The internet's good for a lot of things, like porn looking up recipes, porn booking plane tickets and porn communicating with loved ones. And while we often hunker down inside whatever little corner of the internet we feel the most comfortable in, it can also be a good reminder there are people out there, a lot of people, who don't think anything like we do.
For example, Chance the Rapper. Personally, I happen to be a big fan of Chance, in large part because whether it's movies, art or music, I tend to gravitate towards the weird and unconventional. I mean, you're talking to a 32-year-old white man with a big ass beard and tattoos who writes about hip-hop on the internet for a living. I didn't exactly take the beaten path in life, and my favorite artists didn't either.
By the same token then, I'm never surprised to hear someone doesn't like Chance's music. I'd call him a carrot cake rapper. (Regular readers already know what I'm talking about.) I've literally never met a person in my life who doesn't like chocolate cake, and I think everyone would agree that, say, a vanilla-mayonnaise cake would be disgusting. But while I love carrot cake, I know plenty of people who don't. That doesn't make carrot cake inherently delicious or disgusting (like chocolate cake or vanilla-mayonnaise), it just means it's one of those things things some people like, some don't, and that's that.
I had assumed that was the general consensus on Chance. There were people who liked him but could see why some people didn't, and people who didn't like his nasally voice and/or eccentric style but could see why some people did. The end. It naively didn't occur to me that there was a growing, more actively aggressive backlash again Chance until I peeped the comments on our Facebook page for "Wonderful Everyday".
Anthony DeLillo: That dude's overrated...by everyone who hopped on his bandwagon once a few publications/sites started giving him publicity all at around the same time. It annoys me because there are many more talented artists who will never get the spotlight they deserve.
Whoa. It had stupidly never even occurred to me that there were people who thought Chance was overrated, but that's just one person. There's got to be at least one person in the world who would eat a vanilla-mayonnaise cake. And then I scrolled down and saw Anthony was far from alone:
Sean Sbardella: This guy is horrible.
DeShawn Jackson: nigga sucks
Joeri de Vries: dude isnt overrated, he's straight up wack.
Well then. There's not much to say to those last three folks, they sound like people who don't like carrot cake and are inordinately angry that other people do. I know from experience there's no way I'm going to convince them to like cake that they hate, and they're not going to convince me to hate cake that I like. There's really nowhere else to go with that conversation.
But "over-rated"? Now, as ambiguous as that word can be, at the very least it offers a glimmer of objectivity, some even remotely solid common ground that we can stand on. So let's start by trying to figure out what "over-rated" really means. I'd like to believe that we can all at least agree that it means something like:
"An artist who's receiving disproportionate attention compared to their talent and achievements."
If we all agree that's what over-rated essentially means, the key is to separate that definition, which is really about the culture and media at large, from our personal tastes.
For example, I'm also going assume that there aren't a lot of Iggy Azalea stans reading this. But is Iggy over-rated? The vast majority of conversations I've had about her, and things I've read from the hip-hop media about her talent, have been largely negative. On the other hand, she does now have a historically huge single, that can't be ignored. So if most people seem to think she's a mediocre (at best) rapper who's got a huge pop hit, and she's largely treated as a mediocre (at best) rapper who's got a huge pop hit, as much as you might hate her, that would mean Iggy's actually pretty properly rated.
Or take Black Thought. He's rarely given any shine by the larger mainstream media (at least before Fallon), but that's understandable, he purposeflly makes music the mainstream can't tolerate. So on that larger level he's properly rated. In the hip-hop community though, the man's held his own against the likes of Eminem in a cypher, yet his name almost never comes up in best lyricists alive conversations. So Black Thought holds the unusual position of being simultaneously properly rated and under-rated. Eminem? Widely regarded as one of the best of all-time, gigantic mainstream commercial success; properly rated. Tech N9ne? Elite skills, routinely outsells and out tours most major label artists, rarely mentioned in the media (athough that's just now changing); under-rated.
I don't want to get distracted by opening up other debates, although I do want to make sure we're all speaking the same language here, so let me circle back to Chance. What I find particularly ironic about the "Chance is over-rated" stance, at least when it's coming from the place that Anthony seems to be coming from, is that a lot of people now seem to view Chance as essentially a mainstream artist, a mainstream artist who's blocking the path for indie artists.
In truth though, regardless of what you think of his music personally, I believe he should be held up as a blueprint for indie hip-hop, and I think he's opening far more doors than he's closing. I'm hard pressed to think of a rapper who's ever had this large of an impact, this quickly, as a truly indie (not a Mindie*) artist. And while his weirdness may be why so many don't like him, he's found that success not by aping Drake or other mainstream stars, but by being unapologetically strange. I can pretty much guarantee that no major label A&R would advise an artist in his position to remake a cartoon theme song or drop a spoken word poem about religion as his XXL freestyle. But that's exactly what he's done. Isn't this what we always wanted? To see an indie artist hit this level by making such out-of-the-box music? Then again, it wouldn't be the first time indie rap fans cannibalized their own
I do get it though. The media are creatures of habit, and once a storyline works, they'll keep repeating well past the point of sanity. (Word to CNN's 79 straight hours of "we still don't know where that Malaysian plane is" coverage.) Like Kanye or Drake or Jay Z, posts about Chance tend to bring in good traffic - I know, I see the numbers - so sites keep posting him. So while under other circumstances you might be more inclined to just let Chance live and let live, the frequent posts make you feel like you're being force-fed carrot cake AND I DON'T FUCKING LIKE CARROT CAKE STOP TRYING TO GET ME TO EAT CARROT CAKE.
I promise, I'm not trying to force feed you anything. I've had "Acid Rap" in steady rotation for over a year now, but if you haven't, that's fine. I get it. And even after I just spent 40,000 words carefully defining what over-rated means, I don't even really have the heart to argue Chance's rating, because in the course of writing this, in the course of being forced to think about just what it is about Chance that has made me such a fan, I've remembered just how little debates like that actually matter.
Rap debates are built in the helix of my DNA, but they really are distractions, smoke screens, that can cover what matters most; the actual music. And regardless of how annoying his voice can be or how much the media has jumped on the bandwagon, Chance is making music like this, and I believe with every fiber of my hip-hop heart that the world needs more like it. I'm not naive enough (anymore) to believe everyone will agree with me about that, but I can hope....
* Mindie = a seemingly indie artist secretly backed by a major label.
[Nathan S. is the managing editor of The DJBooth and a hip-hop writer. He also occasionally talks in podcast form and appears on RevoltTV. His beard is awesome. This is his Twitter.]