Wayne emerged yesterday from his sprawling mansion in Miami or wherever Wayne lives now to shake a fist and holler at some youngsters on his lawn who, in his opinion, just aren’t trying hard enough. In his words, young rappers are “not trying to be the best rapper, or the best at anything.” He actually brings up an interesting point – the keen listener of today’s raps will occasionally spot a claim to be “the realest” (or sometimes “da realist“), “the sickest“, or relatedly “the illest” but since Wayne there have not been any serious claims to the “Best Rapper Alive” throne by a young rapper.
I sorta made Wayne out to be a grumpy old man in that intro but he was actually pretty laid back about it in the full interview. When asked when or how things went wrong, he made it clear that nothing went “wrong”, rap and rappers have just moved into a new paradigm since the voice of the youth is louder and gets more attention than it used to. He rightfully points to Soulja Boy as the tipping point for this trend, which is another way of pointing to the Internet and its influence on the rap world. Like much of the Internet, rap is more fickle, trendy, and disposable than ever.
The flipside to these negative-sounding trends is the huge breadth of music we can all access at any moment. Fickleness leads to artists continually pushing boundaries and experimenting with wild sounds. Trendiness, when it isn’t too wrapped up in name-dropping “designer” culture, makes rap fun and urgent. Disposability helps rap stay unpretentious.
These factors all work against the “Best Rapper Alive” paradigm though – if you aren’t like Thug, Future, and recent Boosie putting out a mixtape a month then even if your rapping is great it’s going to easily get drowned out by what’s newest. This is the downside if you’re the kind of person who needs a clear “winner” in the game, but is that clear winner of the past truly all that relevant or accurate? When Wayne was putting out his best music, there was still a huge portion of the rap listening public who thought him an abomination, and would have scoffed at his claim to the status of Jay-Z/Nas/Biggie level achievement that he makes in this interview. Right now Young Thug is our best contender for the throne, although he doesn’t seem to be all that interested in taking it – possibly to avoid comparison to his already obvious progenitor.
Whether or not you want Wayne on a list with Biggie (or Biggie on a list with Wayne), one thing that is clear is how much Wayne’s influence is still felt in rap today. This release from last week struck me as being particularly timely for this piece:
Tate Kobang – Number 5
This track got me movin’ but does it cover any new territory?
Lil’ Wayne – Ask Dem Hoes
A lot of Nef the Pharaoh’s recent material (post “No Masturbation” – a very Wayne-esque title I might add…) has struck me the same way.
Nef the Pharaoh – Come Pick Me Up
Lil’ Wayne – Suffix
Now don’t get it twisted, I make no claims of membership to any kind of cult of originality. Both of these young artists are making cool music and doing what young artists always do (including Wayne when he was a tyke) – emulating and experimenting. But it is appropriate to give credit where it’s due and Wayne deserves a lot of it. It’s amazing that a single artist could spin off as many stylistic descendants as Wayne has, and his point about the goals of modern rappers is a valid one. Maybe we’re all witnessing the disassembly of a genre that was once much more monolithic than it is now. Maybe kids can just afford to record and release music way easier than before so we’re seeing more of these formative stages than we used to, and the growth path of artists gets skewed by being part of the rap news cycle so early in their careers. Experimenting in an insular group that has a genuine interest in your success is a lot different than experimenting to a worldwide audience who will forget you ever existed as quickly as they fell in love with you on your first YouTube hit.