Notes on Jonah, the Whale, blogging, and hip hop
by Marcus K. Dowling
Ed. Note – Marcus Dowlings’s posts do not reflect the thoughts of Winston (aka Stone) or The Couch Sessions
“Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.” Jonah 1:17, The Bible, King James ed.
I cannot think of a more disconcerting and backwards notion than the concept of sending one’s musical creation to someone who has never sat for a minute in a meeting with a head of A & R, or high ranking label executive with the expectation of gaining enough traction to be signed. Much like the story of Jonah in the Bible, an artist clearly is fleeing from the presence of common sense and embracing the concept of hopelessness in such a desire. However, in 2009, it would seem as the rise of the blogger is near completion, and while results are early, the hip hop game has suffered somewhat in the wake of this phenomenon.
I think of the emcee, sitting at home, pen and notebook in hand, scribbling lyrics, creating hooks, recording songs, and then, placing the songs on a mixtape, uploading them into the digital atmosphere, and then sending out a massive blind copy email to fans 8 to 88, advising to download, and write about the songs, and expect this to create a significant enough fanbase to one day become Kid Cudi. Even before the Internet, sending tons of envelopes of tapes with rhymes and slipshod production to record labels, or damn near interrupting a DJs set to get a 12 inch or CD played seems like a far nobler underground experience. At least if you were denied by Kid Capri in a nightclub, you at least had the imprimatur of a noted musician, an individual who at least has mad significant money consistently in the music industry. By comparison, if a blogger doesn’t like your song, and that’s the ONLY feedback you really have, well, it’s an opinion, but, it truly carries no weight where concern or fear is a necessity. It’s a infinitely small subsection of the larger musical market expressing hate. I’d tend to want to trust my music in the hands of someone who is a mover of people, instead of a group of people being moved.
In the Bible, Jonah stayed in the “great fish” for three years. The “great fish” of Internet opinion swallows everyone now and that “three years” can feel like “three lifetimes.” Those who are released into the waiting arms of record deals deserve some sort of award for evading the slings and arrows of Internet opinion and attaining that level of acceptance. At least at that point the aim of your music is far more mainstream in scope, and, well, as Rick Ross just proved, with a major label behind you, if a million people on a series of tubes believe everything about you to be completely phony, there are a million more who will not really care, and obviously gladly disagree.
I’d also stand to argue also that there are seventeen year old kids in America who can’t hold down a job bagging groceries at Kroger’s who think that they could replace Sean Combs tomorrow morning and create a Bad Boy roster of Blu, Charles Hamilton, MF Doom, Black Milk and Colin Munroe and have each artist push 100,000 units. I’m sure he’d also be able to lay out an elaborate marketing scheme wherein BET, MTV and VH1 would change their television production standards and music would be indelibly altered forever. That’s the great thing about opinions. They’re like assholes, everyone has one, and even if they’re woefully wrong, it denotes the depth, scope and imagination that qualifies someone as a human being. But basing the nature of music and it’s development upon a dreamer with no actual intellect? Not smart.
There needs to be a thought placed by bloggers and writers, if we’re the new A & R to breaking this vicious “Jonah and the Whale” cycle. There needs to be quality control. There needs to be better music education on all levels by those involved in the new “A & R” game. Maybe picking up a book, maybe taking a class in ethnomusicology at a local community college. Maybe even learning how to play an instrument or learning the basics of song construction. We’re doing woeful things to artists as people when we sit on our ivory thrones and proclaim them as great to an industry of people who know and believe them to just be good. We do woeful things to young artists who are looking to dance and express something they think is cool, instead of pushing them to be the next Tribe, Rakim, Slick Rick or hell, Young MC, before they can handle the gravitas of what that is, or even what that takes. We need to exercise patience. If the bloggers of 2009 wrote in 1972, I’d imagine they would’ve SAVAGED Stevie Wonder for switching to a sound driven by MOOG style synths and introspective lyrics. Hell, I know they did the same to Kanye West, for 808s and Heartbreak and, well, that went platinum, so I’m pretty sure I’m right. An artist at the end of the day is a man or woman who develops and inevitably always changes, matures and improves.
P.T. Barnum, the noted circus showman stated once that there was a “sucker born every minute.” The musical industry is now run by suckers. Not labels or A & R execs, but at the most important of developmental phases, the early days, run by suckers. These suckers have decided that they are THE LORD, and have taken the form of a great fish, and swallowed the entirety of hip hop. We then dispose of one reluctantly, after the artist prays to us and kowtows to our demands and falls in line with our limited expectation after savaging and dissecting literaly every single track they have ever developed, likely down to the sound of their voice over their heartbeat, in the form of excrement, and they are saved onto ships in the form of record labels who have the intellect, logic and background to develop their careers correctly.
It’s terrible, unfortunate, and in the eyes of this observer, true. It’s not a condemnation of everyone, as for every sophomore (read as the Greek etymology of “wise fool”) there’s a senior out there and has taken the time to care with depth and useful insight, and understands that creating a situation of Jonah and the Whale for hip hop is not preserving, protecting on even worse, ensuring a solid future for the genre.
ed. note: The author, Marcus Dowling’s other work can be found at his site, TGRIOnline.com, True Genius Requires Insanity. He can also be followed on Twitter at twitter(dot)com/marcuskdowling.