There is as much good music writing now as there has ever been. There are gross inequalities in the system still, in who gets heard and who is silent. But more than ever, people are able to let their experiences and expressions be heard.
Thinkpieces, essays, reviews and features: the internet has overwhelmed us with writing. There's so much of it out there, and it's all so easy to lose perspective. The more our Facebook feeds tell us what's worth reading, the less likely we are to stumble across something outside of our worldview.
In an attempt to get a handle on all of the music writing out there, we've decided to put everyone up on the music writing we've enjoyed reading during the course of the week. If you've read something that we've missed, feel free to put it in the comments.
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The Sadness of T-Pain by Leon Neyfakh for The New Yorker
T-Pain may largely be known as a lovable goofball, but—as The New Yorker’s Leon Neyfakh points out—he’s also an introspective guy who takes criticism very seriously. In a feature about T-Pain's new album Stoicville: The Phoenix, we learn about the emotional fallout suffered by Pain following Auto-Tune’s relegation to punch-line status: “People are, like, ‘You’re rich!’ What’re you so worried about?’," he tells Neyfakh. "I want people to like me, too! God damn!" The quote that close the feature are even more illuminating. "You don’t get shit from anybody in Stoicville," he tells Neyfakh. "You don’t get people saying or doing fucked up shit to you." Deep stuff. —Nathan Reese
Gang Starr's 'Hard To Earn' and the Changing Face of Brooklyn by Michael Gonzales for XXL
Hard To Earn was one of a handful of records that I would say made me an invested fan of hip-hop; it provided an aesthetic center for how I understood the genre to "work." To this day, it shapes the way I absorb the music I hear. There were rappers who were "better" than Guru, technically; or to put it more honestly, there were rappers whose talent drew more attention to itself than Guru's did to his. But no one captured a world ("The Planet") better than Gang Starr on Hard To Earn; no one better sketched the geography, the mentality, the sense of being at once alone and a part of something larger, than Guru and Premier on their fourth album.
Growing up halfway across the country, my conception of Brooklyn was drawn almost entirely by hip-hop artists. But no artist more thoroughly related that place than Gang Starr, for whom sound and imagery and conversation and philosophy merged on record. Ironically, neither were actually from Brooklyn; Guru was from Boston, and Premo from Texas. But perhaps those were the eyes and ears needed to see Brooklyn for what it really was, to recognize not just the personalities, but the very texture of the place. A lot of rappers painted stories with Brooklyn as the backdrop; for Gang Starr, the backdrop and the foreground were one.
Which is why it's so strange to move to Brooklyn two decades later and find the reality considerably...off. Michael Gonzales' piece for XXL, though, contextualizes this music in contrast with the current wave of gentrification, and recalls how different things were in Brooklyn 20 years ago.
Music fans often put too much emphasis on what they assume an artist's intent was in creating a piece of work. What Guru and Primo were trying to convey matters less than what they did convey. It's a happy coincidence, though, when you find our your expectations and the reality are one and the same: "That’s the sound that identifies the streets, and the streets is what created hip-hop. That sound is urban and rugged, like it’s coming up out of the ground. With the music on Hard To Earn, I wanted to capture the vibe of the ghetto and what goes on there and the things that we’ve seen." —David Drake
The Making of Gang Starr's 'Hard To Earn' With DJ Premier by Daniel Isenberg at NahRight
Daniel Isenberg started off doing similar pieces here at Complex, and of late he's been running a string of incredible stories at NahRight. In his recent piece on Hard To Earn, Premier really opened up about the legendary hip-hop record. Find out which song Guru recorded while shitfaced, who all the voices are on "Aight, Chill," which song was inspired by a Guru and Premier fistfight, and the real origins of the word "DWYCK." —David Drake
David "Funken" Klein Columns at BombHipHop
These aren't new, but Texas rap writer Matt Sonzala recently posted a link on his Tumblr, and they deserve more attention. The late David "Funken" Klein was a hip-hop journalist with The Source, then The Bomb Hip-Hop Magazine, where he wrote a column from in the early 1990s called Gangsta Limpin'. The columns are a great blend of history, gossip, humor, context, and knowledge, capturing among the outdated slang a lot of real observations and a lot of the texture of the time that has since been lost: "Positive’s K’s 'I Got a Man' is being used in a Pepsi commercial." "It was kinda hard to recognize everybody with their fresh baldies. And Serch lost 30 pounds." "Anyway, if Michael Jordan’s retirement increases the value of some models of Air Jordans, Mellow Man’s collection of Conner’s should be worth a pretty penny when he retires." "Yo’ momma is so dumb she climbed a tree to become branch manager. FREE FLAVOR FLAV."
David Klein passed away from cancer in the fall of 1995 after battling the disease for eight years. —David Drake
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