A couple weeks ago, a quote from Waka Flocka Flame went viral after he ‘admitted’ to being a wack rapper in an interview with Complex’s Everyday Struggle. The same man who gave us “50k” and “15th and the 1st” felt the need to recognize his own apparent lack of lyrical talent, saying he prefers artists like KRS One, who made “13 and Good”, or Nas, who hasn’t released a great album since Illmatic. It reminded me of the time 21 Savage said J. Cole’s feature on “A Lot” was the best verse of that year, despite having released “Ball Without You” on the same album, a song whose first verse features an honest musing on the differences between loyalty and love that has enough emotional depth to fill the Mariana Trench. If a rapper doesn’t engage in pretentious songwriting practices like lyrical gymnastics or constant pontification, they’re deemed garbage and pushed to the side, just so some dickheads with a podcast can go viral by putting Joe Budden in their top five rappers of all time.
This pushback is part of a trend perpetuated by haters like DJ Akademics (of the previously-mentioned Everyday Struggle), Ebro, and Funkmaster Flex, the former following an example set by the latter two and their colleagues in the ‘old guard’ of washed-up losers who refuse to acknowledge the accomplishments of a younger generation of hip-hop artists for the cardinal sin of living south of the Mason-Dixon line. A band of boomers and boomers-in-training have unified to discredit the South’s contributions to hip-hop culture while demanding that its rising stars go out of their way to praise the achievements of the North. And in the age of viral Breakfast Club videos, white people are crashing the party, appropriating these arguments to weaponize them against any musician they perceive as too black.
Any time a black artist doesn’t deign to conform with white consumers’ desire for the kind of unseasoned, fully assimilated ‘art’ they hear on small-town radio, that musician is treated as a threat to whiteness itself. If you have an internet connection, you should know what I mean. Beyoncé was anti-cop (anti-white) because she performed “Formation” at the Super Bowl in a modified Black Panther outfit. Kanye West was human garbage because he interrupted an awards show to (correctly) assert that a black woman’s video was better than a white woman’s video (Beyoncé went on to win Video of the Year). Lil Nax X stirred up controversy when he declared “Old Town Road” a country song; “Bartender Song” by Rehab made nary a wave (it peaked at number 60 on the Billboard’s Hot Country Songs; “Old Town Road” reached number 19 before being ‘disqualified’). And white artists in white genres like country and EDM directly and intentionally appropriate the sound of black music without doing due diligence to ensure the black people they’re ripping off are even credited for creating these trends, let alone being paid or afforded the same opportunities white artists are.
In my brief review of Key!’s terrific album So Emotional from last year, I compare his ability to display his emotions through subtext to J. Cole’s tendency to overshare without saying anything of substance. Despite Cole’s inadequacies as a songwriter and storyteller, (white) people still point to him as a shining example of what rap music could be. He doesn’t do drugs; he actively denounces their use. He doesn’t have hoes; he’s a faithful, married, Christian man. Who cares about relating with your audience when you could patronize them instead? Since white people first heard rap music (when “Fuck Tha Police” came out), they’ve treated it as a bastion of evil deserving of nothing but ridicule. Now that twenty-plus years have passed (and none of these rappers or their songs are relevant anymore), music from the so-called ‘Golden Era’ of hip-hop is free game for suburban honkies to listen to while running errands, and anything black and current is regarded with contempt – that is, unless it can be used to undermine the artistic achievements of other black people.
Yes, the get-off-my-lawn rage of the dinosaurs considered to be hip-hop’s gatekeepers has not remained within hip-hop’s gates. It spills into mainstream knowledge and acceptance, giving a false credence to any and all criticisms of ‘mumble rap’, trap, or whatever terminology you want to use to describe the only music really worth listening to. The kind of people who consider themselves to be intellectuals for listening to music (wow, how original) have been given all the ammunition they need to completely ignore any advancement in black culture while still feeling like a paragon for progressive politics. The same racist vitriol that has previously been reserved for people like T-Pain, who singlehandedly changed the face of modern music (for the better, I might add), has followed us to a new generation of black musicians without so much as a costume change.
A friend of mine once quoted me in 2015 as having said, ‘If you were as woke as I am, you would listen to Gucci Mane. Every day.’ And I stand by that statement. The same people who claim to support criminal justice reform will dismiss wholesale the creative efforts of the people who are most impacted by racial profiling and police brutality. White feminists ridicule hip-hop for its toxic masculinity while refusing to consider how or why black masculinity can manifest differently from white masculinity, or why poor people value masculinity more than rich people. These crackers will bring up income inequality for the sake of a living room debate while denouncing music that ‘glorifies’ drug use and distribution in the same breath.
Well, I’m gonna keep it real with you. I am a poor white person. I have never had health insurance. I fight people. I do drugs, and I sell drugs any time I get the opportunity, because real opportunities have a way of avoiding me. To quote Lil Baby, ‘My dollars and followers match.’ And I make music that is, for all intents and purposes, exactly the same as what you would hear from an artist like Gunna or DaBaby. And yet, when I perform live, I have other white folks coming up to me to give me shine, tell me they love my shit, and then immediately say they hate that mainstream shit, they like that real shit like what I do. It makes me want to put down my beer, leave the bar, and walk directly into traffic. Buddy, I am not stupid. I know what you mean when you say that, and I do not chill with people who use racist dogwhistling every six months to avoid thinking or talking about a new Future project.
The editorial staff of this very website encourage me to ‘leave my comfort zone’ when I ask to review yet another rap album, while they simultaneously dismiss any mention of a Lil Anything as ‘not for them,’ resulting in a massive gap in hip-hop coverage. And while I spend my time reviewing music that owes its sound to black artists past, I can often find it difficult to reconcile two opposing truths: the first, that the only reason one could find it easy to dismiss this music, as ubiquitous as it has become, is because it’s by poor black people, and poor black people are better seen, not heard. But then, the second: that it really isn’t for them. Hell, it’s barely for me. By virtue of my poverty and proximity to the kind of casually racist attitudes that most people pick up in a town that is 95% white, I have crept through the door like a thief in the night. And I love it here. Isn’t it kind of nice having something I can only share with the black people in my life, the poor people in my life?
It might be, if white people would leave it alone. But it’s 2020, and Lil Dicky has a TV show. You have white musicians like Ghostmane and the Suicide Boys stealing the sound and aesthetic of Three 6 Mafia wholesale, repackaging and reselling it to a sea of white faces who couldn’t give a shit about what Project Pat is up to these days. I think we’re past acting like white people are happy not to participate, to appropriate, to take something wonderful and ruin it as quickly as possible. It’s about time the ‘music is my life’ crowd steps up to the plate, digs into some fucking rap music, and learns to appreciate this shit the same way I did: by starting at the beginning and working their way forward, preferably while realizing that your family lives below the poverty line. Read a fucking book. You’re already dickriding either Tupac or Biggie in the name of appearing relevant to the conversation. Well, that conversation ended twenty years ago, and nobody gives a shit about what you think about trap music, save the forty year-old white men who are still willing to say ‘The Beastie Boys invented hip-hop’ out loud. Move on, hoser.
What does all this have to do with Lil Baby’s new album My Turn? It’s fucking black excellence, what the fuck do you think it has to do with this album? It’s fucking great. Who gives a shit? You decided not to like it when you saw his fucking name.