Last January, on a crisp, Mich. winter evening, I arrived at El Club in Southwest Detroit to find a line outside, stretching around the corner. Isaiah Rashad — the B-list hip-hop star who the crowd had come out for — wasn’t scheduled to perform for another three hours. Yet hundreds of fans were already lingering at the club’s entrance, eager to be among the first inside. Despite having never been to the venue before, I rushed to its doors wearing a costume of confidence and tried to imply that waiting would, for me, be unacceptable. Despite having never attended a concert as a member of the press before, I announced myself to the bouncers through my best veteran impression and tried to imply that I was actually somebody.
“Salvatore DiGioia. Michigan Daily. Press list.”
As a music journalist, the first time you enter a concert without paying admission is a benchmark moment. It catalyzes your metamorphosis into a legitimate professional and validates your participation in the culture. I arrived at El Club last Jan. as a well-experienced consumer, having spent more than a decade purchasing my way into rap concerts. However, after being approved by bouncers and subsequently strutting into the venue, I felt myself cross an industry threshold. It had long been a dream of mine to be expected at such a function — for a rapper or publicist to be aware of my presence. So, when Isaiah Rashad thanked me for coming, shook my hand and said, honestly, “I hope you enjoy the show,” it instantly seemed to validate the countless hours I’d spent honing my craft.
My love for reading developed like that of most of my peers — through the adventures of fictional heroes like Harry Potter and Captain Underpants. Yet I quickly transitioned my attention from bookshelves to the internet, an editorial landscape with fewer boundaries and more dimensions. Having inherited an obsession with hip hop from older siblings, I relied on the lifestyle to help shape my online experience, seeking out fan forums and niche news sources. I spent much of my middle school years worshipping lifestyle mags Hypebeast and Complex as cultural canon or skimming through Rolling Stone’s “Best Of” lists for extra context. Eventually, I decided I wanted to write about music myself. A handful of decisions later, I arrived at The Daily.
In autumn of my sophomore year, I was denied a place on The Daily Arts section and encouraged to re-apply in the future. It was a humbling setback, particularly since my application was the first piece of music writing that I’d ever shared. Yet it sparked a competitive streak within me that soon led to a major growth spurt. In wake of my denial, I became jealous of The Daily’s fully-operative infrastructure and semi-professional status. I longed to prove myself as equally committed to the craft as their staff, to have a reason to care about music as much as I did. So, I enrolled in essay-writing courses and published work in Consider; I subscribed to The New Yorker and started reading multiple arts publications daily; I identified my favorite critics and began following their careers intently. Inspired by a door in the face from The Daily, I set out to learn how to think, listen and write like a music critic. One year later, I was accepted as an Arts writer.
The first article I published in The Daily was a review of Kanye West’s Saint Pablo Tour. My admission to the show was not free and my recap of it had not been organized by a publicist, but I was excited to see the story in print nonetheless. Some relatives even requested copies via mail. On the morning of the story’s release, I rose early and rushed straight to the business school, eager to grab a handful of papers and post a Snapchat. There’s a numbing ecstasy that comes with the publishing of a new article and for your first, it is utterly overwhelming. It doesn’t matter if anyone even reads the damn thing. For writers, the act of contributing to the rhetoric is fulfilling in itself.
After meeting Isaiah Rashad, things changed for me professionally. At the disposal of my editors, I became The Daily’s go-to designation for Detroit’s hip-hop scene and went on to cover concerts by DRAM, A$AP Rocky and more. At the disposal of Def Jam Records, I attended the world premiere of Big Sean’s fourth album, I Decided., and reviewed the LP before most national publications. Shortly after, I had opportunities to interview Lil Yachty and A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie. Finally, having fully realized the weight of The Daily’s prestige, I upped my bets to earn press access for shows in Paris and Los Angeles. The old saying is “Wherever you go, ‘Go Blue!’” Wherever I went, I wrote for The Daily.
In two weeks, I will graduate from college and depart from Ann Arbor. I won’t ever again introduce myself as: “Salvatore DiGioia. Michigan Daily. Press list.” In fact, I may never again direct any bouncer to any “press list” whatsoever. Instead, I expect to spend the upcoming festival season, once again, as a consumer, diminished into buying my way into excited scenes. Come the fall, when summer’s buzziest acts inevitably set out on theater tours, I don’t expect to be offered free admission. I still plan to obsess over hip hop and attend concerts routinely, but long gone are my days of being expected at such functions.
For a while, thanks to The Daily, I had just big enough of a platform to convince myself that I was actually somebody. I analyzed art under the presumption that someone cared I was doing so and, on a few occasions, directly conversed with my favorite musicians. Lil Yachty sang along to Playboi Carti’s “Let It Go” with me; A Boogie laughed at my name. I will always long to stand in those rooms, write those stories and be that guy. (In fact, if anyone from Rolling Stone or Pitchfork is reading, track me down!). However, upon my graduation from The Daily, such work will once again be a just hobby, such access to talent but a dream. At least for now.
Like an athlete who’s graduating without obvious draft potential, I am hyper-aware that this could be the last team I ever play for. Should it be, I would not have wanted to learn how to think, listen and write like a music critic from any other teammates.
“I’m not always going to say things the perfect way, the right way, but I’m going to say how I feel.”
Nov. 19, 2016