My Review of Pitchfork’s ‘Indie 500’ Album Review

Blog reviews of art that people put their heart and soul into are lauded for being first, not fair

In the first sentence of Pitchfork’s review of my collaborative project with 9th Wonder, INDIE 500, a reviewer who is associated with music review site writes about how I criticize and then distance myself from “celebrity straw men” with the line “celebrities be making money on the powerless, their silence in the face of injustice is just cowardice.” He then goes on to suggest that I myself could be viewed as one of the these celebrities that I am critiquing because I “visit eateries with Anthony Bourdain, debate politics with Bill Maher and engage in public arguments like the one with Don Lemon.” As if to suggest I do these things strictly for celebrity currency and not on my own terms. What this reviewer fails to mention is that Bourdain had me on the last episode of No Reservations because it was set in Brooklyn and I rep the borough well. I was invited to Bill Maher’s show not because I don’t speak up against injustice, but precisely because I do. I didn’t call Don Lemon out about CNN’s Ferguson coverage from CNN’s New York headquarters, I did it live from Ferguson, Missouri. At night before the cameras showed up I got chased by police carrying tear gas, I was face down with a rifle in my back, not in some truck safe with Don Lemon somewhere.

What the reviewer fails to mention in the first paragraph alone give me reason to be suspicious of this review. I understand reviews must be concise but to say I can be viewed as a “celebrity straw man” and list things like my argument with Lemon as proof, but neglect to mention the argument took place in Ferguson, not in some cushy studio, is purposefully leaving out important context in an attempt to make a very weak point stronger. The reviewer clearly sees me as this “celebrity straw man” regardless of the reality the evidence suggests. This makes me realize this review will have some taint. The reviewer seems to think an artist cannot be as well known as I am and still completely connected to grassroots activism. He is incorrect. There are artists nowhere near as connected to grassroots organizing as I am, but who still use their voice for good. Does this make them disingenuous or “straw men?” I don’t agree with that.

In the second paragraph of the review, the reviewer, Mosi Reeves, writes “the album title seems to be repurposed from the Indie 5000 parties that briefly flourished in 90s New York during the Rawkus/Fondle Em years” and then writes “sadly there are no appearances by Moodswingaz or Juggaknots here.” First, no. While I appreciate this showing off of obscure hip-hop scenester knowledge, this is incorrect, nor does it “seem” like that’s what we were trying to do. This sentence “seems’ to be here purely to show the reader how long the reviewer has been doing this for. Even though I’m a fan of MoodSwingaz and Juggaknots, I also see no reason to be “sad” they are not on an album they clearly had nothing to do with, especially when you have folks like NIKO IS, Problem, Bad Lucc, Rapsody, GQ, Halo, MK Asante, Planet Asia, K’Valentine, Slug and Brother Ali all turning in what are — in my opinion — stellar performances.

I was pleased that Mosi Reeves recognized my commitment (his word) to culture and jessica Care moore’s powerful poem at the end of “These Waters.” After this, Mosi goes on to write how INDIE 500 “loses focus” but is not really able to articulate why he felt that way. His examples? He says “Pay Ya Dues” lacks “competitive tension, but is a nice display of the trio’s lyrical skills.” Well Mosi, that was the point of the song. Mosi then describes my “humble brags” on “Lo -Fi” as “perfunctory.” But again, he misses context. Taking the line “promoters will walk me right to a table and be like this is your spread” completely out of context to satisfy an indefensible point comes off as very insincere. For context, here are the rest of the bars:

“Pull up to any club on a moped with some dirty ass Pro-Keds looking lo res / The bouncer be like go head / Promoters will walk me right to a table and be like this is your spread / surrounded by the dope and the coke heads burning candles at both ends”

How is this a humble brag? It’s not. It’s a slightly self-deprecating critique of the ridiculous pretentiousness of velvet rope club culture, not a brag about how I pop bottles in the club. Had the writer not lifted one bar out of context for the sake of turning in a quick review, he might have caught that. This illustrates a larger problem in blog reviews of art that people put their heart and soul into. Blogs are trying to keep the eyes, literally by the second. This means constant, non-stop content and reviews of pieces of art that are lauded for being first, not fair. How could a writer, any writer, take in an album that took us a year or two to put together, in one day? One week? They couldn’t. So they rely on personal bias and past musical knowledge to fill in the blanks, which is where that whole “celebrity straw man” thing came from. They rush their reviews, so they make assumptions and write reviews that are factually incorrect. They take lyrics completely out of context and judge them for the world to see, all because they didn’t have the time to let the lyrics sink in. This makes it very ironic when Mosi writes that the “execution felt rushed” in terms of INDIE 500.

Mosi writes “Kweli appears on all but 3 tracks yet the album sounds more like a compilation than a concise effort between him and 9th Wonder.” This sentence is one of my biggest issues with this review. This album was never supposed to be a “concise effort” between 9th and I. We’ve never said that, we never presented it as such. We ALWAYS said it was a compilation. So if it feels like a compilation to Mosi, then guess what, we did our job. Well. If Mosi was paying more attention to what people like 9th and I actually say and do, as opposed to what blogs say about us, then he would have caught that. If Mosi review is based on him thinking this album was something it never was, than his review is flawed and cannot be taken seriously.

To drive home how little he knows about what he is actually listening to, Mosi then writes that 9th doesn’t “experiment enough with his beats” as if 9th did every beat on this project, or he was supposed to have. He credits 9th for his work on “Technicolor Easels” and “Understand,” but never mentions that it’s not 9th but Khrysis who did those beats. If the reviewer can’t even be bothered to find out who did what beats, again, how can this review be taken seriously? Isn’t Pitchfork supposed to be the gold standard when it comes to reviews? But this misinformation is acceptable?

Mosi says that “in spite of its flaws” there are two can’t miss moments on INDIE 500. But even in trying to give us props, he shows just how little he was paying attention to this album that he was “reviewing.” He credits MK Asante with a speech given by 9th Wonder at the beginning of the song Bangers. MK and 9th sound nothing alike. He then credits me with a verse from MK Asante. MK and I sound nothing alike. That’s two mistakes on one song. Do your homework, Mosi!

In spite of his many flaws and factually incorrect info, Mosi does have some nice things to say about the album. He seems to be experienced and widely regarded as a competent journalist, which is why the many factual errors are surprising to me. These are not just circumstantial errors either, they are the kind of errors that would affect how you are listening. If you don’t know who you are listening to, which Mosi proves he doesn’t beat-wise and lyric-wise, then the scale you are judging by cannot be trusted. It seems that if a writer like Mosi Reeves actually had enough time to let this album sink in, rather than having to rush a review, he would have not made these mistakes. I cannot be mad at anyone’s opinion of my work. But when that opinion is informed by incorrect information, I become suspicious of it. I also think that if you are going to write a review for a platform as respected as Pitchfork, you should try your best to not have factual errors in your review, especially the type of errors that can taint your judgment. It’s EXTREMELY unfair to the artists. Who edited this review? Do they not give a shit or are they just bad at their job? Clearly they don’t care about having accurate info on their site. But when it comes to accurate info about me and mines, I care.

That’s my review of that review. I give it a 3.6.

Talib Kweli & 9th Wonder’s Indie 500 album is available now from, iTunes, Amazon, UGHH, and other fine retailers.

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