Jay Z wasn’t referring to the state of music when he dropped this noteworthy line back in 2001. But it sure does resonate today more than ever.
This was back when the music industry was different and the way we consumed our music was more like a delightful three course meal where we could savor our every bite rather than a bullet train buffet ravaged by social media vultures who barely stop to taste what’s on their plate before it is devoured.
Eating with a time limit is never an enjoyable experience.
Once upon a time, release dates meant something. You’d anticipate an album dropping on a certain day and pull your coins together to make the purchase. And the decision what to listen to wasn’t all that difficult to make because only a handful of albums would drop each week. Sensory overload for me was when The Roots’ Things Fall Apart and Eminem’s The Slim Shady LP both dropped on February 23, 1999. Or that time when Jay Z’s Vol 2…Hard Knock Life and OutKast’s Aquemini both released on September 29, 1998. I struggled going back and forth popping CDs in and out of my car stereo because I wanted to enjoy both albums at the same damn time. But that’s not reality, is it?
Back then you had educated decisions to make as a fan and carved out your listening experience for the week. And then you weren’t bombarded by 17 other “surprise” releases throughout the week to pull your attention away from the album that you waited months to come out.
You would live with an album for weeks and months at a time. When DMX dropped two albums in the same year (It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot and Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood in 1998) it was special. Today, it’s not surprising for an artist to drop two albums in a month. Remember when No Limit dropped a new album every single week? Felt like overkill then. Today, it’s commonplace.
It’s so much different now. While the Internet has opened up a lane for more artists than ever, the highway is so gotdamn crowded and it’s difficult to decipher what’s worth your time and what isn’t.
This is a topic that was touched on in The Misunderstanding Of Kendrick Lamar and Microwave Journalism column. But that was critique on the state of journalism in the music industry. However, this microwave lifestyle isn’t just delegated only to the writers. The fans have just as much culpability for the way music is released and consumed. Why, you ask? It’s because the Internet has allowed everyone to have a voice that occupies the same space. And a lot of you don’t deserve to have a voice because it does more harm than good. Deciphering the real music critics from the popular idiots on Twitter who spew verbal vomit for the sake of a retweet has become quite the task. And all it does is perform a disservice to the art.
There are two particular instances that have taken place this year that are indicative of how we no longer understand how to enjoy music.
Remember when Kanye West held his discombobulated listening session for The Life Of Pablo? Feels like an eternity, right? Sadly, this was but a few weeks ago on February 11. But that’s what music has been reduced to. If it isn’t today, it’s old. And if it’s old, it’s dead. Maybe that’s why there are already rumors of Kanye dropping a new album. But I digress…
It was disgusting to see so many “reviews” by fans and music critics of a half finished album being played in an arena through an auxiliary cord. The stream itself was a travesty and if you weren’t in the building (hell, even if you were in the building) trying to dissect the audio and soak in the lyrics and production was an impossible task. But there we were, using hyperbolic terms like “classic” and watering down their meaning. This wasn’t just about the microwave journalists who threw caution to the wind and published reviews on an album they could barely hear. This was about the fans who demanded the hot takes of an album that nobody could truly comprehend with such a haphazard rollout. Yes, it’s as much your fault as it is ours for the way that music is consumed.
Whether Kanye knows it or not, this would have been the perfect time to turn the mirror on the consumer and announce that T.L.O.P. wasn’t even a real album. We deserved to be trolled by Kanye. We needed that pimp slap of reality that forces us to withhold our uneducated opinions of a half finished album for the sake of being first. If only Kanye realized the power that he had at that particular moment to bury the industry and redefine our approach. But, again, I digress…
T.L.O.P. was just as much of a byproduct of this microwave lifestyle we live as the hot takes that came within minutes of the album being streamed on Tidal. Kanye reacted in real time to what the convoluted voices were saying about his project. He literally ran back to the studio to add, subtract and tinker with the album. Which is probably why the damn thing hasn’t come out because now it’s a stew of rushed opinions and tracks he probably doesn’t even like anymore. The album could be finished right now with the correct amount of polish for a proper release, but the reality is that the “moment” has passed and everyone moved on. The window of opportunity for Kanye to capitalize on the momentum he obtained has slammed shut. In it’s place as the “it” thing is Kendrick Lamar.
When Kendrick Lamar’s untitled/unmastered EP dropped, the vultures were at it again. Rather than take some time to appreciate the wealth of hidden treasures, we immediately dissected all of the nuances of the project within minutes. “Was he dissing Jay Electronica?” “This song should have definitely made the album!” and the obligatory “This is classic!” flooded our timelines a mere 30 minutes after the album released (mind you, the album is 34 minutes long). Never one to pass up on a hot take, music websites swept together these nonsensical declarations for posts. The tip of the iceberg was XXL’s “Twitter Reacts to Kendrick Lamar’s Surprise Project ‘untitled unmastered’” which was, essentially, a hot take full of hot takes published within a couple of hours of the album dropping. Now, this isn’t to throw XXL under the bus because it’s not their fault that today’s business model is hastily thrown together articles for the sake of clicks over quality. However, when one of the tweets pulled in is of a user with 31 followers declaring that “The new Kendrick album is one of the greatest things I’ve heard. Kendrick is literally a God,” well, we have a problem.
First and foremost, did anybody consider that this project was not released to be reviewed? After all, it’s a collection of unmastered jam sessions that didn’t fit the narrative of To Pimp A Butterfly and only issued because LeBron James pushed the button. Top Dawg wanted to gift the fans with something special for their loyalty. It was never meant to be an album. If it was, it wouldn’t be untitled and unmastered, would it?
For comparative purposes, this is like grading Stevie Wonder’s live demo of Michael Jackson’s “I Can’t Help It.” While it sounds amazing because, well, Stevie Wonder is amazing, it wasn’t finished. You could literally hear Stevie making up words throughout the song. It wasn’t meant to be the final release for our critique. Surely, some critic or fan would have lambasted Stevie Wonder for not being able to understand what was coming out of his mouth. While I’m sure that Kendrick Lamar and TDE appreciate the praise the project has received, there are going to be those that cheapen the experience by praising it too much or criticizing it for exactly what it was, unfinished.
Simply put, the art of actually enjoying an album is dead.
Music has been reduced to these moments that last a few hours and everyone needs to be a part of it before it’s on to the next one. While it may be fun to ride the Twitter emotional roller coaster, it’s a short ride that does a terrible disservice to the artist who takes his or her time crafting an album for our listening pleasure. Artists make art for you to live with and remember. It’s not for you to stampede into a room, shove every morsel in your face at ridiculously high speeds and then try to be the first to announce that “this is brilliant” or “this is awful.”
In a world of sheep, however, this is what happens and how an album is unfairly graded. Everyone follows whoever is first rather than take the time out to experience the music like it was supposed to be experienced. A listening experience on your MacBook speakers isn’t the same as a listening experience in your car. What if you’re in a shitty mood that day and hate everything. Maybe the album isn’t fitting your mood upon first listen but your stream of clouded consciousness is already all over the internet and amassing hundreds of retweets. It’s too late to say that you like it a week later because nobody cares what you think anymore.
Then there are those who hate anything that is universally praised. It’s not entirely their fault. They are trying to bring balance to a world of idiots. But, sometimes, they don’t realize they are idiots as well.
You know the saying “think before you speak?” Well, nobody is doing that anymore and causing more harm than good without respecting the art. Simply put, your “hot takes” aren’t always welcome. Speed dating an album oftentimes will cause you to miss something special. And why are you speed dating with it anyway? Is it really that serious for you to deconstruct an album as quickly as possible because you have so many other important things going on in your life?
Go ahead and buy yourself the finest filet mignon you can find, stick that shit in the microwave and eat it as quickly as humanly possible. Let me know if you’ll remember that steak. Now have that steak prepared at the proper heat and time and then savor every bite. It’s more likely that you’ll remember that meal. Think of your music like a steak. Maybe you won’t treat it so poorly.
Do yourself a favor and learn how to enjoy music again. You can thank me later.
But I’m just a critic, who the hell am I?
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