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From Braids to Fades: Why J. Cole needs to keep the hair on his head

I've got a "theory."

Mack Pittman // REVOLT

Rappers have always had iconic traits that help set themselves apart. But while styles come and go, no trait has been more deadly to so many acts than cutting off their braids.

You'd think MCs would know that, due to its ability to pull on the scalp and conduct higher blood flow to the brain region, cornrows help produce a higher level of lyrical ability. Cognitive brain functioning is nearly as important as raw talent for a music artist! But still some rappers decide to cut their braids for various reasons and begrudgingly begin the immediate downslope of their music careers. First, a brief history of braids.

Braids first appeared in human history nearly 30,000 years ago and were originally a method of communication. Depending on the type of braids, people could discern someone’s community, age, marital status, wealth, social position, and religion. The act of braiding became a way of socializing and for elders to teach the youth how to properly braid and carry on traditions. One of the main issues with having braids held tightly to the scalp is that is creates an effect called traction alopecia, where the hairline can recede heavily due to consistent pulling. This pulling on the scalp can cause mild forms of balding, specifically from cornrows. Braids also increase the blood flow on the crown of the head and affect the cognitive abilities of someone’s creativity, known as cerebral blood flow.

Let’s highlight a few who have made this mistake.

Ludacris’ career started off promising as arguably the rapper to start the Atlanta craze in hip-hop. He dominated the early 2000s with a blend of street records mixed with radio-ready and club hits, but then, in 2006, the unthinkable happened. Luda cut off his signature braids and said it “symbolized a new phase” in his life. His next album, Release Therapy, would showcase a softer, more thoughtful side of Ludacris and would do away with the cartoonish character we had all come to know and love. Sadly, it would be the beginning of the end. Luda’s latest album, 2015's Ludaversal was released to a lukewarm response and now, today’s generation knows him more as the guy from the Fast & Furious movies than from D.T.P.

Next up is Lil Bow Wow. He came up under Jermaine Dupri and was one of the hottest kid rappers in the game with his early hits of "What’s My Name?" and "Bounce With Me" leading the way. Then, also in 2006, Mr. Moss decided to rid himself of the braids and began the dreaded downspin. His later albums Price of Fame and Wanted failed to garner the same reception as his earlier efforts and he eventually had to resort to facing off against Omarion on a dual album. He was even once engaged to former model and reality star Erica Mena, but the two have since called it quits. The final straw, however, was tweeting that he was not going to vote in the 2016 presidential election. After some backlash from fans saying that blacks fought for civil rights and he should exercise that right, Bow Wow claimed that he was actually "mixed" and does not consider himself exclusively black. (WRITER'S UPDATE: In May 2017, Bow Wow posted a photo of a private jet on Instagram alluding that he was traveling in it that day, while a fan noticed him on his own commercial flight and took a picture of him accusing him of of lying about taking the jet. Upon the posting of the photo the internet invented The Bow Wow Challenge where fans would post videos of themselves lying about having materialistic items that they really did not. Not a good look.)

After his highly successful TV show Pimp My Ride, Xzibit should have gotten back to what he does best – keeping our heads bobbing. In my book, Xzibit is underrated for West Coast rappers so this one hurt personally. While he may not have been Dre or Snoop or Nate Dogg, he was the next tier and created some of the best West Coast records that still knock today. Even my mom liked Pimp because of him. But once the show was done in 2007, I thought he would capitalize on his increased fame and recognition and release a classic. No. Instead of being the fun loving host we had all enjoyed so much, he kept up with his tough rapper attitude--just look at all his album covers--and with no new leaf to turnover, he was left to fall to the same path as those before him. He cut the braids and truly began his spiral. Three years later, in 2010, Xzibit filed for bankruptcy (twice in total) owing almost $1 million to the IRS.

Back to the East Coast. Busta Rhymes was perhaps one of the rappers most known for his braids. They were a part of his image: outgoing, intricate, and truly creative. But then, Busta decided to do it. He cut off his signature style for “spiritual and personal” reasons and brought a film crew out to document the moment. Afterward, Busta released The Big Bang and Back On My B.S. which I thought were good, but did not perform as well commercially as his previous efforts. In 2011, he went on to sign with Cash Money Records and was featured on one of the year's biggest hits, "Look At Me Now"--a song that is frankly too fast for anyone to understand. But just three years later, Busta would leave the label over creative differences and he's been floating in hip-hop purgatory ever since.

Finally, Ja Rule: the most infamous post-braids fall from grace. In the post-Tupac era of rap, hip-hop fans were looking for a tatted-up tough-talker to take on the reins of what was left over. Ja Rule came out with his 1999 debut album Venni Vetti Vicci to commercial and critical acclaim and then dominated the decade. "What’s my motherf*ckin’ name?!" Ja Rule was able to create hit after hit but then, in the summer of 2001, he cut the braids. His career would continue just fine until his old school nemesis 50 Cent burst onto the scene in 2003 and shut him down. With 50’s infamous "Hail Mary" diss track, Ja would start to see the end. As the beef grew, so did his need to have to explain, discuss, and debate it after every turn. On 2004’s R.U.L.E., his biggest hit was "New York" which only further fanned the flames of the beef and now he's doing Foot Locker commercials playing an Uber driver.

The list continues: Mystikal, Jermaine Dupri, Slim Thug, Jim Jones, Omarion, R. Kelly, Sean Paul. This proves my theory, guys, that ideal blood flow, cranial connectivity, and cerebral circulation from braids creates the ideal atmosphere for proper rapping abilities. The effect on the brain, albiet improbable, has been shown to slow down and change once the consistent tugging and pulling stops. If a rapper wants to achieve the mountain top, they must be willing to commit themselves to the braids for their entire career. So is there anyone in the near future that we should worry about? Whatever you do, don’t do it J. Cole!! You’re our only hope!

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