Uncertainty is a snake that coils around the heart and squeezes the life out of your hopes and aspirations. It’s a silent suffocation, a feeling that I know all too well. I look at my friends, many of them being rappers, and each one carries a snake in their chest. With good reason, they’re on a path full of deceitful wolves in business suits, decapitated dreams and the sound of growling stomachs starved for success. It all seemed so easy back in the lunchroom rapping to the sound of a fist colliding with a table, spitting bars full of hope, striving to follow in the footsteps of their heroes. Heroes that are warriors who saw the darkness, bathed in the struggle, danced through hellfire and lived to tell the tale. Through rap we watch them conquer their hardships and the rewards they achieve that gleam with a brightness that can rival an illuminated Las Vegas strip. Through them, we see endless possibilities; the motivation that allows us to tame the slithering serpent. Rappers give us hope.
The Kanye West that wrote the verse on “Spaceship” spoke a language that resonated with an entire generation of fed up workers. He walked in our shoes of loathing, hating his boss, despising his job, spending three summers making five beats a day in hopes of escaping the purgatory that is retail customer service. It’s a song for all the underdogs that are biding their time, waiting for the phone call that will change their life. We all know someone immensely talented, watching the hours die while selling graphic tees at Urban Outfitters, cleaning up vomit at a daycare, any job that’s excruciatingly unfulfilling. Seeing where Kanye is now, even if he’s transformed into some fashion-mad entity, one listen to “Last Call” and you are reminded of where he came from. His triumphant is one of the most inspiring, he was truly someone whose self-belief turned others into believers.
All of us will be faced with some type of struggle in our lifetime. To be alive is to suffer, the rich and the poor, no one is excluded from the plague of living. Art is where you can manifest that struggle into odds-defying creativity. There’s nothing better for the soul than uncontaminated, unrestrained, human emotion. That’s why so many are enchanted by hip-hop, it’s an art form, self-expression at its purist. We connect with the artists who aren’t afraid to show their scars, share their misfortune. The street hustlers, the lonely stoners, the born sinners, the addicts, the homeless, even the young actor fighting to be taken seriously as a rapper, it’s not just the music but the man or woman and their lives that have an impact on fans.
Knowing that background information can create a passionate support for those that create their own path, it’s a natural magnetism that attracts people to fellow underdogs. That’s why shows like American Idol and America's Got Talent are successful, they showcase regular people with remarkable talent. You want to root for someone climbing from the bottom. That very bottom is where a lot of fans find their favorite artist. Someone they can relate to.
GoldLink used the word “organic” during his interview with Rosenberg to describe his early success through Soundcloud. His first song, “Electric Relaxation,” achieved 30,000 plays within a month. An unknown artist with no buzz or co-signs able to do astounding numbers without lifting a finger. He didn’t have an answer for how, no organized plans, and no marketing strategies. He then continued with his story, how the next few releases did even bigger numbers, 60K, 100K, numbers that Troy Ave has wet dreams about. It’s not possible, I thought. It’s not that easy, I thought. I know he named his album God Complex but the feat he’s describing is almost more astounding than walking on water.
In the age of honesty, we are truth seekers. It’s a natural nosiness that was developed when the walls of separation were wrecked by social media. Artists, especially in hip-hop, are expected to be real and authentic. The infatuation with authenticity comes from believing that the music artists make in hip-hop is sacred. Lyrics are believed, images are taken seriously, in life or in the music industry, all stories are true. If there were laws attached to the culture, one would state that all frauds be beheaded. Off with his head, I thought.
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Where is his snake? How does one go from VA bedroom to VSCO with Rick Rubin without some kind of magic? His story is too miraculous to naively believe, but lately, it seems like miracles are sprouting from the ground. I love "White Iverson," but what’s the story behind Post Malone? Another unknown name that has released minimum material but is receiving immense attention seemingly without a major co-sign. Are we considering his rise to fame an organic takeover? The word “industry plant” has gotten popular lately. A concept similar to Nathan’s “Mindie” artist, secretly developed by labels for world domination. It’s an interesting tactic, lying to an audience that continues to beg for something real, authentic, and true. The labels turned the sincerity of grass-roots followings into a marketing ploy when fans began to view their machine and the mainstream as a poison that would taint their beloved artist. Hip-hop fans romanticize that artistic independence is synonymous with purity. We are often willfully naïve.
"It was the first song I ever put out really." —Post Malone, Fader Interview
Signed or unsigned, god given talent or industrial plant, all these terms should be irrelevant when the music is good, but I can't shake the bitter taste of feeling like I'm being lied to, or at least having the truth obscured. I’m still waiting for XXL to admit the real reason Kidd Kidd was allowed into admission into the Freshmen 10. Raury, for example, was presented to the world as a Jimmy Neutron-esque genius taking the industry by storm, and he is undeniably talented. But it wasn’t until later that his team, LoveRenaissance, started talking about their role. That a team discovered him at 15 and has been working with him, curating his every move for three years. They wanted us to believe that it happened organically, to make Raury appear literally overnight nearly perfectly formed, without a crumb of previously released music. It was obviously an effective strategy and an inspiring narrative that we latch onto. We root for the underdog that makes us believe we can overcome the odds, but it's crucial to realize their odds aren’t handled alone. I understand that all the big moves and checkmates happen behind the scenes, that perhaps the idea of an artist who rises without a well-connected manager, a tirelessly working team or a label helping increase the whispering buzz is a fantasy.
We don’t have connections, no labels making clandestine deposits, no carefully curated team ensuring our very first video looks worthy of Cannes. We only have us, and so we look to those who only had them, fueling their rise because their spaceship is our spaceship. But when an artist emerges immaculate from the ether, telling stories of accidentally stumbling into musical success through a casual Soundcloud upload, Andre 3000 coming to your show because even 3 Stacks can’t deny your organic talent, we’re impressed, but we’re also removed, held at a distance by the projection of God-like perfection. Maybe it really is that easy for some, maybe in 2015 Kanye could have made five beats a day for a week, uploaded them to SoundCloud, gone viral and blown up on all the blogs, but then “Last Call” would have been a two minute song, his spaceship would have stayed forever grounded.
We love the rappers who give us hope, but hope without hardship is luck, and we can't do anything with someone else's luck.
Update: After posting this story, some people put us onto the fact that GoldLink was previously putting out music as Goldlink James as early as 2012. With rare exception, like "Gutter Glitter," "Black Ski Mask" and "Facelift" his music and identity as Goldlink James has been largely erased—his Bandcamp, Twitter, and Facebook have been closed down—and it appears that he relaunched his career as GoldLink (without the James) with "Electronic Relaxation" as the first released song under the new name and with a new emphasis on anonymity.
By Yoh, aka the Yoh Complex, @Yoh31