Dj Akademiks: The Hip-Hop Cloud Journalist

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DJ Akademiks and the Cultural Shift.

In 2015, Hip-hop journalism switched gears. In a deep sea of blogs and vlogs, a 20-something YouTuber started to gain clout on the internet. His self-titled channel, DJ Akademiks, refrained from political stances, and lengthy, drawn-out commentary, becoming a point of reference for snackable albeit ratchet videos. Lack of time and attention-span meant a new niche was being carved out in the industry. XXL seemed archaic, and Complex wasn’t pushing a strong hip-hop agenda – yet.

The ‘hip-hop Cloud Journalist’.

The late ‘90s introduced chatrooms. After that, message boards. The mid-2000s belonged to MySpace. Followed by YouTube, which pushed the notion of everyday people delivering a new spin on any and everything. SoundCloud, a Berlin-based music sharing and streaming service, allowed aspiring rappers (often teens) to upload music with the swiftness, accumulating hundreds (if not thousands) of fans in the process. Internet Rap had peaked. Stigmas became trends, and it was cool to be labelled, even if you claimed otherwise. They needed somewhere to be heard, even if they weren’t saying much.  Nah Right and 2DOPEBOYZ aside, driving this new culture forward, was the new kid in town.

AK, as he’s also called, lives and breathes the shit. He created six YouTube channels, multiple gaming live streams and honed his all-things-cloud-rap formula. It worked. Millions flocked to his channels, and he subsequently landed a deal with a publication trying to change up its own cadence. This is where the lanes met.

Introducing, the Others. 

AK’s formula became recyclable. Behind him, is Karceno4Life: an older industry-figure gaining momentum on the net for his ‘The Truth About’ series. He’s not young in comparison to the fast-talking AK, though he tends to steer in the latter’s lane. When Karceno takes that route, though, it doesn’t come across as factual or interesting, because he’s not close to this side part of the culture as he was post-1999 to 2009. He also seems to believe he’s in some type of competition with AK, making videos critiquing the latter. When he’s not musing about life and times, in hip-hop, he’s heavily invested in sports content. AK on the other hand only has one lane (he halted his ‘Crime Fails’ channel). Should Karceno polish his approach, however, I wouldn’t be surprised if VH1 dropped him a line about making a Behind the Musicdoc, as his content fits this narrative.

DomisLive NEWS who calls himself a commentator – a term everyone’s hopping on this these days – seems to be a replica of AK, though, one gets the impression he’s more of an ally, whereas Karceno is vocal about his approval and disapproval of AK’s shortcomings. Though Domis takes pride in building a rapport with his followers, he’s a crab in the barrel. Complacency breeds unoriginality. It’s not simple, but it’s also not that hard, either. As of 2018, hundreds of ‘commentators’ on YT have gained 100K followers, most of them in less than one year. So, if AK has indeed presented a proven formula, then all you need to do, is follow it.

The Hip-Hop Media Factory

Complex’s Everyday Struggle was Ak’s arrival into the big leagues. The show, hosted on YouTube, was the media outlet’s attempt to enter new terrain. With a slew of content formats and offerings, they were planting the seeds to become a ‘bonafide’ hip-hop factory. They had access, funding and resources to do what the others couldn’t, and had AK sitting across A-list, B-list – all lists in hip hop’s Rolodex. Something he’d never done before and admitted to having no experience doing. Eventually, each episode hit a 500K viewing benchmark, attracting mega brands like Sony, Nike, Spotify, etc., for product placement. I’ve written for Complex. And quite frankly, I still would. But I come from a more traditional background where journalism is concerned. Even when I was writing for them at the time, the content they wanted then, was listicles. It does appear as though they’ve become newsier as of late.

The Mechanics.

I started to use Instagram to keep current on hip-hop and other things. Hard work is an understatement. AK knows what he’s doing. He’s certainly an advocate for shallow media: bang it out, do it quick. It’s likely he classifies himself as a journalist. His investigative and delivers the one-dimensional news, but this concept is less about the actual story and more about feeding generation-z’s fickle audience. AK isn’t BBC material; outside of his bubble, he’s disconnected from the news world. It would be fantastic to have a set of young, black Jeremy Paxman-types (both men and women) in the hip-hop media space.

Now that AK is ‘here’, he has direct access to these young, hungry rappers, who wouldn’t get an XXL Freshman cover, or a festival booking for that matter had it not been for him. The thirst is real; AK’s getting invited into the studio to make tracks, taken around town, get fashion ‘makeovers’, be best friends. What he may naive to, is that these new bonds come with a caveat. All this new-found access is already leading to stagnancy before he even has a chance to get ‘hot.’ It’s also led to scandal, one that doesn’t do him justice or serve any real purpose. To add, I’m wondering if posting ten videos about what cereal Trippie Redd ate for breakfast will get tired after a while.

New Habits Make it Hard.

To say music journalism is fluff is bullshit. The Source was a hip-hop bible. Rolling Stone published articles that changed how we perceive music culture. Iconoclasts like Hunter S. Thompson, with his drug-induced expeditions, spearheaded citizen journalism. Long-standing NY Times music critic Jon Caramanica, has consistently been on at the forefront of hip-hop. Dj Akademiks, and whoever else can afford to be topical, yet hella controversial. Perhaps VICE already did that. But if you’re young, black, and doing your thing during the democratising of this industry, why not do something dope?

Safra Ducreay