Through my recent rambling around on the grand old internet, I have come across a certain meme a few times, and it’s almost offensive — I feel like that might be too strong a word, although still appropriate. Here it is:
I’m not sure about the significance of the duck, maybe an ode to stagnation or inaction, but the caption reads: “If you ever feel that you haven’t accomplished anything, there is someone in your home town still trying to become a rapper.” I have seen it so many times that I felt it necessary to voice my opinion on it, and really analyze it, because every time I see it I feel strongly about it.
My first point of attack so to speak, was to ask: given the many instances that it or an iteration of it gets shared, why is it that this particular collection of words provides comfort for someone? Why can they relate to that?
Answer: I think the first small part comes from the idea that the “rap industry” is pursued by people because they want money, and don’t usually get it. That is of course a huge generalization about motive, and is more than likely incorrect. But let’s assume it is correct, and it will fit in to the larger explanation. This analysis starts with the idea that rap has been widely considered a low form of art, apparently. Some of this perception I think is due to the less wholesome manifestations of capitalist ideology through rap: the money, hoes, cars, and clothes aspects being particularly prevalent in the last decade or so. But these examples, and the public figures who embody them, are just what I said: manifestations of an ideology through the vehicle of rap music. There is a whole large segment of rap that is “conscious”, a term that also gets thrown around ad nauseum, if only in hip hop circles, though perhaps for good reason. Rappers, or emcees, like Lupe Fiasco, Brother Ali, Kendrick Lamar, Shad, and many more have each produced intricate, nuanced bodies of work replete with lyrics that read more like college dissertations or critically-acclaimed novels than songs. Shad — full name Shadrach Kabango — the Canadian wordsmith who actually holds two university degrees and now works hard at his new job as the new host of ‘q’ on CBC Radio — made his name touring the country doing hip hop shows from small towns to festivals far and wide for almost the last decade. He is also arguably the best all-around hip hop lyricist in the nation (I acknowledge the bias of my opinion).
Yes, maybe Shad is the exception to this “Rapper Rule”, what with the industry success and academic chops to boot. But there are many people out there, myself included, who have a vision in their minds and a dream in their hearts to express their art to a wide audience. Or at least an audience. For me, it’s not about trying to “become a rapper” — granted, the amateur-to-professional transition hasn’t happened yet — but it is more about expressing creativity. The label doesn’t much matter, because again it’s about finding an avenue for art. For example, I rap, so does or doesn’t that already make me a rapper? It is also just one aspect of what I do within what can be considered art. I write every word I rap, and I am working on the instrumental side of things for works in progress, which includes playing instruments like acoustic guitar, hand drums, and a plain old singing voice — up until now I have just curated different pre-existing instrumentals, or “beats”, for my projects, commonly called “mixtapes”. I do all the corresponding visual artwork for these projects — sometimes for individual tracks as well — and there are other creative things in the future that I will be working on more, like making more music videos and short films (I have made one video so far). Is every person who raps doing this? No. Do they have to? Absolutely not. If they’re walking around saying they are a rapper just to say it, or thinking that they can pull cash from the title (very hard to do), but don’t have any intention or passion in their hearts, then that’s a different story. But personally, I sort of cringe at the word. Instead of a rapper, I’m an artist. Does that sound arrogant? Maybe. But that I think most accurately describes what I “try to” do through various media, whether it be music, illustration, or video. I know that I am at least competent (amateur) in all of these things, and I believe I will become excellent (professional) in all, or at least most, of these things.
But back to the original thought that prompted me writing this out. What might be most frustrating is that a sense of comfort about one’s position in life is being inferred from the shared meme, one that connotes a lower standing of the prospective “rapper” relative to the subject consuming the meme’s implied meaning. It is quite puzzling when you consider that this is in reference to an aspect, rap, of one of the most universal art forms — hip hop. Yes, hip hop is really the overarching umbrella that rap sits under, along with four other aspects, all of which make up the Five Elements: graffiti, turntables (DJing), beatboxing, and breakdancing. I digress for a short history lesson. Back to the point. What is confusing to me, both a consumer and creator, observer and subject, is how rap is perceived in some segments of culture. This meme probably wouldn’t work if you replaced rapper with actor, or painter, or writer, even though the latter is a title that most if not all rappers can lay claim to. Yet we have Drake, one of the biggest rappers/artists/performers at this time in history, selling out shows all over the world, putting on his own super-popular spectacular concert weekend, OVO Fest, all over his hometown Toronto. One could argue, well, he already had a name before the music fame. Let’s take a guy like J. Cole then. Sure, maybe not as well-known as Drake, but still very successful, very intelligent (degree from St. John’s University), who parlayed that intelligence, along with talent and above all hard work, and formed a budding career he enjoys today. Let’s not stop there. Let’s take a real local example for me; a guy by the name of Robbie G. I remember this guy putting on shows at my high school, at local arenas too for 20-30 people. He even did a speech on pursuing your dreams at the high school show. What does this dude do now? He flies overseas to perform hip hop shows. He just announced an upcoming Canada-wide tour. How crazy is that?!? On one hand, it is super crazy for him and those who know him, on another hand it probably should seem a lot less crazy to people looking from the outside. People who like to take comfort in and chuckle at this meme, for example.
Now, what if he would’ve seen that meme pop up on his Facebook back then? Maybe he would have gotten discouraged. I know anyone can post almost anything on the internet without a second thought. As Joe Rogan has noted, that is the best thing about the internet and the worst thing about the internet. It would be interesting to know where that post originated. Maybe it was someone who was sitting there, procrastinating, thinking of all the things they wanted to try do in life but never did, and they typed that out to make themselves feel better. That’s the best, or worst, scenario I can think of. But its relative popularity (relative meaning I have seen it at least ten times) is at once unsurprising and sort of disturbing. It’s like, ‘Oh hey, I may be a guy who hates his job, doesn’t like his wife, dog, or life in general, but hey at least I’m not this guy trying to make his dreams a reality through art! Boy would that suck! *inaudible mumbling* *sobbing* *crying* *smashing plates and glasses*…
Between that scenario and ‘trying to become a rapper’, I’ll take the latter any day of the week.
There’s probably a lot more I can say on this topic, but I’ll stop it for now.
This song, Gossip Files by Kanye West, popped into my head as I was typing this out. There are some other video links from the artists mentioned above. And stay tuned to my SoundCloud page, things keep on cooking!
Might as well plug my t-shirt store too: http://neatproductions.bigcartel.com/