When journalism students hit me up with questions for their dissertations, I still find it weird: having been in the music writing field for almost a decade, I still feel like I'm learning myself.
My journey has been an odd one, and I told i-D mag about it in depth last year. I grew up in a rough part of London—Stockwell, South London—where the "olders" wore off-key Versace and moped bikes were all the rage, and I wanted that. I wanted all of it: the girls, the gold teeth, the Nike 110s (in every colour). My older brother was one of those olders, and also my idol—which has been as much of a gift as it has been a curse. Having grown up in a strict Christian home, he was the ultimate rebellion child: instead of going to church on a Sunday, he'd be out the night before at jungle (and later garage) raves having the time of his life, and I was intrigued.
But life took an unexpected turn when I hit thirteen: my old folks broke up, and I moved to Northampton with my mum. So I go through life up there, hanging with the cool kids on the ends, or what today would be classified as "roadmen." But I always knew I had an artistic side. I could (and can still) hit a note or two, and was always skilled when it came to the arts—drawing, painting, designs—but I was still drawn to the rude-boy ways. I sold the odd ounce of weed here and there, thought I was tough at the odd hood dance, but I always knew I was destined for more than that. Amidst all of this, I found a passion for grime music, held events, and made a blog site dedicated to it. I taught myself how to write; I didn't study to become a journalist, and you can probably tell from my conversational tone.
I've never professed to be the best writer in the world, but I know my subjects well enough to a point where it is respected. And I say that to say: being in touch with the streets is something that makes critiquing street music that little bit more authentic. I am a 28 year-old black man who can relate to a lot (not all) of the lyrics these guys spit; if not from my own experience, then definitely from those around me. A question has popped-up in conversations lately: does it matter if a white journalist covers the same topics as I do—i.e. black—for a living? The simple answer to that is, no. There are many who do a great job at it, having immersed themselves and studied the culture like exam-taking students. Now, is there a problem with white journalists covering the same topics who romanticize about them from the sidelines? Yes—and it needs to stop.
Earlier this week, UK rap star Giggs released his fourth studio album, Landlord. Complex's review was a glowing one, and so was the one from lauded "indie bible" NME—until I saw the paragraph that insinuated rape in a song (the online review has since been amended).
So, to recap: it was a fairly positive review (given 4/5) that was published with a rape insinuation? Cool. My issue here is that the reviewer—a white male—must have already formed an opinion on who Giggs was before even listening to the project.
The piece was littered with "ex-gang member" and "drug-dealing" chat, but that was his choice to include as a journalist. Anybody who has respect for this rapper's work, though, would be more than aware of the implications those phrases could add to the consistent campaigns to derail his career. But to insinuate rape is a whole other thing. Do you really think Giggs would casually talk about raping a woman, on or off wax? If you thought that, and gave him such a high rating, then what does that say about you as a man, as a writer?
In an apology issued by the NME (which UK rap Twitter had to push for, by the way), the opening paragraph reads:
NME would like to make an unreserved apology to Giggs. In our review of his new album, 'Landlord', a lyric was misheard which completely altered the context and our understanding of the track 'The Process'. In the track Giggs says "man rates her", which was incorrectly interpreted as "man rapes her".
There's this thing called Google. And Genius, which breaks down lyrics so that you don't have to! This was just lazy on the writer's part, and it makes me wonder: if a clued-up writer (black, brown, or white) wrote that for the NME, would they have made such a huge blunder? Having a basic understanding of even just slang terminologies can be so important when documenting subcultures, and if you can't be bothered to do the research, leave it to the experts. Some of the feedback on Twitter has been people saying we need more black-owned media platforms, and while I'm very much for that and feel it's super necessary, I don't think it's the full solution—it's more about having staffers with a deeper understanding of the culture sitting in seats at these mainstream titles.
Black music should be handled with just as much care when critiquing as if it were a white pop act or indie band. And because black music's running the world right now, that extra bit of care should be taken at all costs.