Jul 12, 2016

Editorial: Has @XXL failed us?

"Hip-Hop has to hold on as much as possible to the essence of what's real and it's XXL's responsiblity to make sure that cover isn't tainted." Vanessa Satten

When drafting this write up, I figured I should tread very very lightly. I took my time writing this so I wouldn't come off as an angsty fan angry that my favorite rapper didn't make the list. I wanted it to be organized but clear. Let me start by telling a story.  I didn't always know what I wanted to do in life, but I knew I liked music and I liked writing. I was budding a successful career in college radio covering mainstream and local music acts. As time went on I became obsessed with finding the new thing. Not necessarily the next big thing but whatever the new thing was I took a great pride in finding it before the general masses could consume it. Before that time I generally got my new material the same way you did. Whether it was barbershop tapes, 98.7 Kiss FM, or my father's subscription of XXL magazine, I was all in. Blogging wasn't the societal norm or crowded platform it is today. I once penned an application to work for XXL. In my cover letter I wrote:

"I'm keen to work for and a with a company with a great reputation and high profile like XXL. In today's industry, I don't see many that do it as well as you guys. A lot of publications, people, and outlets have lost their love for the culture and are only interested in what's popular rather than what's next and what's also important."

Unfortunately I don't believe those words to be true anymore. I am a man who values change, forward mobility, and culture. A couple weeks ago they announced their Freshman List 2016. As someone who puts out an annual list of my own I understand the pressure it takes. With the pressure you're either going to burst to rubble or create diamonds.

The proof is in the pudding (I always wanted to say that in context). The Annual Freshmen has gotten dramatically worse since it's inception in  2007. This year's quality and caliber of artist is flat out bad, you'd have to be a fool or just not listening if you say otherwise. First things first, What is XXL look for in an artist? What constitutes them as freshman? I understand that in a calendar year an artist can blow up or flop out of the blue. I believe half of the problem is not having a clear cut criteria for what is eligible and qualifies to make the list. When you don't know what you're looking for it's hard. After that you narrow your list by who does both as best as possible and better than the rest. I recently watched an interview with Vanessa Satten, the current editor-in-chief of the iconic magazine explaining what they look for in their cover artists.

At points in her sit down, Ms Satten did say a freshman is an artist that did not have a no major label debut at the time of the cover. She noted that music is changing (which I'm no stranger to). "Hip-Hop is blurred and the lines for crossover are expanding, the culture is changing." I personally think it's cool to make crossover artists like August Alsina, Bryson Tiller, Tory Lanez eligible but it's not on paper. If you don't make things clear cut you run into problems with your readership. They're only human and make mistakes and they know it. XXL's staff comes together and sits down after they take their fan poll

The answer to every critique cannot start be"No disrespect to because they are really dope but we didn't think they could go next level the same way some of the other artists could." Year after year they miss out on really good artists. It's not the fact that they miss out on freshman that are next level altogether but they NOMINATE them in the beginning as well. That may not be the magazine's fault but voting as well. Part of the problem is the rap fan now a days. It's impossible to tailor music to those that don't show the love and pride. There's a formula to success now that is different from the past. Artists don't have to put in the same time and effort to be marketable. Mumble on a track, create a dance, select an amazing produced beat and you have radio play. The caliber of the artist isn't as good because the listener's ear isn't picky anymore. Why should they create good music if they don't have to? The second listeners start to listen again instead of just hear the music, is the second we will see a change again.

I really considered making this a post about how they missed out on a million and one artists here and there, and why only three maybe four deserved to be on the list. Long story short, it's not my list. What's problematic is if these are the freshman this year are they gonna even make it to senior year and graduate, or are they gonna make room for the next batch of trendy, catchy freshman?
Jonathan C. Ramsey
Jonathan C. Ramsey

Multimedia Journalist, Founder and Chief Editor of WTM Host of A-Side B-Side Podcast and more. I like to talk about stuff and write it down. Sometimes to a microphone. Either way, I need you to feel this.

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