When you read a review of a rap record (particularly one on the text-only RapReviews.com), do you sometimes wonder if the rapper in question is white? Have you read write-ups that you feel failed to spell out the obvious, that the rapper is white? Or that you thought irrelevantly pointed out that the rapper is white? Does it occur that you’re curious whether a reviewer who covers rap is white or not? These are legitimate questions. But rap music is at a point where they don’t have to be brought up every single time. Even yours truly, who can be said to be harping on the subject, is perfectly able to review an album completely color-blind. But I’ll gladly address the topic, especially when the artist himself makes the first step. And sometimes I’ll bring it up anyway.
Let’s start by acknowledging that both Vanilla Ice and Eminem, each in his own way, made it (even more) difficult for white rappers. Like a reality show is supposed to, ego trip’s _The (white) Rapper Show_ from a few months back was all about an unlikely combination. Exploiting the apparent oxymoron ‘white rapper’, it was based on the premise that America’s melanin-deficient MC’s still don’t quite fit into the overall picture and have to earn their place in both the hip-hop culture and the rap game. A highly educational piece of television, it showed us that aspiring rappers can only benefit from connecting with the roots of the artform. On the other hand if they don’t keep a certain respectful distance, they are liable to get things mixed up. Like the self-appointed “King of the Burbs” John Brown with his half-baked “Ghetto Revival” gibberish.
With a moniker like Lil Wyte, Patrick Lanshaw sort of has it coming to him. It is disarmingly honest and charmingly naÃ¯ve. I was glad to learn that he didn’t become Lil Wyte when he joined the Hypnotize Camp Posse but that the name dates back to when he first formed a tag-team with a partner who called himself Lil Black in high school. But what puzzles me is that his bio says he ‘began his career with the all-white underground rap group Shelby Forest Clique,’ while on his latest album he states that he “grew up in the bad part of the all-black hood on the west side of this Tenn-a-ki.” Don’t get me wrong, it’s very well possible. Growing up in an overwhelmingly black neighborhood and then still joining a white rap crew, that would only go to show how color of skin can determine a rapper’s career choices.
Lil Wyte’s current press information readily acknowledges that, as he is quoted as saying, “Eight years ago I said, ‘Man, Three 6 Mafia needs a hard-ass white boy.’ It wasn’t a racial comment or nothing to talk shit about, it was how I felt. When I woke up one morning and realized I was that white boy, it all made sense – I became that guy, I get it now. Everybody’s got a purpose on Earth, and I think mine was to be with Three 6 Mafia rapping my lil’ white ass off. I asked Paul, ‘When y’all were looking for me, were you looking for a rapper period, or a white rapper?’ He looked at me real serious, and gave me a smile and said, ‘I was looking for a white rapper.’ Paul and Juicy are some of the most honest people in the world. It’s so much deeper than just being a white rapper, it breaks racial boundaries in certain areas.”
The fact that Wyte accepts that his skin color has influenced his signing and his subsequent willingness to make the best of out it speaks to his intelligence. Three 6 have been sharpening their business sense for a long time, from the ’90s when they helped build the southern rap scene to 2006 when they brought an Oscar back to the hood. And somewhere along the way they picked up this Wyte guy from the Shelby section of Memphis, and with “The One and Only” release his third solo in a row on their Hypnotize Minds imprint. Originally announced as “Third Times the Charm” for 2005, “The One and Only” follows up “Doubt Me Now” (’03) and “Phinally Phamous” (’04), which according to the rapper account for combined sales of 400,000, a very respectable number. Ideally, this number reflects the musical talents of all those involved on the artistic side and the hustling skills of all those involved on the entrepreneurial side, not the novelty that Three 6 Mafia decided to get themselves a hard-ass white boy.
The ultimate issue for white rappers is credibility, and there’s nothing unfair about that. Every profession requires credentials. They can vary widely, and they can be numerous. Someone like Lil Wyte has to be plausible on two fronts. One pertains to the ‘hard-ass,’ the other to the ‘white boy’ part of the self-description above. The latter is of a more philosophical nature. Can you live with the idea of a white rapper? If you can’t, you’ve been relatively lucky so far, but maybe you should reconsider that whole putting restrictions on art thing. It’s sort of a dead end. Either way you look at it, nothing can be done about the fact that Lil Wyte is white. He has, however, a creative license for what he is beyond that. And since he chooses to be a ‘hard-ass white boy,’ in the ‘hard-ass’ field his authenticity is much more subject to debate.
Whether rappers are as hard as they act has been contested for ages, and there’s no reason to be more sceptical of hard-ass white boys than of black ones. The issue of what makes an artist credible goes much deeper, but if we’re dealing with basic hard-ass rappers, the key question is as basic as what they portray. Is he just hard-ass on record, or is he also hard-ass off the record? Ironically, that is not really something we should want to find out because when people try to live up to an image, the worst things can happen to them and others.
While credibility can have many different aspects, rap as an artform breaks it down to a very elementary level. Lil Wyte, like many other rappers, constantly fights for credibility. Not because he is automatically questioned as a white rapper, but because that fight is part and parcel of his message. Most rappers go to lengths making claims that have no other goal than to boost their credibility. Some claim to be poets, some claim to be prophets, some claim to be pimps. Lil Wyte claims to be a hard-ass white boy.
That struggle for acceptance is deeply embedded in rap music and one of its main motivations. Rappers want us to believe them. Some go about it with more finesse, some with less. Some listeners want it raw with no trivia, some want the unabridged version. It is up to the individual listener to believe Lil Wyte when he says, “If you got a prob with that, bring it to the hood, find me on my block and I’ll kick yo ass.” Which hood? Which block? I don’t know.
It should be understood that listening to a rapper doesn’t require you to run a background check on him. We don’t put rappers under oath and demand them to tell the truth and nothing but the truth. We need more from them. We want visions. We want to be entertained. Which, by the way, doesn’t exempt them from being a little bit truthful every now and then. Bottomline, we all expect rappers to fulfill different roles, often several at a time. You may simply not care about hard-ass rappers and gladly take a pass. Or you might incidentally listen to hard-ass rappers but not for the specific reason that they’re hard. What YOU feel when listening to music is important. Everything else is secondary. It’s about you, not the rapper. Let the critics worry about the rapper. And don’t worry too much about the critics if you disagree with them. And if you disagree with this here review I can’t blame you.
To be frank, I’m abusing the opportunity to continue my examination of the white rapper phenomenon. But hopefully in doing so I am able to show you that you can’t reduce someone like Lil Wyte to just being a white rapper. Whether we like it or not, Lil Wyte represents Memphis, he represents rap, he represents HCP, and he represents his own personal life story. This dude has quite a temper, and it’s safe to assume it has its roots somewhere. If you’re looking for explanations for his behavior, “The One and Only” is not the album to give them to you. But it does contain some clues, for instance on “Cake,” where mostly the money talks, but where Wyte also advises:
“Put your brain in some books and quit worryin’ ’bout these hoes
Either get a nine to five quick or start sellin’ ‘dro
Life gon’ get crazier than this, I’m tellin’ you this because I know
I ain’t always had cheese, I used to be very broke
That’s when I realized I could flow and I jumped up on the track
I was only 17, the studio was all of that
Now I’m 24 and got currency by the stacks”
To be perfectly clear about this, there is absolutely nothing exceptional about Lil Wyte. Unless you think that he’s pretty crunk for a white guy. Apart from that “The One and Only” is a fairly standard Memphis album. DJ Paul and Juicy ‘J’ orchestrate it expertedly, knocking out their darkly tinted snare- and hi-hat-driven monster jams with the usual ease. Doing his best to fit in, Wyte barks: “We don’t give a shit, bitch, that’s just the mentality of the Dirty South.” Rolling “with some of the rowdiest, buckest, crunkest fuckers in the nation” certainly rubbed off on the rapper.
“I Got Dat Candy,” the album’s mainstream single, won’t win any awards for originality, but is the type of road-tested rider anthem with “King Kong in the trunk” that speaks to the car fanatics that like their candy paint dripping wet: “I got the candy-coated ‘Burban, ’bout to dip it in another flavor / for a week it’s been the same color of tropical LifeSavers / for seven days I’m straight but then I need a different coat / to the paint shop I go, push the pedal to the flo’.” Fateful piano chords make “We Ain’t Kool” a funeral dirge suited for spitting on your enemy’s grave, with Wyte threatening to run an unnamed Memphis misrepresenter’s “ass up out the state.”
“Talkin’ Ain’t Walkin'” mashes with the energy of an M.O.P. joint, during which Wyte rather unconvincingly claims, “I’m not a evil dude, fact, I’m pretty fuckin’ humble” right after he promised to bury your whole crew alive under his swimming pool. “That’s What’s Up” sees the M-Town rapper fighting off anti-South sentiments and planning to “sell CD’s off in Sicily, Italy, also in New Zealand” before giving it up to his homebase with an Eightball reference: “Memphis, Tennessee is the place where I got all my special trainin’ / physical, mental, spiritual, lyrical; achieved it all without complainin’.”
“Get Wrong” is a party crasher in the tradition of “Tear Da Club Up,” set off by low-end keyboard stutters and slashing percussion, creating an ominous atmosphere for Wyte to apply his simple but effective lyrical approach: “Get wrong, motherfucker, I’ma show you crunk / You a dumb motherfucker even before you’re drunk / You ain’t strong, motherfucker, weakling, you’re just a punk / Extra chrome, motherfucker, chillin’ off in my trunk.” “Chopper on Da Back Seat” advances slowly, as if bogged down by the lyrics’ dark premonition: “You deep down in the Dirty, you chirpin’ nervous like a birdie-birdie / Did you heard me? Don’t you worry, let me cleverly re-word it / you are in my world and you’re about to get fucked up / here’s my singular, use it quick and call your back-up up / by the time they get here you’ll be bleedin’ / done had your ass kicked to the ceilin’.”
In regards to substance abuse, the formulaic “Get High” is good enough for a smoke break, “Fucked Up” is an ode to getting trashed with Wyte admitting, “bein’ a rapper’s close to bein’ an alcoholic that gets paid,” while “Do it Fluid” sees him concocting a cocktail to relax from a strenuous day of hustling. Speaking of, if he hasn’t done so before, with “It’s On” Lil Wyte officially joins the trap rappers guild with this epically orchestrated track. “The BlackBerry’s on, you know the number, holla”. Let him know how you feel about drug dealers. “Got’m Lookin” is his “Ridin’,” a cinematic track featuring the leading man in pursuit of some police profiling to boost his street cred:
“Got knock in the back, big rims and limo tints
It don’t matter cause the po-po’s, they know who’s up in it
It’s me, W-y-t-e flickin’ down your block
Got some weed in my sock and on my seat a plastic Glock
and it’s cocked, ready to go, ready to blow in the battlefield
If the bullet don’t put you down, the beatin’ from the handle will
I’m ridin’ dirty like a military and they hatin’
Police sittin’ on the next block and they waitin’
for me to try to leave the hood and jump right back on the slab
If it was up to the coppers this little cracker they would have to grab”
Lil Wyte is one of those rappers that have the regular rap rhetoric down pat. He’s good with abusive language. He can convincingly portray himself as a bad boy. What he should steer clear from is introspection and abstract thought. “Suicide” is too inarticulate to produce anything meaningful. Juxtapositions like “I can spit harmless yet horrific at the same time / kill you, bring you to life and get you high with the same rhyme” expose a high school level of rapping. “Gun Do Da Talkin” is just plain bad gangsta rap with a moronic hook (“I don’t wanna rap, I let my gun do the talkin'”) as the Superproducers use the baby sounds Timbaland put into Aaliyah’s “Are You That Somebody” in an even more irritating context.
“The One and Only” is, first and foremost, a regional album. It’s uncertain how it translates nationally. “Ghostin'” for instance talks about ghostriding while mentioning the Bay Area, but before you think he’s going for a marriage of crunk and hyphy, you have to know that the Frayser area of Memphis is apparently locally referred to as the city’s bay area. At 20 tracks, even better albums are bound to contain filler material. Luckily for Lil Wyte, the same goes for highlights on average albums. The brightest here is probably the Project Pat-assisted “Feelin’ Real Pimpish.” Over a summery, organ-driven melodic beat, Wyte takes things easier and even manages to incorporate a little bit of a message:
“Sit back and dream and them pictures come true
If I can do this shit, tell me why can’t you?
I’m a regular motherfucker, just like him or her, them or they
Another southerner here to play from the volunteers day
Now we officially on the roster, Memphis legends won the Oscar
No more waitin’ in line nowhere; and personally I didn’t win the Oscar
but I still get all the perks the game has to fuckin’ offer
New clothes, a lot of money, so I’m fresh as a lobster
I could do this all day, lay low and make a killin’
Project Pat, please tell these motherfuckers how I’m feelin'”
To have Pat tell the world how you’re feeling is certainly a privilege only a chosen few enjoy. With “The One and Only,” Lil Wyte shows himself worthy of the trust put in him by the Three 6. He makes up for his lack of vocal charisma with an energetic delivery, catchy intonation, and different tempos, adjusting well to DJ Paul & Juicy ‘J’s selection of southern beats. If they intend to ride this ‘hard-ass white boy’ thing out, however, they all need to take more risks. Until then, they’ll continue to serve up their brand of unapologetic hustle and party music.