The contrary opinions of music critics are increasingly worthless in the face of legitimate fandom. And it’s even more true when they’re ill-informed.
Let me be clear: Excuse My French is not a very good album (also, isn’t the expression “pardon my French??”). It has some great tracks on it but overall, it’s a snoozer. But that says way more about the broken major label system than French. He’s one part Max B and one part Soulja Boy at his most #based, a weirdo by any normal rap standards. It’s easy to see how an overly careful major label would balk at the kind of shit he’s good at, so it’s not really surprising that Excuse My French is a mess.
So my problem isn’t that Pitchfork panned Excuse My French, it’s that it does so without acknowledging French’s legitimacy. The review paints the rapper as some kind of industry plant forced on everyone with a budget to buy the cosigns that might garner rap stardom, when the reality is that French Montana is one of the most popular rappers in New York City. That doesn’t change even if his shitty major label debut probably won’t make him the next Lil Wayne. And that sure as hell doesn’t change just because a writer for Pitchfork thinks he’s boring. You want to say Excuse My French is a sloppy attempt to sell French’s strange charm to the larger world? That’s a totally legitimate take! But what is the point of shitting on a dude who’s already so popular when you are clearly not part of the target audience?
Contrast this to popular music in the rest of the world. Pitchfork doesn’t purport to have its finger on the pulse of, say, Mexican or Brazilian culture, so you generally don’t see reviews of megapopular Cumbia or Sertanejo albums like “this is boring, ten thumbs down!” on the site. But let a dude start working Fat Trel tapes in with his regular rotation of Pig Destroyer and Savages, then sneak him into a secret Tyler, the Creator show and watch him get gassed and start thinking he’s Andrew Noz. This is less about French Montana than it is about a fundamental problem with rap writing in non-rap outlets in this day and age: the (largely 20-something, white, college-educated) writers either ignore or don’t understand the fundamental disconnect between themselves and the fans of the artists they cover. It’s yet another reason that not everybody should be writing about rap music.
In 2013, it’s especially audacious to stand up and say “I DON’T LIKE THIS” about something that is popular among people unlike the person complaining because it serves no purpose. In this day and age, there is really no reason to write anything bad about a musician. Reality TV has really driven home the point that there is no such thing as bad press; if Pitchfork wanted to negatively affect French’s career, it would be better off saying nothing. Music reviews don’t really carry much weight anymore, as music writing is way more about collusion with PR campaigns and cultural expansion than being an arbiter of taste. A Pitchfork review is cool but stage time at their music festival or a short produced by their video team is a way bigger feather in the cap of any up and coming artist.
What does it say about Pitchfork that its video team fucks with French even while its writers staunchly hate the music he makes? Nothing particularly scandalous; Noisey is just as guilty of playing both sides of the fence, running my stupid potshots at J. Cole right next to legitimately entertaining interviews with the dude. It’s just a reminder that the contrary opinions of music critics are increasingly worthless in the face of legitimate fandom. And it’s even more true when they’re ill-informed. HAAANH?
Skinny Friedman is a writer and DJ living in New York. He's on Twitter - @skinny412