Review Summary: How to Expose Yourself 101
The rise of Soundcloud is the most important development in the growth of Hip-Hop in the 2010s. Whereas before young, often poor rappers had to find creative ways to produce their seminal content on pocket-lint budgets, Soundcloud – like all social media – has removed the barriers of social and commercial distance from the hands of corporate record executives and disk jockeys. It has allowed rappers and producers to connect, collaborate, and distribute to potentially millions of people for virtually nothing. No longer is anyone praying for a Dr. Dre – you don’t have to dump your life savings on getting a half-hearted feature from E-40.
But on any platform so lacking in barriers to entry, only so many artists can rise to stardom: you need a hook. In tandem with other social media, such as Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat, our superstars have never been closer to us, and they’ve dually never had such control over the image and character they can portray. The best rappers from the Soundcloud generation (or at least the ones who have cracked into the main stream) have all understood this and cultivated unique personas: the angel-eyed demon XXXTENTACION, the emo king Lil Uzi Vert, the tormented rocker Lil Peep.
Of these names and faces, only two rappers have been dedicated to crafting their identity and brand to the point of near obsession. One is Post Malone, a Dallas suburbanite failson who can’t decide if he’d rather be the next Scott Stapp or The Weeknd. The other is Post’s reflexive inverse: Tekashi 6ix9ine, a rainbow munchkin from New York covered in idiotic “69” tattoos from his face to stomach.
I feel compelled to go this in depth off the bat because Tekashi’s debut mixtape, DAY69
, was – and I’m saying this with a straight face – one of my favorite releases this year. By no means a perfect album, the charm of DAY69
was both how raw and yet totally focused it felt. For 11 straight tracks, Tekashi rapped over dirty, aggressive beats screaming about basically nothing besides how many people he wanted to murder and how their widows would give him head. He whooped, hollered, and cackled with malevolent glee and unchecked psychosis that felt like all of White America’s fears of the inner city caricatured to absurdity. With his ridiculous hair and his moronic tattoos, Tekashi has chosen to craft an image of himself as a real life Joker. Was he more Leto than Ledger? Sure. Was this psycho killer persona clearly inauthentic bull*** curated from anime and horror movie villains rather than real life experience? Absolutely. But I’ll always give points for originality.
And that’s exactly why his debut studio album is so disappointing: DUMMY BOY
is a cheap attempt to cash in on infamy with banal crossover attempts, featuring a star who feels devoid of personality and utterly inconsequential on his own album.
Through thirteen tracks Tekashi leans heavily on his guests, only truly going at it alone three times (I’m giving STOOPID
a pass since Bobby Shmurda’s “verse” is a gimmicky bridge). Sometimes these collaborations work and Tekashi rises to the challenge: BEBE
(featuring Anuel AA) is stupidly catchy, if just a contrived "Despacito" rip-off, and MAMA
(featuring Nicki and Kanye West) is one of the few times Tekashi actually sounds competent on the mic. This hardly matters compared to when he flounders: KIKA
, featuring a hook by Tory Lanez and fantastic production by Scott Storch, feels like a blown opportunity that could’ve been handled by a better artist. FEEFA
features Tekashi’s clumsy attempt to seem reflective and vulnerable but just sounds amateur when Gunna steps in. It’s made worse when remembering that Tekashi is hardly a talented lyricist – the aggression of DAY69
allowed him to spin this as another part of the appeal, but on DUMMY BOY
it borders unlistenable.
The worst stomping comes at the hands of A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie on WAKA
. Over soaring and triumphant strings, A Boogie drops a catchy and well-executed verse and hook. It’s the best cut on the record – the production and delivery feels like the coronation of ... A Boogie. Then Tekashi begins screaming and gun shots ring on the record. It’s as if this petulant child hated not being the center of attention and started breaking things. I started wondering why I wasn’t just listening to A Boogie.
By the end of the album, we finally hit TATI
, one of the few songs that sounds like his older work – mostly because it was released a few months after DAY69
. Following that is WONDO
, the only original song with a similar energy to "GUMMO" or "RONDO", which consists of Tekashi laughing about how he gets more sex than you – a far cry from the self-stylized Clown Prince of Rap. The album ends on a whimper with DUMMY
, a literal repurposing of a Trife Drew song with a verse tacked on the end. Then the album abruptly ends: no fade out or moment to just let the beat ride – the lyrics finish and the song and album end. It’s not even abrupt enough to feel intentional.
As I basked in my overwhelming disappointment, I thought back to the meme Daniel Hernandez had been before he the dumb tattoos on his face or signature hair. About five years ago, someone posted a picture of him walking around NYC in a stupid outfit: a football jersey bearing “PUSSY” on the front and “EATER 69” on the back over a pair of basketball shorts bearing “N***A” and “EATER 69”. The “Pussy N***a” was born and thus the ultimate metaphor for his career: the unintended and idiotic result of both trying to clumsily appeal to the ladies while trying to flex on the guys. I’ve joked that Post Malone would stop rapping if offered the exchange to lead a Chris Cornell tribute show. I get the same sneaking suspicion that 6ix9ine would trade his street credentials and gangster posturing away tomorrow if a genie granted him the wish to be Trey Songz. In this insipid, cynical, and just plain boring album that – I cannot stress enough – is not even a year removed from his debut mixtape, Hernandez proves that not only does he lack the voice, lyricism, or intelligence, he just flat-out lacks the talent that was concealed by the amusingly dumb belligerence of his previous work. DUMMY BOY
shows us the artist that Tekashi, now that he’s rich and famous (at the time before his arrest), wants to be: just another Soundcloud rapper.