When Sacramento-based hip hop collective Death Grips released their debut studio album The Money Store in 2012, the culture of music consumption began to shift. The aggressive, experimental ethos of Death Grips’ LP was powerful enough to inspire change in tastes among fans and creators alike, but internet music enthusiast and notorious critic Anthony Fantano was a catalyst for the move toward the popularization of such experimental hip hop. Fantano’s YouTube channel, “theneedledrop,” with its classic jargony, essay-like approach to album reviews, handed Death Grips the elusive 10/10 rating—the first to ever receive the honour in the then-three-year-old channel’s history.
Since that fateful day in 2012, only a handful of records have tasted the glory of a Fantano 10. Fantano himself, now at the helm of a two-channel empire, has become a cornerstone of internet music culture. He reviews albums almost daily, providing unfiltered criticism and, on occasion, enthusiastic praise. His other video segments include his first-time listens and reactions to individual tracks, the interactive “Let’s Argue” and “Reading Your Comments” bits, and a number of weekly and yearly round-ups summarizing and celebrating recent releases in the music world. Fantano navigates his reviews quickly, bouncing from detail to detail while unpacking the core elements of each record, generating an atmosphere of controlled mayhem that builds towards a decisive conclusion.
Fantano’s channel has become a breeding ground for some of the most inexplicable interactions on the internet—the “you had to be there…for the last five years” type of stuff. Sarcasm, esoteric references, and callbacks to his channel history litter the comment sections. A casual scroll-through can leave an unfamiliar viewer feeling like they have just opened a forbidden door. Among many other, and occasionally much darker, trends that exist in Fantano’s comment section, there is also a surplus of lighthearted nicknaming and inside jokes: Fans endearingly call Fantano “melon,” referring to his famously bald head, and comment on the subtle but meaningful Easter eggs—including Fantano’s choice of flannel shirt, which he uses to foreshadow his thoughts on a record. Amidst all the chaos, however, arises genuine, thoughtful discussions focussed on why, and why not, some music deserves a listen.
Fantano’s rise to YouTube stardom places him in a relatively unoccupied echelon of the internet, preserving a space for active and opinionated music enthusiasts within music intellectualism’s brash, reactive, and often self-contradictory zone of the internet. Few web personalities have acquired such a far-reaching and potent influence over their viewers—even reaching a point where other music fans satirize his most devout supporters, who notoriously defer to “theneedledrop” for the majority of their musical opinions. Fantano is but one part of a sweeping revolution in music consumption whereby internet discussions and the tastes of web strangers make their way into popular discourse. Fantano’s willingness to review a plethora of diverse music has allowed a number of underappreciated and experimental artists to permeate the playlists of the more “mainstream” listener, like Danny Brown, Charli XCX, FKA Twigs, and others.
As the backbone of the online music-loving community, Fantano will inevitably continue to scour the musical landscape, finding underground gems and giving fan-favourite albums a 6/10, but viewers should take no insult. After all, Fantano has never hesitated to remind us that, “Y’all know this is just my opinion, right?”