Nathan once said that Drake is the selfie rapper for a selfie generation. If his music is a portrait, the camera is always front facing. His topics never expand beyond himself, allowing us to see ourselves reflected in him. We see ourselves in his drunk phone calls, the failing relationships, the celebratory anthems. Drake is the open book during an era of public diaries, sharing in his music what most share on social media. His success also reflects the times; he’s achieved the money, cars, clothes, and hoes. Despite often displaying the sensitivity of a melodramatic teenage girl, he’s living a life that most could only hope to achieve. His popularity and acclaim is the highest during a time where popularity and acclaim is the most desired. We have drifted away from the vision of the faithful wife, two healthy children, a modest home with a white picket fence, a steady job that we will retire from in 40 years, it's all now outdated. That’s not enough for Drake, that’s not enough for a majority of us. The idea of success, the American Dream, has changed.
“The old American Dream...was the dream of the Puritans, of Benjamin Franklin's "Poor Richard"...of men and women content to accumulate their modest fortunes a little at a time, year by year by year. The new dream was the dream of instant wealth, won in a twinkling by audacity and good luck. [This] golden dream...became a prominent part of the American psyche only after Sutter's Mill." - H. W. Brands, 1849
This was in a post-California Gold Rush society. The entire world was looking for the quickest way to a world of riches and more than one hundred years later it also resonates with the ambitious energy of my generation. Instant wealth, instant acclaim, we want it all, we want it now. The music industry of today is the new age California Gold Rush. History is repeating itself, but instead of streaking gold, every youth with a microphone is trying to strike a hit single, record deal, viral video. All the success stories, the money and fame have conquered a part of our psyche that sees a desirable lifestyle. Not everyone can make it into the NBA or NFL, but the studio doesn’t require rigorous training and scouting, doesn't come with genetic and physical limits. Anyone with the passion can record music and hope it takes them into gigantic homes, expensive cars and riches beyond belief. Rappers, musicians and artists in general are some of the most influential individuals of our time. I’m sure it’s more youth inspired by the Black Album than the Black President. We adopted this ideal dying enormous rather than living dormant. We want to be seen, heard, and acknowledged by any means necessary. #YOLO.
This is the age of celebrity. Not only are we infatuated with the lives of celebrities, there’s an overwhelming willingness to join the circle of stars. Do it for the Vine, do it for the Gram, do whatever it takes to get notoriety. We never question if we should be seen, heard or acknowledged, it’s our birthright. You can be a basketball wife, a pregnant teenager, a duck hunter, searching for love, a washed up producer, there’s a channel that will exploit and showcase your life for profit, giving you fame and celebrity if you’re willing to sacrifice a little integrity. It's a need for validation that's boderline disgusting. I despise reality television, it offers nothing but junk food for the soul. The only thing worse than VH1 is WorldStarHipHop. The website displays the darkest side of our generation, the hunger for attention. The internet gives it, championing the reckless who only care about retweets, reblogs and views. There are those who reach Twitter fame by putting countless hours into disgracing another man, women who spend hours taking scantily clad photos for likes and thumb ups. Remember the teacher that quit her job to twerk? For every talentless pretty face and jackass-esque actors, there’s hilarious comedians and incredible photographers generating huge followings through the same medium. Bobbing and weaving through the endless cluster, the internet is a giant mine field, for every gold nugget you discover there’s fifty pieces of coal.
Hip-hop culture and the entertainment industry has impacted my generation more than any before it. We are dreamers that look at a traditional life as boring, there’s more to life than a 9 to 5 and college loans. Kanye was our leader, we celebrate the college dropout before we applaud the college graduate. That might be the biggest disconnection with our parents. They say get a job, go to school, start a family, and it sounds like the electric chair or lethal injection. For us, higher learning is spending hours on YouTube. Instead of spending time filling out job applications and answering the dullest assessment test, we'd rather be expressing ourselves creatively. We see our heroes living out their dreams and feel inspired to follow their footsteps. To follow a career in art was once looked upon as disgraceful, musicians were seen as penniless bums, and most would die before reaching a plateau where their work was celebrated. What pushed them to create wasn’t followers or fortune, they believe the art itself would compensate for the loss of comfort and respectability. Today, that’s not the case. We aren't like the bohemians before us that accepted poverty for art. To be a starving artist is looked upon as a temporary phase, not a lifestyle. Fortune is a retweet away. The gratification is instant, a song released on Soundcloud can generate thousands of comments and shares. A video can go viral in hours, memes even faster than that. Overnight celebrity can happen to anyone with a cell phone and an internet connection. The perception of the artist has changed dramatically. They are worshipped, they are rich, from the creative to the catchy, the genius to the silly, and we watch them with admiring eyes, imagining a life that we want to live.
What happens if the dream is really a nightmare? Look at Kanye, his life is a juxtaposition of being this monumental figure that we look upon as a creative genius, but his life is constantly being imposed upon by paparazzi. Outside his home he belongs to the cameras, hordes of fans that only want photographs and autographs to share with their followers. He escaped the traditional route, impacted a culture, but seems to have lost his humanity in the process. He’ll never be able to walk amongst his fellow man, he’s seen as much more. Eminem has been a victim of his celebrity for years. There’s a line on Earl Sweatshirt’s "Mantra" that sums up his celebrity perfectly:
“And you ain't ask for this, Now you surrounded with a gaggle of 100 fucking thousand kids, Who you can't get mad at, when they want a pound a pic, Cause they the reason that the traffic on the browser quick, And they the reason that the paper in your trousers’ thick.” - Earl Sweatshirt
We want to get to where they are, and yet, they seemed repulsed by the reward of fame and fortune. Trying to balance the two lives will drive you mad, the pressures of being a role model when all you wanted was to make rap music. It’s a different world once you become the illusion depicted in lyrics and videos.
I hate generalizing, I know my views don’t represent an entire generation, there’s plenty of men and women that look at the values of our parents and grandparents and want that life. Nothing too exuberant, hardworking traditionalists. While others will obtain a modest living in other ways, teetering between this new age and the one before it. There’s no right or wrong way to live your life. I’m just an observer living in this age, watching as screenshots cause divorces, catfishing becomes an epidemic, attention whores multiply by the dozens and the thirst for fame is becoming a contagious disease. The eagerness to get ahead is leaving pools of blood leaking from backs. It’s all about the Benjamins and butt shots, dollar bills and two chains, the materialistic and superficial.
I’m no different. There’s a part of me that wants a huge mansion, a hot tube time machine full of women, a 007 speedboat and the kind of cars and clothes (and gator boots and Gucci suits) you can only find in a Big Tymers music video. It’s a fantasy, one I only entertain when listening to Rich Homie Quan and when I can understand Young Thug. But right now I’m enjoying the simple things, the small pleasures of paying rent and bills with money from writing, along with the weekend bottle of Bourbon. In a way, that’s my American Dream. It took me a long time to get here, anything extra is just a cherry on top. I want it fast, we all want it fast, but that doesn’t mean it’ll last and isn’t that the final goal? To acquire all our deepest desires without fear of repossession? How many heroes have fallen from the top because of carelessness and spent their entire lives trying to reacquire what they lost? There's no quick shortcut to the top, even the climb toward the comfortable middle has become a tedious fight. Success is subjective, especially in today's world. Whatever journey you take, whatever way you define your American Dream never lose sight of why you’re on the journey before you rush to the destination.
Turn that camera forward and never lose sight of you.
[By Yoh, aka the Yohmerican Dream, aka @Yoh31]