He called himself a Martian and I believed him. His appearance wasn’t what the movies prophesied, his complexion wasn’t slimy green but an African black covered completely in tattoos. Instead of an antenna protruding from his head, he had long, thick dreadlocks. His vehicle of choice wasn’t the flying saucer but a chromed out Yamaha. He had every intention to dominate the world, instead of violence he would do it with rap. Album after album, song after song, I remember countless rumors that he didn’t sleep. He didn’t care to meet our leaders, he was sent to devour rappers and he ate them alive. It was hard not to look upon him as an extraterrestrial, women were impregnated just by looking in his eyes too long, the way he consumed drugs and partied like a '90s rock star was beyond normal limitations. Watching Lil Wayne from 2006–2009 was like witnessing someone that wasn’t a human being. He seemed invincible, that his lungs could inhale pounds on pounds of kush smoke, his body could handle an endless waterfall of Lean, and he would still deliver the most potent of bars.
There’s a period where you can tell the drugs were consuming him instead of vice-versa. One of the first warning sign was on “I Feel Like Dying,” a love letter to the drugs that he can’t live without. The imagery is Wayne at his finest, such an impressive display of lyricism, but it leaves you foreshadowing the worst case scenario. "Me and My Drink" leaves a similar impression, it’s eerie to hear him reflecting on the lives that Lean has taken and yet proclaiming his love and need for the dirty Sprite. The song is addictive, much like the vice, it’s similar to Amy Winehouse song “Rehab” – she turned her refusal for help into a chart-topping single. We feast on the music, expecting these artists to be indestructible, until they prove otherwise. The most impactful art tends to be the most tragic. There’s even a club where membership is only gained by musicians that lives end tragically during their 27th year, often due to drug/alcohol abuse, suicide or homicide. It's a group that includes Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jean-Michel Basquiat, all immensely talented and sadly left this world too soon in the most unfortunate ways. I find it interesting that no rapper has been inducted into the group, there’s been enough tragic deaths to parallel hip-hop to any Shakespeare sonnet, but legends like Pac, Biggie, and Big L all left before they could blowout 27 candles.
Lil Wayne in 2009 was 27-years-old, a year after selling a million copies of Tha Carter 3, and a year before trying to sell us the catastrophe that is Rebirth. His mixtapes were already deemed classics in the underground, "Lollipop" hitting number one broke him into the mainstream, and his protégées Drake and Nicki Minaj were starting their careers. He was arguably the best rapper alive, with the vices of a rock star, his untimely death would’ve been devastating but expected. There’s only so much a man can test the waters of his mortality, but the same substances that would bring his destruction were aiding in his creative expression. In a way, his career is fascinating, as he descended deeper into the darkness his acclaim shined the brightest. The industry would be shook to its core, the rest of the year would be dedicated to glorifying his contributions and endless amounts of tribute songs. To this day, Wayne is one of hip-hop’s most notable stars, but in that moment of time, who was higher? Who else was riding on a course to destruction? Wayne could’ve crashed and exploded into fireworks.
I remember listening to Mac Miller’s Faces and thinking this is an A&R’s nightmare, TMZ’s wet dream, middle finger to critics, damn impressive and a cry for help. It was obvious that drugs were musing the music, unlocking his potential, and he spoke about it with gallow humor. Addiction and death are greeted like dinner guests, every lamented lyric ends in lol. Mac attacks issues like a Comedy Central roast comedian, poking plight with a pitchfork. I’ll proclaim it his best project yet. Lines like, “I know my father probably wish I would just smoke pot, my grandma probably slap me for the drugs I got, I'm a crackhead but I bought her diamonds, we love rocks,” is brilliant and equally cringing. Obviously he had found the same artistic stride that had Wayne running circles around his contemporaries, walking down a creative passageway that leads to rave reviews and tombstones. In that same black hole you’ll find the Slim Shady that everyone wish would stand up, but Marshall Mathers is in a better place because of it. When an artist finally emerges from the swirling madness, the music is never the same and the reactions always leave me baffled. It has to be conflicting wanting to better yourself when your fans rather you be in hell creating heavenly art.
A$AP Yams recently passed away and it still feels surreal. You never think about the drugs winning, even after countless deaths. Young Thug gives me the same eerie feeling of Wayne when he was diving into a pool of destruction. Weezy is his idol, he’s in Birdman’s birdcage, he’s inside the same wild and drunken cesspool that birthed his favorite rapper. Future is another rapper that is giving off this vibe of losing control. He has this line of Travi$ Scott’s “High Fashion” that I’ve been stuck on, “This lean got me nauseous, but I keep on using.”
With Wayne he always seemed immune to the substances, he was a Martian, immortal, but I was much younger then. Looking at these artists with older eyes, I find myself worrying about their wellbeing, but the music is good. As Nathan just so perfectly articulated on Skype, once you get famous rapping about a certain lifestyle, you have to keep living it, even if it destroys you. We witness what drugs did to Gucci Mane, how they almost got the best of Danny Brown, ScHoolboy's wanton consumption, but the fans couldn’t be more enthralled. If you so happen to hit rock bottom, the cheers only get louder. It’s such a twisted reality for artists, I recently stumbled upon Amy Winehouse final performance before passing, and it’s unbearable to watch. To think someone recorded that, uploading to the net, it's heart wrenching. You want great music but you want the artist to survive their trials and tribulations.
It’s not just the drugs. Internal struggle also weighs on an artist's soul. We all deal with depression and sadness. Personally, I think artists are born hypersensitive. Their feelings are intense, extreme, enhanced, that’s where creativity is born. What allows them to see what we overlook, and to bring forth emotions in a way that it touches our souls. The passing of Capital Steez surprised me, such a promising young man. Kendrick recently confessed to struggling with inner-turmoil, listening to “U” always leaves me feeling empty. The picture of him sitting on a pile of money, holding a giant bottle of wine, and wearing the expression of a man coping with a problem that can’t be solved with direct deposit or booze. Aren’t you suppose to enjoy the fruits of your labor? Aren’t you suppose to rejoice once you reach the bosom of success? Like J. Cole so poetically stated, “The good news is nigga you came a long way, the bad news is nigga you went the wrong way.” Dot always comes off cool, calm and collected, I can’t imagine waking up and feeling like Nirvana fans on 4/5/1994. It’s also worth mentioning that Kendrick is in his 27th year. *insert side eye emoji*
Since I was a small boy, I never imagined a long life. Gray hairs, grandchildren, retirement homes, all thoughts that I couldn’t fathom. It wasn’t about living fast, or dying young, but simply no true yearning to deal with the aches and struggles of old age. I think hip-hop has a similar mentality. We live in moments, song to song, album to album, drug to drug, girl to girl, thinking somehow we will be forever young. We scream at the top of our lungs, bring us vices, bring us risk, and bring us life. In reality, time is weighing down on us at every second. That these young bodies will begin to feel the abuse, that our souls can only take so much debauchery. Moderation and cleansing, it’s something that has to become a part of the discussion. Hopefully no rapper has to be inducted into the 27 Club again. The culture has to age like wine, and not cellphones. Artists aren’t Martians, and good health is more important than timeless records.
Grow old, we all deserve it.
[By Yoh, aka Bishop Eddie Yoh, aka @Yoh31]