In an age where Kim Kardashian is currently the world’s greatest performance artist, even the rap world has succumbed to the idea that if you don’t share every single aspect of your existence on social media then it simply didn’t happen. This comes as no surprise since this is the environment that many young rappers have grown up in – it’s second nature at this point. It provides a stark contrast to the mysterious, almost reclusive stars of yesteryear who would only reveal glimpses of themselves through cryptic lyrical references and slanderous gossip printed in teeny bopper rags such as Word Up! magazine.
Rather than attempt to convince you that ‘everything was better back in the good ol’ days of rap’—which is a bold-faced lie—it is indeed worth comparing the pros and cons of these vastly different approaches to managing one’s ‘public image’. Cast your mind back to the days of Latin Quarter and Union Square, where word of you getting dissed by the rapper on stage while you were standing in the crowd or allowing your girl’s gold doorknocker earrings to get snatched while ‘Go Stetsa’ was playing would spread like wildfire and be the subject of mirth on 98.7 KISS-FM by the time Chuck Chillout hit the air on Saturday night. Meanwhile, barbershops were rife with talk of Rakim being locked up on Riker’s Island for selling drugs and Big Daddy Kane having caught AIDS while ‘swinging an episode’, as it were. All in all, it was a time of much shit-talking and wild speculation.
To use a more recent example of how this has escalated, take a look at the unfortunate Troy Ave Weed Carrier Massacre, which apparently involved Troy getting mad at a podcaster by the name of Taxstone. I’m not familiar with Taxstone, since I haven’t listened to a podcast since Dallas Penn left the Combat Jack Show a couple of years back, but I’m assuming he was talking smack about Mr. POWDEEERRRR. I’m not overly concerned about writing something negative about Troy Ave since he’s clearly a podcast kinda guy rather than a big reader, and I do recall enjoying at least one of his songs, so there’s that. Thanks to every jerk everywhere being in possession of a phone with decent video-recording facilities, much of the incident was captured on camera. Not really sure where I’m going here since there was also an entire club full of witnesses so this has nothing at all to do with social media whatsoever. Dang it all to hell!
A better example is the tipping point of unpleasantries between Nicki Minaj’s boyfriend and that ‘Champagne Papi’ fellow, which was allegedly sparked off because Drake neglected to retweet Meek Mill’s album release tweet. This clearly couldn’t have happened in the eighties or nineties. The closest scenario would have been their weed carriers having a shoot-out in front of Hot 97 because of someone talking smack on the radio. What this essentially means is that this climate of hyper-sensitive paranoia and feelings set to 11 means that even the smallest perceived slight can lead to all-out war – or at least some shit-talking on Instagram and some diss songs. Come to think of it, it’s not that far removed from the sort of stuff that used to set off some of these conflicts. I can think of literally dozens of rap beefs that were caused by a rapper dude only putting 10 local knuckleheads on his guestlist at The Tunnel when they specifically requested 25. The more things change, the more they stay the same, indeed.
Beyond the usual dramas, a more significant shift is the way that some rappers now interact with their fans. The polite young men known as Pro Era have gone as far as to miss plane flights in order to console depressed fans, which speaks volumes as to how much more connected these young whippersnappers are. I personally don’t put much stock in this whole touchy-feely nonsense, but hey, whatever floats your boat. The only feelings anyone was willing to display on a record back in the days were:
- Lust or heartbreak.
This kept things pretty simple. Rappers were something to aspire to, even if they weren’t always ideal role models. This meant that there was also a certain disconnect – they were to be be admired/hated from afar, be it on stage, on record, or on the radio. The only way you could show your appreciation was to buy all their records, put a few posters on your wall and maybe even send a stamped, self-addressed envelope containing $20 to their fan club address. Jump forward to the present day and ardent fans can aspire to having something they’ve tweeted about their hero possibly ‘liked’ or (be still my beating heart) retweeted by said rapper’s official account. Sure, 90% of the time it’s run by their Social Media Consultant or an unpaid intern (often one and the same, oddly enough), but at least it feels real enough.
Perhaps it speaks more of the ‘everyman’ appeal of the likes of J. Cole and Joey Bada$$. While there will always be a place for the theatrics of Kanye and Gucci Mane, it seems that many rap fans prefer to relate to more grounded personalities who make positive, inspirational music and aren’t afraid to reveal their weaknesses to the world. Me? I’m just glad that I didn’t have to see the much-discussed rivalry between Big Daddy Kane and Rakim played out in 140 characters.