing a punch there and every sinew of his arm and every muscle you see should be flexing.”  So a guy would be throwing a punch and would have a muscle flexing that wouldn’t be flexing in a real arm.  

The artwork of Jack Kirby revolutionized the medium of superhero comics.

That’s what happened.  Bases opened up, people moved out, some by force, some by design, and some by their own ambitions or lack thereof. Or they just start downsizing, this person over here is making $80,000-120,000 and we can give somebody the same job for about $40,000.  Who’s not going to undercut somebody?  “I’ll do it for 40,000.”  That’s probably more than they got paid at any other point in their life.  They just want the position so they can get a bunch of free shit: music, probably clothing, hang out on video sets, travel a little bit and end up putting out some puff piece about whatever.  

Take Soulja Boy for example: musically he’s got nothing new to offer.  He’s innovative to the extent of using YouTube to launch his own personal platform and being able to negotiate a better contract with a major label.  That’s the interesting story about Souljah Boy, and the fact that he has a song that you can only do this dance to.  So if you like that dance, you can’t do that shit to “Straight Outta Compton.”  You can’t do it to “Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthin’ Ta Fuck With.”  You can only do that Soulja Boy dance to that song, which is kind of unique.  He found a way to market himself, and that’s a story in itself.  How long he’ll last, it doesn’t even matter.  Big Daddy Kane doesn’t have a career right now, and you can’t have one longer than Big Daddy Kane.  If Ice Cube’s on the heels of his last great hurrah, you can’t last longer than that.  

The success of Souljah Boy likely won't last any longer than that of his golden era predecessors.

It’s just what it is.  Not that Hip-Hop is disposable at all, but that’s what the music is now: disposable.  After you dance to it and bump shoulders or whatever the thing is, it’s on to the next thing because they’re not leaving you with anything lasting.  At an old age you can’t do that dance, that’s for the kids.  I can accept that fact.  It’s not for me.  I can enjoy the song and watch little kids bug out off of it at school while I’m teaching, but I can’t engage in it.  The way their mentality is, they may feel more loyalty with somebody they can bond with like a Lil Wayne or a Lil Boosie or a Lil Webbie.  You got these kids who’ve been abandoned by their daddies, and their rap is very emotional.  It doesn’t have to be lyrically on point as far as the stuff that we like.  It is emotional: “(whining) I ain’t got no daddy.  Uhh, I ain’t got no daddy.”  That shit bothers them, like “I ain’t got no daddy either.”  That’s what that is.  

Now you see Hip-Hop isn’t any different then what we (older hip-hop fans) did or shit we enjoyed, it’s just that the fact that it’s reflective of one: the industry or two: where these kids are today, without education, being raised by a single mom who’s immature.  They’re not like old school moms.  It’s a chick that just got pregnant fucking some dope dealer or whoever and this nigga ain’t around for whatever reason.  These kids are reflective of their upbringing.  They’re a little whiny, they’re a little bitchy, because they’re taking after their 22 year old mama or 14 year old mama in some cases.  A lot of this rap reflects that.  Here’s a kid who’s raised by himself, raised off TV, whatever was going on in that neighborhood and in that household that they’re in.  You got a mom who’s not focused on being a mom, and you just spoil your kid with whatever it is that you can buy them.  So it’s not like they don’t have anything.  You got an army of motherfuckers like that around, so you get the little “crybaby music” as I call it.  That’s not to disrespect who they are or what they been through, it’s just that’s what it is.  

Mega selling, multiplatinum artists like Nelly are now extinct.

It’s popular, but it’s only popular enough to keep things afloat.  You’re not gonna have another Eminem or Nelly type sales.  None of these cats are gonna sell ten million records.  There may be a point where somebody does, but it’ll be a total shift of music and perspective.  It’ll be a kid who’ll be able to articulate his pain as opposed to just being a crybaby.  That’s where it is today, just some lost motherfuckers making lost music.  But it’s popular, and the thing is that it’s so disposable.  

Remember how the girl bands were in the early 90’s?  You had your Brownstones, Your SWVs, your Good Girls, your En Vogues.  En Vogue was supposed to be like the group that had the staying power.  These motherfuckers couldn’t get along and they broke up.  So then you had this run of girl groups.  They might put out an album, they were the flavor of the week, and then they were out.  So they might have had a little bit more power, but it was inevitable that it would happen to them.  I’m talking about your SWVs, your Jades, your Brownstones, your Good Girls, your 702s.  They just kept coming.  Are any of them worth remembering?  Maybe SWV for about one album, but other than that they’re just memories.  It was disposable music by girls that probably could sing, but it was like three or four girls over this hip-hop track. The plan was: let’s put y’all together over these hip-hop tracks and then put you out.  Then they had that one half a hit.  Then Total broke up. I wanted to ask them: “What the fuck are y’all breaking up for?  Y’all ain’t that big.”  Shit was disposable to begin with.  That’s where those groups were, and many rappers are now.  When’s the last time we heard from Hurricane Chris?  It’s not that he can’t make music but because he has become part of this industry cog. If you’re a musician, you’re just a commodity and right now your stock is very low so nobody’s buying.  Soulja Boy’s coming out with something new.  Maybe a small group of people will buy it, maybe enough to keep him afloat.  But the day of you being that dude?  It’s a wrap.  

En Vogue were considered the elite of the "girl groups" of the early 1990's.

Then you got Boosie and Webbie’ music, which is more like the underground gangsta stuff that has become more popular…it’s popular enough.  It’s not too popular, but it’s not whack enough to go away.  Gucci Mane? His music sales depend on what the hell is going on in his life.  Jeezy’s still around, although he’d be considered an OG to these kids now.  T.I. can’t stay outta trouble.  Basically it doesn’t matter...Flo-Rida, Plies.  Here today, gone tomorrow.  Who’s the little motherfucker from Making the Band?  Chopper style or whatever he changed his name to.  He never even got off the ground.  He got a couple of things on record, but the TV show ruined it.  Not to mention that he really didn’t have that much to talk about anyway because he’s from a stable background.  He’s from the same place as Lil Wayne and all them, but his background is a little more stable.  I’d say to Chopper: “You need to be making music for motherfuckers with two parent households and a pretty good family.  You got a lot of love in your family but you be rhyming about blight and shit like it’s personal.”  That shit is disingenuous.  It’s like Pearl Jam after the first Pearl Jam album.  Eddie Vetter was a jock.  He didn’t have the same personal pain as Kurt Kobain, but you fronted on the first album and it worked.  After that the shit wasn’t going to work.  You can’t manufacture pain, which is either part of your environment and upbringing or it’s not.  You can’t fake that shit for too long.  

Scott Tre: Is there anything you want to say in closing?

Allen Scott Gordon: I’d like to leave with some thoughts about the music industry or hip-hop journalism… its realities and mythology.  If you’re not too self-absorbed you can recognize your perspective as you’re going through it, and as you step away from it you can look at things a little bit differently.  I think that one of the saddest things about Hip-Hop journalism is that it didn’t really move into the next millennia.  The internet, as far as maybe All Hip-Hop or Hip-Hop DX, you might have some good stories on there, but the internet is not meant for reading long stories.  It’s meant for the USA Today type writing, something real brief and low on facts.  It’s kind of like real quick nuggets of information: “There’s a war going on in the south pacific or the Persian Gulf.  Tune in tomorrow for a continuation of that story.”  By that time you forgot about it and move on to the next thing.  So a lot of it is rumor or beef.  All Hip-Hop, Hip-Hop DX, and maybe a couple of other sites are giving way to Worldstar Hip-Hop.  Now it’s like “forget writing a story.  We’ll just record somebody or make a video show of them.  Or just give in to total rumor: “Hey, I heard 50’s got beef with Rick Ross.”  Then he and Rick Ross are going back and forth: “This is 50.  This is me.”  That’s kind of where things are.  Who’s written a real good piece on the absurdity of this thing? 50’s 50, and Rick Ross can make good albums but you’ll never be that matinee idol.  Rick, you might sell some records and be interviewed a little bit, but that beard, belly and sunglasses?  You’re not going to be in front of a camera.  You’re not gonna have Rick Ross hosting the Oscars.  Not that 50 would either but that transition to a crossover entertainer is not gonna happen.  Rap is about the extent of it for you.  Rap and invest your money wisely or whatever you’re going to get into and then grow the fuck up.  Like The Vanilla Ice Project, I thought that show was so dope.  Here’s a guy who’s 39 going on 40 who has finally come to peace with the whole Vanilla Ice legacy to where he can do shows and do interviews without feeling like I was that corny white dude out there.  He’s embraced that and he has a talent, which is fixing up old homes or fixing up fly homes.  This program shows how good he is at that craft.  That’s what I would hope for a lot of black rappers, to have that same thing.  At some point you got to transition from this music thing to whatever skill, art or lifestyle that you want to live.  When you look at Funkmaster Flex and his car show, Flex knows about cars.  He can get underneath a hood and do a whole lot of shit.  So him talking about high performance cars, it’s not a fad.  This is some shit that he’s actually good at.  Or if you take DJ Quik, who I think would be a great subject for a reality show because he’s a guy who’s good at everything.  Quik is an amazing cook.  Motherfucker’s got a green thumb.  He knows all about gardening and fucking agriculture.  Here’s a guy who knows all about auto mechanics and knows how to fix his own motorcycles and cars.  It’s weird because a friend of mine, Reginald Dennis, who’s also my mentor, was imagining what if like Jay-Z or RZA didn’t grow up in the hood.  What kind of dudes would they be?  Right now they are living the life they probably would have lived had they not been born in the projects.  RZA is scoring movies and animation sequences for companies over in Japan.  He probably would have been that dude at Pixar already had he not taken that route (street life).  So basically he is living the life that he would have been living had not tragic situations have been there.  He’s become that dude anyway.  Quik, if the family wasn’t as trifling as they were, or a bunch a gangbanging growing up in Compton, this nigga might be Emeril Lagasse: “You’re here with David Blake on this cooking show.”  He might be Chip Foose fixing up cars on Overhaul.  The cat is so talented.  

The Vanilla Ice Project is an example of how rappers can live out their twilight years successfully.

Ice Cube, you clearly see what he is and what his parents had projected him to be even if it’s away from the rap music because that’s a very conceptual dude.  I asked him one time if he didn’t get into rap, what type of architect would he have been?  He was supposed to go off to architecture school.  He was like “Man, I probably would have been designing different commercial properties, blah, blah, blah.”  It something he still does as a hobby.  Just sits around and start sketching the shit out or whatever.  That’s how his mind works.  I like the movies that he does.  I like Are We There Yet?  and all that kind of shit, even though motherfuckers be clowning me for liking that stuff.  I’m like “Hey man, its fucking family entertainment.  What’s he supposed to do, gangsta movies all his life?”  What he does is very structured, from the music to the films.  The way he’s structured he’s with his wife and with his kids.  He has this definite model that he’s following.  When that model doesn’t seem to work, he’s been able to put another model out again.  

That’s what I would hope for a lot of artists and even journalists because those of us who don’t write anymore might be used to writing for magazines or for the blogs or whatever the case may be.  Some motherfuckers are still trying to figure out where they are in life.  While some have moved on to film, or had their kids or whatever the case may be, some people are still trying to figure out what to do next.  They got so absorbed in this whole entertainment thing and then things just started falling apart on all ends because the labels started consolidating and there wasn’t so much ad money there.  Then, the wave of black films is over for right now.  You’re not gonna have your Best Man/The Brothers/All about Eva or whatever in that wave.  So the black romantic comedy is not the in thing right now.  So what else will we get challenged by, and some people have already figured it out or already looking for a chance to do something.  We didn’t force Hip-Hop to grow with us.  Everybody tried to keep it young.  The MC’s and everybody else kind of let the industry dictate what Hip-Hop was going to be.  So now at 40, motherfuckers are writing their autobiographies and shit like that.  Like really?  You ain’t do shit yet.  You’re going to talk about a five year period of your life that’s still pretty public.  We’ll see what the next few years hold.                              

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this man... fantastic and in-depth interview.