I know the music industry, in all its facets, is steeped in politics.
At the end of the day, all of t h i s is a game we have to play. The game doesn’t care how exhausted you are, how stressed, how meager the paycheck, how frightened you are of failure…because the air is so sweet at the top, that all the suffering feels worth it. The game, to a degree, glorifies suffering. At a point, the game has made me jaded and that metastasized into fear which prevented me from writing for many months. Even as I type this, I still second-guess every word written.
For that reason, I have a soft spot in my heart for emerging rappers because the terrain is impossibly rough, the doorway to success so narrow, that many often quit before they see any kind of return. I want the world to know their story and this became and is still the reason why I write.
I do pride myself in being both the doorway and bridge towards the next step, but what I’m not is a doormat. I know rappers who would ask, “Can you write about my mixtape? I need exposure” are the same rappers who don’t read musical editorials or album reviews or op-eds. They read stats. They look for the number of followers and the level of engagement with said social media account. They look for verified checks next to names and read bio for accolades and big name editorials spaces.
Now I’m not particularly sure what was in retrograde this past week or what horoscope is passing over what horizon, but a handful of people from my past have made attempts to come back into my life. Coincidently, several rappers through Twitter and LinkedIn have asked me if I could write about their mixtape –which moved me to write this. I don’t know if either / or are related, but it’s been a week (more so than usual) of people wanting something from me in order to advance or satisfy themselves. On Twitter, I keep myself inbox open so anyone can reach me, if they so choose. I’ve been able to connect and slowly build an organic network as a result of constantly putting myself out there. The rappers I have built a rapport with have been through mutual connections or because I reached out. I encourage rappers to reach out because I do want to hear from you, yet the overall sloppiness makes me feel you don’t take yourself seriously then neither should I, and you don’t care enough to understand how decorum works in theses spaces. Also, it makes me think you don’t believe in yourself. When starting out, just as important as it is to be likable, you need to do the work and create exceptional art. While, yes, you have to promote yourself furiously, but when all is said and done, if the music cannot speak for itself then what are you even doing?
When I asked one rapper who was requesting exposure, “How they found me” they said, verbatim, “I typed in ‘looking for promotion’ & your name was 1st on the search”. If for nothing else, I have to respect that level of honesty because it’s never actually malicious. It’s just annoying. This rapper didn’t seem to care whether I was offended that they asked permission to use me. I’m just baffled by the severe lack of the finesse™. I get it: you don’t have the time care about me even though I have something you need. I’m a writer, and I need to a degree, validation. Validation that my words carry weight. Validation that my thoughts and opinions matter. Validation that I’m not just writing to hear the sound of my own voice but to move people, to touch as many as I can before I’m dead. I’m not too self-important that I can’t admit that. My frustration lies in lack of reciprocity in compassion. Maybe, if you believe your art, dear rapper (who will never read this), is just as important as mine, what does it take for y’all to be respectful of someone’s hard work & time? What does it take to do research (real research, not just clicking on one or two things I’ve written and vaguely skimming it. Actually knowing my musical tastes and seeing if we’re even in the same ballpark, friend) before you embarrass yourself and that is my strongest memory of you.
Every time a rapper follows me on Twitter, I go looking for their SoundCloud, Spotify, Apple Music, DatPiff, Bandcamp—wherever their music lives, I too wish to live with it, however brief. Have respect for the work you put in, because it’s super corny to vaguely @ people your YouTube link on Twitter–it honestly looks like you did it by accident. Dear rappers (who want exposure & can’t be bothered to read this), if I’m a means to an end, if all the music journalists you can tag into the oblivion of the Internet are nothing more than step ladder towards whatever you’re after, you really should question what you value. Because it’s clearly not your work.
Yet, I say all this to say I am on your side. I wouldn’t even be writing this if I didn’t care. I want you to be great and I want you to want to be great, so let’s break down how you are getting in your own way. To start, please use a salutation and address the person by their name (e.g.:Good Morning / Afternoon / Evening, Mr or Ms or Mx). Here it is also paramount that you know the person’s gender markers (as not everyone identifies as ‘he’ or ‘she’). Making this mistake could have your music thrown in the trash before it is even listened to. Next (and actually before you even draft a letter), do a bit of research on the writer, the platforms they write for, and in favor of yourself, their writing style. If your style of music isn’t something historically this writer rates or listens to, it may not be a good idea to solicit them even if they write for a huge platform. As stated before, it needs to be sincere, even if it’s fabricated sincerity. Why would anyone do something for someone, especially if they don’t even know them, if it feels the person on the other side of the request is fake…? Would you, dear rapper (who will never read this), let someone use you? Let someone step on your head so they can move forward? I would sure hope not.
Finally once you have properly done research on the writer in question and sent the message to the proper channels, please and I cannot stress this enough, explicitly state “I respect and value your time”. Many writers are worn thin, work long hours, and don’t have the time to waste, when you pop into someone’s DM on some “Ayo ma, let me waste your time”, I promise you they will never respond back. Even if they like your music. Finally, end with something to the effect: “Thank you for your time and I look forward”. All of this is critical because it sets the precedent for the kind of artist and brand you want reflected in the world. All of this is critical because building and nurturing professional relationships will set you apart from your contemporaries and will propel you farther than anyone else. The amount of reverence in “please”, “thank you”, in genuine engagement, and those relationship are immense payoffs in the long run. I want this for you, dear rapper (who will never read this), to be successful but it’s on you. This is your career, it’s your life. How do you want to be remembered? How do you want people to talk about you when you’re not around to defend yourself?
- Research the writer you are soliciting
- Address them properly
- Ask them (kindly) if you can send them music. Say ‘please’
- Thank them vigorously
Bonus: follow up in about a week or so, and again, say ‘thank you and I look forward’.
A rapper who reached out after reading my article on Akinyemi, sent me a thoughtful message which I felt was an incredible example on how to approach speaking to journalists.
This message hits every mark I talk about. They ask instead of demand. They say thank you. They did their part and researched. I could diagram and dissect every part of this, but by now I trust you get the idea. Naturally I did respond because I’m interested now and I feel this rapper sees me as their equal. I say ask for them to send me two tracks and the correspondence continues:
“Don’t wanna ask for a write up or anything just wanna build on that relationship”. It’s powerful, really, building organic professional relationships. I worry the more hip-hop grows and is passed down through the years that this will be a lost art. A lot of the rappers you love got put on because they fostered a strong network. They put in that hard work on their art and built connections. In order to for your favorite rapper to rise into the spotlight, they offered something up.
In “Fullmetal Alchemist” it’s called “The First Law of Equivalent Exchange”: Humankind cannot gain anything without first giving something in return. To obtain, something of equal value must be lost”. Dear rapper (who will never read this), that requires you to be a better student of the game, humble yourself, and don’t bite the hands that you hope will feed you. Good luck out there.
I.S. Jones is a writer living in New York by way of California. Please send her pizza, not nudes. If you want to send her music, send one track on Twitter & she’ll get back at her earliest convenience. Her moon is in Scorpio. You can tweet at her here.