Pitchfork's Year-End List Vs. Haters
Status reads Stereogum board, reacts
This happened a week ago, so I should've commented on it earlier, but I've been stewing. Even with the internet running things, it's not all that often that music writers get a chance to learn what readers think of their work. Year-end lists offer a rare opportunity: magazines and websites and website magazines offering their takes on the year in music, giving a basic road map to their tastes, laying it all out in front of you. I write for Pitchfork, which meant that I got to vote on its year-end albums and singles lists. And the lists turned out really well: plenty of the meat-and-potatoes indie-rock that earned Pitchfork its place in the world but also making room on the albums list for Fiona Apple and Robyn and Young Jeezy and Konono No. 1 and Dominik Eulberg and SunnO))) and Ladytron and Run the Road and Antony and the Johnsons. I don't love all these albums, don't even like some of them, but the list is a sprawling and complicated and thoughtful collection of records, and I'm proud to have my name on it.
Right after the album list went up, OG monsterblog Stereogum posted it with minimal commentary ("Better luck next year Kanye"). The real action was in the comments section. Most of it was predictable: some people defending it, most people attacking it, a few people saying no way does Art Brut deserve #3, many more wondering how the fuck we snubbed Broken Social Scene / Andrew Bird / the National / Iron and Wine / Gorillaz / Danger Doom / Black Mountain / Kate Bush and expressing confusion over how certain highly-rated albums missed the list while other, less well-reviewed albums made the cut. (All the Pitchfork writers voted on the lists, while only one writer wrote each of the individual reviews.) Music dorks do this stuff all the time; I certainly e-mail bombed Spin a couple of times to ask why certain albums didn't make their year-end top twenty before I hit drinking age. But the most interesting and disheartening part of the comments were the huge amounts of bile and outrage directed at six albums that appeared on the list: Kanye West's Late Registration at #2, Cam'ron's Purple Haze at #9, Clipse's We Got It 4 Cheap, Vol. 2 at #14, Beanie Sigel's The B.Coming at #32, Game's The Documentary at #35, and Young Jeezy's Let's Get It: Thug Motivation 101 at #40. One guess what these guys have in common.
Now this is true: Pitchfork has grown more rap-friendly over the last couple of years, hiring rap-friendly writers like me and Riff Raff and Sean Fennessey and Ryan Dombal and Pete Macia. When the site hired me to write track reviews in August 2004, I was pretty sure I'd get dropped right away when I picked Lil Scrappy's "No Problem" as my first review. Pitchfork has covered rap for about half of its ten-year lifespan, but it's been mostly backpack-indieground stuff like MF Doom and Sage Francis (hence all the confusion about Danger Doom and Common and Edan not making the list, like these guys deserve placement every time they shit something out, slight/boring or no). Lately, coverage has swung away from self-consciously "smart" indie-rap dudes toward trap-hop/street-rap guys like Cam and Clipse. Pitchfork has taken its lumps for the move, but it's genuine; the dudes in charge have encouraged me and the other rap guys to go as deep into this stuff as we can, and no one's ever asked me to stop indiscriminately bestowing love upon Three 6 Mafia. And so here's the site's first year-end list where the rap selections aren't dominated by granola-munchers like De La Soul and bugged-out freaky-freaks like Doom (though, of course, you could easily posit Cam as a bugged-out freaky-freak). And judging by the Stereogum board, the overwhelming reaction is stuff like this: "the inclusion of Cam'ron at #9 is not only ridiculous, but is a ploy/pose to seem hip-hop friendly...when we all know it's not really the case," "could you imagine these kids in their tight shirts and emo glasses at a young jeezy concert... HA," "the glaring problem with their list is the Camron placement at #9??! No matter how they explain the reasoning behind it, it still just doesn't make any sense!!" Or this little gem: "I think P4K could have made separate lists- One for indie and one for rap. That way the genres are separated, like they should be. Indie kids could read one list and not bitch about rap, and rap fans could do vice versa. Problem solved." Yes. Segregation solves all problems.
Now, plenty of music fans have plenty of valid reasons for having trouble with mainstream rap; I certainly often have trouble dealing with the relentless misogyny/violence/acquisitiveness. But there's not a lot of talk about that stuff in the Stereogum thread, no thoughtful debate on the relative merits and demerits of rap as it exists now. It's all outright dismissal. As Scott Plagenhoef points out on the thread itself, Pitchfork has also recently increased its coverage of non-indie-rock genres like house and Europop and drone and metal, genres all represented on the list, and no one seemed to have much problem with those inclusions. It's just rap. Why?
I should clarify here that I don't represent Pitchfork in saying this, just myself, but this hysterically sweeping denunciation of an entire genre (or at least aspects of the genre that aren't willfully obscure) is sad and nasty and repellant. As the dude who reviewed three of the controversial six albums for Pitchfork, I can't help but take all this at least a little bit personally, but it goes beyond just me and the stuff I like to write about. Pitchfork's list is the product of about forty writers, rather than something like Pazz & Jop, which has about 1500 voters and is as close to definitive as these things get. The Pitchfork list doesn't pretend to be definitive; it's simply the favorite albums, by consensus, of the forty-or-so writers who churn out five album reviews and three track reviews and 1.25 features a day on Pitchforkmedia.com (for free, I should add). Indie-rock supposedly prides itself on open-mindedness and liberalism and independent thought, not knee-jerk antipopulism and received wisdom and genre gatekeeping. So it's deeply troubling to see people who love this stuff unwilling to look outside their shitty little ghetto and consider the merits of art made by people who don't share their experiences. Or, more than troubling, it's shameful. You guys should know better.