On Sunday (January 29), when outspoken MMG emcee Wale vented his frustrations about the music industry, hip-hop culture and rap media through a tweet and now-deleted Instagram post, I couldn't help but shake my head up and down in agreement.
For years, Wale has unfairly been treated like a punching bag, but despite taking body blows from fellow recording artists and the media and battling a constant stream of verbal abuse on social media, the DMV native has won big over the past eight years to the tune of eight RIAA certifications and 11 singles charting on the Billboard Hot 100.
No matter how successful Wale has become, however, every artist—no matter the genre—reaches a breaking point and—ultimately—disillusionment begins to set in. After years of industry politics, bullshit rumors, hyperbolic headlines and social media trolls, it's no wonder Wale is tired of the music industry.
Aside from a decade of interviewing rappers and spending time in recording studios, I cannot speak on what it's like to be a recording artist, or to be asked to deliver on a promise made and then after that delivery is sent be told that "it never happened." However, what I am qualified to touch on is the media's tendency to focus on negative storylines rather than the positive.
As Wale wrote, "Let me air out some people, it'll make headlines. Let me uplift some people, it'll get buried quicker than u can say 'leanmollyxan.'"
First, it's important to note that this behavior is not exclusive to hip-hop media outlets—it's a tactic that has been employed by every newspaper, magazine, and web-only publisher for as long as each media format has been in the business of turning a profit. The old adage “If it bleeds, it leads” has followed traditional news outlets for years, a blight caused by substantive news stories always being bumped to the end of a broadcast or below the fold of a newspaper.
As an example, last week we ran five stories on Migos—who just released their sophomore album Culture—and four of them had what you would consider positive or neutral headlines.
In order of date published:
- Migos Believe They Need to Prove to "Older Guys" They Can Really Spit
- Donald Glover's Powerful Co-Sign Helped Migos Book Late Night Shows
- Migos 'Culture' 1 Listen Album Review
- Migos Reveal How They Assembled 'Culture' From Individual Recordings
The first four stories did reasonably well in terms of pageviews and social shares, but the total traffic, RT's and likes from all four pieces combined didn't touch the popularity of our fifth story, which carried the headline: "Is Migos Holding Quavo Back From Becoming a Breakout Solo Star?"
The tone of Yoh's "controversial" op-ed was simultaneously realistic—music groups, regardless if they are family, often break up—and positive, but thousands of Migos fans, many of which only read the tweeted headline and not the article, assumed that the intent of the article was malice. Never mind the fact that the headline was a close-ended question (options: yes or no) and not a declaration or statement.
The overall response on social media felt like fake outrage, especially considering Quavo's undeniable success as a solo feature artist and where Migos stood in terms of overall popularity before "Bad and Boujee" took off late last year, but I understood why die-hard fans of the group couldn't fathom a break-up at the hands of a Quavo solo career.
Of course, we didn't mean to send Migos loyalists running to the ER or toward the edge of the nearest cliff, but the employment of a purposely reactionary headline had that effect.
Let's say, for fun, we had titled the op-ed, "Quavo Could Be a Breakout Solo Star, But Should He Leave Migos?" Like the original, the alternative headline is a question. Similarly, the subject is still Quavo and whether or not he should depart from Migos in search of solo success. While the actual article would remain unchanged, the second headline does present an ever-so-slightly rosier position. Unfortunately, that minor tweak in verbiage would have meant less clicks, less social shares and very little discussion, which ultimately, is the goal of every content publisher—from The New York Times to TMZ—in 2017.
So, what can be done here? For starters, instead of complaining on social media about "click bait" and headline choices, click on and share articles that reflect the change you want to see in publishing. Earlier this month we highlighted all the female producers kicking ass behind the boards, share that. In December, we showcased a rapper one of our writers found on SoundCloud who he credits with saving his life, read that.
There are countless other examples of positive and uplifting stories that deserved to be written, read and shared across the web, but in order for these tales to be both told and prioritized by publishers, it's on you, the reader, to lead the way.
By Z, who loves to argue with you on Twitter.
Photo Credit: Revolt