Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Problem With XXL

I became a subscriber of XXL magazine soon after it began publishing. I bought the first few issues and liked the style and content of the mag, so I started getting it in the mail. I stuck with it for a few years, but slowly it descended into the kind of mag that XXL themselves never failed to make fun of in every issue. By the time I gave up on 'em, the writing had nosedived, the content was depleted, and all they seemed to be doing was desperately trying to keep up with the popular trends in rap music. Sure, they give a few credible MCs a short feature here and there to tell themselves that they haven't completely sold out to preteens that had no history of hip hop culture, and seemingly don't care to. But, by and large whoever was being pushed by record labels, however ridiculous would be the ones with the 4-page spread full of dumb questions and undeserving praise.

Before this past week it had been years since I picked up a copy of XXL. There was no reason to. I wasn't missing anything by not reading it, especially with all of the hip hop websites and blogs in existence offering a superior product free of charge. But, this month's issue of XXL had an interview with Jay-Z that I was interested in after reading a few excerpts online (Jay always seems to give the best interviews as long as the journalist conducting it is halfway competent). It also had a behind-the-scenes, track-by-track breakdown of Jay's 2001 classic, The Blueprint. Who wouldn't be interested in that?

Now, I enjoyed these two articles, plus a few other columns throughout. So, good for XXL on that. The mag's not all bad. But, reading some of the sheer ignorance that comes out of them just aggravates the shit out of me. Especially since their M.O. is, and has always been to constantly pat themselves on the back and diss the competition for failing to be them.

The main issue I have with the folks at XXL is that they talk about the problems with today's generation of hip hop in one breath, and willingly feed into those same problems the next. They pretend to wonder where all of the lyricism has gone. They don't seem to want to look at the product that they themselves are pushing to the masses each and every month. People don't care about lyrics anymore, huh XXL? You think it may have something to do with you reviewing some bullshit group called The New Boyz?? And giving them an "L" rating?!?!?! How about the fact that you'd rather do regular features with people like Young Jeezy or OJ Da Juiceman than MCs like Brother Ali or Tanya Morgan?? And don't give me that bullshit argument about balance because that's all it is...bullshit.

The subtitle of XXL is "Hip-Hop On a Higher Level". Yet, the actual product offering is anything but. The very best of the best hardly get any shine. Those who dominate the airwaves with their foolishness are on most every page. And, if XXL would take the time to actually look past what's being spoon fed to them on a daily basis, they would see that this year has seen a plethora of credible hip hop acts releasing important, high-quality music that is pushing the genre forward, not holding it back. But, keeping these MCs out of the limelight for fear that they won't sell as many copies is what is helping this nonsense to continue. And, the fear is also unfounded. Some of the best and most visited hip hop sites online do exactly what I am asking of a tangible publication found in stores. There is a huge audience for it.

So XXL, Pull your skirt back down. Grow a set man. Step up your own game and start talking to the adults that grew up with hip hop. We're not kids anymore and don't want to read about kiddie acts with little talent and nothing to say. There is better music out there, we want to read about it and young people need help discovering it. It's not all a history lesson either. There is plenty of great hip hop being recorded today by MCs that are new to the game. Shit, some are just as young as the fools you cover in your pages. Only they are much more talented and they actually care about this music, not just getting money and girls. Take a look around and be what hip hop needs you to be. Or, just go away.

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