Once upon a time in a universe far, far away, HipHopDX used to host blogs. Through Meka, Brillyance, Aliya Ewing and others, readers got unfiltered opinions on the most current topics in and beyond Hip Hop. After a few years, a couple redesigns and the collective vision of three different Editors-In-Chief, blogs are back. Sort of. Since our blog section went the way of two-way pagers and physical mixtapes, Twitter, Instagram and Ustream have further accelerated the pace of current events in Hip Hop. Rappers beef with each other 140 characters at a time, entire mixtapes (and their associated artwork) can be released via Instagram, and sometimes these events require a rapid reaction.
As such, we’re reserving this space for a weekly reaction to Hip Hop’s current events. Or whatever else we deem worthy. And the “we” in question is myself, Omar Burgess and Andre Grant. Collectively we serve as HipHopDX’s Features Staff. Aside from tackling stray topics, we may invite artists and other personalities in Hip Hop to join the conversation. Without further delay, here are this week’s “Stray Shots.”
Did Clear Channel Manufacture Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” Into A Hit?
Andre: Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” has been a musical phenomenon that almost no one is happy about. This has been happening a lot lately. With last years “Blurred Lines,” however, you could get away from what rhymes with “hug me” by listening to one of the other “summer” songs out there. You were up all night to get lucky or you were wearing Versace, Versace, Versace or pounding Pabst Blue Ribbons in the tropics wishing you were Shabba Ranks, but you could get away. 2014 provides no such respite. It seems to be “Fancy,” or bust. Yeah you could wade down into “0 - 100/The Catch Up” land, but the track feels unfinished. A loosie. “Loyal” dropped in December 2013 (where, notably, Breezy was in the slammer, but I’m sayin’) and “Believe Me” dropped in May. But still, the summer song wheezing to the finish line is “Fancy.” And, lo and behold, it may not be for the reason you might imagine. Not for her stunning good looks, or her faux-accent, or who’s ghostwriting for her (oh, Nicki) but at the behest of a conglomerate with, maybe, good intentions.
We’re talking about a story obvious to us all but broken by the Washington Post in which it spoke to the good folks at iHeartRadio about the “On The Verge” program and just the kind of power it wields. In short, that uzi weighs a ton. Essentially, iHeartRadio is owned by Clear Channel, and Clear Channel has a listener base that is about the population of the United States of America in 1988 at 245 million. Oh, that’s listeners… a month. The radio stations are required to play the record 150 times in a six week span, and they often do more because (wait for it…) those songs become a hit! As “Fancy” has become. But, don’t fret, folks. This is fool proof. iHeartRadio’s brand managers are the ones that first pick the songs, and then it filters its way down into the realm of the programmers where they make the final decisions. It’s all gut feelings and good times. Except nothing works that way. People have preferences. They have biases, even. And those sorts of self imposed limitations screw with results. Am I saying that “Fancy” is pure corporate grift? Nope. There’s tons of people who love that song, and I, for one, trust that people aren’t idiots. But it certainly does help when a large corporate conglomerate decides to shine a light on your song and yours alone across its vast network of stations all over the country all at once. It’s like Apollo Creed training Rocky; is there any real way that man was going to lose? And Iggy isn’t the only one this has helped. Right now Tinashe’s “2 On” featuring ScHoolboy Q is healthily climbing up the ladder at radio stations all over the country. The correlation? “On The Verge.” But that’s none of my business.
Nevertheless, who cares, right? Not one of our “stars” weren’t handpicked by someone, somewhere with the power and connections to see them through. And the song is legitimately catchy. And, the kicker, the young have almost always ran what songs killed during the summer. And right now, the young wanna be “Fancy.”
Omar: In case you missed it, there was a time this summer when Iggy Azalea co-owned the top two spots on Billboard magazine’s “Hot 100” chart. Her Charlie XCX-assisted single has been on their chart 19 weeks and peaked at the top spot while Ariana Grande’s “Problem,” which features Iggy, peaked at the #2 spot in the midst of an 11-week run. But if you’re a reader wondering why the New York Daily News essentially said Iggy was making Hip Hop “white hot” or why Forbes.com proclaimed, “Hip Hop Is Run By A White, Blonde, Australian Woman,” then what the hell does being on the “Hot 100” really mean? According to a September, 2013 Billboard.com article by Gary Trust, Billboard takes 100 songs and ranks their popularity by “a ratio of sales (35-45%), airplay (30-40%) and streaming (20-30%).” So in the most literal sense, Iggy was featured on two of the most commercially successful songs that were also popular on terrestrial radio, YouTube and legal streaming services. The numbers back it up, as “Fancy” sold 177,739 for the week ending on July 5.
All of this matters (or doesn’t) because one third of that equation was powered very heavily by Clear Channel—the major conglomerate which per an excellent Washington Post article owns 840 stations with about 245 million—handpicked it as an “On The Verge” single. That designation meant programmers across the Clear Channel network were required to play “Fancy” at least 150 times in approximately six weeks. So to me, it’s a chicken/egg thing. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 removed the cap on the number of stations one entity can own, effectively making what was once 70 different broadcast companies all fall under the Clear Channel umbrella. I don’t have anything against Iggy Azalea, and it’s not as if she forced a major corporation to handpick her song and excessively play it across their vast network. Technically, every media outlet—including HipHopDX—handpicks certain artists to showcase. But in Iggy’s case, she was both handpicked by a major conglomerate and then crowned as (and I’m paraphrasing here) making Hip Hop “white hot” or “running” Hip Hop. I think such opinions are not only factually inaccurate, but they’re cancerous to the culture. And that has nothing to do with Iggy being an Australian white woman with an ass that seemingly bends the time space continuum who appropriates Southern black culture. It has everything to do with confusing popularity and commercial success with cultural excellence. The uproar shouldn’t be pointed at Iggy, because she’s gone on record as agreeing that Hip Hop should internally choose its own ambassadors. She’s smart, has some interesting thoughts about pop culture and doesn’t appear to be a culture vulture. As Andre points out, that uzi does in fact weigh a ton. Save your anger for Clear Channel, Emmis and corporate radio. Because when it comes to the metaphorical weight of an automatic weapon or the truly corporate climate of terrestrial radio, Chuck D has never steered us wrong.
Does Drake’s $100K reinterpretation Of Rappin 4-Tay Set A Precedent?
Omar: Speaking of people who appropriate regional Hip Hop, after landing atop Billboard magazine’s “Hot 100” chart with 2012’s “The Motto,” Drake has co-opted some Bay Area Hip Hop for YG’s “Who Do You Love.” In this case it’s not Mac Dre but Rappin’ 4-Tay. This week, TMZ broke the story that Drake allegedly had to fork over $100,000 for repurposing some of 4-Tay’s “Playaz Club” lyrics on the YG hit. I’ve written before about how popular (and sometimes justified) it is to make fun of Drake. He’s Canadian, he sings all the time, he flexes with his hookah and talks about cupcaking strippers. We get it. But if you’re a ‘90s baby who likes Drake, you probably haven’t heard of 4-Tay unless you’re from The Bay or have done an exhaustive amount of Hip Hop research. So, much like he’s done for certain Memphis and Houston artists, Drake is bringing light to an underrepresented and possibly forgotten part of Hip Hop culture. People like E-40 have accused Drake of capitalizing off of the Bay Area’s loyalty to the likes of Mac Dre, and in a vacuum—since I’m not from The Bay—it’s a valid argument. But if you’re in a somewhat overlooked region like Memphis, I wonder how much you hope for someone like Drake to shout out someone obscure like Koopsta Knicca or Playa Fly on a hit song.
As someone who was born in Flint, Michigan I thought it was dope Slum Village recorded with MC Breed. Conversely, fellow Flint product Jon Connor caught some heat from Breed’s family when he remade “Ain’t No Future In Yo’ Frontin’.” Where do you draw the line between paying homage, cultural appropriation and being a interloper looking for a quick buck? There’s a ton of gray area. Go back and look at Snoop Dogg’s 2004 song “Perfect.” He repurposed Sade’s 1984 hit “Smooth Operator” when he sang, “Coast to coast / L.A. to Chicago.” In turn, Snoop coughed up some of his publishing, as Sade Adu is credited as one of the song’s co-writers. That was neither the first nor the only time Snoop said the line verbatim. I guess the difference comes down to some combination of respect, money and recognition. Drake may have gotten away with not officially clearing his interpolation of “Playaz Club,” if he so chose to. But regardless of how much you do or don’t like the man formerly known as “Wheelchair Jimmy,” he went through the proper channels, and in doing so possibly turned new fans onto 4-Tay, put some paper in his pocket and made his 2012 nod to Mac Dre look slightly less opportunistic.
Andre: Drake is often seen as an interloper, a carpetbagger, the kind of person you see and know he isn’t from here. Like most rappers he reps some town, some home, but sometimes it feels contrived, as though he is trying to put on for a city that would rather have him leaning out of a window, chatting. You know, doing some old regular thing. Intuitively, he feels calculating. As though he knows exactly how you look at him, and he’s manipulating you for it. But then he comes with something like, “You must’ve done this before, this can’t be your first time.” And there creeps in this male fantasy of women, and how women behave, and your reaction to that woman and wrapped up in the song is this self-knowledge. He knows he’s mistaken. He’d rather be. “Oh you dance? Dance like how? Like, ballet and shit? Oh, wait, girl I get it and I’m wit it.” He get’s it? He’s wit it? Most dudes, upon finding out something about a woman, proceed to put her in a category so complete it is like a universe unto itself. It is deeper and darker than any friendzone. Drake however, upon finding that the woman he finds himself wanting is not the thing he thought she was simply... changes his mind.
In much the same way, he tends to take specific regional styles and distill them into lovable, fun hits. “The Motto,” which was a bonus track off 2011s Take Care brought us all “YOLO,” and a line that said his city “loves him like Mac Dre in the Bay.” At the time, there were some grumbles about the song being a reappropriation of Hyphy, and its Bay area origination is not questioned. What is, is what again feels like an outsider using a style in a way that the originators of that style get no compensation for. So when TMZ broke the story about Drake paying Rappin’ 4-Tay a 100 stacks because he directly lifted half a verse off the emcee’s classic “Playaz Club” single from ‘94 the Internet exploded. Of course it’s news. Not only did Drake have to pay up for dragging a beloved if not almost forgotten verse off the shelf and resurrecting it, but it felt like he got caught. Comeuppance for the section of the Hip Hop public who are always ready to say, “See? He ain’t from here.” But the man handled it in a classy way, and HipHopDX spoke exclusively with 4-Tay and his management, wherein they claim the 100K is a lowball figure used by TMZ. That the settlement was much more lucrative, and that they’ll be getting royalties forever. So, there, everyone’s happy, right? Probably not. This sort of borrowing or referencing of others lyrics is pretty standard in the Hip Hop vernacular. In New York Hip Hop, artists are constantly referential. From Jay and his constant quoting of Big to Fab’ to… Let’s make it easier. Think about your favorite Rap song and imagine that it doesn’t reference something you’ve heard before. So it sets an interesting precedent. Do I think it was some sort of cash grab? No, absolutely not. But there’s no doubt Hip Hop as a musical art form and a culture are highly referential. So where do you draw the line?
Omar Burgess is a Long Beach, California native who has contributed to various magazines, newspapers and has been an editor at HipHopDX since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @omarburgess.
Andre Grant is an NYC native turned L.A. transplant who’s contributed to a few different properties on the web and is now the Senior Features Writer for HipHopDX. He’s also trying to live it to the limit and love it a lot. Follow him on Twitter @drejones.