Kill your darlings and don't meet your heroes, these are two truths to live by. Or are they?
Working in music, you are often afforded the opportunity to interface with your rap heroes in ways other fans simply cannot. The question crops up, then, do we even want to meet our rap heroes? How does that skew our perception of their music? Is it better to keep the relationship strictly as fan and artist?
All of these questions, and more, will be answered by DJBooth Managing Editor Donna-Claire Chesman and Senior Writer Yoh.
Their conversation, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
yoh [10:12 AM ]
Hi, Donna. Happy Thursday to the SZA of DJBooth, lol. How are you, my friend?
donnacwrites [10:14 AM ]
LOL, happy Thursday, Yohsipher. I am well. An apartment tour is in my future, so I am tentatively excited. Today I wanted to talk to you about something that's been on my mind since last September: rap heroes. As in, do you want to meet your rap hero. We work in a business where we are afforded the opportunity to one day meet the artists that soundtracked our lives. But should we?
yoh [10:22 AM ]
Good question. Before someone becomes a music journalist, they're a fan. Our admiration for the art and artists drives us to write, critique, and tell stories. It's a natural desire to want that moment, to finally meet an artist who means the world to you.
I'm a big fan of Lil Wayne. There have been three instances where he was supposed to perform at festivals and I was there: in Miami at Rolling Loud, in Philly for The Roots Picnic, and in Atlanta for A3C. Subconsciously, I believed if I could see him on stage then maybe I could meet him afterward. Unfortunately, my luck is worse than Ed, Edd, and Eddy trying to raise money for jawbreakers—Wayne canceled all three times. Part of me believes it's not going to happen, and I'm okay with that. I needed his music, not the man.
What about you? Do you believe we should meet our rap heroes?
donnacwrites [10:27 AM ]
I've been lucky enough to speak with one of my heroes: Slug. We had a wonderful interview, and I left the piece enjoying his music more. I got a fuller picture of the man, and it enhanced the work. But I did not get the chance to chop it up with Mac. In a lot of ways, that's been hard for me since he did read my writing and we did have that connection, but in another way, had we made that additional connection, I could not imagine the loss.
From a writer's perspective, meeting your heroes is tough. What if they're not what you imagined them to be? Can you still enjoy the music, and what of the piece? If this is your hero, will you be able to write the piece that they deserve, not simply a puff piece? There's always the desire to paint them in a positive light, but what if things go south during your time together? I would never want my image of an artist marred by a bad interview, that's a whole catalog I would lose.
I realize I'm asking more questions than giving answers, but there's a lot to consider here from our position.
yoh [10:44 AM]
I love that you had the chance to build a beautiful rapport with Slug. I know it means the world to you and would mean the world to teenage Donna. It's good that you're asking so many questions. Everything you're saying is valid.
On Mac, to know that we can reach our heroes is a gift and a curse. It means everything can reach them—good and bad. When I learned JAY-Z read the piece about my niece last year, it was an unbelievable feeling. But I knew if a glowing piece could reach him, then something less glamorous could as well.
I learned that lesson with Kid Cudi, lol. I won't say the Cleveland-born Moon Man was a rap hero, but he was someone who helped to soundtrack my awkward transition from high school to adulthood. The day he went on Twitter and told me my words meant nothing, well, it hurt. It hurt that fan in me. I didn't play his music for a while after that. I can play him now. I grew up a bit, recognized he was probably going through something, and him being an asshole doesn't change when the music is good. I know both saints and assholes are capable of making a great song. I've accepted that fact, and I move accordingly.
donnacwrites [10:50 AM]
Perhaps the issue lies in the idea of a hero in general? Should we not be our own heroes? To point to Cudi, you're right: he was likely just going through something. He was just emoting as a human being and though it hurt you, that's all it was. Maybe that was a lesson in remembering the humanity of the artists we so care for. That's something I always preach, anyway. It's good you grew from that experience and can still enjoy him; perhaps that was a gift he inadvertently gave you, that moment of growth.
It's scary to realize the good and the bad can reach our heroes. It's not something on the forefront of my mind, because I often feel trapped in a vacuum when I am writing, but the energy is quite overwhelming. To know that JAY-Z loved the piece about your niece is to know you have the power to also hurt his feelings. Even JAY-Z has feelings. That's tremendous and terrifying.
All this thinking out loud has me landing on: not meeting your rap heroes, but giving them flowers from afar, if only because there's too much in the balance and too much at risk when you finally do meet. It's impossible to live up to the hype. And it's an unfair burden onto another person.
yoh [10:59 AM]
The reason we have heroes is that art is powerful. I can't move myself the way a song can. Unfortunately, the song will be made by a man or woman, or robot in the coming years. It's natural to gravitate and adore those who give us something unforgettable.
Remembering the humanity of artists is definitely the lesson I received from Cudi, but I wouldn't call it a gift. Also, I'm almost certain JAY-Z doesn't have feelings, but your point stands.
We should be giving flowers. Yet, I imagine, if we can reach the artist by giving flowers, I think they'll want to see who is always sending a fresh bouquet. Which may lead to meeting them. They're human, they'll appreciate the love.
I've met so many rappers who love the work we do at DJBooth. It's because they see how much we care. I hope all artists can see that care in our writing; the most critical critique written by a pen that cares has to be respected. We don't have to agree to be respectful of one another.