The Rundown #5
1/10/17 - 1/16/17

Posted on 09 January 2017

The enduring celebrity of Waka Flocka Flame. He plays Cat’s Cradle January 14th and 15th. © Youaintryan

 

Do you remember what you were doing in 2012? Perhaps you were at your first job, still in college, or maybe even in high school. If that feels like a long time ago, that’s because it was. It’s also the last time Waka Flocka Flame released a studio album, the pop-rap effort Triple F Life: Friends, Fans & Family, the follow-up to his Earth-rattling gangsta rap debut, Flockaveli.

A constant barrage of mixtape releases has continued in the ensuing years (as Flockaveli 2 has been pushed back again, and again, and again), but commercial success has not. The artist who seven years ago was a highly sought feature for any rap song has more recently made his bones through appearances on Love & Hip-Hop: Atlanta and a feature verse on 2015’s “Beast,” an EDM anthem by Canadian singer Mia Martina that did not chart in the United States. Many collaborators and popular acts from Waka’s heyday — Slim Thug, Chief Keef, Roscoe Dash, to name a few — serve as a veritable graveyard from a bygone era.

Given this backdrop, it’s hard to overstate how bizarre it is to conceive of sold-out Waka Flocka Flame shows in the year 2017. And yet here we are.


The arc of fame — outside of a select few artists who become and remain famous for their whole lives — is normally cruel and unforgiving. An artist first gains notoriety, releases more work, reaches their pinnacle of fame, then ultimately fades — or, just as often, crashes — back into the ether.

The downward bend of that arc moves faster for some than others. O.T. Genasis, Bobby Shmurda and Ca$h Out all come to mind as rappers who hopefully braced for impact. To be clear, Waka Flocka is not of their ilk — none of the aforementioned rappers ever enjoyed a stretch like the one Waka unleashed on the rap world from 2009 through 2012: “O Let’s Do It,” “No Hands,” “Hard In Da Paint,” and so on.

If there’s a minimum threshold of club anthems that an artist must produce to earn a lifetime of cultural relevance, or at least consistent ticket sales, Flocka likely clears the bar. Indeed, it’s hard to name an artist with a list of hits as extensive as Waka’s who now toils in obscurity. Bonafide hits are undoubtedly a big part of the equation in Waka Flocka’s enduring fame, but equal credit is due to his clever and opportunistic self-branding, which over the years has arguably launched his ascendancy into a true Public Figure, no longer tethered to the world of hip-hop by necessity, but by choice.

Looking for a celebrity quote about a news item? Waka probably Tweeted or Instagrammed about it. Writing about an event and need some stars to name-drop? Maybe Waka Flocka Flame was there. Search “Waka Flocka” on Google News and you’re greeted not with updates about his music, but with a smattering of loosely related pop culture ephemera, from Waka’s take on the Soulja Boy-Chris Brown beef, to his appearance backstage at a WWE event, to whether or not his wife is pregnant. Way down, below all of that, you’ll find a note about his actual music career: news of his split with Atlantic Records, which was announced in November.


By dint of sheer personality and brand consistency, Waka Flocka has transcended the medium from which he was born — hip-hop music — and become a cultural icon, memorable and yet malleable enough to remain a staple in an ever-changing pop landscape. He’s posed half-naked with rescued puppies for PeTA, released music via the adult streaming site Pornhub, even launched a ham-fisted fake presidential campaign last year that, devoid of any real purpose from the start, would have deserved any critical scorn or side-eye it received. It received little, probably because such stunts are now as woven into the fabric of Waka’s brand as the music itself: Waka For President. Waka For Puppies. Waka For Pornhub.

But no moment better encapsulated his evolution into a full-blown, living, breathing meme than the bizarre lozenge commercial that he appeared in during the 2014 American Music Awards, which he opened by addressing himself as an entity as much as a person: “What does a Waka Flocka do for soothing throat relief?”

Better yet, what does an obscure lozenge company do for immediate brand recognition and buzz? Hire Waka Flocka, apparently. According to Rolling Stone and at least a dozen other media outlets, the 30-second commercial was the biggest talking point of the night.


Transparent attention-grabs these may be (and tenuous ones at that), Waka does deserve a certain amount of credit for a good-natured willingness to try the seemingly silly ideas that other artists may find off-putting, off-brand, or simply off-the-wall. That M.O. pairs rather conveniently with a musical affectation much more fluid than Flocka’s hard-nosed aggro rap origins would suggest. In recent years, his explorations into EDM have further entrenched his status as entertainer more than rapper, not a live show that one attends for particular songs as much as a good time.

No doubt a fair number of the attendees of his upcoming Cat’s Cradle dates would not, if asked, be able to name more than one or two Waka Flocka Flame songs. They may not know the finer details of his complicated relationship with friend (then enemy, then friend again) Gucci Mane, or be even mildly aware of 1017 Brick Squad Monopoly. But they have heard of Waka Flocka, and they know he likes to have a good time.

Waka Flocka? You mean PeTA’s Hottest Vegetarian Celebrity of 2016?

Yeah, that’s him.

Waka Flocka Flame, ft. Well$
Cat’s Cradle, Carrboro, NC
Saturday January 14th, Sunday January 15th


There are two other great local shows to hit up this weekend in the Triangle:

First, Crystal Taylor’s Underground Collective hosts its first Beat Battle of the year at The Pinhook on Friday, with local producers competing head-to-head with their best material. This is a must-see event for people (like me) who often lament that the production scene chops in our area are lagging far behind the bars. Do your homework — you might be surprised at what you find.

UGC Beat Battle
The Pinhook, Durham, NC
Friday, January 13th


Last but surely not least, the always-electric Kooley High crew plays The Pour House on Saturday with a lineup that is just stacked from top to bottom. Brassious Monk, the experimental rapper/producer whose cosmic concoctions nearly defy categorization. P.A.T. Junior, another dual threat rapper/producer, and one of the freshest, most integral voices to spring up in the Triangle in recent years. Jabee, the sharply and socially aware Oklahoma City rapper who released a track last year with none other than Public Enemy’s Chuck D. Don’t be distracted by the giant article on Waka Flocka above this (sorry, I got carried away) — if you can only make it out to one show this weekend, make it this one. If you’ve never seen a K-High show, you’ll be glad you did. And if you have seen a K-High show, I shouldn’t need to tell you. A truly special supporting cast is the icing on top.

Kooley High ft. Jabee, P.A.T. Junior, Brassious Monk
The Pour House, Raleigh, NC
Saturday, January 14th


Peace and blessings to all. Five weeks in and this is still (sort of) a thing. Looking to get better every week — please send tips, ideas, critique to ryan@superempty.com.

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