The last we heard from the music writer who calls himself M.T. Richards, he was harassing the female rapper then-known as Kitty Pryde via email over the July 4 weekend of 2013. Nearly two years to the day, Richard once again rose above the music-writing flotsam thanks to a weird and gross album review published by Spin.
The review in question concerns the rapper Vince Staples’ new album Summertime ‘06, which has been welcomed by critics with universal acclaim. Richards’ review is equally as effusive but it also takes great joy in painting Staples, who is pictured above, as something that he is not: an amoral thug in the lineage of the Los Angeles rappers who shocked white America in the late-‘80s and early-‘90s.
Here is Richards going to town in the first graph:
Vince Staples is hardly the ingratiating type. “Don’t shake my hands unless you passing payment,” instructs the redoubtable young’un on “C.M.B.,” a paean to ruthlessly mercenary, Randian capitalism. “Keep your salutation / I need my 40 acres.” This ice-grilling Left Coaster is more Mack 10 than Myka 9, a verbal marksman who refuses to placate admonishers or admirers. He’s one of the most depraved minds in his discipline (Cali stick-up kid rap), and new album Summertime ’06 bears that out.
This is, at best, a poor understanding of Staples’ persona. Staples is not a “depraved mind.” He is instead an analytical and considered rapper, who uses his music to examine the treatment of black people in America. The first line on Summertime ‘06 is, “Hey, I’m just a nigga, until I fill my pockets / and then I’m Mr. Nigga, they follow me while shopping.” When Staples does rap about violence—as Richards’ characterization of him as a “stick-up kid” would indicate—it’s only as a hopeless punctuation at the end of a grander societal critique: “Waiter still ain’t bring the chopsticks, [I] should have brought the chopper,” goes one indicative line.
The paragraph quoted above is almost drowning in cognitive dissonance. Richards opens his review by quoting Staples demanding reparations, but describes it as a celebration of “mercenary” capitalism, instead of, you know, a response to the most extreme version of mercenary capitalism, aka slavery. There is bad music criticism (oh, is there ever), and then there is using a young, black rapper’s claim to his 40 acres as an example of his “depravity.” The latter begins to bleed very quickly into veiled racism.
Richards does nothing to absolve himself in the rest of the piece. He constantly misreads Staples as a way of molding him into a very specific and—as so many recent deaths have taught us—pernicious stereotype: “he’s a squinting, largely unfeeling brute,” Richards writes at one point, which is a description that might as well be on loan from the Fraternal Order of Police. Richards calls Staples’ Compton childhood “wickedly backward” when the point of his music is how grimly typical it all is, and the actions recounted in his raps “rankly unconscionable” when the point of his music is that racism made it so.
As is often standard with these sorts of reviews, Richards at once portrays Staples as a monster while also reveling in what the writer argues should disgust us. “On record, Staples totes more iron than a nutritionist,” Richards cracks in a groaner worse than much of what you would hear in a lunchroom cypher. Later, he describes Staples rapping as the MC “doing his thug dizzle.”
After the review was passed around social media this weekend, Spin attached an editor’s note to the top of the review. It reads:
Editor’s note: It has been brought to SPIN’s attention that this review, published last week, includes factual inaccuracies about Staples (such as an implication about drug use) and language that has been interpreted as stereotypical or racially insensitive. We regret these oversights during the editing process, take full responsibility for the error in judgment, and apologize to anyone who was offended.
What the “editing process” exactly was is a great question. Spin (where I worked for nine months in 2013) has cycled through dozens of editors in the last several years, and their masthead is currently broken, so it’s hard to tell who might have assigned and/or edited Richards’ review. I reached out to one editor there about the review and did not hear back.
In any event, the first step in the editing process of this specific review would have been googling M.T. Richards, who appears to be a huge schmuck, and whose past incessant badgering of a female artist—which boiled down to him mocking her because he was on a PR firm’s mailing list—should have probably disqualified him from any future bylines. Clearly, the man can’t help but leer and drool.
[image via Getty]