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Drake, Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole & How a New Generation of Artists are Managing Fame

Fame comes with popularity, but every artist gets to choose how big their fame grows.
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“From Po’ Pimpin’ to Poppin’ Tags, from Champions to Slow Jammin’, oh baby we can make you an overnight celebrity” —Twista, "Overnight Celebrity"

“Overnight Celebrity” captures the spirit of a rapper who is enjoying his achievement of relative fame due to a rise in popularity. Twista boasted as if he was awarded the magical gift of turning any basement Cinderella into the next Paris Hilton. It’s unlike Kanye bragging about knowing Talib on “Breathe In Breathe Out,” Twista wants this woman to know who he is and the power that he holds. Celebrity isn’t treated with rejection or loathing—Twista sunbathes in the newfound spotlight; he doesn’t run from it. When the spotlight began to dim, he didn’t chase after it but accepted his time had come to an end. You don’t cease to be a celebrity, you just become less famous. Kanye was different than Twista, he only became more famous after their 2004 collaboration. The spotlight placed on him burned with a blinding brightness, a spotlight fitting for the world's most renowned.

How alluring is that spotlight? To know that paparazzi, not death, is waiting at every corner? To know your life is constantly being examined with applause and ridicule? To know the power and great responsibility of influence with your every action? You completely lose any idea of what a regular, ordinary life resembles; a true imbalance of fantasy and nightmare. I believe Kanye wanted to be famous—immensely famous—but how do you prepare for that transition? Who teaches you to be a role model? Is there a class to handle a camera in your face at all hours? Is there a teacher to deal with constantly being the center of attention? It's strange enough to stand on stage and perform, now imagine having to carry those glaring eyes everywhere you go. We watched as Kanye became more famous during the early boom of social media—when cell phones were becoming recording devices as idols were becoming more accessible. All the walls of separation that were once in place started to topple, Mount Olympus was suddenly closer to Earth.

I think about André 3000 in comparison to Kanye, someone who rejected the glaring eyes of fame. “I hated all the attention so I ran from it,” André rapped a few years ago on T.I.’s “Sorry.” A confession and an apology to Big Boi on why he turned down the chance to stand on the biggest stages in front of the biggest crowds. He knew that he was becoming much bigger than he could handle; not every soul is prepared to become a giant. For a while André did handle it, fame for rappers back then was a bit different, it seemed more manageable. OutKast just reached a point where they were the most famous, and that could no longer be managed.

DJ Khaled is someone who treats fame like it’s a big party. This summer I witnessed him receive the kind of reaction that resembled a modern-day Beatlemania. Snapchat turned him into a phenomenon, even the birth of his son was worthy to be watched by all his followers. He is the kind of person who enjoys the attention and seeks to be entertainment for others. The same can be said of Kanye. This is Kanye's era, he's easily one of the most influential people in music, but I see very few artists trying to follow his path to be the biggest artist in the world. 

I look at an artist like J. Cole and see more André than Kanye or Khaled. He’s immensely popular, pretty famous, but he’s still holding on from crossing completely over to the other side. Cole still cherishes his privacy. The album that he wanted to release as a surprise was spoiled by retailers. The marriage that he hoped to keep hidden came out by complete accident. Now rumors are spreading that his wife is carrying their first child, another fact that surfaced without an announcement from him. There’s a huge possibility that a new addition to his family is the reason why Cole is taking time away from touring and even contemplating retirement. He’s one of the biggest rappers in the world, but as his popularity continues to grow, the more J. Cole rejects fame. He continues to move as if he cares only about delivering his music, performing his shows, and interacting with fans. There’s no hunger for attention, no passion to sell his privacy; he is the one rapper least likely to end up on a reality show.

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2014 Forest Hills Drive doesn’t directly deal with fame, but there are portions of the album that captures Hollywood as this separate world, and how Cole’s character doesn’t fit within that stratosphere. I wonder if that’s an accurate description of J. Cole not feeling as if he fit in as a celebrity, and decided to stay grounded in normalcy. Kendrick is someone who is sitting in a very similar position as Cole—immensely popular, relatively famous, but hesitant about stepping into the brightest of spotlights. He talks about the offers of Lucy on To Pimp A Butterfly, and what she promises him can be equated to fame and fortune, but at a cost. “Mortal Man” can be seen as a deep dive into his mind, an artist wondering how the people will perceive him outside of music. Kendrick has been an embodiment of just art. There are only a few commercials, a few endorsement deals, but mostly, Kendrick is known just for music. His personal life is private, he didn’t tour his last two projects, only the sheer amount of features delivered this year has kept him constantly in the people’s ear, but he's far from our eyes.

Drake is unlike Kendrick and Cole. He built a home in the spotlight. Maybe T.V. built him up for it, but he is arguably the most famous rapper of this age. If there’s anyone who can truly make you an overnight celebrity, it is the boy from Toronto, and his fame has expanded far beyond music. His brand has reached Apple, the NBA, and even politics. A report came out today, championing him as the second most influential person in Toronto. He is like Julius Caesar the way he has taken over territories and conquered the media. Fame is a drug I believe Drake enjoys.

A great example of Drake's enormous fame can be found on the song “You & The 6,” a conversation between him and his mother. He confessed that his mom would like to hook him up with a nice girl from her gym, and hilariously, Drake shuts it down saying, “She don’t want this life.” Instead of making her an overnight celebrity, he warned his mother that this sweet girl isn’t ready for his lifestyle. "This life." He makes it sound as if he lives in an alternate reality. In many ways he does, a life that he had to adjust to, but one that is hard to bring someone else into. When your mind begins to think that way, the higher you float on Mount Olympus, the harder it is for people to truly relate. For all his fame, there isn't an artist that has balanced being in public and staying in private like Drake. 

Lil Wayne hasn’t related to the average man in years. People forget that he has had a record deal since he was a teenager, and was making rap money before reaching adulthood. He started to live the life at an early age and hasn’t left that secluded island where few will truly dwell. I wonder what that does to the mind, being so separated from reality for so long. I always thought Donda West kept Kanye grounded and that her passing removed the concrete shoes that rooted him in our world. Wayne didn’t have anyone keeping him on Earth, he was truly a martian, and fame was his Mars. I’m not excusing any of his actions, or his way of thinking, but it’s pretty obvious that he hasn’t been on this planet with us for quite some time. His fame only grew with time, becoming a bigger behemoth has only created a bigger separation between him and reality. A completely different case from Lil Romeo or Lil Bow Wow, who are still celebrities, but are a lot less famous today than they were as children. Balance is difficult when you live such a life. 

The Weeknd declared he wanted to be the biggest pop star in the world, and he's ascended leaps and bounds to reach this point in his career. There’s no doubt he’s one of the most popular and celebrated singers of today, but his new album Starboy also delves into the curse that comes with that gift. I think about how Earl Sweatshirt left home a mischievous teenager and returned a celebrated rap genius. Out of all the members of Odd Future, he’s the one that had the hardest time adjusting to his newfound celebrity. Juxtaposing him and Tyler is a great example of how celebrity has a lot to do with personality. Tyler, who is more of an extrovert, seems to handle fame better than Earl, who by nature is an introvert. Kendrick seems rather introverted, compared to obvious extrovert Kanye. The Weeknd is interesting because he is introverted. The man who once hid his face is now the face of pop music. Ultimately, who you are and your goals play a major role in how fame is handled.

“My job is to keep my sanity,” is a quote from Vince Staples that I've been thinking about often. To be famous, even relatively, is extremely taxing on a person’s mental state. If it becomes too overwhelming, if you begin to be suffocated under the strain, you can be another victim of fame’s fatal touch. Artists are more aware now and are constantly gauging how much they can take. With fame, the best case scenario is that it doesn’t destroy you. It is a beast that you can tame, that you can walk, but if you ever lose the sense that it will devour you, that’s when the beast will take it’s biggest bite. Artists just have to be aware that it’s okay not to be Kanye, or Drake, or Khaled. Kendrick, Cole, and Earl are great examples of how an artist can be renowned without needing to be the biggest, the most famous.

Celebrity can happen overnight, but its effects on your life can be everlasting.

By Yoh, aka Famous Yoh, aka @Yoh31


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