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Name: Adam Bernard
Home: Fairfield, Connecticut, United States
About Me: Entertainment journalist with 15+ years of experience. Supporter of indie music. Lover of day baseball, fringe movies, & chicken shawarma. Part time ninja. Nerdy, but awesome.
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The NYT's Questionable Hip-Hop Voice
Wednesday, January 17, 2007

NYT writer Kelefa Sanneh on left

If you’re going to The New York Times for your Hip-Hop news and opinions it’s pretty much a given that you’re probably not involved in the culture. That being said, it would be nice if the writers they hired to cover Hip-Hop were. For years I’ve had articles by Kelefa Sanneh passed on to me with side notes wondering why he’s writing about Hip-Hop. It seems everyone I know who reads the Times has, at some point in time, sent me an article by this man openly questioning his credentials. Now, I know Sanneh is a Harvard grad (1997), but other than that all I know is his resume, which doesn’t tell me much about him as a person. Resumes are weak when it comes to that kind of information, but since he’s a fellow journalist I can easily go to his articles to find out more about who he is. Unfortunately, it seems as though Sanneh, at least judging by his articles, doesn’t know much about Hip-Hop, but what’s even worse is it seems as though, despite writing for New York’s largest newspaper, he has failed to dig any deeper into New York’s music scene than what the major labels send him.

For years Kelefa Sanneh has spent article after article praising those who either don’t need the praise, don’t deserve the praise, or both. I understand that you like Jay-Z and Beyonce. The fact that I don’t like them isn’t my beef with you, my beef is that you’re wasting valuable space in the nation’s largest newspaper talking about people everyone already knows about. If you like them that’s fine, we have differing tastes, but you’re not telling your readership anything new when you talk about those artists and how much you love them. All this has been showing people is that you either don’t know anything about Hip-Hop past what the majors send you, or you simply don’t care to.

My notion that Sanneh isn’t much of a Hip-Hop aficionado was further reiterated with his top ten albums of the year list for 2006. He ranked T.I.’s King ridiculously high, and threw a Lil’ Wayne mix-CD in at number ten. I think both T.I. and Lil’ Wayne are fantastic artists that have made tremendous albums (T.I.’s Trap Muzik and Lil’ Wayne’s The Carter II come to mind), but the albums listed by Sanneh weren’t their best work. In addition to this flaw in Sanneh’s top ten, one word that was used to describe two different artists proved to me he’s a little lost in terms of his Hip-Hop knowledge. He called both Justin Timberlake and Nelly Furtado “daring” for handing over the reigns of their latest albums to Timbaland. I would love for Sanneh to explain how getting a producer who has done nothing but create top ten hits for the past decade is daring? Timbaland made a hit song that had the phrase “sardines and pork and beans” in the chorus back in ‘97. And working with this man is daring? No, it’s not daring, it’s obvious. Maybe Sanneh missed when Tim had Aaliyah and Ginuwine topping the charts all those years.

What’s most distressing about Sanneh’s work is that in reading his articles it’s clear that he hasn’t investigated the tremendous music scene that is right under his nose. If you write about music and live in NYC you should be able to name at least a few dozen artists that are both amazing and unsigned. Great shows are going on in various bars and clubs on a nightly basis in the city, I should know, I’m at many of them. Despite these fantastic artists creating and playing amazing music just a five or ten dollar cover away, Sanneh is still telling people about artists they already know about, like Jay-Z and Beyonce. My question to Kelefa is this; why should I care about your opinion about Jigga? Is it radically different from anyone else’s? Why can’t you tell me about artists that are flying under the radar, or that are rocking small, but sold out, crowds in and around the city? And even more to the point, how come I’ve never seen you at one of the literally hundreds of shows in NYC that I’ve been to over the years?

Being a music writer that only writes about what the majors pump out is the equivalent of being a White House reporter that does nothing more than write up what the White House Press Secretary tells him. You live in New York City and write for a paper that knows nothing about Hip-Hop. This is a golden opportunity to actually make a difference in the Hip-Hop community and you’re wasting it talking about how much you love Beyonce. Investigate the scene! Three big stories you missed recently were the hit and run killing of Brooklyn emcee LEFTist in September (which is still unsolved), Fresh Daily being forced to adopt his current moniker over the summer when the estate of Edgar Rice Burroughs told him to cease and desist using the name Ill Tarzan, and one of NYC’s most prominent MC’s, UVInk’s Substantial, moving back to Maryland this month. Where were you?

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