The casualty of morals in the pursuit of relevancy
Though new-age rappers catch a bad rap for seeking attention by forgoing moral standards, established rappers seek relevancy too in similar, yet slightly more discrete ways.
In a leaked clip from third episode of the AWGE DVD series, Yasiin Bey was recorded watching 6ix9ine’s video for “GUMMO.” The doyen rapper’s reaction was glum; he couldn’t believe what he was seeing, even though it wasn’t particularly fresh to him. “Why is everyone acting like this new?” he began. He continued on with his doleful sentiment: “This is the most depressing shit I’ve ever seen in my life.” After the video’s release, Yasiin, along with the AWGE Team, released a statement about how the remarks were “taken out of context” and do not actually reflect his feelings on 6ix9ine or his work.
There’s really no way to take “This is the most depressing shit I’ve ever seen in my life” and give it new meaning, so the follow-up statement seemed tacked-on to prevent being part of a conversation that needs to be held about veteran artists, new-age artists, and the misunderstanding of the pursuit of attention. His statement, although it was said in private, wasn’t necessary. Or that much different from what other veteran artists have to say about 6ix9ine, or new-age music for that matter. I would be willing to bet that he’s but one of many who say the same thing in private. (A$AP Rocky raps about the state of “mumble rapping” in “Potato Salad,” featuring Tyler The Creator, also featured on AWGE Vol. 3.)
Undoubtedly, what Yasiin was referring to, in his Golden Age ascendency, is “GUMMO”‘s sheer contemporary folly. It reeks of hectic, spur-of-the-moment flair. Within 30 seconds of watching the video, you’ll see grandmothers adorned in gang flags, a mob of people hopping around a block in frantic bursts, and a teenager with purple hair screaming obscenities. That teenager is 6ix9ine, and he’s one of the biggest new-age rappers in the world. What makes him one of the most popular in the populace is his sheer “I really don’t give a fuck” demeanor that, as he put it in his recent interview with Power 105’s Angie Martinez, “makes you either going to love me or hate me.” He’s a walking, talking spectacle, if there ever was one, and that’s accounted for seven charting Billboard singles and his album Day69 peaking at No. 4 on the Billboard 200.
Nearly everything 6ix9ine does has an air of incredulity surrounding it. From clowning on many of his peers, to repping a gang so hard that it’s borderline parody, even talking the biggest, loudest, game in the room — there’s no way that he could be serious. At least by classic hip-hop standards. Combine his penchant for using the “N word” while Hispanic, his colorful hair, and Ed Hardy-inspired outfits, there’s so much going on that it may throw you off. It’s not just him either. Look across many new-age rap stars and you’ll find a common thread : they could star as villains in PlayStation 1-era videogames. There’s the tree-hair shaped Glokknine of Florida, IcyNarco’s Mortal Kombat-inspired aesthetic, Lil Pump’s dual-colored Lucio-from-Overwatch dreads, and the list goes on.
There’s a reason for this. Musicians don’t get record deals with traditional appearances, viral stars searching for the ever-illusive treasure commonly referred to as clout do. Rolling Stone‘s jaw-dropping piece from last week revealed that, through A&Rs, the ability to command attention is much more important in today’s oversaturated market than actually being able to craft good music. “Finding a good songwriter is straightforward; good songwriters are 10 a penny,” said an unnamed veteran A&R. “Finding someone who people actually like, are invested in, want to engage with and stream, that’s more difficult. You can’t cultivate that, in a way.” For this reason, normal-looking musicians are a dime a dozen and, instead, we get rappers wearing spiked jackets and obscure shades like Voldo from the Soul Caliber series.
On the flip-side, aging stars have to compete for relevancy in a genre dominated by the youth. They’ve had their heyday but the bills don’t stop, so they often continue working the genre until they fall out in horrible fashion. Often times, fame is a drug; even when artists don’t need to do anything from a financial standpoint, there’s always the drive to be more important. But what we frequently see is that older artists go against their morals when they’re pining for relevancy. While the older generation continuously criticizes the newer one, what both sides are doing essentially amounts to the same thing.
Kanye West, for years, has been a voice of the black body channeling the campy, nerdy side of existence that society seldom promotes in the media. Well, that side walked away somewhere around the time that he lumbered on stage and interrupted Taylor Swift at the 2010 MTV VMAs. Prior to that, he was a volatile speaker on the mic and off, voicing his concerns with how society shucks African-Americans aside. He was at the height of his career, basking in the critical and creative highs of Late Registration, College Dropout, and Graduation. After he became despicable for white America, he began to in the black eye, as well. Not because of what he did then, but everything that came after. The constant feigning for attention from white companies, openly embracing Donald Trump (he dyed his hair blonde, too), and even saying that slavery was a choice. His bout with the idea of slavery came on the heels of the release of his latest album ye. In fact, so did his embrace of Donald Trump. He turned even more despicable right prior to album release time in pursuit of increasing that oh-so-important sales figure. It’s kind of odd that as quickly as he embraced loving Trump’s character, he’s been quiet since release, right?
Nicki Minaj revealed on Twitter in 2012 that she believed that people who abuse children should get publically stoned to death. Earlier this month, she just released a collaboration with 6ix9ine called “Fefe.” 6ix9ine himself has faced sexual misconduct with a minor charges in the past. Being that 6ix9ine is one of the biggest new-age rappers in the game, it’s next to no surprise that he’s been added to NickiHdnrxx, her joint tour with Future. Fans have been angrily pestering her over her decision to link up with the superstar, but there should be no question why. In 2012, she was the most important female lyricist pushing the envelope. Now, she’s a little more grizzled, faced with younger competition that’s eating into her fanbase. Desperate times calls for drastic measures. In doing this, the pursuit of clout clashed with her morals, like Kanye before her.
Pusha T had seen copious amounts of success as one half of the Clipse with brother Malice; their commercial debut Lord Willin’ went gold only a month after its release in 2002, and their oft-delayed follow-up Hell Hath’ No Fury peaked at No. 2 on Billboard’s Top R&B/Hip Hop Album chart in 2006. Since going solo in 2010, however, his units were slower to move. Fear of God II: Let Us Pray. released in 2011, debuted at No. 66 on the Billboard 200, moving only 8,900 units in the first week. My Name Is My Name came in October 2013 and moved 74,000 units in the first week, faring much better. Shortly after, in 2015, he revealed to Billboard that he’d become the president of GOOD Music. For the release of Daytona, his latest album that released in May of 2018, he and Kanye decided it would be appropriate to use a picture of Whitney Houston’s bathroom as the LP cover to align with the coke-dealing existence that Pusha has built his career on. Pusha claimed that it was solely Kanye’s decision, hinting that he wasn’t feeling it, but I highly doubt that. Especially with Pusha being older than him after all. Yet, against the more sensible options in front of them, the duo elected to go for quick controversy because that generates interest which increases album sales.
While more established artists aren’t making videos dissing the world or coloring their hair in all sorts of nonsensical colors for attention, forgoing moral grounds to create conversation is just as dangerous and deplorable. It’s all the more noticeable when you publically make a stance against injustice — then collaborate with someone legally indicted on a similar charge. There’s also the casualty of character that becomes apparent when an artist’s identity does a complete 180, then announces it around album time. Come on now.
Attention is just hard to keep these days. We’re constantly cycling our scrutiny to find new people to invest in. For millennials and beyond, being able to captivate is to be rambunctious enough to generate friction — Boonk, Woah Vickie, and Danielle Bregoli are three examples of the latest wave of social media superstars, all under 21, able to amass an enormous amount of interest. But for what they’ve been able to obtain, they often trade in self-respectability and honor. Boonk’s fame comes from acting like a jackass in public. Woah Vicky built her name from parodying the mannerisms of under-privileged African-Americans. Bregoli, now signed to Atlantic Records as Bhad Bhabie, fought and bullied her way into primetime view.
It’s understandable for the older generation to have problems with the music that’s out now; prior to the days of properly structured songs, the first generation of rappers felt that songs with repeating choruses exemplified the laziness of the coming rap generation. But to lambast the aesthetic of a new generation, based upon a sense of entitlement and misunderstanding of the current landscape, is absurd. Especially with the generation before operating in similar, yet slightly more discrete, ways to generate attention. Just because you’re stirring controversy but your hair isn’t colored the same way, doesn’t mean you’re better. The line is very, very thin.
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