What It Is: Fucking Perish Soundcloud, You're Filth

Is culture today better or worse than culture 15 years ago? In the last days before the internet’s complete onset I was a college student in Orlando, Florida. In the beginning of my freshman year in 2000 I was a skateboarder with a lot of creative ambition, and a startling capacity for freestyling, but I never thought of myself as an artist. I didn’t really know musicians or artists in high school, so all I’d been exposed to was other skateboarders, and for lack of a better description, hustlers and bad kids. My ideas about what to do with my time were a short list of skateboarding and crimes I knew I could get away with. By the end of my freshman year skateboarding wasn’t as much of a priority. I was participating in weekly rap battles, recording my own freestyle tapes, making beats on fruityloops, drawing and painting, and I became an important figure in the hip hop culture of Orlando. I became a rapper, and an artist of the most Duchampian inspiration.

Saying that today sounds very different. In today’s context those words can paint a typically hackneyed picture that we’ve all seen MILLIONS of times via social media. Today a person decides they want to be an artist so they make their first (attempt at) art, upload it to social media, put “Artist” in their bio, and BAM, it’s an artist. But in 2000 it took a lot more than that, in fact “becoming an artist” was not even a comparable affair. It was uncommon because it was difficult and arduous. That difficult ardor broke down into two components: navigating the culture, and learning the craft.

". . . the local community was both tangible and accessible out of necessity because there was no other way to have hip hop culture."

There were no tutorials to look up, so knowledge of how to create and record hip hop music was shared orally, or by example through collaborations. That meant the local community was both tangible and accessible out of necessity because there was no other way to have hip hop culture. If you took hip hop out of the venues, record shops, bars, and community centers then it would have disappeared. You could point to the places where “hip hop people” went because immediacy and tangibility IN YOUR TOWN were essential components of the culture. If you wanted to learn how to make hip hop music you first had to be part of the local hip hop community. That meant you had to go to the “hip hop places” and ingratiate yourself, and it wasn’t just about musical aptitude.

Cultures were self-policed, and if you did not fit the vibe for the culture then you would not be welcomed in. The participants were all constant cultivators enabling and propagating the spread of the culture by practicing and sharing their art in their own local community. You couldn’t make rap music without learning it from someone who makes it, and so every individual was participating in the direct transmission of a cultural thread that could be traced back to 1520 Sedgwick. In 2002 there was no way to make hip hop music without becoming part of a hip hop community. Before you could ever say, “I’m a rapper,” you had to be part of a community that had a history, a narrative, and values that enable one to become a rapper. Without the values and cultural knowledge that serve as the foundation you couldn’t be a rapper, you could only be a poser.

"Without the values and cultural knowledge that serve as the foundation you couldn’t be a rapper, you could only be a poser."

However, in spite of the overall welcoming and diverse nature of the hip hop community in Orlando, at the time Eminem had barely released his second album, and rappers with white skin was not a normal thing. Of course, Jewish people had been present playing important artistic roles in hip hop from early on, but that’s another story. So that meant I sometimes faced hostility from other artists within the community. People would threaten to fight me because they didn’t like the idea of a white rapper, and they especially didn’t like the idea of a white rapper who subverted norms, made fun of the typical macho identity, and often made a joke of all the false posturing that often defines hip hop. What I faced from inside the culture was only half of it though.

Externally, everyone who wasn’t a part of the hip hop culture was very confused. “A white rapper?!” At the time society was not really prepared for the concept of a white rapper–let alone the concept that a Jewish person is not white–and what I did was not valuable to most people, it was confusing. Navigating the culture did not mean moving through an established sequence of events in order to advance my stature and skill. In 2002 there was no tried-and-proven path to becoming a superstar playing festivals, making cameos in movies, and endorsing the newest ventures of the world’s largest consumer-packaged-goods conglomerates. No, I was just a young artist finding my way in the world as I simultaneously found out who I was, and I continued to discover more and more possibilities in myself and the world through my art and hip hop culture.

". . . no tried-and-proven path to becoming a superstar playing festivals, making cameos in movies, and endorsing the newest ventures of the world’s largest consumer-packaged-goods conglomerates."

The social climate in the early 2000s combined with the state of hip hop culture to create a unique scenario, and I would never argue that we need to go back to how things were. But things were definitely different, and while I value change, most of the changes that have happened to music culture have resulted in a net loss for music culture while offering a net gain for culture at large. Anyone who was part of music culture before tumblr/soundcloud is in a worse position because of the ways that technology has affected music culture. But for everyone outside of music, the music experience in their lives is way more fulfilling.

Today everyone outside of music has access to more music in more places, and the music they have access to is nothing but the music they want to hear. Music culture, and music in society have changed dramatically, but they haven’t changed for the better, they’ve just changed completely. Music went from something you had to seek and discover, to something that is always immediately available and ultimately accessible. In the former era you had to dedicate a portion of your life to finding the music you want to hear, but today we take for granted that we all have access to all the music we want to hear. We’ve done away with our old music culture, and made a new music culture. But when we got rid of the old culture, we held onto the old desires, and with the crash of soundcloud folks are being confronted with the reality that our new music culture cannot satisfy our old desires.

"things are definitely a lot messier."

It’s not that things are better or worse after soundcloud. But I will say that things are definitely a lot messier. The folks at the helm of music’s most important cultural institutions did not do their jobs with reverence for the culture and the practitioners. The result was a culture that put a premium on playcounts without realizing that playcounts have almost no affect on sales, and nothing that happens on the internet has an affect on local music cultures. The digital rush was prioritized over local music communities, and people at large abandoned local communities in favor of digital music communities. That led to the closure of record shops, which decimated local music communities, and ultimately led to the utter collapse of any kind of music culture defined by geography. However, we still live lives that are defined by the very real limits of the geographic area we reside in. Today, if Drake told people to go see a local band in your city they’d go, and the show would be sold out. But if that same local band covered every single local outlet to promote their show and booked it on the most opportune night, they’d be lucky to have 50 people turn up. Internet music culture has nothing to do with the music culture we seek to participate in by accessing music on the internet .

The result today is a world where Drake gets more than 1 million likes in 24 hours on Instagram, and less than 500 likes in 24 hours on Apple Music. Drake makes $0.00 from Instagram, and Apple Music is the primary outlet where Drake monetizes his product. In the end it doesn’t matter how many likes Drake gets on Apple Music, because people are there to give him money for his music, and the likes are an inconsequential and infrequent byproduct of consumption. The real question is, what do the likes on Instagram matter for? What does this supposedly supreme metric tell us, and what is it worth? Or further, why are we willingly using a false metric to gauge the marketability of culture?

 

I’ll tell you exactly why. Next week.