Hip-Hop Tabloid Media is Black Destruction On Demand
Actor Orlando Brown recently went at videographer DJ Vlad during an interview, railing at him for “exploiting Black people.” He noted that his videos with Vlad have reached four million views, but he hasn’t seen any money from it. While it’s not at all necessary for journalists to pay their subjects, it wasn’t the first time Vlad was accused of “exploiting” for his own self interest.
Vlad recently interviewed British MC Giggs on his channel. Per Vlad’s usual, he conducted the interview like a good cop on First 48–pretending to be a friend by asking Giggs about his upbringing, all the while fishing for a controversial nugget he could turn into viral content. Giggs didn’t bite the bait, and after asking Vlad when they were going to talk about his actual music, the burgeoning artist had to proclaim, “I’m not into showing [London’s] got gangs and guns and shit…I wanna talk about getting’ away from that fuckin’ shit.”
After Vlad’s nervous “he’s onto me” laughter, the clip ended. Vlad has since posted the more constructive portions of the interview, but why was the controversial clip the leadoff—or released at all? Who or what would that borderline combative clip serve but Vlad’s view count? It seems like since building his digital empire from the pockets of Rick Ross, it’s been his M.O. to rinse every modicum of currency–financial or social–from conflict.
Aside from exploiting the trainwreck that is Orlando Brown on multiple occasions, he’s done interviews with music artists speaking on doing copious amounts of drugs, committing acts of violence, and doing jail time. He interviewed the man who killed Bankroll Fresh—while the case is still being investigated. In 2009, he filmed and released footage of rapper Ransom punching a friend of Joe Budden.
During a Shade45 phone conversation Budden asked Vlad if he would film video from Ransom’s hypothetical funeral (if their beef were to veer far left), to which Vlad replied he would. Budden also told him, “Vlad TV is now the only outlet that will expose the bullshit…and a few other places that capitalize off of Black niggas being ignorant.” But the field has become even more saturated since 2009. Hip-hop has long been a primary medium for vicarious living, with artists selling cinematic street narratives to millions of everyday people. The advent of the internet has allowed fans more access than ever to hip-hop culture – and there are many people out there willing to capitalize on their morbid curiosities.
The vapidity that is WorldStarHipHop is enough, but YouTube has grown a cottage industry of video “journalists” who mirror TMZ from a hip-hop lens, covering the lowlights of Black culture in an unapologetically tabloid manner. DJ Akademikz jokingly commentates Black nihilism in “the war in Chiraq.” DJ Smallz Eyes specializes in “Dos and Donts of Jail” videos with rappers. There are countless YouTube channels that do nothing but post screengrabbed tweets and ripped Snapchat/Instagram clips of hip-hop artists and personalities beefing. This writer would rather not support the view counts of these people by linking their videos, but just type “Game-Meek Mill beef” into YouTube if you need a sample.
Chicago’s drill scene has several bloggers who have chronicled it’s rise and fatalistic fall, including Zach of the ZachTV1 YouTube channel. Zach recently conducted an interview with rapper MBAM Lil Flip (no, not the one from Houston) about an incident in which he was accosted by another rapper’s crew on camera. Full of bravado, Flip and his team downplayed the incident. Threats were made. Guns were brandished. Instead of exercising a modicum of responsibility, Zach egged the scene on, even as one of Flip’s friends darted around a backyard at the brink of self-control, aiming a loaded weapon at the camera and threatening homicide. Shortly after the video, that young man was shot dead.
A commenter under the video surmised, “Zack u a ‘business’ man but your interviews are getting your brothers killed.” That may not be true, but it’s plausible. After several troubling stories of Chicago rappers being killed after releasing diss songs, it’s not a stretch to think that giving a rapper a platform to speak on beef is instigating a potential conflict. Zach has said on his Instagram channel that he served jail time for attempted murder. It appears he’s not too far removed from the corrosive street politics in Chicago to realize the harm in his sensational interviews. Like almost everyone else in hip-hop, he knows what he’s doing is problematic—but does it anyway.
In a Complex retrospective piece about Vibe’s 1996 East vs. West cover, Vibe writers expressed regret for their involvement in a conflict that ultimately claimed the lives of Tupac, Biggie and dozens more entrapped in what devolved into gang conflict. Then-staff writer Carter Harris said, “It pains me that the cover may have made a bad situation worse in terms of the conflicts that were already brewing.” Writer Larry “BlackSpot” Hester noted that the guilt of writing the cover story makes him want to contact Biggie’s mother Voletta and apologize for his involvement.
He also surmised that, “on an editorial level we had more of a conscience about what was going on, but I think on an executive level that conscience was gone.” Therein lies the difference. Many of the people running these outlets aren’t journalists, but people looking to make a dollar. In their pursuit for financial success, they have a hand in sustaining–if not engineering–corrosive energy, but it’s hard to say in a strictly business sense that they’re going about it the wrong away. DJ Vlad’s YouTube channel has 1.4 million subscribers, more than CNN, BBC News, and New York Times. At 800K+ followers, DJ Akademiks has more than USA Today, AP, and Wall Street Journal. Only behemoths Noisey and Complex have comparable numbers when it comes to music outlets.
It appears hip-hop is a genre too invested in “savagery” and controversy to not have journalistic vultures interested in the same. From selfish label owners to subpar artists, many of the people in hip-hop are just as much as part of the problem as they are what makes the culture. Perhaps it’s naïve to think the people covering the genre wouldn’t be in the same boat. It’s still a shame.