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What Culture Are Rap Talk Shows Serving?

Sometimes, a “healthy debate” isn’t so healthy.

On the Nov. 20 episode of Complex’s Everyday Struggle, co-host Wayno summated Tekashi 6ix9ine’s legal plight by declaring that Brooklyn’s Nine Trey Gangsta Bloods merely saw him as a “cash cow” and never “gave a f*ck about” the artist who was recently swept up in a federal gang indictment. His co-host DJ Akademiks retorted “that may be true,” yet speculated that 6ix9ine, who is facing life in prison on seven charges, may have felt all along that there was “genuine love” from the Bloods as they were willing to commit violence on his behalf.

Wayno laughingly shook his head in dismissal of Akademiks’ naive comments, communicating disdain on behalf of the viewers who wondered why Akademiks was refuting his powerful truth with speculation that served no one. It’s an expression that Wayno, like former Everyday Struggle host Joe Budden, has found himself making often.

Everyday Struggle, like Revolt’s Joe Budden-led State of the Culture and other discussion-driven rap media, is produced and cast to project divergent viewpoints on rap and other issues dear to hip-hop fans colloquially deemed “the culture.” Fiery arguments about a new album or rap beef are compelling, but when the topic shifts to larger social issues that affect the survival of viewers, that healthy debate format can become unhealthy.

Instead of leading the discussion by denouncing harmful rhetoric and worldviews, certain personalities on these shows have too often legitimized them. Akademiks is a shameless apologist (and provocateur) for his rapper friends’ abuse and misdeeds. State of the Culture panelist Remy Ma has marred her reputation among many black women with protective comments regarding accused (and convicted, in the case of Cosby) rapists R. Kelly and Bill Cosby. Joe Budden, who has faced numerous accusations of domestic violence (Budden has denied the allegations; one case was reportedly dismissed in 2016), denounced co-panelist Scottie Beam’s “fake women empowerment bullsh*t” in a passionate diatribe. He proudly shared the clip the day before the full episode premiered, knowing that his conflation of feminism with wanting to “lock up all the men” would cause a viral firestorm. These moments have been widely ridiculed, but they’ve also been widely shared—which is the main goal for executives at Complex, Revolt, and other conglomerates that produce these programs. As cultural commentary shows continue to amplify regressive worldviews in the name of ratings, clicks, and views, it’s often worth wondering what culture they’re actually serving. Who benefits from these discussions?

During the prime of print media, outlets like VIBE, The Source, and Village Voice aimed to edify their readership. Dean Van Nguyen reflected for Pitchfork that, “rather than stick to the rigged constraints of traditional music criticism, writers used the music as an entry point into discussing race, identity, youth, and broader culture” by writing about “the L.A. riots, the crack epidemic, and gun laws” with “insights as cutting as those of KRS-One, Public Enemy, and other socially-engaged artists of the era.” But as YouTube has become rap media’s primary domain, the well-studied insight of those leading voices has been replaced by ill-informed bombast in a chase for views.

In May, Revolt Media laid off a third of their staff. They signed Joe Budden a week later. With that kind of transition, they likely expected the fireworks that he brought to Everyday Struggle, where he berated Akademiks, as well as artists like Lil Yachty, four days a week. With State of the Culture, Revolt sought to parallel Everyday Struggle as hip-hop’s answer to televised forums like ESPN’s Pardon The Interruption and First Take, HBO’s Real Time With Bill Maher, and CNN’s Crossfire.

All of these shows operate on a premise that there’s a middle ground to be met, but their discussions more closely resemble people beating on opposing sides of a brick wall. In the case of ESPN’s suite of shows, the results can be endearing, but TV news network’s point-counterpoint format cultivated an atmosphere where CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News shows consist of panelists simply out-yelling each other and not learning anything from their conversations on hot-button political issues.

We’re seeing the outward implications of their faux-diplomacy in real time. Political debate shows legitimized bigoted personalities like Bill O’Reilly, Corey Lewandowski and others who sustain negative pathologies about issues like anti-immigration legislation, Islamophobia, police brutality, and other societal scourges. Every time they’re projected in front of millions, and an opposing panelist has to dignify their comments after they say “womp womp” to Mexican children being separated from their parents like Lewandowski did, bigots who think like him are emboldened and validated. Their confirmation bias tells them that they’re right. The visibility of figures like Lewandowski is directly tied to violence, as conservative commentators have become whisperers of white nationalism.

Rap’s online media is suffering from a similar dynamic of contributing to the normalization of the wrong things in a hip-hop world that’s ironically as intolerant as the conservatives they claim to hate. The Breakfast Club continuously offers a platform to people espousing homophobic and transphobic views such as comedian Lil Duval, who joked about killing trans women, and City Girls rapper Yung Miami, who recently doubled down on comments that she would beat her child if he was gay. On Everyday Struggle, Akademiks refuses to hold his friends like 6ix9ine and XXXTentacion accountable. Akademiks recently outdid himself by deflecting from XXXTentacion’s admitted abuse of his girlfriend by saying that “we don’t know the context” of the slain rapper literally saying “I f**ked her up” in leaked audio. His response is especially troubling because in May, after falling out with XXXTentacion, he vindictively played audio of XXXTentacion screaming at a woman without context.

On State of the Culture, Remy Ma has disappointingly aired sympathetic comments toward R. Kelly’s predatory behavior by puzzlingly surmising that “most rapists don’t eat your a**.” She also defended Bill Cosby after his rape conviction by saying “I feel that some of [his 60+ accusers] are lying.” In the midst of her advocacy for Cosby, she told the State of the Culture panel that “I’m defending people that have been done wrong.” But with her careless comments, she, like some of her ill-informed peers, are doing their supporters wrong.

State of the Culture panelist Scottie Beam concluded their contentious Cosby discussion by noting that it should have been centered on “how we talk to men and women who violate men and women” and “eliminating rape culture,” not arguing about Cosby’s guilt in the first place. Then they moved on to the next topic. That conversation ultimately served no one but people who financially benefit from the show’s view count and Cosby advocates who continuously contend that Cosby is the victim of a racialized conspiracy. For every person who exclaimed “that’s what I’ve been saying” and felt vindicated by her counterproductive comments, many more were failed.

Hip-hop media as a collective owes us more than surface level discussion and careless deflection. Issues like racism, rape culture, discrimination toward the LGBTQ community, and others are being discussed more than ever before by hip-hop fans on social media and elsewhere online. These issues are more than 10-minute segments to hurl off the cuff, unlearned opinions at—they’re life and death, and deserve that weight. So many fans of hip-hop are continuously being abused and dying in this climate that takes their cries too lightly, merely contending that they’re “lying” or that there’s not enough “full context” to believe them. Rap’s leading voices can’t be parroting those statements, especially on shows portraying themselves to be proponents of hip-hop culture.

As long as serious issues are trivialized as spectacle and mere #content fodder on these shows, then media personalities will continuously alienate fans who refuse to see their traumas casually misrepresented and dismissed in between topics on Cardi B and Kanye West. They will continue to undermine their platform and sustain the status quo as representatives of a culture of capitalist-minded sensationalism before one that respects its audience.

The resolution is simple: If these outlets can’t find more people willing and able to offer learned insight during these conversations, then they should simply refrain from talking about them and stick to lighter topics. When it comes to discussing—and ultimately dismantling—abusive constructs, there is no middle ground to be met. Ending these abuses is a one-sided discussion, and there’s no debating that.

RELATED: Joe Budden Talks Creative Beefs With Diddy And Leaving Rap Behind

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The female voice in hip-hop has always been present whether we've noticed it or not. The late Sylvia Robinson birthed the hip-hop music industry with the formation of Sugar Hill Records (and fostering "Rapper's Delight"), Roxanne Shante's 55 lyrical responses to fellow rappers were the first diss tracks and Missy Elliott's bold and striking music and visuals inspired men and women in the game to step outside of their comfort zones.

These pillars and many more have allowed the next generation of emcees to be unapologetically brash, truthful and confident in their music. Cardi B's Invasion of Privacy and Nicki Minaj's Queen might've been the most mainstream albums by womxn in rap this year, but there was a long list of creatives who brought the noise like Rico Nasty, Tierra Whack, Noname and Bbymutha. Blame laziness or the heavy onslaught of music hitting streaming sites this year, but many of the artists on this list have hibernated under the radar for far too long.

VIBE decided to switch things up but also highlighting rap albums by womxn who came strong in their respectively debut albums, mixtapes, EPs. We also had to give props to those who dropped standout singles, leaving us wanting more.

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VIBE / Nick Rice

10 Most Important Hip-Hop Artists Of 2018

We’ve reached another end to an eventful year in hip-hop. From rap beefs to new music releases and milestones, 2018 has been forged in the history books as a year to remember. But more important than the events that happened over the span of 12 months are the people who made them happen.

While fans received a large dose of music from our favorite artists and celebrated some of the most iconic album anniversaries, there are a few names that stood out as the culture pushers, sh*t starters, and all-around most significant artists of the year.

For your enjoyment, VIBE compiled a list of the top 10 most important hip-hop artists of 2018 based on a series of qualifications: 1) public actions - good, bad, and ugly; 2) music releases; 3) philanthropic/humanitarian work; and 4) trending moments.

Be clear: This list isn’t about the most influential, the most talented, who had the best music or tours. While we are commemorating artists for the work they’ve contributed to this year’s music cycle, we’re looking beyond that and evaluating how these particular artists have shaped conversations and pushed hip-hop culture forward.

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Stacy-Ann Ellis

NEXT: Intent On Impact, Kiana Lede Is Ready To Leave Her Mark

After learning The Alphabet Song as a little girl, Kiana Lede would always “get in trouble” for singing during class. “My mom was like, ‘why can't you focus?’” she laughs while reminiscing on her career’s formative years. “I was like, ‘I don’t know! Songs are just playing in my head all the time!’”

Whilst sitting in a shoebox-sized room at Midtown Manhattan’s Moxy Hotel on a humid September day, the now- 21-year-old Arizona-bred R&B songbird, actress and pianist speculates that she “may have had ADD.” However, she settles down after taking off her white cowboy boots and flops down on the ivory-clothed bed, demonstrating that her fiery Aries energy can be contained. Cool as a cucumber, Lede shuffles between chewing on banana candies and blowing smoke rings after taking drags from a pen, all while musing about her journey to becoming a Republic Records signee.

“I just grew up singing and doing musical theater, and reading a lot of books, and playing piano way too much in my room by myself,” she says, pushing her big, curly brown hair out of her face. Her expressive green eyes widen as she grins. “It was my thing. Nobody in my family does music, just me.”

After winning Kidz Bop’s 2011 KIDZ Star USA talent contest at 14 (which her mother secretly entered her into), Lede was signed to RCA Records. She was released from her contract and dropped from the label three years later. However, thanks to guidance and friendship from the Grammy-winning production duo Rice N’ Peas, (who’ve worked with G-Eazy, Trevor Jackson, and Bazzi), she released covers of songs such as Drake’s “Hotline Bling” while working to get her groove back. The latter rendition resulted in Republic Record’s Chairman and CEO Monte Lipman flying her out and signing her to his label.

“I got a second chance, which a lot of people don't get,” she reveals. “So I'm really happy that that all happened. I wouldn't be here right now in this room if that didn't happen.”

Thanks to the new opportunity she was given, Lede’s sound has evolved into something she’s proud of—equal parts soul, R&B and bohemian. As evidenced by the aforementioned ensemble, glimmers of each aesthetic can be found when observing her personal style as well. She released her seven-song EP Selfless in July, which features the bedroom-ready “Show Love” and “Fairplay,” which manages to fit in the mainstream R&B vein while also showcasing her goosebump-inducing vocals. The remix of the latter features MC A$AP Ferg. What pleases her most is that it not only garnered a favorable response from fans, but that those listeners found it so relatable.

“As an artist, it's really nerve-wracking for someone who writes about such personal things all the time,” she says. “Just the fact that it is my story… It's good to know that other people know that there's somebody on their side, and they're not the only ones going through it. A lot of people obviously feel this way, and have been through this same thing that I've been through. So I think that's cool.”

Although she moved to various places as a Navy serviceman’s daughter, Lede claims Phoenix as home. This means she hails from the same stomping grounds as rockers Alice Cooper, Stevie Nicks and the late Chester Bennington of Linkin Park. However, growing up in a mixed race household gave way to tons of sonic exploration outside of the rock-heavy scene.

“My dad's black, and both of my parents are from the East Coast,” she says of her musical and ethnic upbringing (she’s black, Latina and Native American). “[My parents] listened to a lot of R&B. My mom listened to a lot of SWV, TLC, Boyz II Men. I didn't realize I knew the songs until I got older. I played a charity show with T-Boz, and I was like 'why do I know these songs?'” Lede also says her father was a fan of neo-soul and gangsta rap, but she personally believes the early-2000s was the best time for music.

“[That era] influences a lot of my music subconsciously, and also, singer-songwriter stuff,” she continues. “I listen to a lot of early-2000s music because I played piano most of my life. I listened to Sara Bareilles, John Mayer.”

An open book, Lede details some of her struggles with anxiety and depression with the utmost candor. After being dropped from RCA, her trust in people diminished, and she experienced long bouts of depression after being sexually assaulted by someone in the industry. The track that she feels most deeply about is “One Of Them Days,” which tackles these issues head-on.

“When I'm anxious and depressed, it's really hard to be happy,” Lede says. “Most of the time, I can do it, but there are just some days where I literally can't separate the anxiety, and I can't tell anybody why, because I don't really know why myself… I was feeling very odd that day, didn't even know if I could write a song. Hue [Strother], the guy who I wrote the song with, he was like 'I totally get you. Lots of people go through this.’’’

As we’ve observed in headlines recently, mental health and being honest about life’s trickier situations can help someone going through the same thing, and Lede hopes her music provides encouragement to those who are struggling. As for how she’s learning to push through her mental health roadblocks, she meditates, runs, and is an advocate for therapy, especially in Trump’s America, where harrowing news reports dominate the cycle.

Another hallmark of Kiana Lede’s personality is her bleeding heart for others. She cites women of color, sexual assault victims and the homeless youth specifically as individuals she feels most responsible to help, since she is personally connected to all three. While she’s aiming to create a project that helps homeless youth specifically, she’s working hard this holiday season to ensure that they have a place to stay “at least for the night” after horrific wildfires displaced many individuals in California.

“My passion is really people. Music is just a way that I can get to helping people,” she says with a grin. “Helping people emotionally and physically are both very important. I never want to stop helping people. I feel if other people can respect me, and I can respect myself, then I'll be happy. Happiness is all that we strive for.”

Recently, Lede played her first headlining solo show, a one-night event at The Mint in Los Angeles. While she was thrilled to see that the show sold-out, she was even happier to see the faces of her audience members, who she said ‘looked like [her].’ “Mixed girls, brown girls, black girls, gay boys,” she explains over-the-phone. Even though she wasn’t in person to discuss her latest huge accomplishment, you could hear the pride and joy through her voice.

As for the future of her career, she’s looking forward to more acting roles. You may recognize her from the first season of MTV’s Scream, and after her recent Netflix series All About The Washingtons with legendary MC Rev Run was cancelled, she has been “reading for auditions” and is “negotiating” for a role in a film set to shoot in NYC. While her time with the Run-DMC frontman was brief, she says he taught her about the importance of “not compromising your art for money.”

What Kiana Lede is most excited about, of course, is making music. She hopes to work on a new EP and then release an album after that. The ultimate goal is to fully realize the dreams in her personal and professional life, and she assures she’s just getting started.

“I want to be able to look back on my career and think 'man, I really poured my heart into this music, and made music that mattered, and made music that made people feel a certain way, whether it's bad, good, sad, anxious, whatever it may be.’”

READ MORE: NEXT: H.E.R. Is The Future Of R&B (And Then Some) In Plain Sight

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