The Follow: Dart Adams, Fact Checker

Introducing ‘The Follow,’ a new periodic series where Abe Beame chops it up with the people behind exemplary Twitter accounts.
By    January 14, 2022

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Abe Beame likes to talk shop, both on and off Twitter.

The Follow is an interview series I plan on putting out occasionally, or frequently, or maybe never again, in which I basically just talk to the people I enjoy following online who are willing to talk to me for a while. It will be about what they come to Twitter for, how they cultivate their online personas, the things they feel passionate enough to contribute to the infinite discourse on this app, and why they feel the need to do it. And on a basic level, it will be two people fucking around on Zoom and shooting the shit. 

For the first, and perhaps final installment of the series, I had to speak to the great Dart Adams. Dart has been arguing about rap on the internet for as long as I can remember, and he’s always approached it with the same maximalist, encyclopedic, anal specificity. He’s on here all hours of the day and night arguing with anyone from a legend like Dante Ross to a bot account with 12 followers about when a particular De La Soul single dropped, or how people actually felt about Digable Planets’ Blowout Comb as it was happening at the time, or when the original Nintendo console got a proper release.

To quote Sean Combs, I wanted to ask Dart, “Why are you so mad?” And also just to kind of get a peek behind the curtain and see what he was like. Dart’s project, which is obvious and self evident but I needed to discuss and think about to really connect to, is filling in the blanks of hip hop, a music that has gone criminally disrespected and undocumented for pretty obvious historical and systemic factors of race and class. It’s a wealth of knowledge, and a niche he’s finally, and deservedly turned into a career (if you’re writing a book or longform article in need of fact checking and research, I implore you, hire Dart).

But without further ado, I’ll cut to my very long, and at least for me, fascinating conversation with Dart Adams. I hope you’ll stick around. I assure you, you’ll learn something. – Abe Beame

(Author’s Note: This interview has been edited and condensed to make me sound like less of an asshole)

I think that you exist in such an interesting space in internet rap discourse. You’re not exactly a critic, you’re not exactly speaking to the releases or issues of the day, you’re very much an oral historian, but you also work with documents, and crucially, you’re constantly bringing up a history that you can’t just draw from a Google search. What do you look at as your role in this space, and as someone who is keeping these memories alive and correcting these historical records?

Dart Adams: So everybody has an opinion about how the new album is, or a new fad or trend, but I don’t care. I have no interest in that. The thing that gets me the most is I’ll be looking at something and it’ll say Criminal Minded was released March 3rd, 1987. And I’m like, “Was it released March 3rd, 1987?”

So now, I’m reaching in my brain, like, when was Criminal Minded out? When did my brother buy the tape? When did we listen to it? And then, I try looking for evidence to support that. I know that we had the tape in Spring 87. Because, Scott LaRock got killed in August of 87, right after I turned 12, I know that. I remember it was a big deal, it was something everybody was talking about. And I remember right after they got off their deal at B-Boy, they were trying to get another deal because they were slow giving them royalties after the album was doing well and people were talking about it.

Dart Adams: But I was like, “I need to find proof all this happened”. So I go to Billboard, I go to Radio and Record, I go to Cashbox, and right here (Author’s note: Dart grabs a piece of paper off his coffee table) I have Billboard October 31, 1987-November 28 1987, and the album was never above number 73, but it stayed at 75 for two weeks, went to 73 for three weeks. Then I look at Cashbox and it hits Cashbox on October 17, 1987, and it’s on the charts till December 12th, 1987, it gets as high as 56, then it drops back down to 75 and drops off, because they only went up to 75 rating Black albums. Later it would go up to 100 in the early 90s.

So that’s the thing that I do. I’m somebody who goes looking for certain information because this is what interests me, this is what’s stuck in my head. So I’m self motivated to do stuff like that, and then what happens because I’m self motivated, is people ask me questions online and I just answer random questions, because I found these answers looking for something else. And then someone’s like “Could you help me fact check this book that I’m doing?” And that’s how I fell into that whole space.

It’s an extension of things I’ve been doing online the last decade, but I’ve gotten better and better at it because people have seen my passion for it, and they’ve helped me find different resources, and then I’ve found more resources, and the more I’ve used them, the better I’ve gotten at using them, the more efficient, so that’s kind of the space I fill, because at my big age, I’m not too interested in writing about what everybody else is writing about, you know? I’m more intrigued by different things than everyone trying to write about the same old shit.

Let’s jump out for a second because I feel like the focus on release dates and chronology is really interesting. They just released this, I thought pretty masterful eight hour documentary about the Beatles putting together Let it Be. It’s the kind of historical record that is largely absent from rap, and I think that what you’re doing is valuable, but sad, and frankly aggravating that rap’s historical record is full of holes, and incomplete, and mismanaged as it is when you have people who know where George Harrison was every minute of the day in 1969. So could you speak to the importance, not just on a persnickety level of getting the record right, but why it matters that a Public Enemy album came out three months earlier than Wikipedia says it did?

Dart Adams:  Well, a lot of it has to do with, the things you value are the things you document. If you don’t value something, then you don’t care to keep it in its proper historical context. The fact that, people know the exact moment a rock musician, jazz musician, or folk artist did something, showed up on this date, did this interview, tells you how important it was.

I can find any issue of Downbeat and chronologically order who showed up where, who was on tour, who was where when, who did this on that show date. I can’t do that with rap. I can’t say the 1987 Def Jam Tour, show me every date on that tour, I should be able to pull it up at the drop of a hat.

Can you speak to why that chronology really matters, other than on the forensic level of where Chuck D was in 1987, but say why The Chronic matters in the creation of Ready to Die. How rap kind of moves in these micro seasons of influence and when certain artists hear certain things, what was happening in the streets, sort of recreating the energy in these moments that these great works of art were produced helps us understand the works of art themselves.

Dart Adams: The evolution of rap and the idea of what’s a classic album, it all ties into what happened when and who influenced who, and putting things in their proper context, and who was the field, and who was their competition, what served as impetus for this creation. We talk about it all the time with the Beatles and the Beach Boys, right? We go back and forth about that musical one-upmanship, “They released this, we released this, they released that, we released this” and everyone else can piece together, “ok, this is what was happening.”

You got Gerry and the Pacemakers make “Ferry Across the Mersy” or some shit, and when they made that, (The Beatles) were like, “We can’t do this anymore”. Because look at what they’re making. And that matters, you know? Just like it mattered that Mavin Gaye and Stevie Wonder had to go to Berry Gordy and say, “We can’t keep making this bullshit, the world is on fire. You have to allow us to talk about that in our music” And they pushed back and they did, it affects everything else. It was a snowball effect.

And if you’re three months off of when Stevie Wonder releases said album based on said historical event, it completely moves things based on the context.

Dart Adams:  Yes, and so that being the case, that should be applied directly to rap music. The evolution of break beats being found, new technology introduced, and people flipping that and elaborating on that, and seeing what you’re doing and taking it a step further, it matters. Like 1988, you go from Stetsasonic Full Gear, to Public Enemy Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, to months later, Ultramagnetic MCs…

Critical Beatdown

Dart Adams:  Right, and in between those three albums, an album like Run DMC’s Tougher Than Leather, which should’ve been released six months sooner, drops, and it’s kind of like, forgotten about by the time we get to the end of 1988, and by the time 1989 starts up, it’s already dated. That’s important. When you think about the fact that Eric B and Rakim dropped “Follow the Leader” in between that, you know? Or the fact that we’re six months from another landmark album dropping: De La Soul “3 Feet High & Rising”, which changes the game again.

So that’s important, because when we look at rock, and we trace the line between Velvet Underground, an album that didn’t sell well, but everyone that bought it, uh…

Started a band?

Dart Adams: Pretty much. Just the same way in 1981, in Harlem World, where Kool Moe D had the first modern rap battle against Busy Bee, after writing his disses in the bathroom, and came out and it was recorded, it was recorded, and it like, made the rounds and became the rap battle heard round the world that changed everything forever. (Starts rapping in the same breath): “Sorry Busy Bee/don’t mean to be bold/but your bop diddy bop shit is on hold” (Same breath) Like we’re coming up on the 40 year anniversary of that happening. That changed world history. That’s huge. And the fact that, I can guarantee you, no one is pitching that story to write.

That’s definitely true, and if they did, no editor would take it [laughs].

Dart Adams: The crazy part is, I heard the entire story back before Clubhouse went to shit, in a room in Clubhouse where they told the entire story, and then Doug E Fresh comes out and says “Oh by the way, I was the little kid that he’s dissing”. And Just Blaze had it on hand! (Dougie) said “I’m that kid rapping, in Harlem World, that Busy Bee’s dissing, because in this clip, I was sounding exactly like him”

Wow. I’ve never wanted to be on Clubhouse until this very moment. That’s incredible.

Dart Adams: So that’s the type of thing that I go for right? And it’s because that’s what interests me, and that’s what I’m passionate about, because I’ll spend five hours digging through magazine articles and going through small type to find these tidbits, and go through an entire catalogue of books just to find that, but now I know where to look too.

I would characterize your tone on Twitter as sort of a, and forgive my use of the term, sort of an angry contrarian, correcting historical records when you see people making mistakes online. And I think it’s due to your approach, and you did a pretty brilliant job of recreating your process when you’re working to confirm a release date, to use this sort of combination of anecdotal evidence from your own memory because you were there, along with primary source materials, rather than relying on aggregating internet tools.

Would you characterize this sort of focus on getting the record straight with anger at how hip hop has been misremembered, and mis-covered, and misreported by writers who are now speaking with authority using Google, and I don’t know, some WordPress blogs they’re able to dig up because they’re relying on these hearsay records that were a product of a time when no one was fact checking?

Dart Adams: It’s more of a frustration. And the thing is I had to be told what my tone was. Because people read stuff, and (laughs), if you’re the person that wrote the inaccurate thing, I can imagine how I’ll seem. But to me, I’m just like, “If you cared, you would’ve at least tried to verify that thing you saw is true.” The idea is that, if you’re of a certain age and you see that, you think it’s already been verified, so I don’t need to do any extra work, whereas I know it likely hasn’t been.

So when I see this date, first of all, where does this line up in the week? And also, I know certain years, it was the wild west. There was no Tuesday release date. They’re all over the place, because it wasn’t till later in the 80s and the early 90s, approaching the Soundscan era, that they were like, “You know what? We need to have a universal release date.” And Columbia still released shit on Fridays because they wanted to have extra days to hop up on the Billboard charts. Now if you don’t have the patience to go through all that, for months and months and months on end, in 87, 88, 85, 86, I’ll do that.

Because it’s important to get it right.

Dart Adams: It’s important to get it right to me. If you just want to get engagement, on Twitter, you don’t care. You’ll say, “This single was released on this date, 25 years ago.” And I’m like, “That song was out for months.” And I can imagine, if I’m always busting your bubble, and bringing out stray shots to prove this song was already out for months, I just get blocked on Twitter. But I don’t stop doing it, because the whole matter, the whole point of me doing it is to let everybody know, you’re not doing any research, you’re not doing any vetting, all you’re doing is posting some shit that you saw on Wikipedia. And all you have to do is try. And if you’re not going to try? Then you should know that what you’re posting up is killing your credibility, and the only other thing to do is you vet these sources, you do your own research, or you just stop posting that information.

You had mentioned having stacks of magazines and shit like that in your apartment, do you think part of the problem is the lack of a digital record a majority of people have access to?

Dart Adams: Yeah, I think a lot of the issues stem from the fact that there is no extensive, accessible, known hub to get these resources from, and find the information for yourself. But the other part is even if it was available, do you have the skills or the sheer want to search them all, to find the information? You need someone to tell you how to search these things and where to look. Because I had to find out through trial and error.

And if you’re a freelancer can you afford pro, on the off chance you need to research when Kurtis Blow’s album’s entered the charts? The perfect example is MTV. If I want to find out when a certain artist made an appearance on Soul Train, it’s owned and operated by someone who archives, so they can tell you, “This is the date when Al Green showed up.” That’s important, that’s big. I can find out when someone appeared on American Bandstand because Dick Clark Productions has archived it. However, MTV has never archived Yo MTV Raps, BET has never archived decades of episodes of Rap City.

Luckily the fans, who used to listen to Stretch & Bob, you can go online and see when everyone appeared on Stretch & Bob. There are places where you can find who showed up on the Zulu Beach Show, but that’s relying on the fans.

Yeah, and let’s say someone records the Rap City Freestyle and uploads it on YouTube, you don’t know if that’s a repeat, you don’t know if the date is going to be right on that, maybe there’s no date at all, if you’re trying to figure out when the Diplomats were in the Basement.

Dart Adams: So for me it’s like, it’s important that BET sees the importance to say “So, we want to be able to have it available to know when B Boy Chilly T appeared on Rap City.” And the thing is, I remember the B Boy Chilly T episode of Rap City. And the thing is, the only motherfuckers who know who B Boy Chilly T is, is me and five other rap historians.

By the way, I have no idea who B-Boy Chilly T is (Laughing).

Dart Adams: See, that’s the thing! There’s no reason to know who B-Boy Chilly T is.

I mean I’m pretty old! So it seems like It’s the inability to respect research as its own discipline, that you’ve basically made a career for yourself out of. And I wanted to ask you about that. How and when did the fact checking come about, as a skill, what are some of the more interesting issues you run into? I know you just did the fact checking on Shea Serrano’s hip-hop book, do you think it’s a skill that’s being respected as these books are being released more frequently?

Dart Adams: I think that it’s a beautiful thing because the more I’m brought in to research a book, and the more I throw in the corrections and stuff like that, and tell them what actually happened, it’s funny because the more books I work on, and the more stuff I correct, the more people read it and they’re like, “Wait a minute, you mean to tell me Straight Outta Compton wasn’t released in 1988?” No, it was released in February 1989.

That reverberates so when people see it in print, people think, “Oh, what he says on Twitter, he can actually back up and now I get it”, because somebody said, “Yo I want you to make sure my book is right.”

Twitter the Bat signal?

Dart Adams: Yeah.

So people were following your account, saw you kind of had this encyclopedic knowledge of historical record, and it led to, what was your first contact that led to a project?

Dart Adams: Um, so the the first thing that happened, and this was a long time ago, is this guy Doc Zeus, who used to blog as Doc Zeus-

Oh, yeah! I know him! Holy shit! BJ!

Dart Adams: Uh yeah, so he hates me. Because I knew him from the blog era when I had Poisonous Paragraphs, he started writing for Complex, and the first piece he wrote for Complex was “The Greatest Summer Albums in Rap History” (Author’s Note: Dart would be mad if I didn’t fact check this and report back that I can find no record of this piece existing, but feel free to quarrel with his memory at your own peril) And I told him, “Yo, between 50-66% of these albums are wrong, and some of these albums aren’t even Summer albums.” I was like, “Where is the Jungle Brothers”, and he said “Jungle Brothers album was released in October”, and I was like, “No it wasn’t, I was wearing shorts with my big brother when he bought the vinyl.”

That’s GREAT. [Laughs]

Dart Adams: So we went back and forth, and what ended up happening is, people starting coming to me like, “Dart, did this album come out then?”

So it makes sense for you to be a fact checker because this is your inherent, natural passion.

Dart Adams: Yeah. It’s hard to get someone to care about minutiae, even if they’re getting paid for it, but if you have somebody where it’s like, that’s what I do anyways, it works.

Something I really appreciate about what you post is it’s not just focused on these micro details like the day of the week Critical Beatdown came out. It’s also this experiential retelling, trying to recapture what the album meant, not just critically, or radio play, but how it felt, the response to an LL Cool J record that might’ve sold well, and might even have one or two good reviews you can find online, but wasn’t well liked in the streets. A feeling you had to be there to fully grasp. And again, you get this in rock all the time. First person accounts from people writing books, and collections of moments they had tied to albums and songs, what it was like in a bar or club when this came off, but it’s largely absent from rap, especially with a younger class of critics writing about it now.

Dart Adams: And especially because, there’s a lot of nuance in it too, right? There are multiple generations of people who experienced the same music at the same time. It was me and John Schecter So we were talking about the Fat Boys, and I was talking about how Crushin is their overall best album, and he said, “It’s not better than the Fat Boys, there’s not a week moment on that album”. And he’s right, but Schecter is older than me. So to me, even though that first album is tighter, they weren’t head and shoulder above everyone else. But Crushin sounded like 1986, as opposed to, “We’re the young guys around a whole lot of people that came from the old school and the new school”. The reason I bring this up is because my take on rap records coming from 86-89, and then up from 91-92, is gonna be different than someone older than me, because their entry point is different.

And you probably age out of it, right? Like if you tried to argue today about how it felt when a Lil Baby album came out, last year with somebody younger, it would be a completely different perspective because for them Lil Baby is the Fat Boys, you know? Catching a record at the right point in your life and being tapped into the popular response inevitably shapes how you feel about it.

Like It Was Written, certain people couldn’t tell you what that album felt like in that moment to a younger group of hip hop fans because they’re approaching with a longer tail behind it. Whereas I was a kid saying “I Gave You Power” is an amazing song. And we knew all of our friends felt that way and we were tapped into this thing. When “If I Ruled the World” came on at The Tunnel, it was probably a fucking moment, while others said “Well, Illmatic was better, and he’s trying to do this Escobar thing.”

Dart Adams: Exactly my point. You love this because it’s your introduction to Nas. Mine was “Live at the BBQ”, that album came out January 1991, and we were playing it all through that year. Then after Illmatic, that album drops, which we see as a step down, because it drops the same day as Stakes is High! So imagine listening to that, and then Nas’ album.

He’s almost proving De La’s point.

Dart Adams: And to make things worse, maybe the week before? Jay-Z puts out Reasonable Doubt. So you have all of this to contend with, and you hear this album. And I explain to young people, you didn’t have all that backstory to contend with. I did.

So it’s like navigating the microclimates of history. If you were someone born after 1996, all you really have now, is sales numbers, how the singles did, the music videos, the music itself, the critic’s rankings of it. But as you said, it’s nuanced.

It’s been reconsidered and recontextualized as this stone cold classic, but it’s important to have someone come in and say “Actually, at the time it was a fairly controversial record”, and being able to speak to that nuance of response, and that multi tiered understanding of where the culture was at that time if you want to reflect the true historical record. And this is true for any moment in time, we’re talking about Nas, but it could be 1988, it could be 2008, it could be any moment in this continuum of rap.

Dart Adams: I look at it the same way as I look at, you put out your first feature, there’s a reason why it looks the way it looks, and costs what it costs. It was done on this budget, and made in this manner, but then with success there’s more money, and more leeway, and more access, and the artist has a name now so they can do more things. And the success of that one paves the way to be able to do something else. And that’s the way some rap careers go. But some rappers put out that one project that did way more than anyone expected, and now they’re shooting for the stars on the next one. And they overshoot it and bite off more than they can chew, because they wanted to do more on the first album, but now they feel they can.

And the bar is higher, right? When you were talking about the Fat Boys I was gonna say, you know, a television show that does really well. The first season might be “better” than the second season, but by the second season, when everyone is caught up and watching together off the strength of this first, the whole world is watching and the anticipation is extremely high. So maybe the first Fat Boys album is “better” than the second one, but by the second one, everyone is watching the Fat Boys, and the cultural impact of this album that is actually “inferior” is much greater. But you wouldn’t know that unless you were there.

Dart Adams: It’s the same way with Mic Geronimo, he puts out The Natural. I used to think he might give Nas a run for his money. He puts out The Natural, I feel like it didn’t get the shine it deserved, but I was like, “Yo, on the second album, he’s gonna do it.” The problem is, the second album doesn’t get released till 1997, when we’re all the way into the Jiggy era, and you gotta make moves with Puff in order to elevate.

I actually like that song, for whatever it’s worth.

Dart Adams: I mean, fine. I’m quite sure as good as The Natural was, Mic Geronimo wasn’t satisfied with the money he made from that album. He wasn’t satisfied with the reach he got from that album. He wanted better for himself, he saw what everybody else was doing and he said “Alright. I know what I have to do in order to be successful, and to get into that upper echelon of artists. But then Puff shows up in the shiny suits, doing this: (waves arms back and forth, criss crossing them) and we were like, “No, no, we’re not fucking with you.” You were just hemming heads a few minutes ago. You were talking about “Shit is real”. You know what I’m saying?

And here you are, doing the shoulder shit with Puff, and throwing money from the sky. We’re not fucking buying that. But it’s the thing that, if you weren’t around for that shit, and experience it for yourself, you don’t know how different things are. There’s a huge difference in, Lords of the Underground released that first album, and released their second album. When Fu Scnickens released their first album, and their second album. UMCs, released that first album, to that second album. The entire fucking world changed. The landscape changed.

Which is why the date is so important, to go back to what you were saying.

Dart Adams: Yeah. But that’s what I’m more interested in talking about. And I get the most engagement talking about that. And this is what people try to do on Twitter, when they bring up anniversary content, which is stupid because they do it for every fucking anniversary, and it doesn’t matter the year. “23 year ago-

Mic Geronimo released-

Dart Adams: Yeah. Like who cares? Pick something important, and then write about it. 

Well to put a fine point on on our conversation, the reason these misconceptions continue is because the historical record is incomplete, there’s nobody out there to hold these writers and labels, or even sometimes the artists themselves accountable, so thank you for your service in doing that, and I think your work is really valuable and important for the culture in general.

Dart Adams: Thanks man, I appreciate it.

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