access the podcast here.
access the podcast here.
I am a big fan of writing, I love reading great writing regardless of whether I agree with it or not and I truly believe that the best writing should be celebrated whenever found. This week MTV News effectively shut down its current operations in order to redirect its focus towards video and short form content. Basically, MTV wants to get in on the ADD quick hit industrial complex that prizes cutesy, attention-grabbing 30 second videos over actual quality and labored over writing.
This news comes on the same week that Complex’s interview series Everyday Struggle went viral over a confrontation between its host Joe Budden and Migos happened on the air. Everyday Struggle is the textbook example of everything worth hating about media today: a show where middling (at best) rapper, Joe Budden, and sentient twitter parody account, DJ Akademiks, yell at each other and at guests for any number of minutes. It is the rap version of First Take and as low brow and shameless as it is, it’s brilliant. A cranky rapper complaining about rap next to an easy punching bag isn’t intriguing or quality but it is entertaining and succeeds at inspiring both hatred and love –which work the same as far as online traffic goes. For as much as Everyday Struggle personally disgusts me, it is an indicator of where all of media is headed. Easily digestible and shameless content that focuses on “takes” and panders to large masses of people; garnering strong reactions (positive or negative) is an easy sell and good content for companies that purely want to make as much money as possible. It’s getting harder and harder for journalism and great writing to fit in this incredibly cynical climate.
I don’t know anything about teens but I know that when I was a teen I read my dad’s copies of GQ and Esquire all the time. It’s what made me want to be a writer and when the blog era began, I used Livejournal, Myspace and Blogger as my training grounds for writing longform content about music and movies. The teens of today turn to Tumblr now for the same thing. The idea that teens are not interested in good, interesting writing feels disingenuous. There’s no doubt that video content is all the rage but the two things can coexist and this latest plan to forgo good writing feels extremely cynical and dismissive of the very audience that MTV hopes to appeal to. Regardless of whether it.s video, essays or a page full of giant, flashy gifs to catch the eye and/or cause epilepsy, treating your audience like its stupid never works out in the long run. MTV News marks the second time a site that had grown dear to my heart thanks to its dedication to good writing and interesting subjects has been dissolved thanks bottom lines and money-hungry corporate execs (the first was Grantland). It’s incredibly sad and it makes you feel like there’s no point in being good at your craft when lowest common denominator trash is more talked about and coveted than the best writing out.
2017 has been the worst year for me as a freelance writer. The editors I once worked with have left their respective jobs or the new ones I talk to are either unresponsive or more fickle with who they give assignments to. Despite my snarkiness and the disdain I show towards media on Twitter, I blame no one for this but myself. Media is an extremely tough gig and it takes more than talent to stay afloat. It takes networking, insightfulness and strategy. There are a million writers out there and many of them have thought the same pitches that you have; it’s up to you to find that unique angle to set you apart and connect with the particular audience of the site you’re pitching to. Not getting work out there has been extremely difficult and frustrating but more than anything else, I miss working with good editors who made me better at what I do. That to me was the most satisfying part of the writing process: having that person there who could take your words and make them better, more thoughtful, more detailed and beautiful. I don’t know where writing online will take me or if I’ll ever break out of this funk and have my words on more sites, but I hope and pray that I will work with editors again to be better at my craft. I do not believe in accepting the new normal of easy controversy and reaction bait; I still believe being a good writer is worth it and the words of the best of us will last when all the disposable content has been forgotten.
The past few weeks have seen a rise in the cancellation of Netflix shows –from the extremely expensive The Get Down to the deeply dull Bloodline. Some have wondered whether this is a sign of the cracks in Netflix’s facade showing or the streaming content bubble finally bursting but for Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, this is only the beginning of Netflix establishing itself as a real media network.
“What really matters is I hope our hit ratio is way too high right now… we’ve canceled very few shows.” Hastings said to CNBC anchor, Julia Boorstin, about the company. “I’m always pushing the content team: ‘We have to take more risk, you have to try more crazy things. Because we should have a higher cancel rate overall.’”
Rather than looking at cancellation as a negative, Hastings has decided it’s proof of the company’s success and that he hopes to have many more cancelled programs for its library soon. Considering this and Netflix’s penchant for throwing ridiculous amounts of money at creators, here are a few show ideas for Netflix to green light and most likely cancel in the near future:
The New Testament:
Fantasy shows are all the rage and–with Game of Thrones going off the air soon–it’s time to find a replacement series. What better than to take it back to the original: the story of Jesus Christ, this time with that prestige television filter that all the people love these days. The last supper, the temptation of Christ by the Satan snake (I think that’s what happens), walking on water, the betrayal by Judas; these are all ripe ideas perfect for an hour-long overly drab and superficial television drama. It won’t make it past the first season if the Christians of America have anything to say about it.
Bad Boy Motivation:
Sean “Puffy” Combs aka Puff Daddy aka P Diddy is one of the greatest and volatile personalities out there and it is honestly motivating every time. No person has learned the art of berating greatness out of people except for him (just watch both seasons of Making The Band). I say fly Puff out to various places in America and have him give the Glengarry Glen Ross Alec Baldwin type speech to different unions, small companies, high school football teams or disgruntled rap groups. It’s inspirational to see common people achieve goals and it’s hilarious and a little uncomfortable to watch Puff Daddy yell at you because you took a nap instead of trying to hustle for a few more minutes longer.
If you want a show that will be canceled quickly then how about a half-hour comedy about the world of freelance creatives. Casting a bunch of attractive young people who don’t get enough jobs a month to afford the ridiculously spacious apartment they occupy in Brooklyn is sure to bore many and piss off the people who actually freelance for a living. There will be incredible episodes such as the one where everybody is still waiting for a paycheck from a job they did 6 months ago or the one where they go to networking events for free food and to hopefully meet someone who can give them an actual job in media; there’s also my personal favorite: the one where they contemplate quitting and seeing if they can get an office job. This show will be doomed from the very start.
Give Lars Von Trier a show:
The recent Twin Peaks revival is notable not just for being a return back to a show that the world fell in love with 25 years ago but also because the new series is pure, uncut David Lynch. To see a David Lynch project free of oversight, notes and restrictions has been both maddening and exhilarating but it should also open the door for other directors to have that same opportunity. And since Netflix is now in the bold chances department, what would be a bolder chance than letting director and possible crazy person Lars Von Trier having free reign to make whatever he wants. It will almost sure be controversial, self-indulgent, insane, disturbing and will have people talking. It’s a win-win where Netflix gets to say they did something brave and they got to up their cancellation numbers.
Spend Netflix’s Money:
Ok so here me out: we get a host right, let’s just call him me. We give me a camera crew and a briefcase of an undisclosed ridiculous amount of money and it is my job to spend it all in under 48 hours. If The Get Down and Marco Polo are any indication, Netflix has no problem spending insane amounts of money on nonsense so let’s cut the middle man. Maybe I’ll go to Vegas and bet the entire thing on one game of Craps, maybe I’ll rent out a football stadium and throw a kegger or maybe I’ll pay for billboards for Planned Parenthood in red states; who knows, the sky’s the limit and it will almost surely make everyone reconsider everything that lead to this show existing –including Netflix’s desire to actually cancel shows rather than just financing good and sensible programs.
I don’t know where history stands on Bloc Party. I was so sure by now there’d be the big revisit of their first album, 2005’s Silent Alarm, or at the very least they’d headline one of the big music festivals where–like with The Killers–everyone could pretend they were totally into them the whole time. No such thing has occurred: you won’t even hear “Banquet” on a movie trailer anymore. It could be that nobody really cared about this band. Not that they weren’t liked but just that nobody cared. I don’t even know why I care.
I revisited the album on a whim; in my current depressive and borderline suicidal state I did what I always do and reached for the warm, history-rewriting hands of nostalgia. Nostalgia can be euphoric in small doses for a person like me, who is always miserable or at least prone to misery. It says “hey remember when you were young and thought you were miserable, those were actually your best days.” I was in high school when Silent Alarm came out; I discovered it through a Simpsons message board I was a member of. “Banquet” was also a pretty big song around that time but for me it’s dull and easy. “Like Eating Glass” was the better single and perfect way to start the album; overflowing with controlled chaos and emotion.
I don’t really believe in the idea of “not knowing how good you have it”. It’s dismissive of very real problems that affect humans of any age. If you’re a kid prone to depression like I was it shouldn’t be treated as a phase; the kinda beautiful (but still dangerous) thing about nostalgia though is that it skips the everyday drudgery and just gives you the “best of” moments of your youth where there’s no barking from the dogs, no smog and momma cooks the breakfast with no hog. This allows you to find the comfortable pockets to build a home in. I don’t remember too many details about that time but I remember the music I listened to, including Bloc Party, and I remember getting lost in them and finding safety where there was none in my actual life. Plus the songs are really good: “This Modern Love”, “So Here We Are” and “Blue Light” are still the soundtrack to the low budget indie romance in my head. “Pioneers” is exhilarating and “Positive Tension” is still a goofy song but in a lovable way.
I really can’t fathom why there isn’t a bunch of millennial internet blog fawning over them. And I don’t mean in the easy clickbait retrospective way that every band, artist and album will eventually receive from eager writers that need quick ideas for content to produce for their media site of choice (yes that’s a subtweet but mostly at myself); I mean an actual, critical reevaluation. Kele Okereke’s unmistakable voice and emotionally vulnerable writing could be touching, thrilling and cheeky; dependent on what the song asked for. He wasn’t an amazing singer but his voice had a rhythm and groove to it that fit with the drum and bass heavy sound of the music. They were the rock band I would’ve wanted to be in when I was 16 –making the early “emotional club banger” before it became a true concept. But this is just what I feel and–to go back to the state of internet retrospectives– whatever argument I make in favor of you remembering or revisiting this great album is primarily based on my own emotional ties more than some reasoned argument about where it stands against the other albums like it around that time such as Is This It? or Turn On The Bright Lights. Most of the nostalgia writing on the internet is based on this same thing, a bunch of adults remembering the things that made them happy as kids and churning out a quick thousand words on it. I get it –who doesn’t want to believe a personal favorite means something more important to the culture. I think that’s the wrong way to look at it though. In my darkest mental moments, I turned to a 11 year old album most people probably forgot about and found a brief moment of solace. When the things you love stand your own personal test of time can be more important than anything.
When I think about Shawty Lo, I think about my youth. “Dey Know” came out during my first year of college. It’s marching band trumpet sample feels defeaning and Shawty Lo raps over it without a sense of urgency. He’s gliding,slowly taking in the moment; his raspy, dragged out rapping is melodic and easygoing. He raps like he’s enjoying himself. In the music video for it, he does his signature dance which involves running in place, arms pumping forward as if competing in a track race. This was my introduction to Shawty Lo as a solo artist, before this moment, before this I knew him as one of the non-Fabo members of D4L: a group that was a very big part of the Snap era in Atlanta and as a result, a big part of my high school years. I loved Snap and Shawty Lo’s music in this time of my youth but I don’t have the reverence for his discography the way I do a T.I., a Jeezy or a Gucci. I have a feeling that many other people probably feel the same way, including those in charge of writing about music for culture magazines. On Wednesday September 21st, Shawty Lo was killed in a car crash on the I-285 southbound ramp to Cascade Road. For many of these publications, Shawty Lo’s death is the first time he’d ever been written about. It’s appreciated that a man who played such a vital role in Atlanta and in rap music is being remembered by people but it’s a shame that it took his death for it to happen. There is this disconnect happening where a majority of the people who will tweet or discuss Shawty Lo’s death will focus on the hit songs he made (as I’ve done), but for others he meant something more. You don’t have to be from or live in Atlanta to know it but you have to be ingrained in that scene. The Bowen Homes Carlos repped Bankhead and Atlanta to the fullest. His music meant something to that community. He was their hometown hero.
The hometown hero doesn’t get the same glory outside of their city but inside, you’re almost like royalty. And for a city so closely tied to hip-hop and current pop culture, being beloved means a lot. T.I. will always get credit for representing Bankhead in Atlanta to the fullest but Shawty Lo was right there: funding and participating in a rap group ahead of their time. Making sparse, playful party music when the more rugged street style was getting most of the respect. Even when Shawty Lo made his more street solo albums and mixtapes, there was a joyful, exuberant energy to it. The music was thrilling and caused your body to move almost in spite of itself even while Shawty Lo rapped about real gutter shit. It was beautiful and it meant a lot to me especially at the time in my life when it came out but no matter how I feel, it doesn’t match how the people of Atlanta, more specifically Bankhead, feel about this loss. For all of the success and legendary things he accomplished, he was truly theirs.
Gucci Mane’s happiness has become the only happiness that I can latch onto. He starts his new album, Everybody Looking, with the intro “No Sleep”. In it, he raps about being a “recovering drug addict” who “used to smoke a pound a week”. It’s hard to put into words how hearing this the first time made me feel. On it’s surface, who really cares? It’s not a hot bar or meant to be a standout line and yet it shook me where I stood all the same –because it was real. In all the pomp, circumstance and performative posturing of rap (regardless of whether or not said rapper lived the life they rap about), here was something honest and vulnerable. I knew Gucci had quit drugs during his stint in prison, but there’s a difference between quitting and admitting you had a problem. Addiction is treated as a weakness; the admission of which feels like confirming that you are indeed weak. The drugs stopped being about fun or parties, the drugs were your only rescue. The drugs were home and home was hell. So Gucci left and he told all of us his tale of survival. As I write this, I am in my late 20s: a toddler version of adulthood. Right now, the alcohol and the drugs are just supposed to be fun –escapism from the monotony and disappointment we are only recently getting accustomed to. We just want to party; we just want to touch the feathers of our youth some more before it flies out of reach. In a few years, we’ll be older and in a few more years we’ll be even older than that; we’ll have children, marriages, bigger responsibilities and less time for fun –but will that stop all the drugs and drinking? Is it so easy to break this habit that we’ve created? Some of us will quit and some won’t –as with all things, but as I stare into the bottom of this beer glass–praying that it doesn’t trigger a sickle cell attack–I wonder if maybe this home is no longer a comfort.
When I was younger, I fantasized about running from home; away from my family. I fantasized about my family not really being my family or my parents waking up one day and realizing that they should treat me better. Fantasy was the only thing that was mine in those days. I would never act on it –I was too scared. I thought I deserved a torturous life. In some ways I still think I deserve to be treated like that. I was raised by pain and fear; anything else would be too foreign to adapt.
Much of my Christian upbringing was spent being told to avoid hell; so I wanted to go to heaven. When I closed my eyes at night though, I could never picture it. It always came out wrong or incomplete; just undesirable. Earth, as ugly as it is, was tangible. Heaven is supposed to be this perfect place and maybe perfection can’t be imagined by human brains. I don’t know what’s going to happen when I die, but hell and heaven as they’ve been constructed by mythology and religious doctrine, serve no use to me.
The first person I told that story to was a woman I care about deeply. It was 4 am and we were talking over FaceTime. We stayed up together that whole night –our insomnia being put to good use. We talked about our history, our fears, our desires and our present. It was a rare, organic, beautiful moment in my life. Can Heaven top that?
I learned how to be a man from watching movies. But it was women who taught me I could be something better.
I have seen a few people whose writing I respect a great deal move into a new plateau in their careers. A place where, suddenly, the artists and people they were once charged with writing about are now people they either work for, with or are in some communication with. In this new stage, they have become less critical or are moving into a more traditional idea of being a “creative” and away from “simply being” a writer of culture. I can understand this: criticism is made by plenty of people who keep themselves at a distance from what they write about. Without that distance, you start to form empathy and understanding. You may not like what a particular artist does but you now know the details and the business of how they made it, how hard they worked on it, how much it means to them and you can’t bring yourself to pick it apart and linger on its flaws.
I get this and I can even accept it. What I cannot accept is this disingenuous idea of “not being a hater”: the “vibes” attitude where everyone is positive and criticism is the enemy. Worst of all, I cannot stand this dismissiveness of criticism as a worthless exercise; as just hating for hate’s sake.
Criticism is an art like any other, and you shouldn’t trust any writer who doesn’t believe so. It is an expression of what you like, what you don’t like and why; what the art in question says about its fans and detractors, the culture around it and the time period from which it has emerged. The beauty of art is in the way something created by man can affect and touch the lives of those who act as witness. The ideal is: that the criticisms about this art, whether they be positive or negative, can touch on and articulate something that wasn’t expected or readily thought about by the people who’ll read it; and in this combination of art and critique something beautiful is birthed.
I got into criticism because I didn’t have anyone to talk to about the things I loved and the things I didn’t. So instead, I wrote it all down and, by the time I had moved onto writing for an audience, I was able to have those writings challenged or added onto by others. This discourse made my writing stronger but more importantly: it was a sparring match to explain why we love what we love. A reverberation of the art by its audience.
This doesn’t exist in a “positive vibes only” world. In that world, consensus is an unquestioned thumbs up and the strongest note of disagreement is: “it’s not my thing”. The beauty of Tom Scocca’s long, tedious screed on smarm was its valiant defense of snark as the only balance in an area that continuously encourages phoniness and sycophancy for the sake of career advancement or a narcissistic avoidance of ever having your feelings hurt by a bad review. Snark is honest; grating–insufferable at times–honesty being mischaracterized as an empty attempt to antagonize. The criticism that you disregard is the same criticism that will hold the entire, messy record on how the people felt, lived, thought, loved and hated at a certain point in time –regardless of what the “consensus” became. Not all criticism is worthwhile and it will always be like that; there is as much writing to make you cringe as there is any other art that makes you do the same; yet there will also be the type of criticism so honest, biting and eloquent that it will completely change your outlook on art and writing in ways you never imagined. Regardless of which, it’s important that the record show a full story instead of a stream of disingenuous well wishing.
So much of rap music is about disappearing. Often, it involves flying off to space; in search of something new and, hopefully, better. Whether it’s Pastor Troy’s declaration, “I’m about to move to Mars y’all, the world a mess” or Kanye’s exasperation with life to the point that he’s gonna buy a spaceship “and fly, past the sky”; the world has been too much of a burden for so many rappers. Being black is hell. Being black and poor in America is worse than hell. It is filled with terror that you must learn to navigate every day; on top of this is the utter contempt towards you by everyone else in the world. For as much as black people, deservedly, commend ourselves for making something out of nothing, the nothing wears you down. Having only the slightest awareness of what your blackness represents to outside forces could drive anyone insane, make anyone miserable, cause anyone’s heart to break. Lil Wayne rapped about being a self-imposed “prisoner behind xanax bars” in order to escape the world; drugs and alcohol have always been the practical solution for escape; moving to the moon like so many rappers obsess about, remains unfeasible. This need to disappear or drown in the soothe, numbing ocean of drugs and alcohol isn’t simply borne out of a wanting to party; it’s deeper. People party because they wanna feel good and people party too much for the same reason they do anything too much: chasing a good feeling and running away from the world in the only ways they know how.
What does it mean exactly to find yourself? Is it simply a case of trying to figure out who exactly you are or a fear that you already are the person you’re going to be so you have to fix yourself? Change has never bothered me, instead I worry that I haven’t changed enough. This is just who I am: the finality of that statement is terrifying enough to make me pretend that I’m still trying to find another me.
When my heart beats too hard from all the pills in me, its sound is deafening. It’s rhythm is rapid and unstable; veering offbeat and threatening to jump out of my chest as though it wants to escape and feel the warmth of the sun for the first time. My heart makes me nervous because I don’t know what it’s up to. With Sickle Cell, you tend to think about the physical pummeling done to your body, but it’s my heart I worry the most about. My fear that one day my heart, exasperated from the extra work it has to do due to my misshaped blood cells will suddenly decide to quit with no two weeks notice. So it goes. I never asked to be alive and yet here I am and, as a bonus, I carry the weight of deformity. Despite all my existential worry, diseases never hurt the diseased as much as it hurts the people who choose to love them. They don’t understand it, they don’t know what it feels like and, as a result, they are terrified and guilt ridden over their own stability in comparison. I am always, seamlessly dancing between the stages of grief at all times –to the point that it feels mundane. Life’s cruelty is not special to me. I woke up today and my heart and body decided to keep working and that’s all I can ask for.
If I have one true wish: I wish that my uncle’s death had frightened me away from destroying myself. Instead, I was just angry. I hated this world for what it had done to him, that it drove him to those drugs and that he felt that was his only way to maintain. And I hated myself for spiraling behind him. His death made me even more cynical–more bitter towards everything. I still fight to see the light.
There’s a scene in Beyonce’s visual album, Lemonade, where the camera lingers on her deep inside the woods of Louisiana. She is surrounded by various tall and visually striking stalks; their light color in contrast to the dark bluish, moody cinematography. She is alone, with nothing but her thoughts and her emotions as the stalks are grabbed by the wind to dance. I am transfixed by this scene: by its look and Beyonce’s submergence into the unknown but comforting silence of nature; I am lost as she is and suddenly I begin to miss home.
Tallahassee is a trap: a swampy, humid prison that sucks the life out of you. The further out you get the more you are surrounded by trees and overgrown vegetation that scare you into believing that it may one day overrun the place. The actual “city” portion is dull in color and unremarkable in reality –until there’s a Florida State game or something. Some may think of this as a calm and safety, but the rest of us know we’re being held hostage here each day. Spend enough time in the jungle and you adapt to it and, taken from the ecosystem, you begin to long for it –even think you need it. I didn’t like Tallahassee until I left it. And even then, it wasn’t Tallahassee I liked but nostalgia. When I think of Tallahassee, I think about the fall: when school starts and the trees don’t change color but instead carry a peaceful, wafting backdrop to the hope and wonder that a new school year brings.
I don’t feel that anymore when I go back to visit. I feel like a stranger; as though everything I’d ever known and seen never happened. It was more than the new things built: the roads felt strange, the sun shined in a way unfamiliar to my gaze and the city was haunted by so many memories that there was nowhere left to find solace –not even in those trees and bushes. It was then, when I no longer felt like I had a home to go to and that my safety net was gone, could I finally move on with my life.
I spend most of my time at my day job drawing doodles and writing. Very little of it is meaningful, it’s just reflex. The same reflex I had as a kid when I didn’t want to be in school or church. I am still looking to escape; desperately hoping to stumble into some sort of ease.
When Harry Met Sally, starring Drake
One a car ride from Toronto to New York, Drake and Sally get into a discussion about whether or not men and women can be friends. Sally insists that they can, while Drake maintains that they can’t, stating “all my let’s just be friends are friends I don’t have anymore”. Years later, while still maintaining these attitudes, they inadvertently end up sleeping together, which causes a rift in their friendship. Afterwards, Sally moves on with another guy and Drake passive aggressively writes about her and uses her voicemail messages in songs.
You’ve Got Mail, starring Drake
Drake has a contentious relationship with a young woman who spends all her time going to LIV after church on Sundays even though she’s a good girl and he knows it. Unbeknownst to him, they begin an intense internet romance. When he finds out that this new beau is his rival he realizes that it is his mission to save her from herself by calling her out in his music.
Pretty Woman, starring Drake
Drake falls in love with a stripper he met at Magic City. This one pretty much writes itself.
Notting Hill, starring Drake
Drake plays a humble bookstore owner who falls in love with a Barbados pop star and finds it difficult to stay in her life because he keeps cramping her style.
Garden State, starring Drake
Drake is very sad, so Natalie Portman introduces him to Skepta music and dancehall in order to change his life. It doesn’t really make him feel better but at least he got some ideas for how his next album should sound.
Knocked Up, starring Drake
After a raucous night at 1 Oak ending in sexual relations, Drake finds out that his one night stand is pregnant and tries to prove his worth as father material despite his erratic schedule and the fact that he lives in a home with an unnecessary amount of hangers on, R&B singers and random niggas he doesn’t even know. Despite her wanting to feel comfortable raising a baby with him and walking around naked in his kitchen without running into some stranger, Drake insists that that’s not the life he’s living. Will these crazy kids figure it out? who knows.
Jerry Maguire, starring Drake
Actually this one is exactly the same.