Music Consumption Is Now a Dating App — It Doesn’t Have to Be

In a guest editorial, veteran DJ and producer J.PERIOD explains why music consumption is no longer a courtship, and what we can do about it.
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Music is a Dating App: A Guest Editorial by J. Period

This is a guest editorial by J.PERIOD, whose latest releases include the epic single “In The Ghetto (Wake Up!)” featuring Black Thought, Rakim & John Legend, currently available on all streaming platforms, and The Best Of Nas [Anniversary Edition], an Apple Music exclusive mixtape. J.PERIOD's debut production album is scheduled for release in spring 2020.

On November 7, hip-hop celebrated 26 years since the release of A Tribe Called Quest’s Midnight Marauders. I remember the original release day clearly.

At 7 a.m., I hatched a plan to skip my first-period class and wait outside the record store until it opened—first in line to have, and to hold, Tribe’s timeless piece of art. For the next month (possibly six), it was the only thing I listened to. I memorized that album; I obsessed over it, I lived with it—exclusively. It was a match made in heaven.

The day Biggie’s Ready To Die dropped in 1994, I was arriving at college. Judging by the reactions of my peers as I rolled onto campus bumping “Juicy,” I knew instantly who my friends were gonna be. Back then, we were defined by our music—it was all we needed to know about each other.

Things done changed.

Today, music consumption is no longer a courtship; it’s a dating app. Time is short, options are infinite, and many works of art—including great ones—risk falling through the cracks if the wrong curator swipes left. Even for fans, love affairs are short. Why take time to get to know a work of art when 50 algorithmically-selected options are waiting in the wings?

As a DJ and producer, my earliest mixtapes were love letters to those early days. I wanted fans to fall in love with these tapes the way I fell for those old albums. I wanted to make timeless art, to tell stories that would outlast me. I had no unique credentials; I was just some kid. Those were the days of hustling CDs on Canal St. My competition was Best Of R&B #39 with a half-naked girl on the front. Nah, B. We made art pieces, word to Fuse Green. I wanted those tapes to live forever.

Now, information rolls at us like a river. Our feeds fill up faster than we can scroll, and as a result, our greatest collective fear is “missing out.” As independent artists, we struggle with the collective amnesia that sets in for any album older than a week. Recent feels old and old feels archaic—or worse, forgotten.

Last month, Pharoahe Monch celebrated the 20th anniversary of Internal Affairs, an album that boasts one of hip-hop’s most celebrated songs ever in “Simon Says,” but has never existed on streaming services… until now. Its arrival earned front-page features. Fans met the release with the enthusiasm of a newborn.

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Suddenly it occurred to me: in a world full of perpetual musical amnesia… everything is brand new, to anyone hearing it for the first time.

As youth gives way to adulthood, folks are quick to remind you: nothing lasts forever. But great music does. The right song can take you back to a time, or a place, or a feeling, like nothing else. It’s happened to all of us: a car passes, a song comes on the radio, and just a glimpse of a melody sparks the flash of a memory. Music does that.

Truly great music evokes more than memory; it changes us. These are the songs, the artists, the albums we cling to, the ones that shape us, and never leave us—our Midnight Marauders, our Ready to Die, our Illmatic. Those are the albums we stood outside the store for, waited in line for, pined over, and ultimately fell in love with.

Streaming, in the true spirit of the internet, offers endless choices. It’s easy to get lost. Algorithms guess at our preferences, and “curators” guess at our culture, but neither gets it right. In 2019, playlists drive the whole industry—“May we present to you these songs we’ve compiled so you don’t have to choose…”—because no one can keep up.

In this world, music discovery is perpetual and never-ending. This current generation doesn’t wait for the store to open to discover what’s new. Now, the store is always open, and whenever they discover music—it’s new. As a consequence, love is fleeting; swipe left for more options. What people need is a guide (see under: “DJ’s”). There’s so much music out there; sometimes we need a reminder of what’s great.

“Allow me to re-introduce myself…”

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This week, in the spirit of Pharoahe Monch, and in celebration of my mixtape catalog (a catalog that now includes collaborations with Q-Tip, Common, Lauryn Hill, The Roots, Mary J. Blige, and Lin-Manuel Miranda), we embark on a series of our own re-introductions, starting with the mixtape that launched my career, The Best of Nas, premiering as an Apple Music exclusive.

This week, you’ll find The Best of Nas featured on the hip-hop homepage of Apple Music, right next to the brand new album from Roddy Ricch. What’s old and what’s new, side by side—as New Releases.

A week ago, in anticipation of our upcoming re-issue series, we dropped a single, “In The Ghetto (Wake Up!)” featuring Black Thought, Rakim, and John Legend, on all streaming platforms. This song marks a significant moment in hip-hop history: the first time these legends have appeared on a track together. It’s also the first time the song has appeared on streaming platforms… until now.

Staring at my Spotify stats a week later, my jaw drops. The lesson is clear: in an era of short attention spans and information overload, re-issuing great work is not just a critical way to remind fans of timeless music; it’s the only reasonable response to an ecosystem that discards legendary art as yesterday’s news.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

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