I've been around long enough to live through several Hip-Hop State of Emergency's. Vanilla Ice was the worst thing to happen to hip-hop since forever, and he was, but hip-hop soldiered on. And then it was the rise of gangsta rap, and the rise of ringtone rap, and then some Nas album, then Soulja Boy, then Lil B, then some other stuff, then Soulja Boy again, and on and on into rap infinity. Of course, through all of these signs of the apocalypse hip-hop has kept right on turning out roughly the same proportion of wackness to dopeness it always has, but since when did a little perspective stop a doomsayer from doomsaying?
So yes, I'm very aware that Bobby Shmurda, no matter how amazing or terrible he might be, won't really change hip-hop for the better or worse, because no one rapper has that much power. But....it's still hard not to see the shmeteroic, internet-fueled, rise of the Brooklyn rapper as a sign of some very shaky times in hip-hop. (Or, more accurately, very shaky times in the shmusic industry, to the extent that the larger shmusic industry and hip-hop are intertwined.)
First, a quick recap for those who are new to the world of Bobby Shmurda, and frankly, just about everyone who doesn't know him personally is pretty new to the world of Bobby Shmurda. I have to believe he's been at rapping far longer, but before March of 2014, there's almost no sign of him on the internet; the first real anything I can track down with his name attached is this YouTube song from January.
And then he dropped "Hot Nigga," and everything changed:
Actually, that's not really true. First he dropped "Hot Nigga," and then he dropped the #ShmoneyDance on Vine, and then that Vine went viral because it's hilarious, and then everyone started making their own version because this is 2014, and if it can't be turned into a meme it ain't shit, and that in turn drove more YouTube views, and then everything changed.
Sites/blog/blog-sites hungry for new material to feed the insatiable beast that is the internet news cycle began writing about Bobby, and that pushed his viral fame even further, all the way to the likes of Beyonce and Jay Z, and then in a kind of mind-twisting, self-fulfilling prophecy, that really did make Bobby one of the hottest names in rap. Without exaggeration, in just under four months, Bobby went from an almost complete unknown nationally to a newly signed Epic Records artist that everyone, including myself, is required to have an opinion on.
Ok, let's pause and take a deep breath....
Here's the part where I have to issue a hater disclaimer. I don't know Bobby, at all, and on a purely personal level, I'd like to offer a sincere congratulations to him. I'd genuinely like nothing more than to see him use this as a springboard to improve his life and his family's lives for generations. But as soon any artist steps into the spotlight, their life stops being purely personal. They become a part of the larger discussion around the music industry and where hip-hop as a living, breathing culture is headed, and that's what I'm worried about.
What does it say about music that artists are now essentially getting signed off a Vine clip? And let's be honest, Bobby got signed off a single Vine video; at the most, a single Vine and YouTube video. I don't think most people talking about him could even name a single mixtape of his. Are the Beyonce and Jay Z references really co-signs, as we known them, or are they more like attempts by older artists to stay relevant? "Look, see kids, I'm hip, I'm with it, I know the internet too! Watch me do the shmoney dance."
And I'll take it a step further and say that most of Bobby Shmurda's appeal is that it's just really fun to say "Shmurda." That's it. Change the man's name to Bobby Murda and the dance to the Money Dance, and it's not nearly as entertaining. But there's just something basically, fundamentally hilarious about putting the letters "Shm" in front of things that Bobby nailed. Without hyperbole, while Bobby may have some very real support locally, the root of the national media's sudden fascination with him, especially media that usually doesn't particularly care about hip-hop, boils down to, "It's funny to say Shmurda." Trust me, I know. I'm the national media.
I've seen Bobby described as "New York City's version of Chief Keef" several times, but I don't see it. Not really. They're both young and exploded into the national consciousness almost overnight thanks in large part to the power of the internet, but that's about where the comparisons end. Keef tapped into something deeper in the national consciousness, he seemed to be the nihilistic embodiment of a city drowning in violence. The world turned and looked at Keef because he was waving an automatic weapon in our faces without hesitation. The world turned and looked at Bobby because he flipped his hat into the air in a pretty hilarious way.
Actually, Keef and Bobby may have one more thing in common. They've both become the subject of much brow-wrinking and hand-wringing, particularly from the old, grumpy hip-hop heads I've vowed to never become. So let me close by saying I'm not immune to the charms of the #ShmoneyDance. We need the Bobby Shmurda's of the world to make life, you know, enjoyable, and he's far from the first person to turn an amusing dance into a national craze. But we do need balance, and right now it's beginning to feel like the scales are tipping alarmingly in the direction of six-second attention spans.
Looks like it's time to declare the latest state of shmemergency
[Nathan S. is the managing editor of The DJBooth and a hip-hop writer. He also occasionally talks in podcast form and appears on RevoltTV. His beard is awesome. This is his Twitter.]