The other day my Grandma said she "forgot about the internet."
I couldn't even imagine what that would be like.
Since the days of away messages and Geocities, there hasn't been a day that I haven't used the internet or wished I could. It's the greatest technological advancement since Edison fucked around with some lightbulbs and got a science triple-double. In just a few short years the internet has revolutionized nearly every aspect of society and, of course, music is no exception. But it hasn't only changed how we get our music, it's altered how we experience it.
In theory, being able to share our musical experiences should be a wonderful thing, but reality has been far different. Comment sections, Facebook, Twitter, it's all become a pissing war, a cesspool of hyperbole, trolls and Drake memes. And now, with the release and subsequent conversation around Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp A Butterfly, we've reached the tipping point. It's certainly not a new problem, but this week I realized just how far gone we are.
After a few listens to To Pimp A Butterfly I had to set it aside for a while. Not because I didn't like it, not because I wanted to, but because the conversation about the album had drowned out the music itself. I'll pick it back up when I can update my Twitter feed and not see one Kendrick related tweet, but until then, it's almost like I can't truly hear the music because there's a hurricane of the background noise that even Ali can't engineer away. Attempting to figure out how you truly, personally feel about an album like this when you're constantly surrounded by proclamations that it's the greatest album of all time, constantly slammed by comments declaring it weak and over-rated, has become exhausting.
It's exactly like the album version of "i." As the song progresses so do the roars of the anxious, hostile crowd. It gets to the point where Kendrick is deplorably scratching and crawling to be heard. If I listen now, I won't be listening to samples, lyrics, and flow. I'll be hearing "KENDRICK IS A FUQQBWOI!!!!! FOREST HILLS DRIVE WAS BETTER" or "THIS IS CLASSIC!!!! KENDRICK > TUPAC, BIGGIE AND JAY COMBINED!!!!" Whether those statements are true or not isn't the point; it's that I can't listen to the music anymore without also hearing those voices.
Music fans are greedy. I don't blame anyone for wanting more music to listen to—I'll take four more Kanye albums if you're offering—but I'm realizing how many people don't want new music so they can add it to their collection. They don't want new music to change the way they look at the world or help them through a rough time. They want new music so they can hit Twitter with a fire opinion and rack up some RTs. They want new music so they can come up with that new meme. They want new music so they can wade into comment sections and relieve some stress by bullying someone else in the locker room that is the internet. They want To Pimp A Butterfly so they can use To Pimp A Butterfly to fit their narrative, create their content.
How did we get here? How did we reach a point where the hype and conversation surrounding the music has overshadowed the music itself? How did we reach a point where an album can't just be an album. What can we do so that music once again brings us together rather than divide us into Team FHD vs. Team TPAB? How do we remember that the primary point of music is to experience music?
Spins, reviews, and Metacritc scores can be interesting, and best of debates are fun as hell, but they can't quantify the feeling of when a piece of music rattles you to the core and changes the way you see the world. The albums that can do that are the great ones, no matter what the internet says, no matter what the critics say, including me; and in an age when the entire internet is a critic, it's harder than ever to ignore the critics.
"It's not 'let's talk about this video' or 'let's talk about this album,' it's back to a hype machine. It's what I was trying to avoid. I was trying to come back on my phoenix out the ashes, new, let's just talk about content and nothing else surrounding it. But...so....we back in the hype thing."
I recognize that as a card-carrying member of the internet media Illuminati I'm a part of the problem. In the words of that great rapper Walt Whitman, "Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes." But that also means I'm part of a solution.
Debates become opportunities to appreciate, chances to really think about why one artist's music connects with you more strongly than another, not opportunities to digitally beat the shit out of anyone who disagrees with you. When music becomes a conversation about personal experience rather than a Fox News segment where whoever yells the loudest wins, we are much better off.
I'd much rather talk about how To Pimp a Butterfly makes me want to get back into my Parliament Funkadelic vinyl more than argue about whether an album that's been out for a week is a "classic," whatever that mythical word even means. It may be too late, Pandora's box may be permanently open now, but I'm going down swinging. Like anyone I can get distracted by shiny internet objects, debates, and listicles, but I'm fighting to return to a place where it's just about the music. It's always been about the music.
I hope it always will be.