Yoh’s Note: About a month ago, my friend Kelechi called me about a music video he recently saw, one that frustrated him on a personal level. The video is Lil Dicky’s “Save Dat Money.” The video is fairly popular, the view counter has reached nearly 13 million and the general consensus is, it’s epic. Kelechi didn’t see epic, the problems he spoke of I have yet to see anyone else mention. Then again, I believe the viewers aren’t rappers that share his experiences. Kelechi’s a rapper, one that has shot music videos and the stories he told me are very different than what you see Lil Dicky accomplished. What I saw in his story is a different perspective, like watching the same video through a new pair of eyes. So instead of just writing an article, I wanted to write his story, from his perspective. I step into his shoes, a young rapper trying to achieve his dreams while running through the jungle we call the industry. In this article you will experience his story and understand what frustrated him about Dicky's visuals. My words, Kelechi's story.
I sit on the sidewalk staring at the red and blue lights illuminated on top of the police car thinking back on the last thing Wes said before we got pulled over, “Why, you aren’t doing anything wrong?” Silly Wes, maybe if he was driving the borrowed 06 BMW 3 Series doing “nothing wrong” would be enough to make it home. My experience with police officers are different than his, much different but so is our skin color. The moment the officer’s car pulled alongside mine I knew my fate was sealed. It wasn’t the first time and I’m certain it won’t be the last. He let me pull ahead just enough to get behind and the blaring sirens told me my gut was right. Wes is still sitting in the backseat with his camera equipment while I’m on the sidewalk, as the officer attempts to uncover any information to prove that the car is stolen. His attempts will only waste his and my time, the car doesn’t belong to me but it belongs to a used dealership, a friend’s father made the opportunity possible for us to use the car in a music video. All the trouble we went through to secure the ride, all this trouble just to shoot a quick scene, for 45 minutes I sat and waited, just another day in Atlanta being young and black.
The house is deserted, foreclosed, and from the outside in excellent condition. Perfect, the outside is all we need for the video shoot. The team and I searched high and low for an adequate home that fit our concept, it was a city wide game of Where’s Waldo? except creeping through neighborhoods can easily be perceived as casing and not location scouting. Especially when the search is for a mansion that has a luxurious appearance. Looking suspicious in neighborhoods populated with rich people is asking for dire consequences. No risk, no reward. The idea is simple, have the lavish, outdoor mansion shot that was prevalent in music videos during the shiny suit/sagging jeans era. The ones where the camera captures their expensive whips parked in-front of what appears to be an extremely expensive home. The cars we have covered, my pop’s Mercedes and Phay’s old Honda Civic, not the fanciest, but shooting from the right angle and a nice enough mansion could truly make the scene grandiose. When your budget is McDonald’s and not Benihana’s you learn to imitate extravagance. The drive to the bourgeois Sandy Springs, Georgia took over an hour, for a shot that hopefully could be captured swiftly. Every minute matters, the house may be empty but the neighbors are all around. The hills truly have eyes.
It’s an early afternoon, the sun is beaming and I’m walking into the strip club. Pretty sure no one will believe that this visit is for business and not pleasure. Maybe a little pleasure but mostly my arrival is to support a friend and fellow rapper's music video. The club owner will only allow him to shoot during the after hours, this is normal protocol, for strip clubs that means during the day time. Despite paying the rental fee, nothing but the space is included. To create the illusion that there’s a crowd, he has to invite as many extras as possible, hence my appearance. Not only did he pay for the space, he had to also pay the strippers, well stripper since there was only one. He couldn’t just appear on the busiest night and capture real people enjoying a real club experience. Regardless of the shortcomings, he had to create a convincing atmosphere. Hopefully his cameraman would work some magic.
Without these moments, I wouldn’t be the artist that I am today. The struggles and hardships are scars that remind me of all the times I’ve walked through the fire, swam with the sharks, felt the strangling grip of failure suffocating me, and how I pushed forward through it all. This is a merciless industry where money talks the loudest, free doesn’t exist, everything has value, and everything has a price. Knowing this, I still chase the dream.
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I was 13 years old the first time I heard Common’s Be from outside my sister’s room, it was the first time an album truly touched me, that feeling of euphoria was enough, I decided then that I wanted to recreate it for others. I decided to be a rapper. 17 is the age when I started taking this dream more serious than anything else in the world. This year, at 25, I became a full time, professional rapper who recently quit his job. It’s no longer a dream, this is my career, and rap is how I make my living. It’s a blessing, the opportunity of a life-time to be a part of the genre and culture that raised me since my adolescence. The more I get into this new life of mine, the more aware I’m becoming of this industry. Awareness is a double-edge sword, the more you know the harder it becomes to enjoy certain aspects. Enjoy certain artists. I recently saw a music video that within the first :30 seconds of watching I said to myself, “This is fucked up.” It’s the reason for all my memories to come flooding back. It was Lil Dicky’s viral “Save Dat Money.”
If you haven’t seen it, the premise is pretty simple; Dicky's goal is to shoot an epic music video with only $350 and a pretty please with a cherry on-top. It’s so outrageous that it partially and purposely feels like a corny MTV parody of a rapper’s music video. You literally watch him walk through affluent Los Angeles neighborhoods, going door to door asking local residents if he can use their homes for a rap video. Complete strangers. No context, no warning, knocking on doors like it’s 1995 requesting to use someone’s sumptuous house and offering nothing in return. The initial reactions are polite rejections but his confidence never wavers despite what appears to be hardship. He has no fear as he runs up to a group of ladies requesting entrance into their homes, every scene caused my eyes to widen with disbelief. Especially once he found someone that accepted his offer, an elderly white woman who probably got her first taste of hip-hop when N.W.A was making headlines back in 1988. It’s easy to perceive this as solely an innocent trust of people’s good grace and generosity, and while it was, I also saw something else. Something I couldn’t ignore.
Once Dicky took money out the equation, I felt him and I was on the same plane, had the same job, and worked in the same field. Without a major label, there is actually very little separating us when stripped down. We are both rappers. I’m familiar with what it takes to shoot a video, rent a car, use a house that isn’t mine, I’ve been in those shoes, but the shoes I walk in would never allow me the luxuries he achieved. It would be different if he used a large budget or a plethora of resources and connections, that I could accept, but his method is what I find troublesome. His only risk was possible humiliation, that the people would remember him as a strange footnote in their day, nothing more.
Me? Walking that same path comes with a greater risk. I don’t expect to go into the Lamborghini dealership and pull a car off the lot, not because I can’t ask, but I’m certain they wouldn’t expect me to bring it back or worse, a cop sees me and assumes I can’t afford such a beautiful piece of expensive machinery. I’m back on the sidewalk again. No club owner will feel generous enough to allow me to benefit from their busiest night by simply offering exposure. I can’t frolic through nice neighborhoods trying to enter the homes of strangers and expect a warm welcome, I can expect fear, and the unpredictable situations that fear can trigger. The ending of my video wouldn’t be so epic.
The rap industry isn’t a place where the word “fair” should be used. I know this. It’s an industry where you should expect a reality check at every corner, for some artists that’s the only check they will ever receive. It’s hard to be a rapper, a struggle rapper, a basement rapper, a black rapper, a white rapper, especially when you don’t have any connections, backing, and most importantly, money. The odds an artist will face will destroy the weak and punish the strong. My plight isn’t with white rappers, my plight isn’t Lil Dicky, it’s with the video that enlarges a limitation I didn’t expect to face in this industry. "Save Dat Money" does not capture reality. My reality and the reality of other black rappers working within the same occupation. Hip-hop has always made me feel like I could do it, beat the odds, but that video reminded me of new odds, actually old odds, ones that simply can't be beaten through hard work and dedication. Dicky's a rapper, I'm a rapper but I’m young and black before I can even tell someone my job title.
"Save Dat Money" is another reminder of the privileges some are allowed. Even in hip-hop. Is it fair? Life has taught me fair isn't a word you use when you're young and black. Fair isn't a word you use at all.
[By Yoh, aka Lil Yoh, aka @Yoh31]