Here at DJBooth, it's always about the music.
Ok, so not always...
Still, for every "make fun of Drake" article there are ten features that really go beyond the hype, ignore the bullshit and put the music above all else. It makes me proud to work for a site that I respect so much. I've been writing for The DJBooth for damn near three years now, but I've been a backpacker for over a decade. Even though mainstream stuff doesn't make my blood boil like it used to - I had a deep, brooding hate for all things major label - I still consider myself a backpacker, an elitist, a snob. I love hip-hop with all my heart and consider myself a soldier in the war to keep our culture respectable. It's why i'm tough on the Lil' Dickys of the rap world.
These gimmicky, joke rappers don't rattle me to my core like they used to, but at the same time my backpack was the tightest when Wacka Flocka Flame was at his career peak. I didn't dislike him they way I do Dicky, but I damn sure didn't respect him as a rapper. When I would need an artist who represented all that was wrong with rap, Waka would be one of the first names out of my mouth. If I needed to prove the inferiority of the radio to the underground, "No Hands" was exhibit A. After "No Hands," the only other Waka song I really ever listened to was the "Same Shit Remix" and it was completely ironic. A guy named OJ Da Juiceman and a guy named Waka Flocka Flame on the same song? That little Nascar power wrench sound? What's not to love laugh at? Waka was a comic figure to me, someone I could name my fantasy football team after - shout to my championship winning, Sav Rocca Flocka Flames - but never someone I would listen to...ever. I don't think I was alone in that feeling either. Though he's remained productive, switching from harder trap rap to more of an EDM-driven party lane, one could ague it was out of necessity. After the buzz from "No Hands" and "Hard In The Paint" subsided, nobody in hip-hop was taking him seriously and, as a result, nobody paid attention. His last charting single was in 2012 - "Get Low" came in at number 72 and had features from Nicki Minaj, Tyga and Flo Rida - the same year as his last album, Triple F Life: Friends, Fans & Family. Can you name a single record off that album? I'll wait..
In my mind, in the mind of many hip-hop heads, Waka was an afterthought.
The flame had been extinguished.
Flash forward to April 28, 2015. Pigs are flying, hell has frozen over, I'm excited for music from Waka Flocka Flame. Even more surprising than serious interest in a guy I once considered a joke is how he's managed to get me interested; by joking. Earlier this year I talked about the power of personality when it came to my appreciation for Action Bronson. In Waka Flocka's case it's even more of a factor. While he grabbed my attention with his Fire Squad freestyle (holy shit, who knew he could rap like that?) I wasn't even close to sold. It takes more than a freestyle to impress this backpacker. When it comes to weed humor, though, I'm much less sophisticated; it's why I was enamored with his Pine Brothers cough drop commercial.
Even better than the commercial itself was the response. In an interview with HipHopWired.com, Pine Bros. Marketing Vice President, David Roach said, "Waka single-handedly doubled sales, I’ll say that, and maybe tripled." How amazing is that? It may have been a goofy commercial but there was something about Waka Flocka that people responded too. Shit, he was selling more cough drops than albums. JAY Z showed us with TIDAL that popularity and platinum albums don't do shit if the people don't identify with you, and conversely Waka showed us just what can happen when you get on our good side. Waka's funny. He's charismatic. He's goofy and, dare I say it, he's charming. I may not have needed cough drops, but I was starting to catch Waka fever. I was interested in him, but I had no expectations for anything else. I was going to write this article weeks ago but then stopped. Was my growing like for Waka really sustainable, or would it fade into internet obscurity? And then this week hit and it became clear he wasn't fading anytime soon.
Man, he's fucking funny. Not "look a rapper running for president" funny (although, yeah, that) but truly and genuinely funny. He seems like a guy who I would want to have a few beers (or bowls) with. Like the cough drop commercialthere was an authenticity to his humor. Also like the cough drops endorsement, people responded. Though none of us had a copy of Triple F's, #WakaForAmerica broke the internet.
What really won me over is his natural humor and comfort in the "funny rapper" role. When I realized Waka was aware of who he was and was comfortable with it, I became more comfortable with the notion that I could enjoy his music. I'm realizing that's what actually matters the most. As soon as you can sense someone reaching, trying to be something they're not, it's hard to like them. But when it's obvious that someone's being so completely, naturally themselves, that can be powerful. So now, I find myself not bemoaning Waka's existence but looking forward to seeing what he can bring musically. You know how many "Devil In a Dress" listens it took for me not to hate Rick Ross? How many runs I gave Action Bronson before I really became a fan? Music is the ultimate proving ground for me and, yet, through funny videos, though NPR coverage of his blunt roller search, through literally everything but the one thing that actually matters, Waka's made me care. He's developed an identity, a voice, an interest outside of music that's ready to pour over into the music. Now that I feel like I know him, now that I'm interested in who he is as a person, I can approach his music more openly. Now, I'm ready to listen with a newly-formed, THC-filled mind.
All that's left is new music...
NOTE: As I write this, though, it looks like new music might be far off. Just yesterday, Waka took to Twitter to express his displeasure with Atlantic Records. Guess we'll have to wait longer for Flockaveli 2. In the meantime, here is Waka reading Fifty Shades Of Grey. Told you he was the greatest.
[Lucas Garrison is a writer for DJBooth.net. His favorite album is “College Dropout,” but you can also tweet him your favorite Migos songs at @LucasDJBooth]