Backseat Freestyle

By Jayson Rodriguez

DMX And Decisions

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Backseat Freestyle
DMX And Decisions
By Jayson Rodriguez • Issue #16 • View online
Originally published April 9, 2021.

DMX // Credit: Noam Galai (Getty Images)
DMX // Credit: Noam Galai (Getty Images)
Front Seat
This is what’s driving hip-hop this week….
I WAS BEING INTERVIEWED TODAY at noon for a podcast and when I was asked about hip-hop journalism today and what’s changed. I mentioned the night before. #RIPDMX was trending on Twitter and people were wondering what was the source, even as their comments helped propel the algorithms to cause more confusion. After some collective chasing of the tail, myself included, we discovered a comedienne had wrote a message on her IG story that wagged the internet. She later clarified, that to her, organ failure means a person is gone, as their life is changed. Her original wording, however, made it seem as if she was delivering a final word. False alarm. Not more than a minute after I was explaining this, however, the podcast host told me that an alert just went out indicating DMX had now, in fact, passed. Thursday night was messy. A standard of practice wasn’t met. Which brings me to Substack, the platform I use to publish his newsletter. The founders have run afoul of many with their practices, mainly putting money in the pockets of writers who are anti-trans, anti-Black and produce hateful speech in their works on Substack. Substack is pitching that they’re only a platform, but when you put money on the line it becomes politics, not to mention they become a publisher. A decision was made. So I made one, too. 
Back Seat
Respect my mind or die from lead shower.
EARLIER THIS WEEK, I was listening to the Takeaway on NPR and a report came on about Major League Baseball’s decision to pull the All-Star Game from Atlanta over Georgia’s new, draconian voter laws. A minute or so in, the segment ran audio of the Senate’s minority leader, Mitch McConnell, saying something to the effect of companies should stay out of politics. The hypocrisy wasn’t lost on me. And it pissed me off. Companies regularly fork over cash in political races in exchange for a campaign’s ear. For better or worse, it’s an act that’s almost as political as political can be: to put your money where your mouth is. 
Which, again, brings me to Substack. The newsletter company has been esconched in controversy for weeks now, mainly from the writer set but spreading beyond that boundary. At cause is the tech startup’s decision to fund writers as a means of enticing bigger names to participate on the platform. For this, they’re not much different than a lot of techs who preach a democratic ethos while dishing out cash to speed up a market share grab. What rankled many, including myself, is the lack of transparency in the practice, the ones we do know who have been granted bucks are deplorable in outlook and the leadership’s teams dense response. On the latter measure, money talks in more ways than one. 
Money talks in more ways than one. 
Some of these newsletter writers backed by Substack have views that aren’t in alignment with my morals. That’s not new on a large scale as, for example, Amazon’s union busting and me don’t mix. I still use Amazon. I’ve actually been surprised by those that oppose what Amazon is doing and are fine with Substack’s actions. 
A few of my (music/culture) colleagues have also decided to decamp from Substack, including Ernest Wilkins’ Office Hours, Gary Suarez’s Cabbages and Claire Lobenfeld’s Read You, Wrote You. Other writers I follow not in the same cannon are debating whether to or not. I fault no one who stays. One writer, though, who’s newsletter I admire a great deal, on the mix of media and business, is firmly rooted on staying with Substack. In fact, he wrote he wasn’t getting his Speedo’s in a bunch over what was going on. That also pissed me off. The privilege to ignore the pain inflicted on other communities outside of your own is a case in not having enough compassion. 
That, and the money quote (no pun intended) by McConnell, put the gas in my engine to make the decision. 
______________________________________________
THURSDAY NIGHT ENDED LATE for me after watching the #RIPDMX hashtag trend and trying to make sense over what was happening. I reached out to a publicist for the family and when they didn’t reply, I felt hope that the info not being true didn’t require a statement and our spirits could still be high. Unfortunately by Friday, that news quickly changed. DMX had died at 50. 
In my podcast interview I referenced early in the newsletter, I spoke about the changing tide of music and being on that pulse allows you to participate without becoming stuck by the statues of a previous generation. I’m as ‘92-94, East Coast, lyricism aesthetic as they come. Times changed and the emphasis on lyrics gave way to melody gave way to vibes gave way to splintering and sub-genres. In much the same way, media has changed where reporting has given way to curating and things that are more downstream to compliment social media feeds. Social media also allowed Lisa Evers and Steve Rifkind to communicate that X was alive, though Evers mentioned his condition was deteriorating. 
I’m glad the messiness didn’t linger long enough to taint the tributes that came today. 
DMX was a supernova, who was filled with such force as to fill the gaping hole hip-hop had while recovering from the deaths of 2Pac and Biggie. His booming, gravely voice, square jaw and devotion to authenticity girded the spine of a culture that was slumping in mourning. He had a bark that preceded a bite that was forceful in his flow and darkly comedic and introspective in his rhymes. 
DMX was a supernova, who was filled with such force as to fill the gaping hole hip-hop had while recovering from the deaths of 2Pac and Biggie.
He’s among the last superstars I remember watching ascend before my professional career began. Outside of Jay-Z, he’s probably the rapper I’ve seen perform the most. My most memorable of those was Power 99 in Philly’s Powerhouse concert, less than a week after Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of my Blood was released. I couldn’t believe how many in the audience knew the words to the entire album already. 
He eclipsed Jay-Z’s star for a spell, but their collaborations were almost a perfect marriage of detached cool and whole-hearted passion. Nas was my favorite rapper then (and now), yet I went and saw “Belly” for X alone. He was that ill. 
There’s a lot of chatter on the timeline about his best song and there’s a lot to choose from. “Slippin’” is in the conversation and while it may or may not be the best, it was the crown jewel in his catalog to perform. He would adjust the chorus, adding an ad-lib “I’m slipping, I’m falling” in melody. And there was grit to the words he chose to emphasize. You could tell he lived a lot of life. He spoke about it a lot in interviews, but to feel that arc while he stood before you was something else to experience. 
In his later years, I came to understand just what it meant for him to live a lot of life. He had his demons, for sure. But I think we most remember his triumphs in between those moments. It’s what made him and what fueled him. I’m honored to have witnessed a life with that kind of strength. 
As he said on “Slippin’”: “This is from the heart, baby. Don’t get it twisted…X, baby.”
Trunk
Music, reads, podcasts and videos (music and more) I’m checking for.
  • Tierra Whack has been in a groove this year; “Link” keeps the bar high. [Listen]
  • Benny is more my speed, but Conway is clutch on this “Blood Roses” joint and I appreciate the Machine more than I share. [Listen]
  • J Balvin recruits Khalid for a midnight jam on “Otra Noche Sin Ti.” [Listen]
  • Album to listen to this weekend: Brockhampton’s Roadrunner: New Light, New Machine. Everything they dropped prior to the album arriving was hitting. [Listen]
  • I also wanna spend time with Elhae’s new album, Aura III. (More on the R&B tip: I’m still trying to find time to get with Gallant’s new project, too.) [Listen]
  • Soulection celebrate a 10-year run tomorrow on Apple Music 1 with a nine-hour set. [Listen]
  • Cardi B covers XXL. Busta covers RESPECT.[Read] [Read]
  • My old editor at MTV pens a revealing piece about the dirty business of hit songwriting. [Read]
  • Soundcloud names a new prez. [Read]
  • My brothers Coodie & Chike got a bag from Netflix for their forthcoming Kanye West docuseries. I’ve had a number of conversations over coffee with them about ‘Ye and think they have a perspective from their time with him and their own worldview that is gonna make the project rewarding to view. I’m a fan of their work and their character; thrilled for them. [Read]
  • And my peoples, DJ M.O.S. and DJ Kiss have gone Hollywood (in the best way) with a scripted projected modeled on their lives. [Read]
  • Jamie Foxx inks a production deal with MTV’s Entertainment Group. [Read]
  • Diddy’s not wrong, so don’t dunk on the messenger. [Read]
  • Polo G’s The Goat project was one of my favorites from last year and if you want a signal to know he’s leveling up, take a look at the numbers for his new joint, “RAPSTAR,” which is the number one trending music clip on YouTube right now. [Watch]
  • Busta and Mariah reunite. (I like how Bus works a project.) [Watch]
  • One time for Saweetie representing in the new Gwen Stefani video. And two times for her for the “Laffy Taffy” reference. [Watch]
  • First look at “Monster,” executive produced by Nas and John Legend, starring Jeffrey Wright and Kelvin Harrison Jr. Based on Walter Dean Myers’s book. 
  • 96 and forever…. Bomani Jones takes a closer look at the 1996 NBA Draft, starting with episode 1 on Allen Iverson. [Watch]
Backseat Freestyle is written and produced by Jayson Rodriguez for Smarty Art, Inc. If you have any comments, questions or suggestions, feel free to email me: jayson@smartyartllc.com. And follow me elsewhere:
Twitter: @jaysonrodriguez
Instagram: @jaysonrodriguez
YouTube: jaysonrodriguez
YouTube: smartyartllc
Podcast: coming soon
Tips/coffee/beer via Venmo: @jaysonrodriguez
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Jayson Rodriguez

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