Another day, another dance.
Rap dances have been a standard part of hip-hop’s appeal since The Wop. In recent years, rap dances have become viral sensations and propelled careers. And over the past decade, there have been a countless stream of them. You couldn’t escape “The Nae Nae” since it began creeping onto Vine in 2013. Silento debuted earlier this year with his hit “Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae),” capitalizing on the popular viral dance trend and shooting to No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 200. The song has been virtually inescapable and the dance has become the latest in a long line of goofy rap fads like “The Dougie,” “The Stanky Leg,” and most recently, “Hit the Quan.” Silento performed his hit at the 2015 BET Hip-Hop Awards alongside the cast of ABC’s hit sitcom Black-ish, and Hillary Clinton famously attempted to Nae Nae on Ellen. The virtual players even do the Nae Nae on NBA 2K16.
It’s important to acknowledge that these sort of silly songs aren’t the definitive face of hip-hop—and they never have been. The Nae Nae may be the dance craze of the moment but it arrived in the same year as Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly and inspired works from Drake, Future, and others, so Silento won’t be the first or only thing we think about when we reflect on hip-hop of 2015. But the rapid rise and fall of artists like Trinidad James, Chief Keef, and especially Bobby Shmurda affirms that there is a sense among the industry heavyweights that hip-hop acts can be milked for their fleeting popularity and tossed aside by labels who don’t have to invest all that much into them.
Shmurda burst onto the scene in 2014 on the heels of a viral clip that featured him doing what came to be known as the “Shmoney Dance” to his track “Hot Nigga.” The dance propelled the song, as opposed to vice versa, and Bobby Shmurda became the latest novelty rap fad. The buzz led to a deal with Epic Records (and a regrettable clip of Shmurda dancing around the Sony Music label offices after he was signed). Unfortunately, the raised visibility drew Shmurda’s alleged criminal history into the spotlight, and he was arrested in December 2014 and charged with various weapons and drug-related offenses.
When Epic Records head Antonio “L.A.” Reid was asked why the label didn’t offer to bail out its hot, new signee, the legendary exec explained that the money was an issue—while also raising the question of the rapper’s worth to the label.
“It made me feel like people don’t know anything about my business,” Reid said during an interview with Rap Radar. “It’s really not their business. That’s the truth about it. We’re not elected officials here, and we’re not at liberty to disclose how we do business.”
“We seriously don’t make the money we used to make. That’s a fact of life. Bobby Shmurda is not the same as Snoop Dogg and Murder Was The Case, who’s coming off The Chronic and his first album. It’s a different era, ya know? And, we’re a publicly held corporation. We just aren’t in the same position we were in back in those days. So, it’s a different day.” Of course, the music industry has always exploited artists. From Frankie Lymon to TLC, there is no shortage of unfortunate tales involving artists big and small who were taken advantage of or flat-out lied to by managers, labels, accountants, and their ilk. And while the appeal of these novelty rap tunes isn’t anything new, this current wave comes at a time when the industry seems to view the hot rapper of the moment as nothing more than a disposable revenue generator. The machine that is the corporatized music industry is intent on devouring any hot artist to sustain itself, and Shmurda’s Dilemma is evidence that under the most exploitative circumstances, the machine operates with no conscience.
Meanwhile, young artists line up to be the next rap game Chubby Checker.
Rapper Waka Flocka Flame made headlines this week after a lengthy Twitter rant, airing his grievances with his label, Atlantic Records. Waka went off on Thursday, blasting Atlantic and denouncing labels for not caring about artists’ well-being as they make money off them.
“I fucking hate my label,” he began, quickly following up with, “ATLANTIC RECORDS—LET ME BUY-OUT FUCK!!!!”
He referenced his label’s reaction to his 2010 shooting in Atlanta.
“Labels don’t do shit for the artist #FACTS Labels don’t invest #FACTS Labels hire a bunch of amateurs to keep cost down #FACTS,” he tweeted. “The first thing the label asked after I got shot is—‘can you go to the studio.’ From that day forward I knew my label didn’t care I’m just another dollar sign #GetChaMoneyYoungNigga.”
“You mother fuckers woke the beast back up #pressure.”
There was then a series of tweets describing the structure of labels and why the current model apparently doesn’t work.
“Corporate laws require that corporations be structured into classes of superiors and subordinates within a centralized pyramidal structure: Chairman, directors, chief executive officer, VPs, division managers, and so on (based primarily on military models). Unlike the freedoms of an entrepreneurial business, large company decision-making must pass through layer upon layer of management,” Waka Flocka Flame wrote. “This makes the process of product development slow and ponderous. For example, from the time a band is signed it can be a full year or longer before their first record is finally released owing—in part to this dense hierarchical management structure. A lot can change in a year. #UnderstandLife.”
“Furthermore, high executive turnover and frequent management ‘purges’ at large—record companies can often delay or even derail a recording project indefinitely, leaving artists in the lurch. #UnderstandLife”
“Watch how I shit on you Non-believers #BIGHOMIEFLOCK”
Waka’s harangue was the latest in what should be an eye-opening year for young up-and-coming rappers. There isn’t much to gain from being the hot new thing if you wind up on labels that only want to squeeze out a quick hit just to leave you irrelevant, in debt, or in prison within months of you signing. Dancing for dollars doesn’t seem to be paying off much anymore, if it ever was. You’d do better avoiding the plantation system and marketing and funding yourself. Because record company people are shady, and they’re getting shadier.
And they’ll still be dancing long after your song is done.