From Kendrick to Lil Wayne, the Beauty of Watching Rap Heroes Become Fans

Even the most powerful rappers can quickly turn into stans when they meet their own heroes.
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When he was 19 and fairly unknown, Young Thug made a declaration on camera during an interview—he was coming for Lil Wayne and Young Money. The statement wasn’t some boastful challenge to one of the biggest rappers and collectives of the era but a prophecy about the future he foresaw, that he would join their ranks and inherit the torch from his idol. Wayne was his Superman and that alone made him want to fly. 

So imagine Thug’s inner 19-year-old four years later when he saw footage of Drake turning up to “Danny Glover” in the club or the first time he heard Nicki’s remix. He was being accepted and embraced, it’s like finally reaching the cool table in your senior year after watching them eat from far away since you entered the halls of high school. Thug was a perfect match for Young Money, he fit into the unorthodox family that turned a Martian, a child actor, and a Barbie into the biggest rappers in the music industry. 

Young Thug made it into the Cash Money/Young Money home but had yet to get approved by the man of the house, at least not publicly. It was safe to assume he would appear on the Rich Gang mixtape, but when it was finally released, it was without the boss. It wouldn’t be until a few months later when news started circulating that a second Rich Gang mixtape was on the horizon, that we received “Take Kare,” the first offering of what Young Thug and Lil Wayne would sound like together. Complex recently ran a story with Alex Tumay, Thug’s engineer, in which there’s a small section where he walks us through the magic moment of when Thug first heard the verse.  

“Take Kare” was recorded sometime in the summer of 2014, before Birdman and Weezy's issues escalated into lawsuits, bus shootings and petty disses. Thugger wasn’t aware that Wayne would be appearing on the song, it was a secret that Birdman kept from him as a surprise. During a session in Atlanta, Birdman brought Thug into the room to play the song. After his two verses, Lil Wayne appears at the end and Thug is shocked. Alex describes how he placed his hands over his mouth, how I imagine women do when they are surprised by a proposal. This is a moment that he spent years imagining, dreaming and hoping would occur. For six hours straight, it’s the only song that played in the studio. In those six hours, I can’t imagine anyone in that studio could have predicted where they would be a year later—that heroes would become enemies, loving fathers become Prison Wardens, partners as thick as thieves becoming assassins sticking knives in each other’s back. 

Thug and Wayne’s relationship makes me wonder what the studio session was like the day Wayne first heard Jay Z’s verse on "Mr. Carter." Especially since the verse metaphorically passes the torch to the kid who once rapped “Best rapper alive, since the best rapper retired.” It was a gesture that you can only hope to receive from your hero. Wayne idolized Jay, he was the rapper he respected most, the man he aimed to be better than, it’s not a coincidence that some of Wayne’s most quoted verses (example 2 & 3) are songs that relate back to Jay Z. It wasn’t without notice, Jay attempted to court Wayne to Roc-A-Fella back in 2005, a situation that Birdman intervened in, eventually leading to Wayne re-signing and being gifted the Young Money imprint. Throughout the years their relationship has had it’s fair share of turbulence, both sides have sent shots, but it never went beyond the booth. Wayne is no stranger to how quickly a handshake can become a jab. It’s an interesting parallel to his relationship with Thug, funny how history repeats itself. Last year when Wayne joined Tidal he made the announcement during a concert, saying excitedly, “I just signed a deal with my motherfucking idol, Jay Z.” After all these years, after all the battling, he still looks to him as an idol. I’m certain that Thug feels the same.

Despite not knowing exactly what occurred when Wayne first heard Jay's verse on “Mr. Carter,” there’s actual candid footage of the first time Kendrick Lamar heard Jay Z’s verse on “Don’t Kill My Vibe.” The video shows Kendrick in the studio during a session. He was told that there was some tweaks made to his single and that everyone wanted him to hear them. You can tell by his attentive face that he was listening closely for the smallest of changes. When Jay starts to rap, his face goes from stunned to the largest grin as he looks over his shoulder. Everyone is in attendance, Jay Rock, Ab-Soul, ScHoolboy, the entire studio all grins as they watch him, trying to gauge his response. There’s a few lines that he’s obviously impressed by, even going as far to saying he bodied it, but I think it’s hearing Jay rap on his song that truly has him. I think Kendrick knew that there was talks of Jay blessing the song but had no clue that his verse was sent. Top Dawg kept it a secret for this very moment. Kendrick’s reaction is incredible, but it’s Ab-Soul who is truly beside himself. Jay Z is the rapper that he once wanted to rap like and now his labelmate has a verse from his favorite rapper. He says, “Dog, they really let us in the rap game. I can’t believe this,” that’s what the moment signifies. Having a verse from Jay meant we made it. We’re in the door. A solidifying nod from someone that they grew up listening to. It’s a feeling I believe is more rewarding than a Billboard chart. Kendrick spent an entire day writing his verse, knowing that he had to stand up to a legend and stand beside a hero.

While Kendrick was cool and collected, not every artist is able to stay so calm when being saluted by someone they admire. Tyler The Creator is probably the loudest rapper in the world, a man who has no problem screaming his praise and publicly worshiping his heroes and idols. On numerous occasions he has gushed over his favorite songs and the artists that made them. Since I can remember he has been very open and adamant about preaching the gospel of Pharrell, anyone that listens to Tyler and N.E.R.D can hear the connection. When he rapped, “In My Mind did more for me than illmatic” it wasn’t a jab at '90s hip-hop but a very pure sentiment. When you watch Tyler cry as Pharrell performs “Rockstar”(his favorite song) at the Camp Flog Gnaw carnival you truly feel that this is someone he idolizes. He is literally so overwhelmed that he is crying in the front row, the way people used to cry over their favorite artist, now they have cellphones and rather get selfies. Tyler is the epitome of a child at times but the clip is so sincere it reminds us how beatiful looking up to someone can be. We all have an artist that meant the world to us, he just happens to be in a position where that artist is now a peer and a friend but he never stopped being that hero who made an album that meant the world to teenage Tyler.

Admiration isn’t just for the young, you can be any age and still find someone that you hold in the highest regard. Yasiin Bey has no problem with praising the lyrical prowess of MF DOOM. Last year he put out a small project covering seven DOOM records, shocking since he’s so sporadic with releasing new material. While the covers are impressive, I think the video of him rapping DOOM during a studio session really captures how much he respects the masked genius. This man is a true fan. He’s literally in front of a camera reciting the lyrics from memory, laughing between bars like a child re-watching their favorite re-runs of The Simpsons. He even boldly states that he would bet a million dollars on DOOM against Lil Wayne, this is during a time where Wayne was on fire but Yasiin firmly believed that he could not go toe to toe with Mr. All Caps. It’s common to see young rappers show affection for their elders so it’s nice to see a veteran tip his hat to another. If the two ever collaborated it would be a beautiful day for hip-hop but I think Yasiin is content with just being a fan. Reminding us that sometimes you don’t have to meet your heroes, admiring from afar is enough.

It’s easy to get wrapped up in the competitive spirit and dramatic beefs, entertained by raps constant battles but it’s also nice to acknowledge how the industry is full of people in a business with others that they grew up aspiring to be like. Kobe got a chance to play Jordan, Lebron got a chance to play Kobe, even though on the court they’re out for blood, seeking the win, there has to be something joyous about your adversary being the same person who used to hang from your bedroom walls. When Rapsody meets Dr. Dre and he is such a fan he wants to do a drop for her or Nas listens to a J. Cole song about letting him down after meeting him for the first time while sitting behind him on an airplane or when Kid Cudi surprised Travi$ Scott during his studio session with A-Trak and took him on a drive playing new music while the Houston rapper cried in the back seat. It’s these moments that you can't buy but are worth more than any amount of money. Moments that make you want to meet your heroes in this small business and hope that your art has touched them the way theirs has touched you.

Once you've lost the ability to still be a fan, you've lost everything. 

By Yoh, aka MF YOH, aka @Yoh31

Photo Credit: Noel Vasquez/GC Images

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