“If you look at that interview it’s only about other rappers,” 03 Greedo told Rob Markman in their recent sit-down for Genius. The rising star from Watts, California is, of course, referring to his feature on Billboard, an interview that turned into social media hellfire over a handful of negative comments the rapper made about the late, great Tupac Shakur. Instead of the focus being on his newly-released mixtape, The Wolf of Grape Street, Greedo’s criticism of Tupac became the focal point as Twitter users swarmed in reaction.
The cause that initiated the effect was a question about fellow rap artist Lil Xan, who also made headlines for offering his opinion about Tupac's music in an On Clout 9 interview with Revolt. So overwhelmed by the backlash he received after his commentary went viral, the 21-year old took to Twitter to denounce any future interviews.
Lil Xan probably didn’t expect Waka Flocka Flame to "ban him from hip-hop," or for Rich Homie Quan to knight him the “Wackest in the Game,” or to see Michael Rapaport create a vehement reaction video on Instagram, but words must always be chosen carefully.
Xan is a careless kid with the free will to dislike whatever or whomever, but he cannot possibly be surprised when a disrespectful take on a rap legend isn't greeted with harmless giggles. Still, in an age where kids are blowing up seemingly overnight, and media training has been absolved along with artist development, the blame goes well beyond youthful ignorance.
Due to an ever-changing digital media landscape, which over the past few years has claimed thousands of jobs in what has been described as a "media apocalypse," most content producers have moved toward engineering a product with the sole purpose of creating a chain reaction of outrage. We all know the blueprint: ask a young, naive rapper a question about a legend of yesteryear and hope he or she—mostly just he—blurts out a dumb, thoughtless answer. The juicer the answer, the bigger the outrage, the bigger the influx of views and clicks.
This attention economy has forced most outlets, creators, and publishers to frame interview questions in a way where they are baiting the subject to give them the headline answer with the highest possibility of going viral.
For instance, take these two quotes from 03 Greedo’s interview with Genius:
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“I don’t want people to think I’m mad at the people who did that interview, thank you. Success. Get my buzz up.”
“They were looking for shock value. What my creative director calls clickbait.”
The first quote shows that Greedo is aware of how the added attention benefits both his publicity and the publication. I’m certain Rob Markman―one of hip-hop’s best journalists―originally intended to interview the prolific Greedo about his music, but his remarks about Tupac became the bigger story.
As the second quote states, shock value exists in both positive and negative reactions to questions about legends, peers, or any subject meant to shake the proverbial table. I wouldn’t call it clickbait, but reaction bait―when people see that [fill in the blank artist] said [fill in the blank comment] about [fill in the blank highly respected figure or work of art], they will react. Currently, this formula works best when questions zoom in on artists like Tupac or Biggie.
When Lil Yachty said Biggie Smalls was overrated on Pitchfork’s Over/Under, the internet lit him on fire. I don’t blame Pitchfork for creating the series—it’s actually one of my favorites—but in the aftermath of his appearance, Yachty was forced to discuss the culture with Joe Budden on Everyday Struggle and spend most of his entire album campaign discussing his knowledge of hip-hop's past. The same situation occurred when Lil Uzi Vert refused to rap over Gang Starr’s “Mass Appeal,” and when Vince Staples said the ‘90s were overrated. All opinions about the past, each bringing a different level of viral scrutiny.
In just the last year, independent of media provocation, Kodak Black tweeted he’s bigger than Tupac and Biggie, XXXTentacion claimed superiority over Pac, and a rapper named Pink Bitch released a Pac and Biggie diss track. Each occurrence was followed by blog coverage, public resentment, and repetitive discourse. The artists were merely following the script. Like their counterparts in the media, artist survival hinges on clicks, views, and promotion. Everyone is in the business of producing content that will be viewed and discussed by millions.
As artists continue to incriminate themselves by answering questions from DJ Vlad, and as asinine content by DJ Akademiks continues to dominate social media, it's fair to wonder if an alternative blueprint for success exists in 2018. Can non-outrageous content, with journalistic integrity, be produced without the use of reaction-bait tactics that, of critical importance, can also turn a profit? Remember, writers, editors, photographers and video producers also need to put food on the table.
I don't have all the answers, but I do know the change hip-hop fans want to see starts with them. The next time a rapper whose music you've never heard says something outrageous and 25 blogs cover their remarks, don't click on the story when it pops up on your timeline. You can even go one step further and tell the publication or content creator that you aren't interested in that type of content. This won't eliminate tabloid fodder, gossip, and rumors from running rampant on social media and dictating the direction of many of the culture's loudest voices, but a true culture change can only occur when the masses demand better.
We can all do better.