Solving Rap Journalism’s Long-Standing Research Problem

I’d like to share some resources...
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Slick Rick, Redman, N.W.A

Rap journalism has a research problem. Just recently, Up North Trips, a popular Twitter account, attributed the wrong release date to Soundbombing II, Albumism and The Shadow League published 30th-anniversary pieces for Special Ed’s Youngest In Charge over a month past its actual anniversary date, and even the legendary DJ Premier tweeted an erroneous date for the 30th anniversary of Gang Starr’s debut.

The chief culprit behind all three incidents is Wikipedia, which websites and music history Twitter accounts source for their posts. Inaccuracies on Wikipedia have been well documented, but because of the speed of real-time social media and the rush to publish content, fact-checking or verifying sources is no longer a priority.

This is not a new problem. Over the past few years, I’ve presented evidence that proves the universally recognized release dates for many classic albums, including MC Lyte’s Lyte As A Rock, Redman’s Whut? Thee Album, N.W.A’s Straight Outta Compton, Slick Rick’s The Great Adventures of Slick Rick, and De La Soul’s 3 Feet High & Rising, are all listed incorrectly. Of course, nothing has changed. The same websites and social media accounts continue to recognize these erroneous dates year after year, and any objections fall on deaf ears. When world-renowned journalist, hip-hop advocate, and radio host Bobbito Garcia recently presented receipts and evidence proving April 20, 1999, wasn’t the date his label, Fondle 'Em Records, originally released MF DOOM’s Operation Doomsday, finally, people listened.

Besides Wikipedia, the current media climate is also to blame for these widespread inaccuracies, where there are no consequences for making an erroneous or misleading music history post on a Twitter account or for writing an anniversary piece on the wrong date. Retractions and apologies rarely follow these errors, and there is no assurance the site/outlet/account will do the bare minimum amount of work and fact check its future posts to avoid the same fate. Put simply, people operating in this space are moving too quickly to care about rectifying their mistakes.

With that being the case, I’d like to share some resources for fellow writers, journalists, and music fans who value accuracy and history so they can fact check or recognize misleading release date posts for themselves.

Discogs

Since launching in 2000, Discogs has been an invaluable tool for researching older rap album release dates. By checking the Ruthless Records catalog numbers versus the re-release of N.W.A. & The Posse and Eazy E’s Eazy-Duz-It, and using picture evidence from the cover of N.W.A’s “Gangsta, Gangsta” maxi-single, I discovered it was impossible for N.W.A.’s Straight Outta Compton to have been released in August 1988. It’s likely the release of both the maxi-single and the re-release of N.W.A. & The Posse on Ruthless were confused for Straight Outta Compton.

N.W.A. & The Posse was originally released on Macola in 1987, but in August 1988, the Ruthless re-release began to climb the charts while the maxi-single spread—which rap writers who weren’t of record buying age somehow mistook for the release of the Straight Outta Compton LP. However, the RIAA database, Billboard print ads, the date the album entered the Top Black Albums Chart (which was renamed the Top R&B/Hip Hop Albums Chart in 1991 with the institution of Soundscan), and the Ruthless catalog number all confirmed the album was released between January and February of 1989.

Billboard

Billboard

Yet another crucial resource is Billboard. Some full and partial charts can be found on their own website, but there also exists a digitized database of Billboard issues between 1936 and 2014. By capturing videos or screenshots of these charts, I have been able to dispel a lot of release date myths. Most times, all it takes is a quick and simple Google search involving the artist or group’s name followed by the words “Billboard Chart History.” From there, trace back to when the album or song peaked to disprove a misleading article or tweet.

RIAA Gold & Platinum Database

Next is the RIAA’s searchable Gold & Platinum online database, which comes in handy for nailing down exact or approximate release dates by verifying whether an album received a Gold or Platinum certification. There are some erroneous dates listed in this database, and occasionally, the UK and European release dates are listed as opposed to the North American date, but if you’ve done enough research beforehand, you can easily spot them.

Google Books

Google Books’ digital collection of issues of CMJ New Music Monthly and New Music Report is a truly clutch resource. All you need to do is type in the name of a particular music publication with the year (or whatever keyword) you need to narrow down the search parameters. Provided you’re willing to put forth the man-hours poring through countless pages, an expectation for any researcher worth their salt, this shouldn’t be a deterrent.

Private Collections

The last place to research rap release history is in physical archives owned by private collectors, amateur or otherwise. I have a collection of underground rap publications (Ego Trip, Stress, On The Go, Mass Appeal, etc...), published between 1992 and 2004, at my disposal, plus friends, colleagues, and associates who provide me access to magazines and documents going back decades. If worse comes to worst, I can always visit the local library. My local library, Boston Central Library in Copley Square, is the oldest one in the United States of America, and it does the trick if all my other means fail me.

And there you have it, a few shortcuts to either investigate or debunk the posts or claims made by writers, journalists or Twitter accounts who knowingly or unknowingly post and share fake news regarding music release dates. 

Oh, and one last thing. Always check the date of the year an artist released an album or single to know if it was a Tuesday or a Friday. The global release day (Friday) didn't go into effect until July 10, 2015. That’s just obvious.

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