Over the past week or so I have had quite a few interactions on social media about whether or not white people should review black art. It originated from an interaction I had on Twitter with supposedly “The Internet’s busiest music nerd,” aka Anthony Fantano, a YouTube music journalist who runs channel The Needledrop, now with over 2 million subscribers. I have been a fan of his in the past, but due to frankly growing up and changing my relationship with music and how I listen to it, I haven’t kept up with his channel for the past few years. Nevertheless I do watch the occasional review, simply because I do actually enjoy the way he articulates his thoughts. But that’s where my appreciation for him stops. The interaction I had with Anthony Fantano started with him replying to a Jay Versace tweet, critiquing his take on the latest Solange album. Thread below:
First thing to note from this response alone is that his immediate reply is to fire back, other than being open to a discussion on what Jay was saying. Jay was alluding to the fact that a pro-black album such as Solange’s excellent When I Get Home, which is deeply rooted in personal experiences of being black and a woman in America, shouldn’t be critiqued by a white dude who clearly cannot relate to or fully understand these experiences. I have started to see this as a major problem within music journalism. White media companies, publications and paid music critics have been dominating this space for the longest time. A Complex article by the great Joseph JP Patterson highlighted his issues with white music reviewers and the misinterpretation of black art and the black experience here. He takes an NME review for the Giggs album Landlord, in which it initially gave a rape insinuation, something that has been proven as false, completely altering the message and context of Giggs’ art. The writer was of course, white. A 2015 study by Reuters showed that only 0.2 percent of journalists in the UK are black. 0.2! This is simply unacceptable and there NEEDS to be more representation in the media. Journalism of any kind is an essential field. Representation is incredibly important to not only give a diverse point of view, but in many instances provide an accurate representation of someone’s/a group’s experiences. The black experience in the UK, in the US and in Europe is vastly different than the experience of white people, this has been proven and quick research on this topic will allow you to see how. And a lot of black art is rooted in struggle, pain, racism and discrimination of all kinds. This is something everyone needs to acknowledge, without fail.
Anyways, back to Fantano. I responded to his reductive tweet with something slightly provocative, but I made my point clear:
This was in reference to a recent review he did of the new MIKE project, Weight Of The World (you can watch it here). It wasn’t simply the 4 out of 10 that was controversial in his review, it was the plain inaccuracies in his statements and his misinterpretation of his art that made it such a painfully embarrassing review. He states “MIKE has been painted as a protégé of [Earl Sweatshirt] more or less for the past few years. Which for sure is true, but the influence seems to go both ways now that the two are actually friends.” Firstly, MIKE hasn’t generally been considered an Earl ‘protégé’ – sure he has been influenced by Earl in the past, but sonically what he was doing with the release of his great 2016 project longest day, shortest night and his 2017 classic May God Bless Your Hustle, doesn’t sound like anything Earl had done until then. [sLUms] as a collective have collectively influenced a plethora of experimental, independent musicians. Earl wasn’t necessarily a part of that then despite having a keen interest on the sounds coming from its members. Then Fantano had the audacity to say that “Rainforest”, a track of May God Bless Your Hustle, again released in 2017 sounded like something from Earl Sweatshirt’s Some Rap Songs, which came out the year after. How? And then he goes on to basically say that he can’t get into the sound because it reminds him too much of Earl etc etc. I won’t dwell too much on this, but it was just an example to show how misrepresentation and a lack of research on black art, in this case, resulted in Fantano slating MIKE’s album off completely false and factually incorrect assumptions.
Back to the tweets:
I think that in retrospect I shouldn’t have given him a particular album name, rather explained my issue specifically with his lack of research and him specifically spreading misinformation. Issues like this have persisted in his reviews for a while, but it’s also his harsh critique on black music as someone who doesn’t really live similar experiences to those making that art, especially Black artists. In his Solange review of When I Get Home, he states “Not only are Solange’s volume and range on this album pretty lackluster, but she’s not exactly the most expressive singer either.” And I get that it’s his ‘opinion’ and he’s allowed to have it, but as someone who makes a living out of reviewing, let’s face it, predominantly black music, who is he to critique a wonderful creative like Solange like that. It is detrimental to reduce someone’s art to a closed-minded opinion that serves no purpose other than to generate revenue for your own personal-self gain. White people cannot relate fully to experiences of black people, and it should be the job of the critic to provide accurate information and representation of a particular work of art.
I got into another discussion on Twitter with a friend of mine who has his own music platform. He stated that it’ll be counter-productive to just not allow white people to review music, and I completely understand that point of view. This was my take:
Those best fit and qualified to describe a certain piece of art and experience should be the person to review a certain piece of music, especially when they get paid for it. The commodification of black music has allowed white people to misuse and even manipulate black art for their own gain, to sell it as a commodity, as a diluted product, and not necessarily to ‘push the culture forward’. And really we need to look at intent. Going back to Fantano, I’ll never know for sure what his intention is, but I know for a fact that music reviewing is his full-time job, so with each and every review, he profits off of it. So it’s problematic to keep using that platform to spread misinformation, especially as a white person reviewing predominantly black music.
Lastly, I wanted to touch on the importance of taking responsibility and accountability over your own work. For those asking about me: Yes I am a privileged white guy covering black art. Financially, I earn nothing running this website. In terms of content, I share the music I love and always uplift people’s work when I can. I try not to diminish people’s experiences, and always looks to spread the most accurate information possible, and if not, I take responsibility and edit my writing so it’s reflective of a particular artist’s experience. I’ve had these conversations with artists in private. Fantano, on the other hand, doesn’t. The proof is in this deleted tweet.
Instead of thinking critically and acknowledging the lack of rigorous research, he states “Sorry you’re mad at that review” and thinks it’s a good enough excuse to that that’s it’s just a difference in opinion. First of all, his “Y’all know this is just my opinion, right?” mantra is a cop-out to avoid any responsibility when people strongly disagree with something, and he uses it time and time again exactly for that reason. Which is funny considering his name at the time was “debatethony metano”. Good job for debating your points well, mate. And to tell someone “but I guarantee you I put more work into what I do than you ever will into anything” is hilarious. It’s not only condescending, but it shows what kind of a toxic, big-ego’d attitude he has towards criticism, and it also reveals a large level of insecurity. But this issue is bigger than both of us, so I’ll leave it there.
So, should white people review black art? Probably not. As I mentioned before, a lot of black art is rooted in the struggles and pains of being black in the West. A lot of art comes from black trans and non-binary people who deserve the same level of love, respect and accurate representation as everyone else. People who do not relate to these experiences will be much more likely to misinterpret or gloss over these struggles than someone who lives them every day. So it’s our responsibility to firstly, ask ourselves whether we are most knowledgeable and best suited to review a particular work of art and secondly, take full responsibility and accountability to report facts and experiences accurately and not diminish people’s art because of incorrect and ignorant assumptions, especially if you’re benefiting from it financially. And whether Anthony Fantano likes it or not, with a platform of over 2 million fans and sheep who worship him on a daily basis, he too has a responsibility to at least get the information right. One step at a time will do, for now.