June 23, 2024

DJ Akademiks and Hip-Hop’s Angry Male Problem


DJ Akademiks at ComplexCon

Photo by Earl Gibson.

DJ Akademiks is typical. He has a typical body, sculpted from years clicking Playstation controllers in a recliner. He defends typical viewpoints like Drake’s supremacy in rap and hearty skepticism of mainstream news. His growth’s been unthinkably steady for 10 years because he looks like most men online. An overlord who spouts reactionary views before thinking them through, an aggrieved outsider who big corporations call on for edge, a one-eyed king in the valley of the blind. He started streaming out of his parents’ home in Queens, New York, and eventually built a fan base of gamer bros who resemble him: stunted and outspoken. Recently, Akademiks, née Livingston Allen, inked a deal to broadcast his views on Rumble, a video platform that’s attracted fringe conservative voices. The angry kind. The kind who didn’t want the election outcome we got. The kind who like their programming with garden-variety misogyny, hate speech, and snark. The kind who troll.

The fringe in hip-hop looks much different now. The renegade, anti-establishment spirit that conceived the art mutated to survive the age of conspiracy and social media clout. For one, rappers no longer occupy the driver’s seat. Nor do DJs. Bloggers, podcasters, and streamers like Joe Budden and Hassan Campbell push bars now. They’re the savviest marketers, watching algorithms and analytics to choose discussion topics that’ll most provoke and upset the men tuned in. And it’s easier to tap the livestream button and rail about your disappointment to thousands than it is to compose a song with melodies and styles that’ll please a select few. Although the field seems crowded with former pro athletes and once promising vocalists, the barrier to entry is much lower. A smartphone and Hennessy binge could put you in front of a million strong within a few months. Moreover, the perception of the establishment has changed. Now it’s considered any voice who wants to monitor vitriol or burnish proven facts.

Akademiks and others aren’t propelled by a roiling sense of themselves as outsiders or rebels. They’re agnostic and they bet that the shortest road to secure major audience share is to form legions of angry men before and until platforms set standards against demeaning women. YouTube is notorious for enabling angry male creators and then hiding their hands until the monsters grow out of their grasp. A 2020 study out of Barcelona suggests that YouTube’s content recommendation algorithm nudged men to pages with sizzling comment sections, rife with conflict and debate.

Yet, the hard truth is this content would thrive if YouTube didn’t exist at all. Akademiks gained his strongest faction on Twitch, a relative newcomer in the social media universe. He’s thrived on Twitter, where former president Donald Trump (Ak refers to him as “Uncle Trump”) was banned. And it’ll happen on TikTok. The strains of unchecked anger that regrow like so many fungi on the roots of rap media come from an inherent sexism that Black men must confront. When Akademiks covered the Tory Lanez and Meg Thee Stallion trial he was one of a few loud engagement hunters rewording case information and spreading anti-women propaganda to keep his followers clamoring. RapHouseTV, SayCheeseGTL, and other mysterious accounts fomented similar discord, ginning up hearsay to cast doubt on Meg’s version of the night she was shot.

I’m no different. In fact, I’m part of an ongoing problem. We need a structural revision of media. In seven years working as a music and culture writer covering hip-hop and Black celebrity figures, I’ve had two female editors, neither in executive positions. Since 2009, I’ve watched the rise of women in music offset by ingrained biases at the publications that cover them and the stages that host them. The men in hip-hop profit from their violence and anger as the women entering benefit from the eternal male gaze that seeks to gawk at and penalize their sexuality. Black men in high positions struggle — rather, refuse to reimagine networks that encourage women’s voices. And white supremacist patriarchy singles out and elevates women who feud with upstart younger versions of themselves or who don’t fit an arbitrary standard of what’s “proper” and “respectable.”

I wish I could say the hand-wringing about DJ Akademiks’ typical rise sounded more than a false alarm about angry, resentful, radical men. Adam 22 of No Jumper promotes a similar brand of violence-above-all rap pathos that singles out feuding rappers. I wish I could say the telltale signs of Akademiks’ brewing power via the ire of online men’s communities helped us boost counter-propaganda, creators focused on debunking myths of maleness he spreads. I wish I could say voices like F.D. Signifier, a YouTuber who focuses on calling in trans and Black men for productive conversation about how to keep hip-hop inclusive, were part of a new norm. I know I cannot say that. I can say that unsurprising, typical, forlorn, isolated men will continue to carve out unfiltered spaces on the web. I can say that the biggest advocates of “free speech” will be the empowered few who use that speech to eviscerate women for existing. I can say that the barrier to entry is the lowest for the worst of our typical ideas. I won’t stop saying I’ve failed until that’s no longer true.

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