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.”
Can Childish Gambino Verbally Behead His Peers?
Omar: Remember when Donald Glover (or maybe it was Childish Gambino) posted a bunch of seemingly cryptic notes on hotel stationary to his Instagram page in October of 2013? I’m cynical and jaded, so I thought it was a stroke of marketing genius—intentional or otherwise. Maybe there was some authenticity behind statements such as, “I feel like I’m letting everyone down,” “I’m afraid people think I hate my race,” and “I’m afraid people hate who I really am.” But as Steven Hyden pointed out in an excellent Grantland article, taking pictures of handwritten notes with your phone when you can express the exact same communication with said phone, is one of the least efficient ways to communicate. It’s akin to writing a note, folding it into the shape of a paper plane and hoping it reaches the intended target. In a monsoon. And that’s weird to me because Glover comes off as extremely smart, and if you rap, perform standup comedy, act and write for shows like 30 Rock, you’re probably both a really good and an effective communicator.
Some nine months later, as we approach the one-year anniversary of Kendrick Lamar’s “Control” verse, Glover has had another outburst—planned or otherwise. He hit a stage in Australia and proclaimed he was better than Drake, ScHoolboy Q, Kendrick Lamar and every rapper living. Much like the hotel stationary, it became news, because the sad reality of the 24-hour news cycle is that tweets and the grainy footage from idiots who hold up phones during concerts is now news. Because the Internet. To me the stunt rang kind of hollow. But simultaneously, I feel you can deftly use the Internet to your advantage and still be sincere. To me it’s no different than how your lady can goad you into a fight by saying some foul shit to illicit a response. Yeah, she’s manipulating you, but she also probably really means some of that shit she’s saying. LeBron may really want to go back home, but he might as well boost his Q-Rating in the process, right? Almost a year after his mainstream, musical breakthrough, Glover’s mini version of “Control 2.0” doesn’t hit with the same impact. We as media outlets and fans are dumb for running with it. But I think Glover is also smart enough to know we’re thirsty enough to run with it. So he lets us run. Because the Internet. In the end, I think Glover already won. His pretty good album (which has an average Metacritic score of 64 for those of you concerned with such things) from nine months ago has been on the SoundScan chart for 33 weeks with 304,124 copies sold as of this Tuesday.
Andre: Both Childish Gambino and Donald Glover lead enviable, incredibly successful lives. The former has forged himself into a bonafide emcee, who, every once in a while, makes you pull a fist to your mouth and think, “That line was hot as fuck!” He co-produced almost his entire album Because The Internet with Ludwig Goransson who’s better known for composing the score to Fruitvale Station, and working with Donald Glover on Community. But, more than a few people collectively yawned when he called out several rappers at at show in Sydney, Australia including Kendrick Lamar, and Drake. If you’re trying to figure out why, here’s some scrap. If you were to compare the young Atlanta spitter to anyone, it would be Drake. The very, very successful other lives Gambino has lead makes crowds think he’s always telling jokes, or things just aren’t that serious. If he comes out with a series of pseudo-Lynchian notes on his Instagram he is, to Rap fans at least, a whiny, disaffected celebrity with a failure complex looking for pity. If he talks about how racial complexities like being the black kid at a white school or sleeping head to foot on a bed with other family members like he did on Camp he’s accused of using his race as a tool in an origin story that while true, is creating a “false outsider persona,” by Pitchfork and his album is slaughtered with a damming 1.6 rating. Why not a 1.5? I’m guessing they were rounding up for comedic effect. One does not simply walk into Mordor in much the same way one does not become already successful and wander into Rap.
Rap fans and a few journo’s alike don’t like that. Nope, not at all. And whether it’s because Rap is supposed to be about struggling with the kind of situations Kendrick Lamar put forth on GKMC or whatever you personally think Rap is supposed to be, Gambino almost always—if you let the Internet tell it—is not it. We don’t believe him. And so he suffers from bizarro world Rap dynamics wherein someone completely pretending can be deemed more authentic than the guy whose narrative we don’t want to hear. Plus, his entire career has been an art project presented to us in pieces. We’ve travelled the entire stretch of his growth and creative process up until now. And no one likes to see the sausage get made. They want it out of a plastic pouch so they can feel better. So do we. Would I like to see a back and forth in verse between he and everyone he mentioned? Without a doubt! And I don’t think his coming out on top would be the crazy odds we would assume them to be either.
Can You See Lil Wayne As A Business Mogul?
Omar: Do a Google search on the phrases “Cristiano Ronaldo Salary,” and you’re likely to stumble upon an ESPN article informing you Ronaldo re-upped with Spanish soccer squad Real Madrid for a five-year contract that pays €17 million annually and pushes him past Lionel Messi as Spanish football’s highest earner. For those of you who don’t fuck with football or the rate at which a euro converts to a raggedy-ass US dollar, that means Ronaldo earns roughly $22.7 million a year before taxes. By way of comparison, that’s on par with the on-court earnings of NBA star, Kobe Bryant. In 2013, Forbes.com ranked Lil Wayne at the #7 spot on their “Cash Kings” list, with estimated earnings of $16 million. So if TMZ is reporting Ronaldo would entrust his sports affairs to one Dwayne Michael Carter, you have to question the logic of such a decision. As it happens, Ronaldo is doing no such thing, because duh. Wayne is doing quite well for himself, but if you have an iron-clad, guaranteed sports contract, you don’t put your financial future in the hands of a rapper making half your take-home pay.
But the notion of Lil Wayne as a mogul has always been a strange one. If you run with the story of Wayne handpicking the artists on his YMCMB roster, then the success of Drake, Nicki Minaj and Tyga would give him three bona fide success stories out of 19 (sorry, T-Streets…nothing personal). I think that’s about on par with the average A&R at any major label. But other than himself as a brand, I can’t really think of anything Wayne has successfully sold. Unlike Pharrell, Wayne didn’t convince an entire country of teens with disposable personal income to adopt his fashion choices. The combination of huge t-shirts, Girbaud jeans and Reebok Classics never caught on like trucker hats. In recent years, Wayne has raised his profile by endorsing Beats headphones and Supra shoes. But you’d be hard-pressed to find reports of Wayne’s Trukfit line hanging with ventures by Sean Combs, Jay Z or Kimora Lee. And it would appear Wayne fucked off his most profitable endeavor outside of Rap when said he’d treat a woman’s vagina like mutilated and murdered Civil Rights figure Emmet Till. Wayne’s sometimes foil, Jay Z once bragged he was “overcharging labels for what they did to the Cold Crush.” And I think the way some of Hip Hop’s pioneers were financially pimped has caused a bit of a false dichotomy insofar as we think the modern, elite emcee needs to evolve into a hybrid of both Berry Gordy and Stevie Wonder. Based on his rhymes from OutKast’s “Hollywood Divorce,” Wayne seems acutely aware of that false dichotomy. But he’s happy making art—be it drugged out Rap or god awful Pop/Rock—and he just doesn’t care to fully invest himself in that part of the game. But even the talk of Weezy F. partnering with an A-lister like Ronaldo creates an interesting discussion for the next decade. As someone who has gone on record with wanting to eventually put Rap to the side, what’s Wayne’s next move?
Andre: The sort-of hilarious back and forth that took place between Ronaldo and Weezy over Twitter and in the media has been a spectacle of underwhelming he said-she said proportions. And why wouldn’t it? You can imagine Lil Wayne spilling lean all over contracts, or flashing that diamond encrusted smile in a room full of vultures in suits that cost 20 grand and live in locations called the French Riviera. His cartoonish persona can confuse some to the type of somber business man he really is. Since, at almost 20 years in the Rap game he’s played this Game of Thrones quite well. You cannot downplay the signing of the former Degrassi star Drake without considering first that the man had no reason to go major label. He would have been just fine creating his own independent imprint. After So Far Gone, there was no shortage of producers or rappers that wanted to work with old Drizzy, and if he had gone independent he’d have set a precedent for non-major label excellence that would have set the world on fire. Nicki is the heir apparent to Missy Elliot as the queen of the entire Rap game. Every move she makes is an event. Both of these stars are mega stars. It would have been akin to signing two draft picks that ended up being superstars. It almost never happens.
His experience in selling a product is vast. He’s sold himself to us through a litany of iterations. He’s the Kobe Bryant of Rap. He’s been a major player in helping Young Money ascend from fledgling indie label to industry juggernaut, and he’s done so with a brand of music and bravado unique to himself. That he’s reportedly going to handle “branding, marketing and other sports management issues in the United States” is not only wise, but will prove to be very lucrative.
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.