Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014

I Told a Musician He Wasn't Good Enough to Cover. Here's How He Took It.

By Evan Rytlewski
dres the dude milwaukee rap
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For as long as I’ve been a music editor—almost 10 years now, including my eight years here at the Shepherd and two that I spent at a weekly in Madison—artists have been emailing me asking for coverage, and I've had to email many of them back telling them “no.” Disappointing somebody (anybody, even a stranger) with rejection is one of the hardest parts of any job, yet I’ve been doing it for so long that I hardly even think about it anymore. Usually I cushion my response with some kind of polite excuse: I can’t cover you because the timing doesn’t work; because you’re based outside of my coverage area; because the paper is already full that week (this was an easier sell before publications moved primarily online, where there’s no such thing as column inches). And there's almost always some truth behind those explanations, but just as often I'm dancing around a harsher truth: I can’t cover you because I just don't think your music is good enough.

Lately, though, I’ve been wrestling with the question of how much honesty I owe these strangers who email me. Is it my responsibility to share my blunt, possibly hurtful opinion, or is it better etiquette to just quietly ignore their requests?

So this week, on a whim, I decided to give complete candor a shot. When an aspiring rapper named That Dude Dres asked me to post his latest song, a competent but unexceptional street-rap track, I explained to him with complete candor why I opted to pass.

“I like your sound and your influences,” I wrote, “but I don’t think you’re quite there as an artist yet. We typically wait until artists are a bit more seasoned before we start writing about them. Definitely keep me in the loop about your upcoming projects and appearances, though; hopefully we can cover something down the road.”

That explanation was 100% true: I did like his sound (70% of the music on my iPhone is this kind of rap), and do think it’s possible he’ll mature into a worthwhile artist (the growth curve in rap is enormous; even the most inauspicious rapper can bloom into a real presence seemingly overnight), but there are so many other rappers doing the same thing better that I couldn’t justify writing about him, at least not now. And in general I don’t believe most artists warrant coverage right out of the gate; most need some time to develop before their music is fully formed.

To my relief, he took it well. In a follow-up email, Dres returned my candor in kind, making the case for why I should post his song.

Upon reviewing my track, you said that I wasn't there as an artist yet. I can’t help but pause, reflect and respectfully disagree. I don’t know if it was because of the explicit nature of that particular track—if so, that’s fine. I’ve also produced a clean version. I’ve also submitted several tracks to you in the past showcasing the diversity and range that I possess as an artist. Like the track that I submitted to you most recently, those tracks previously submitted were not posted to the Shepherd Express.

Now, I'm an entertainer not a columnist. I don't mind hard work—I've been working hard at my craft for more than a decade. Yet, I cannot imagine that it requires more to have my music played on this platform than it is to have it played on V100.7—a station which retains one of the largest radio audiences in metropolitan Milwaukee. I fail to understand the logic of how an artist who "isn't quite there yet" manages to be featured time and time again on Milwaukee's largest radio station.

I follow your posts on the Shepherd Express as well as social media and I have not noticed one fully bilingual Latino rapper in our area.

After more than 10 years working towards this passion of mine, I can tell you that I have been the only and I remain the only Latino rapper and all around musical entertainer in Milwaukee.

So I suppose what I am asking is for you to reconsider sharing my work.

I just want for the audience to be able to decide if I have what it takes as an artist. After all, it is their consumption of music that ultimately decides the fate of any musician. Like the other artists that you've showcased, I'd like that same opportunity.

Thank you Evan. I look forward to speaking with you again in the near future.
All in all, not the end of the world. It certainly wasn't the angry tirade I was bracing myself for.

I’m not sure if I’ll be so blunt with other artists in the future; I’m still not convinced most artists would take the criticism as courteously as Dres did (there’s a natural instinct to fight back in the face of rejection, and conversely, a natural instinct on my end not to risk coming off like an asshole). But since Dres was kind enough to let me republish his email and to share a considered case for why others may be interested in his music, I agreed to post his track below so, as he requested, listeners will have a chance to make up their own mind.

His new track "Dope" is embedded below.


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