One for around your ankle and one for around your neck.
Life is the greatest test. A whirlwind of ongoing experiences that ever defines who we are in every capacity to which we choose to participate. In business, in our personal lives, desired outcomes are tricky, for lack of a better word, to obtain. Most of us wish that success, fame, and wealth could have a clear formula in which one could follow to procure. However that is far from the case. Most people who have reached certain plateaus claim to have universal answers, but often when other people follow such path they fall short and are left defeated. A quote I firmly believe in from a late and great Chinese philosopher and writer named Lao Tzu reads, “The way that can be named is not the eternal way.” Nietzsche said something similar, “You have your way, and I have my way, as for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, that does not exist.” My cognizant interpretation is of the same for both quotes; that their are many ways to get to the same point, none of which are exemplary of an absolute concrete truth.
While out with my son and fiancé riding on the road in the passenger seat yesterday, my fiancé casually gabs, “hello red car going faster than everyone else.” At that moment it was her last five words that rang upon my psyche like a bell of loud and clear acumen. Not unlike anyone else who has a thought rush to their head, my brain exited the literal space it was in and flew into a figurative sphere of insightful premonition. A place where producers and executives trade handshakes and make important calls. What makes an artist stand out beyond his peers and be worthy of such massive support both monetarily, and with encouraging hope and optimism towards the individuals future from the respective heads of the label? What makes an artist rush pass his peers to fame and found glory? How does a rapper balance between an individual desire to maintain the utmost freedom in expression, and the influence of a label; along with all the labels plans and their business motivated goals? Should an artist put mainstream notoriety over local fame and hometown sentiment?
I think there are certain obvious principles, or characteristics that make an artist exceptional beyond their peers, and also certain skills that make an artist remarkable in general. Within the hip hop industry however, I believe there are three common examples of archetypical pathways, and the rapidity of each specific artist’s respective success. Examples ranging from a hyper-speed level of reaching fame such as Brooklyn rapper Designer, to rather slow and relentless efforts to get to his point now of perceivably earned superstardom in the artist 2 Chainz. What about an immense, decades long, Bay Area presence that muds the waters of clear distinction between what in fact is success; mainstream fame and the cash that comes with it, or underground godliness with the unrivaled respect of fans, and an unspoken superiority over the peers you’ve influenced who have succeeded to the mainstream and signed with major labels. This artist is none other than Vallejo, California born rapper turned entrepreneur, E-40. These three artists all have much different pathways of how they got to where they are today, and are the subject of this piece that examines the many avenues an artist may take to reach, such loosely defined, levels of respect and success.
Sidney Royel Selby III (Desiigner), was born just 19 years ago a few days ago (May 3, 1997) , in the “Bed-Stuy” neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY. I won’t get to far into his bio, after-all dude is only 19; I don’t think many of us care much about High School fables. The meat and potatoes of his newly born career is a track produced by U.K.’s Menace, titled Panda. In preparation for this piece like any writing based upon real life, a fair amount of research should always be done. I looked over many interviews, and open source info necessary for such a piece and one interview in particular had some pretty interesting tidbits relating to the rise of Desiigner. It would be most fitting that a 19 year old artist who has excelled rather quickly in the game, would have a beat that was constructed in all of two hours, start to finish, as an aiding mechanism. No offense to Menace, but this piece took longer to write than that. The Genius.com interview with Menace delves into a much talked about topic surrounding Desiigner’s sound. The interviewer simply states, “Panda doesn’t sound like something a Brooklyn artist would make.” Menace attempts to explain by describing his own personal tastes and influences, going on to say that he personally grew up with New York Hip Hop; Biggie, Big Pun, Big L, and Nas. In addition, that Desiigner venturing outside of the box was responsible for him getting signed to G.O.O.D music. He further stated that he too wishes to remain outside the box of trends and do what is different.
I find this a rather interesting perspective, and I not doubt that the popular artist known as Future Hendrix would as well considering the recent similarities between the two, and that the Atlanta Trap sound is now arguably in the drivers seat of the Hip Hop industry. This is the sound that Desiigner gets his influence from, so much that a recent mix tape of his was titled, “Trap History Month.” So you can understand why I may chuckle a bit when I read the words of Menace as he states that Desiigner is being different. I admit that he is not making the sound of norm that would likely come from a Brooklyn artist, but I as well as many people, fans alike, wonder how much of his success comes from his ingenuity of the trap formula and from being at the right place at the right time, as some may call it, luck. This luck was manifested by the purchase of Menace’s track for $200, some clever work in the studio, a bit of traction locally, a play for Kanye by A&R Plain Pat, a meeting between Kanye and Desiigner outside L.A.X to show off Kanye’s implementation of the track on “Part 2” of TLOP (The Life of Pablo), an announcement of Desiigner’s signing to G.O.O.D music at Kanye’s Yeezus 3 fashion show, and boom we have history. I don’t mean to jump genres into Electronic Music and quote a Kaskade hit, but the star’s aligned for Desiigner.
I give him his props, he made a hit record, and I absolutely love the track; you will find me bumping it in the Jeep on any day of the week. I can’t hate on him, he made it. But the point here is, what exactly is “it”? Is “it” to be a source of pride beyond that of any other artist, or the respective two I go on to mention? This I ask the readers, listeners, and critics to decide. However, what I like about Desiigner is his resolve in not shielding himself from hard questions about his quick success. One of which is about his likeness to Atlanta Trap superstar, Future. He openly admires Future’s work and wishes the artist all the best. In his defense, I say there is nothing wrong with having influences, nothing wrong with wanting to reproduce the sound you grew up listening to. The deeper question I want each of us to ponder is should we, would we fault the next up and coming baller for having the sickest of handles and a killer crossover influenced by Iverson, that earned him millions beyond that of his peers on the same courts? After all, it was from Hip Hop that the recent distinction of ballers wanting to be rappers and vice versa came from. Is it ideologically far fetched to realize that most greatness is based upon the genesis and ingenuity of something else? I sure hope not, and likely sure hope Desiigner does not proceed to make me eat such merciful words.
My favorite 2 Chainz track as of now has to be the title track, “Felt like Cappin”, off his recent Felt Like Cappin mixtape. The rapper opens his sixth bar by spitting, “I thumb through the cash right in front of folks, AK on the yacht thats my banana boat.” I like to think that a man as smart as 2 Chainz would normally be quite humble, but when it comes to showing off what he has earned through years of sweat, tears, and swimming through the doubt of others and even his own, the artist born as Tauheed Epps on September 12, 1977 in College Park, Georgia doesn’t have any problem stunting on em’. I call the artist smart because what else do you call a man that has somehow escaped a system rigged opposite his favor. Although the consequences of his actions where undoubtedly brought upon himself through various drug charges ranging from felony cocaine, and a handful of marijuana possession charges all throughout the country mostly in 2013, with exception to the felonious cocaine possession charge when he was 15; Tausheed managed to stay out of trouble, and stay focused on his music.
As half of a Hip Hop duo that reached contestable success, Playaz Circle, with his fellow bandmate and longtime friend Earl “Dollaboy” Conyers, they eventually signed to Ludacris’ s label, Disturbing the Peace. It was in early 2011 that Tausheed decided his previous moniker, Tity Boi, be changed to a more friendly and less derogatory toward women sounding name, 2 Chainz. It was around this time that 2 Chainz reinvented himself and began his long awaited solo career by releasing a mixtape that made it on to the Billboard charts at 58, titled T.R.U. REALigion. This made way for a number of features on hits by well known mainstream engrossed artists like Nicki Minaj, and Kanye West. His first studio released album, Based on a T.R.U.E. Story, dropped in mid August of 2012 with the hit single, “No Lie”, that featured Drake, who was getting hotter by the day at the time. His album that garnered mix reviews did exceptionally well on the charts debuting at #1 on Billboard 200 selling in excess of 288,000 records by the end of the following month, September, after its release. Shortly after, 2 Chainz killed it alongside Lil Wayne performing at The MTV movie awards, went on his first world tour selling out many dates, and was later nominated for three Grammys. That was nearly 4 years ago and 2 Chainz has never looked back or slowed down since.
You can call him resilient, can call him a fighter, a dreamer, and a downright capable business man that always believed himself. I’ll choose only the most distinguishable of adjectives such as intelligent, masterful, and awe inspiring. He ranks as an artist with 9 hits spanning from 2012-2016 sourced from Billboard.com, has worked with many geniuses and amazing artists in the industry. Quite simply he is friends, and has rubbed elbows with some of the most relevant artists of the past and present. I rather enjoy watching a clip from Noisey, Vice’s Music Channel, in Atlanta when they show the rappers hideout and what the rapper has to do on the daily to avoid the fiasco that ensues when he rolls up anywhere in his Maybach. He is a Trap General in a powerful Army of addictive infectious street music with the blessings of President Gucci Mane as a key to the city. Furthermore, 2 Chainz has an impressive career spanning from 2002 to the present delving into television commercials, various programs, and endorsements. He has had his shares of ups and downs, but what can’t be said, is that he didn’t earn where he is today.
However, what is to be said in the realms of judging success about a man that has been in the game far beyond yesterday and who is a quintessential O.G. (original gangster) of Hip Hop. No he’s not from the early 80s or among the likeness of a Curtis Blow or Fab 5 Freddy, but he is for me, for my generation X, a godfather of sorts. The man I am speaking of goes by, and is none other than E-40 of “The Bay”, California. Born Earl Stevens in Vallejo, California he made his rapping debut in 1986 as a member of The Click on an album titled, Let’s Side. The album was released on Sick Wid It Records, a label funded and founded by E-40. One can argue that E-40 was Indie (Independent) before Indie was Indie. It would be seven years later through grinding and constantly working that the rapper reach mainstream success with the 1993 radio play hit, “Captain Save a Hoe”. Still to this day, after all the work he’s done, this track is the single most distinguishing work of his that identifies his classic, unique style of delivering bars of words never heard before in a liquid manner, ever flowing with the kind of chill exemplary of a polar bear with a Kangol and shades on. The following year, 1994, E-40 would become among the first West Coast rappers to sign a deal with a major label, Jive Records. He would release one of his most celebrated works, In a Major Way, under the label in 1995 collaborating with heavy hitters like Tupac and Mac Mall. Although the album had two tracks that were on Billboard’s 100, the fact that E-40 did not have a mainstream audience and the fans that came with it, the album never reached its full potential.
From 1998 to 2008 the artist would greatly expand his collaborative web, and make hits, singles, and Billboard charting albums with many notable artists throughout the country. Those artists include, Lil John, 8Ball, DJ Shadow, his son Droop- E, T-Pain, Youngbloodz, and The Game to name a few. It was this decade that the artist also maintained a weekly radio program in San Francisco called E-Feezy radio that showcased Bay Area Hip Hop. He also tried his hand in comedy playing a characterization of Carlos Santana rapping in 2009, for an album from the group, The Lonely Island. From 2009 to the present he has done even more in making charting singles and albums working with everyone from Tech N9ne, Gucci Mane, and Too Short to Kendrick Lamar, Juicy J, 2 Chainz and Lecrae. I could go on forever writing about and detailing all his work, as I quite honestly can not name an artist that has such an impressive resume with a multitude of varying capacities, and revenue streams because let’s not forget Mr. Earl Stevens is also an entrepreneur. The man has a portfolio of investments, some wiser than others ranging from fast food restaurants, and nightclubs, to a whole variety of beverages such as Wine, Liquor, and his own brand of water.
This bay area based rapper, throughout the many years he has been in the game, has amassed the respect of those at the top of both mainstream and underground markets of Hip Hop for the most obvious of reasons. However I’d like to identify one accomplishment in general that I believe is not only noteworthy, but establishes him as a most deserving of all praise figure in Hip Hop and black communities in general. Anyone ever hear of hyphy? Well E-40 had an instrumental hand in “hyphy’s” development alongside creator, Keak da Sneak. The movement epitomized what E-40 represented, and that is a belief that Bay Area Hip Hop was responsible for far more than the commercial industry ever gave the region credit for. His sound, along with others, would be the soundtrack of hyphy. A movement such as that can only be grounded in one element, in my opinion. That element, that stabilizing driving force is love from the people. That the people feel the energy, and work you put out so much that they choose to live it, revel upon it, daily even, is the godsend required for such a cause. What could exemplify more love from a place, be the more gratifying of an act than have a headstrong, often divided for whatever reasons and beefs, community come together in expression of an adoration for the purpose of mass participation in a movement larger than any individual. All for showing the world the creativity and graciousness in an artistry which exudes locally, and is a homegrown representation of what where you are from has to offer.
Let us not even speak about the success of his 20 plus self distributed and produced albums, or his awards and nominations. What rings true to me and I find far more interesting and driving is that E-40 has opted time and time again to work solely with artists he respects. One can not deny that he has given his soul to Hip Hop and has paid his dues. We should also agree that Earl Stevens is worthy of a title many wish to one day claim; self made millionaire. Regardless of what you think of his music, or if you think his, The Element of Surprise, is among the top West Coast Hip Hop albums of all time like I do, their is something to be said about an artist who has worked through each era of the industry and succeeded to work another day.
At what point do record sales, radio play, and shoving the music down our throats make us love, truly love an artist? If that question can ever be answered, or if it has already been answered, then Hip Hop may be in danger, in my opinion, of losing what’s pure. Hip Hop originated in the streets, and was used as a form of expression from and for those that would never identify as white collared. Alot has changed over the years and I am afraid to know who exactly may pull the strings of some of the industry’ s most celebrated artists, but what will always remain true is that it’s the people that listen, that tune their radio to their favorite station, and stream the tracks they love over and over, that ultimately decide who is truely dope in Hip Hop.
What I love about this genre, Hip Hop, Rap, Trap Music, Black Music (they seriously call it that in Germany), whatever you wish to call it is the same as what I love about art in general; it’s impact is always left to interpretation and you can hardly ever put your finger on it. You can attempt to judge, but someone on an opposing end will often have a sliver of truth to share you never thought of. With that, I believe we can only ever come to a general consensus and rarely a concrete truth. In this vein, we come to the meat of it all. While we attempt to judge varying degrees of success and needlessly argue that Desiigner has but a long way to go in comparison to 2 Chainz and E-40. I ask you the reader; is the point to make a ton of money extremely fast and become equivocally famous at the same rate, or to take a path well traveled, but also well respected, and potentially make far more money and reach even greater levels of fame with staying power? Is freedom to always be your own boss, do things your own way, king in this industry? Is their equal respect in all 3? Should we put respect on all artist’s names (a little shout out to Birdman and The Breakfast Club) at this point? Time for you to be the judge, by your words, your actions, or both; you choose. Thanks for reading.