We didn't want to do this. We tried to resist.
But finally, after years of hearing complaints from the local music community that The Reader's music section-"BLURT"-is little more than a compost of half-truths and one-sided sensationalism with the principal goal of creating controversy, we've decided someone had to do something.
Don't get us wrong-some of the stories in "BLURT" are worthy tales that uncover the ugly yet necessary truth about injustices in our local music scene. But those stories, we fear, have become the minority.
The Reader's editorial tunnel vision on "controversy" more often ends up manipulating the facts and quotes of innocent, or two-sided stories until it looks like there's a screwer and a screwee. In the hands of "BLURT"'s editorial staff, one subject in the story is usually cast as the monster-which is usually juicier to read than the boring old truth.
Though little more than a flea on the back of their behemothness, CityBeat is considered The Reader's competition. That's why we refrained this long to call them on their ethics-looking like desperate upstarts taking pot shots at the big guy isn't the sort of rep that we're going for.
But then they fucked us. With half-truths. Again.
Admittedly, we waited until we were the victims to act-for that, we're selfish sons-a-bitches. But this piece serves to explore larger questions-mainly, can you trust the journalism of a major San Diego publication? Is it worse that Jayson Blair made-up quotes, or that The Reader manipulates quotes from real people to support their predetermined angles-ignoring the truth in the process? We realize it's only music, but should ethics apply to the arts as well? And who, if anyone, is watchdogging the people who claim to inform hundreds of thousands of San Diegans?
Or should we just ease up, write The Reader's "BLURT" section off as tabloid fodder like the National Enquirer and have a good laugh?
Here's the story: after our "All Local Music Issue" on April 3, a posse from a local hip-hop website, sdhiphop.com, stormed the CityBeat offices. It was an impressive showdown. They had a video camera and their families with them. They were pisssssssed. And they had a point-CityBeat hasn't covered much local hip-hop. But as this story will hopefully show, it wasn't for a lack of trying or lack of love for the J-Lives of Santee.
As Louis Nava of sdhiphop.com told us, The Reader's Ken Leighton got wind of the controversy, and he phoned Nava looking for the story. (Leighton, the most dubious of "BLURT" staffers, would later claim that they "approached me," although Nava denies this). The members of sdhiphop.com gave him the following quotes, which are listed in BOLD. What follows is the transcription of my responses to each accusation-which I e-mailed to Leighton, as well as to other area journalists. That way, I would have written proof if The Reader hid the truth to hype up the controversy.
The Reader included all of sdhiphop.com's accusations (they're actually from various sdhiphop.com members, but since the website organized the rally against CityBeat, I'm lumping for clarity's sake). At the very end of his story, Leighton included an abridged compilation of my replies. All were edited, some were out of context, and some rebuttals just weren't included at all. (Possibly space limitations in The Reader are grounds for omitting the other side of a story.)
At the end of this, I will show you how The Reader edited my response. Even if you don't think they screwed us too hard, what follows is a lively debate on why there's little media coverage of local hip-hop.
SDHIPHOP.COM: Troy said quote-unquote, "There isn't any talented hip hop artists that we could find in San Diego."
MY RESPONSE: That's out of context. I said that we haven't been able to find any talented NEW hip-hop artists in San Diego. We've already covered The Icons, DJ Fingaz (before he was a SLAMM columnist), Roundtable MCs, Access Hip-Hop, etc.
I would cleave my one operable testicle to find talented, local hip-hop artists. One of the main sdhiphop.com guys sat in my office and admitted that the hip-hop scene in town is unstable, small and hard to find. So I figured I had a good opportunity with these guys-I asked them to send me good CDs. They said they would. I haven't received a single disc since we spoke.
One of them offered to write for me. I said, "Hell yes. If you can write, I'd love to have another hip-hop writer (we already have one)-send me your stuff."
I haven't received a thing.
I refuse to feature an artist just because he's a rapper from Clairemont. My readers know I'm a persnickety little bitch when it comes to taste. I only feature stuff that we fully back as good music. I won't waste my readers' time with pap that sounds like a remedial English student with no rhythm got his first tape recorder.
Still, I have employed two local hip-hop artists as columnists in the past-DJ Fingaz and Celio Skillz-to find the good shit. Both have quit, basically saying, "Man, there isn't shit out there." Out of the approximate 45 albums by local artists that are sent to CityBeat every month, no more than one-ONE-is local hip-hop. And there's at least a 50-50 chance that that album sucks goat balls.
I then asked Frosty of The Icons to help me find hip-hop, and he said in no uncertain terms, that while there are some gifted MCs, he couldn't convince them to motivate and send albums down to local media. Not just ours-every media outlet.
Farenheit has a weekly hip-hop column. I think that's awesome, but you can tell that D-Kompose has a hard time finding stuff to write about. I haven't done the math, but I could almost guarantee that we've done more significant feature articles on hip-hop artists than any other publication in town-Talib Kweli, Blackalicious, J-Live, Jurassic 5, Busdriver, Living Legends, Access Hip-Hop, Diverse, The Roots, RJD2, Soul Position, etc. Our back issues are online-you can do the research.
SDHIPHOP.COM: Of the 100 reviews [of local CDs], three were hip-hop. We thought it was a pathetic ratio considering how big hip-hop is in San Diego county.
MY RESPONSE: The dude is so right on. It's a pathetic ratio. That's because of the approximate 200 demo CDs I got for that issue, only EIGHT were hip-hop. So if the ratio sucks, it's the local hip-hop artists who created the ratio by not sending their shit in.
SDHIPHOP.COM: He said if we could find somebody as good as Blackalicious or Jurassic Five, he would write about them. What kind of shit is that?
MY RESPONSE: So let me get this straight-this guy wants to know why I won't cover stuff that's not good? Uh, I guess because it's crap. There are enough publications out there wasting people's time by covering poop on a loop. That's just not my bag.
SDHIPHOP.COM: I first came across Troy on [XETV's Thursday rock show] Fox Rox... I sent the producer a very professional letter asking him to check out some local hip-hop artists at my show. He wrote me back and said he would send some people by. Eight months later, nothing. When I told Troy this, he said the producer was only doing it to be nice. We have it all on tape. What I got from that meeting was the only way I'll be noticed by CityBeat is if my name is Eminem. We have a quote from Troy that says "If you're good like Eminem we'll print you."
MY RESPONSE: Well, that's just not true. I have the e-mail that he refers to. My producer told him to send him his info, and he would MAYBE TRY to get somebody down there. And yeah, I said my producer was probably doing it to be nice... as in POLITE, like, "Yeah, we'll try to check it out, man." It was GENIUNE... we always try to check these things out.
People like this tend to be a little myopic and believe that they alone populate this crazy little planet, and that we should drop what we're doing and get 20 cameras down in his joint for an hour-long exposé because it's "blowin' up, man! Taking San Diego by storm!" Really cool to hear, but there are a thousand other storms in San Diego, and they're all e-mailing us just like you, man. It doesn't mean we won't check it out-it just means that maybe it's not as fast as this guy wants. When human cloning is legalized, possibly we'll be able to reply to every single e-mail with an army of Mini Mes. But right now, my cloning machine's on the fritz. So we politely-nicely, even-ask for a little patience.
Regarding the Eminem thing-first off, we've never done a feature on Eminem. The dude brought up Eminem and said, "Man, he's selling millions of copies-hip-hop matters!" And I basically told him... "No shit it matters, man. If you're as good or even half as good as Eminem, I'll cover your shit for sure."
SDHIPHOP.COM: CityBeat is nothing but rock and roll and country bands. I wouldn't have minded if they just called it a rock and roll magazine.
MY RESPONSE: I think these guys are confusing "they don't cover hip-hop" with "they don't cover MY hip-hop." Again, I assert that we have done more significant features on hip-hop than any other weekly publication in town. Anyone who knows me knows I love hip-hop. Gangstarr and J-Live and Dizzee Rascal and Talib Kweli and The Streets are in my CD player more often than indie-rock or country or Uzbekistan polka.
SDHIPHOP.COM: They said "We can't find any hip-hop." We'll guess what? Hip-hop just found you.
MY RESPONSE: Yeah, they found me. They told me they'd send good CDs. They haven't. They told me they'd e-mail me to tip me off to good shows. They haven't. They told me they'd send writing samples because they swore they could do a bang-up job as hip-hop writers. Haven't seen shit. So if sdhiphop.com speaks for the whole San Diego hip-hop scene as they claim, then I guess when San Diego hip-hop finds you, it bitches about not being covered and then goes home and doesn't give you anything to cover. I think we just found the root of the problem.
SDHIPHOP.COM: CityBeat has a hip-hop writer but nobody has ever seen him at any shows.
MY RESPONSE: I guess it's understandable that they've never seen him at shows, seeing as how they've never met him and have no idea what he looks like. Usually I don't recognize people I've never met or seen, either.
SDHIPHOP.COM: They said they have been trying to look for hip-hop functions in San Diego and they couldn't find any, which means they don't know anything about the hip-hop scene. I proved to him that during one week in March there were two a day, every day of the week.
MY RESPONSE: You know, they're right. I told them, "Shit, I didn't know that. My bad-tip me off to more shows like that. Keep me informed. I'd love to cover it." But instead of doing that, they ran to The Reader and turned a positive inroad for the hip-hop scene into an article that basically amounts to whining and finger-pointing. Smart move.
SDHIPHOP.COM: We shouldn't have to be commercial like Eminem to get printed in a local San Diego magazine.
MY RESPONSE: Figuring we've never featured Eminem, this is kind of a ridiculous statement. If he thinks that we only cover commercial artists, I gotta thank him for the chuckle. Yet since I find sarcasm is the best way to reproach the ridiculous, let me offer this: We're so commercial that we forgot to cover Ice Cube this week. And, oh man, did we miss covering Chingy? Shucks. 'Cause, you know, we only cover the commercial artists like Busdriver and J-Live and Roundtable MCs and Icons and RJD2 and Soul Position. You know, because they're such huge names and on TRL and all that stuff, and it helps us keep up with what the kids are listening to nowadays.
MY LAST COMMENT: Take a look around you. The San Diego hip-hop scene is small, divided and the hardest genre to monitor in town. I would sever my opposable thumb to have a good hip-hop scene. Unfortunately, we don't. Not yet, at least. If other hip-hop cats go about it the same way that sdhiphop.com does, then we'll be stuck with a lily-white indie-rock scene for all eternity. My advice to them-stop whining and try to make a real difference.
That's it. That's the novella I wrote them. Now, remember that Leighton and The Reader included every one of the above accusations from sdhiphop.com. At the end of the article, they broke my response down to this:
"Johnson sent an e-mailed response to these charges. "My producer told him to send him his info, and he would maybe try [to] get somebody down there. And yeah, I said my producer was probably doing it to be nice... as in polite.... I said that we haven't been able to find any talented new hip-hop artists in San Diego. We've already covered the Icons, DJ Fingaz (before he was a SLAMM columnist), Roundtable MCs, [and] Access Hip-Hop.... Out of the approximate 45 albums by local artists that are sent to CityBeat every month, no more than one... is local hip-hop.'"
Granted, my responses were long as hell. Maybe they got tired of reading it and just picked sound bites at random?
It should also be noted that Leighton didn't bother actually viewing the videotape to verify what Nava claimed were direct quotes from me.
And lastly, I should note that I've made peace with sdhiphop.com. They're a damn good resource, and, like I said, they were right-we have trouble finding good, local hip-hop. I guess this story is best wrapped up by Nava himself, who wrote me to say: "I'm sorry that the article we participated in did not cover everything, and we agree with you. But we didn't write it."
Because of this-we at CityBeat are hereby starting "Up the Skirt of Blurt"-a watchdog space to keep The Reader's "BLURT" section in check. Seriously, we hope we never have to use this section-that The Reader ascribes to a level of fairness that makes this column a useless idea. Even then, I think we'll have contributed something.
If you've been screwed or are screwed in the future by Ken Leighton or "BLURT," you've got a place to go and get the real story heard. We don't care if the truth isn't quite as exciting to read-we're boring old journalists that way.
Here's what to do:
UP THE SKIRT OF BLURT GET PROOF: Never agree to interviews without getting some sort of proof of your statements-either via telephone recorder (you can use your answering machine) or tape recorder. Or, simply demand that the interview be conducted via e-mail, and CC a few impartial parties on your replies.
CONTACT US: E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Include a transcript of the "BLURT" story and the transcript of your comments to The Reader columnist.