In an alternate universe, Trippie Redd is the hottest rapper of 2018. His scene-stealing guest verse on Drake’s “God’s Plan” has turned the 18-year-old Ohio native into a household name, and in turn, the consensus leader of XXL’s forthcoming 2018 Freshman class. While his peers—XXXTentacion, Lil Pump, and 6ix9ine—all experience their 15 seconds of fame, Trippie, with a No. 1 single under his belt and a Drake co-sign at his disposal, is not just the face of the “SoundCloud Rap” generation, but hip-hop’s newest crossover star.
Alas, Trippie’s lack of time management skills likely prevented this chain of events from becoming reality. When snippets of an early version of “God’s Plan,” played by Trippie’s DJ during a party on New Year's Eve, leaked online a few weeks before its release, fans assumed he’d be featured on the track if and when the record was to ever see the light of day. Then the official version arrived on January 19, notably, without Redd.
Shortly after the song debuted atop the Billboard Hot 100 chart with record-setting streaming numbers, a fan commented on Drake’s Instagram post and tagged Trippie, writing, “You missed a MASSIVE opportunity.”
Seemingly unfazed, Redd replied, “You right I’m not gone be salty about it tho I got plenty of time to have the opportunity again.”
Trippie’s optimistic response to missing out on a career-altering feature was refreshing if not inspiring, but it’s worth noting that, at the time of this exchange, “God’s Plan” was wrapping up its third consecutive week atop the Billboard Hot 100 and not yet the pop-culture behemoth it has since become.
Two months later, it’s the most inescapable hit of 2018, an 11-week chart-topper that is Drake’s longest-running No. 1, and the fourth song in Hot 100 history to spend at least its first 11 weeks atop the chart.
For Trippie, an emerging MC who is at such an early, yet pinnacle stage of his career, it’d be irresponsible to poo-poo the role the single could’ve played in catapulting him into the zeitgeist. Guesting on a Drake song is, in of itself, a career-making opportunity; especially when it’s the 6 God’s first new single in eight months.
But what if Trippie’s near-feature on “God’s Plan” wasn’t a blown chance at superstardom, but rather a blessing in disguise?
Over the past decade, Drake’s stamp of approval, otherwise known as “The Drake Effect,” has been responsible for bringing a slew of emerging rappers into the mainstream spotlight; from social media shout-outs (Future, Young Thug, Kodak Black, and Bryson Tiller) to on-stage invitations (A$AP Rocky and A Boogie wit da Hoodie), to signing artists directly to his OVO Sound label (PARTYNEXTDOOR, Majid Jordan, Roy Woods, and dvsn).
The most infamous stamp of approval, though, is the surprise Drake verse on an existing up-and-comer’s hit song. The most obvious examples—Migos and iLoveMakonnen—were able to immediately achieve mainstream popularity with Drake-remixed singles.
In the summer of 2013, Drake contributed a verse to Migos’ breakout single “Versace,” catapulting the track into mainstream virality, and, if not charting the path for the Atlanta trio’s future mainstream success (it wasn't until after their debut album flopped that Migos struck commercial gold—without Drake's help), at least pushing early national acceptance onto the group. The following year, Makonnen, busy generating a loyal fanbase via SoundCloud, watched “Tuesday” climb to No. 12 on the Hot 100 chart after it received the Drizzy treatment, making him a hip-hop household name in the process.
Although most hip-hop heads view a co-sign from Drake in a positive light, realizing its power to turn an otherwise relatively unknown name into a trending topic on Twitter, many see it as a selfish act, a vampiric strategy to ride an increasingly popular wave for his own gain.
Counterintuitively, after the artists benefit from the increased attention that a co-sign brings, they are, without their consent and for better or worse, attached to Drake. On some level, this can diminish their artistic value—by no fault of their own—largely because their success is seen as having as much to do with Drake’s influence as it does to their own talent. Some, like Migos, can eventually break this connection through repeated success. Others, like Makonnen, cannot.
Granted, Drake lending a verse to an artist’s next record is far different than said artist earning a featured spot on Drake’s hit single in waiting, and so Trippie’s missed guest verse is likely more comparable to the collection of OVO Sound artists who’ve seen their clout skyrocket by playing second fiddle to—and writing hits for—the 6 God.
Trippie’s situation concerning his would-be introduction to the masses could be compared to Majid Jordan circa 2013. By lending their vocals to “Hold On, We’re Going Home”—then Drake’s biggest hit—the Toronto duo became an overnight sensation, with their guest spot heightening the anticipation surrounding their debut album.
Four years later, though, Majid Jordan, despite releasing an incredible album in 2017, have failed to break free from their Drake-assisted introduction to the game, in large part because they have yet to supplant the success of that breakthrough performance on Nothing Was the Same. It’s worth noting that, prior to “Hold On,” the duo wasn’t nearly as popular as Trippie is now, and thus, it’s possible that, even if his verse made it onto the final version of “God’s Plan,” Redd would have still cemented his place in hip-hop without Drake’s influence. Also, it's harder to break free from Drake's shadow as a Drake-signed act that writes songs for Drake than it might be for a non-OVO artist like Trippie.
A closer parallel is Memphis rapper BlocBoy JB, who shot from regional talent to owner of a top-five hit in the country on the strength of a heavily involved Drake feature for "Look Alive." Perhaps Drake, aware of past criticism for his vulture-esque tendencies, thought it better to give the newcomer the headlining slot on a brand new song, rather than jumping on an already-hot remix. Regardless, such instantaneous, large-scale success so heavily indebted to Drake means it will be more difficult for BlocBoy to break free from the Drake connection in the minds of a national audience. That "Rover 2.0"—BlocBoy's follow-up single featuring another superstar in 21 Savage—has failed to achieve any similar prominence doesn't bode well.
For Redd, a verse on a No. 1 hit would have brought an unparalleled increase in exposure. Everyone would have wanted a taste of the flavor of the month. But would he have been ready to capitalize on his newfound popularity? Would Quality Control, with whom he signed to manage his career in February, have tried to steer his music after from its gritty aesthetic toward radio-land?
Given that Redd has amassed a cult following by appealing to a more underground audience, a mainstream-focused approach could’ve been a death blow to Redd’s budding career. In today’s what-have-you-done-for-me-lately music ecosystem, when a recording artist, rap or otherwise, is able to create and nurture a niche audience, something Redd has been able to accomplish, he or she must do everything in their power to not fuck that up.
Trippie Redd could’ve possibly taken “God’s Plan” to greater heights, and it certainly would have done that for his current career standing, but with the chance to further develop on his own terms and timeframe, it could be a blessing that his near-feature is remembered for nothing more than what it is—one of the greatest what-ifs in recent hip-hop history.