Violent, uncontrollable anger is how the dictionary defines the word rage. Rage is hard to soothe, a challenge to calm—think of a bull staring down the color red. I found it interesting that Joe Budden wanted to change his rap moniker to Rage—the word he feels perfectly captures what a person would feel if he walked them through his history in the music industry. 13 years ago Joe Budden signed to Def Jam—his entrance into the industry and his exit from any fairy tale dream of what it would be like if he signed to a major. Def Jam assisted in the successful single “Pump It Up,” assisted with the success of his debut album, but that’s where their assistance ceased.
What followed was a dark period, a time where the label placed him on a shelf to rot. He’s spoken about not having a recording budget, not having an A&R, not being supported by Jay Z, blackballed and blocked out from the mainstream for four years. Abandoned from his label like a stray dog, there was nowhere to go but the underground. Def Jam is only part of Joe Budden’s story—it never got easier, the path he walked was paved with hardships. There’s a scar for every penny he earned, a constant reminder that he fought for all that he obtained. Joe looked at 13 years in this business, and what he saw in the reflection was rage.
There’s a beauty in finding one word that captures your career. It’s like having to pick one word as the title of your autobiography—a book filled with your life and represented by one simple word. I wanted to do as Joe Budden did and try to find one word that encompasses the careers of various artists. Artists are complex, no one word can truly do them justice, but I tried to pick what best defines them.
Chance The Rapper: Maverick
"No, no, no" is what Chance The Rapper told every label that knocked on his door. He sent away Def Jam, he sent away Roc Nation, he sent away Atlantic Records—he sent everyone away with their contracts in hand. Without their helping hand, he has gone above and beyond what was believed to be possible for an independent artist. Chance’s every move is more outstanding than the last— late night television, Kit-Kat commercials, music festivals, encouraging voting, helping the homeless, and now starring in a feature film. He has rapped, sung and performed at a level of excellence that’s both astounding and motivating, and it has taken him places that no one imagined. His every accomplishment, all done while wearing the badge of independence, is unlike anything we have ever witnessed. If I had to pick one word for Chance The Rapper, one word that captures how he is a beacon of light and inspiration in a dim, dark industry, that word would be “Maverick.”
The Notorious B.I.G.: Tragic
Lil Yachty might define Biggie Smalls as overrated, but he would be making a poor assessment of one of the greatest rappers to ever grace this undeserving planet. What he was able to do with words is worthy of a Pulitzer Prize. Biggie's music was literature, poetry, an illustration of the world he created—he didn’t just rap words, he brought them to life. Life, the very thing that rap gave Biggie, and the very thing rap took from him. Who knows what happens if Biggie never gets into the beef with Pac, if the East vs. West issues never escalate—he could be in the booth right now sinking a Little Boat or two. Sadly, he didn’t survive to see the new millennium or the millennials. Biggie died before seeing how big he could be, he died leaving the world with only two official albums (both classics), and a void that can never be filled. There’s a lot of beauty in his story, but also a lot of sadness and grief. Ultimately, I believe the story of Biggie Smalls is a "Tragic" one.
Anderson .Paak: Patience
Anderson .Paak is having a year to remember. He is being revered far and wide for his musical excellence. He is the musician that people look to when they need an infectious groove, he is the voice that other artists obtain when they need to add some soul to their records, and he is the performer you see when you want to feel the music surging through your bones. The industry is accepting and embracing Anderson because he was unafraid to master the sound he desired instead of chasing what was being upheld as popular and modern. He’s a new artist to most, a familiar voice to some, but his journey has been an extremely long one. There’s nothing about his career that happened overnight. This is one artist who truly put in his 10,000 hours, if not more. What we should take from Anderson’s extensive journey is that he’s an artist of “Patience.” He mastered one of the world’s oldest virtues and is reaping the benefits.
Young Thug: Chaos
Young Thug is one of the most baffling, yet intriguing artists in all of rap music. Some artists walk on the wild side, Thug has built his entire career on that street. There’s not a single conventional trait about Thug, and it’s one reason people find him so appealing. Thug follows a combination of Lil Wayne and Gucci Mane’s art of oversaturation—the studio is his lair and he has recorded and released enough music to fill up a 64gb iPod alone. He has an unorthodox voice and an even more bizarre way of using it. He is shrouded in myths of extreme drug abuse, gambling addictions, unhealthy eating habits, and he's attracted to trouble the way children are attracted to candy. Thug is quick to show his guns, and even quicker to comment online if you’re seeking beef of any kind. To know Young Thug is to be completely consumed in a world of “Chaos,” a beautiful chaos. There’s no better word to define him and his unbelievable career.
2 Chainz: Inexorable
Tity Boi signed to Ludacris as ½ of Playaz Circle sometime in the early 2000s. The duo wouldn’t release their debut album until 2007. It was a moderately successful album thanks to the Lil Wayne-assisted single “Duffle Bag Boys.” They were a group that had promise, but their time in the spotlight was short-lived. A few years later, when the artist 2 Chainz emerged with infectious, Southern street bangers and a flood of mixtapes, many people thought he was a new artist. To call him new was inaccurate, but rather an old artist that found a new, broader audience. A new name and a refined sound gave Tity a second chance at being a star. 2 Chainz gave him a second chance at stardom, another chance to be drenched in the spotlight, and that light has yet to dim. Perseverance is what got 2 Chainz here, a rapper who never gave in to fatigue or frustration—a true fighter with the work ethic of a man who refused to fail. Vocabulary.com says when you see the word "inexorable" think, "No one's stopping that." 2 Chainz is inexorable, impossible to stop.
Gucci Mane: Survivor
Before the release of his debut album, Gucci Mane was in an altercation where he took a man's life who was trying to rob him. It was the beef between him and Jeezy that caused the event to take place. It's a terrible way to enter the music industry. Altercations and incidents would follow Gucci like a ghost throughout his career. Just like Thug, Gucci was a walking swirl of chaos that attracted madness like moths to light. Yet, what made Gucci so prolific is a work ethic that is rivaled by few. Despite all the trouble, he continued to make music. Music that kept fans fed until he could return for good. After returning from his latest bid, Gucci has been a new man. He’s making better decisions and his career is shining brighter than ever. For all he’s been through, it’s rather impressive that he has survived the times and continues to remain relevant. After dancing with more than a few devils, he still has his life and his career. With an ironclad spirit, Gucci has beat all the odds. He is resilient, but a more fitting word for his career is “Survivor.”
Kendrick Lamar: Passionate
One of the first songs I heard from Kendrick Lamar that made me see his promise as an emcee was “The Heart, Pt. 1.” You can feel the fire burning off his every line—as if he would combust if he couldn’t breathe these words into a microphone. Somehow, he has continued to turn that fire up as his career has progressed. There’s never been a verse where Kendrick has sounded lazy, uninspired, or apathetic. What keeps Kendrick’s pen sharp is a deep desire to be better—better than his contemporaries and better than the rapper he was yesterday. I know the world will speak highly of Kendrick when it’s all said and done, but when we talk about his career, I hope one word that people remember to use is “Passionate.” Very few rappers have approached their craft with his unwavering passion for greatness. Passion runs through the veins of his every song and video, and we should treasure that overlooked quality in his art.
Joey Bada$$: Nostalgia
Joey Bada$$ entered rap's consciousness with a style that you wouldn’t expect to come from a child born in ‘95. He was coming out of the womb during a golden time for rap music. By the time he was a teenager rap had a completely different sound and was in a completely different state. He was told hip-hop was dead. I don’t know how that affected him, but he wasn’t a student of today, he was a student of yesterday, and it filled listeners with a nostalgia for a time forgotten in the mainstream. Joey wasn’t just a rapper who cared about lyrics, he channeled and embodied what made '90s rap such a beautiful era. He wasn’t trying to mimic the South but embraced his Northern roots. Joey is more than a reflection of the past, he has range, the single “Devastated” showed that he could expand into a more modern tune and the music wouldn’t suffer. Still, I think Joey Bada$$ will forever be synonymous with nostalgia, the golden era, and '90s hip-hop. Pastiche is a word that is defined as, “An artistic work in a style that imitates that of another work, artist, or period.” Joey entered the game as a pastiche of what came before, and he’ll have to drop a modern Illmatic to make people forget. The boy who brought the '90s back. The artist who filled us all with "Nostalgia."
Pimp C: Anti
Pimp C did not care about conforming or changing for the sake of the industry. He didn’t care about kissing the ring of any artist for the sake of his career. Pimp C spoke his mind and moved to the beat of his own morals. What Pimp C will be remembered for outside of his music, is being a man who made every decision based on how they made him feel. Jay Z learned first hand that an incredible opportunity wasn’t enough to sway the resilient pimp. The only moves he made were the ones he wanted to or the ones you could convince him to do. He had the spirit of a rebel and the balls to tell anyone how he felt. Pimp C is a case where a word doesn’t define him, he defines a word—in the dictionary place his picture next to the definition of "Anti."
Mac Miller: Transformative
Mac Miller wanted to be a rapper. Before he was old enough to drink, he was able to find success doing just that. With a fan base that was buying his albums, buying tickets for shows and purchasing merch, Mac could’ve easily been satisfied living within Blue Slide Park—frat rap that resonated strongest with suburban white kids. Deep down, he didn’t just want to be a rap star, but someone who was respected as a rapper. He cared about the same craft that he cherished growing up. With each album, Mac Miller grew into a more well-rounded rapper. His flow got sharper, his punchlines got stronger, and the content was personal and captivating. Artists are supposed to improve with every album, but Mac was changing, evolving, shedding his past self and rebuilding as a better artist. When we talk about Mac Miller’s career it has to be done with an evolution chart. He has had one of the most “Transformative” careers I’ve ever witnessed.
By Yoh, aka Yohtionary, aka @Yoh31.
Art Credit: Will Prince