Mainstream, underground, gangster, backpack, conscious, horrorcore, it seems as though we have dozens of subcategories for rappers. Over the past few years we’ve witnessed the birth of one more, and it’s one that has come about completely naturally, and has the shortest lifespan for a career. Today, we are in the golden era of the meme rapper.
Meme rappers are the love-child of the internet meme and the one hit wonder, and they’re making Andy Warhol’s prediction that, “In the future, everybody will be world famous for 15 minutes” more literal than ever.
At this point, if you’re on the internet (which you are if you’re reading this), you’re very familiar with internet memes. They’re those things, whether they be images, or videos, that get passed around by everyone, ad nauseam, for about a week. If someone sends one to you three days after you originally saw it your basic response is “this is old. Where the heck have you been?”
One hit wonders are those artists that you know damned well only have one good song in them, but that one song ends up rocketing into the top ten, forever becoming a footnote in the history of pop culture. In the 80s and 90s our one hit wonders had some staying power with their hit. Today, we have the meme rapper, who is here today, gone tomorrow, replaced by the next meme rapper to be passed around, lauded, or laughed at, and instantly forgotten.
Not everyone in the press, or at the labels, has come to grips with this new reality. Azealia Banks on the cover of Spin? Kreayshawn and Trinidad James getting seven figure deals? Odd Future being hailed by hipster press as a landmark group? None of those things makes any sense now, do they? Just think of what the future holds for Kitty Pryde (now just Kitty), Iggy Azalea, and whoever comes along next. Had Sagat’s “Funk Dat,” or the 20 Fingers and Gillette’s collaboration “Short Dick Man,” come out today they would have fit in perfectly in this era of the meme rapper.
Most meme rappers have one thing in common – a gimmick. Azealia Banks dropped the C-bomb in a song. Had she not, she’d still be struggling to get 10,000 views on YouTube. Kreayshawn had a fantastic chorus with “Gucci Gucci,” but the phrase White Girl Mob is what created so much conversation. Trinidad James said the “nigga” three times in a row, called it a chorus, wore funny pants, and people ate it up. Odd Future went over the top with misogyny, and horrorcore lyrics. None of these things have staying power, no matter what era we’re in, but in the era of the meme rapper, they should be gigantic red flags for those of us who love, and especially those of us who cover, hip-hop, to not get too invested in these artists.
This is not to say that meme rappers don’t deserve coverage. Someone, or something, that generates that kind of buzz so quickly is obviously noteworthy. This is an instance, however, where the internet needs to stay on the internet. What I mean by this is meme rappers have such a short lifespan that they should be fodder for websites, and websites only. With editorial calendars the way they are for magazines, there’s little to no chance of getting a meme rapper in an issue before their relevancy has waned.
Labels that invest money in signing a meme rapper would be better off flushing that money down a toilet, because there’s going to be more return from a clogged toilet than any meme rapper is going to give you.
Yes, I still feel Kreayshawn’s album was a great party rap album, and her label dropped the ball when it comes to marketing it, just as I’m sure Odd Future’s fans feel OF’s work was great, but all of us have to take a step back and be realistic about things – these artists weren’t going to set the world on fire, they set the internet on fire, for fifteen minutes. So while these acts will still have their small fan bases, fan bases that are more likely to shrink, rather than grow, as time goes by, the next time we see a new rapper’s video blast past ten million views on YouTube overnight, let’s view it for what it is, and that’s not “the next big thing,” but “today’s big thing,” or perhaps even “this hour’s big thing.”
Welcome to the golden era of the meme rapper. Don’t blink, you’ll miss someone’s entire career.