Stray Shots: The Betrayal Of Lil Terio & The Misinterpretation Of Lupe Fiasco
This week "Black Twitter" sacrificed Lil Terio to the altar of cruel Internet memes, and Lupe Fiasco made provocative comments about Drake, Kendrick Lamar and his desire to enter the ratchet zone.
Once upon a time in a universe far, far away, HipHopDX used to host blogs. Through Meka, Brillyance, Aliya Ewing and others, readers got unfiltered opinions on the most current topics in and beyond Hip Hop. After a few years, a couple redesigns and the collective vision of three different Editors-In-Chief, blogs are back. Sort of. Since our blog section went the way of two-way pagers and physical mixtapes, Twitter, Instagram and Ustream have further accelerated the pace of current events in Hip Hop. Rappers beef with each other 140 characters at a time, entire mixtapes (and their associated artwork) can be released via Instagram, and sometimes these events require a rapid reaction.
As such, we’re reserving this space for a weekly reaction to Hip Hop’s current events. Or whatever else we deem worthy. And the “we” in question is myself, Omar Burgess and Andre Grant. Collectively we serve as HipHopDX’s Features Staff. Aside from tackling stray topics, we may invite artists and other personalities in Hip Hop to join the conversation. Without further delay, here are this week’s “Stray Shots.”
Lil Terio Dances & The Internet Attacks
Omar: I don’t really have politically correct, articulate way to start off this edition of Stray Shots. The proliferation of Terio memes and tweets from earlier this week was fucked up. On a surface level, I can understand why people got a brief kick out of throwing around names like “Just Glaze” and “Meek Meal.” Despite numbers from the Journal of the American Medicine Association indicating one third of Americans (34%) are obese, the entertainment industry has been laughing at overweight celebrities since the days of Laurel and Hardy. The other element—the one which should have given the Twitterverse’s self-appointed peanut gallery pause—is that Terio is a six-year-old child. And in an age where everyone claims to be more enlightened about exploitation and “cyber bullying,” people started going in on Terio disgustingly quickly. I get it: fat people reveling in their own jolly awkwardness has historically been funny. But kids are supposed to be off limits.
At the risk of resuming my weekly role of Chris Rock’s SNL character Nat X, it’s foul how most of the people tweeting Terio missed the obvious layers of racism and exploitation hiding underneath his dancing Vine/Instagram memes. There’s at least one adult cashing in on Terio. Yeah, it’s physical comedy, and kids say the darndest things. But I’ve always thought physical comedy was a touchy subject in the black community (and if you want to revisit Oprah Winfrey and the late Luther Vandross’ annual fluctuating weight struggles of the ‘80s, so is health). Jim Carey can flop on the floor and make crazy faces, and he’s regarded as a comedic genius. When black actors and comedians do the same, there’s always the threat of being accused of cooning. There’s a thin, black line of burned cork between Flip Wilson and Madea. So Terio feels like the intersection of all these issues. And instead of someone in his family saying, “Maybe we should fall back and let this six-year-old enjoy the benefits of being a normal first-grader,” they seem to be content cashing the checks. Is he the black Honey Boo Boo? Is Twitter magnifying how differently child exploitation plays across class and race lines? Maybe. All I know is the shit I saw on Twitter the other night felt disgusting. I was just waiting for someone to sync one of his Vine clips up to “My Old Kentucky Home.” It’s amazing how easy it is to either participate in your own exploitation or cheer on someone else’s 140 characters at a time.
Andre: “Terio’s that kid that dances on the Internet, right?” My mother asked me this yesterday when she called to check up on how her boy was handling life six modern hours away. And that’s when it hit me, Terio is a walking meme. He’s transcended Vine and become someone even my mother knows about. Twitter had been threatening to jump the shark for years, and it finally, FINALLY was. It was slandering, thematically, a child—and it was glorious… kind of. At first I chuckled to myself in some public present the web had snatched me from. Namaste to that, right? But the merciless slander of this child who was, arguably, living all our little boy and little girl fantasies to their zenith was beginning to approach voodoo level group magic. I added the search term “Terio” to a column in Tweetdeck and I waited.
That thing scrolled like slot machines in Vegas. It was too much to read, never mind keep up with, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that we were really making fun of ourselves. That for all the reproach this kid’s success had gotten, it was fueled by the very people that now admonished him, publicly, for doing what they wanted him to: entertain them. So now that he was on stage rocking out with the incredible confidence only the very, very young can have (and Kanye, of course), he was slaughtered because we wouldn’t have done that. Our six year old selves would freeze up, or we’d miss our friends, or we’d want to go back to school, and god knows what that kid is telling his cousin who’s “Ohh kill em’” began this whole fiasco in innocence except to say that we all bullied the hell out a newer human because they were more successful than us. Because we’ve been in a recession for five years, and we can’t pay our student loans, and we know deep in our hearts that we lack that childhood thing—stolen or robbed, that would allow us to express ourselves in that way. It’s also true that reality is morphing around us, and we still can’t say what the Internet and hyper-connectivity age has done to us. But we can be sure that adults are now as terrible as the children we ran away from. And, now, our cruelty is just as banal.
Will The Real Lupe Fiasco Please Stand Up?
Omar: When we look back at the first two decades of the aughts, Lupe Fiasco might be one of the most fascinating Hip Hop artists, and that statement has very little to do with his actual music. His recent rants stand out to me as a reminder that artists in any medium can rarely (if ever) pick their audience. I’m not a Lupe stan, so I don’t know how much Lupe’s original G’d up material like “Pop, Pop” factored into his initial appeal. But it does appear Mr. Jaco has gone through several incarnations. It seems the guy who endeared himself to the backpack set in 2006 with Lupe Fiasco’s Food & Liquor wasn’t necessarily aiming for that audience. And so, we got The Cool—a Grammy nominated album with a platinum single. And I suppose it was all good until Lupe started beefing with Atlantic, blamed them for LASERS’ extremely Pop direction and benefitted from his most radio-friendly look to date; “The Show Goes On” is certified as triple platinum and peaked at the #9 spot amid a 33-week run on Billboard magazine’s “Hot 100” singles chart.
All of that is to say, I genuinely don’t know how to reconcile all the elements of Lupe’s career. He appeals to backpackers but seemingly rejected them by taking shots at A Tribe Called Quest following his 2007 Hip Hop Honors performance. He’s embraced artists like Trae and 8Ball & MJG but has engaged in Twitter debates with Talib Kweli about the impact of “negative” Rap lyrics. He’s presented what I think are some convincing opinions about the futility of America’s two-party political system and Barack Obama as the first sitting US President of the drone strike era. But the latter two arguments have been so poorly articulated that Lupe has undercut his own credibility. Sometimes I can’t tell if he embodies the human contradiction in all of us or he’s just deliberately trying to piss us off to make a point...while promoting a new album. None of the above change the fact that I think he can still rap really well and has a large quantifiably measurable audience. In theory, rappers should be able to contradict themselves (like Nas), change the trajectory of their artistic direction (like Jay Z), talk shit about their peers (like 50 Cent) and debate with Bill O’Reilly (like Cam’ron). But the more Lupe has done all of the above, the less interest I have in his music. And I have no logical explanation for those feelings. I guess I’m contradicting myself here, which should make Lupe Fiasco’s music all the more endearing to me. Somehow it’s had the opposite effect.
Andre: Lupe Fiasco has always been on a mission, albeit a mission no one can actually conceptualize but Lupe himself. With his first album, Food & Liquor, he was pushing against the idea that black kids faced with poverty, drugs, and decay can’t be sensitive and intelligent. It worked extremely well, and, in the modern era—along with Kanye West—created lanes for the Kendricks and the Drakes to thrive with personal, introspective narratives. His second album, The Cool, is arguably the height of his creative story arc and it directly coincided with the darkest period of his life. His father passed away. His business partner, Chilli, was sentenced to 44 years in prison. His friend, Stack Bundles, was shot in the lobby of his building in Far Rockaway. His album, however, ended up being an opus of big and often muddled ideas clashing with each other. Of course it was. It was the beginning of the Facebook era wherein we would find that what Lupe was saying from the get go was true: There was more information out there and, most of the time, it made us care even less. But there were “Little Weapons” in Africa as images of slaughter doled out by children on the dark continent filled our cable Internet fetishes. We were worried about our “Gold Watch” and gold chain instead of doing anything about anything as our people floundered in ignorance. And, to his credit, he actually made a pretty self-serving video called “Dumb It Down” where he slandered black folks for being less than what they could be.
Whatever he said (and whenever he said it), his heart seemed to always be in the right place. But things never quite gelled for the man the way I hoped it would. I was kind of imagining some shooting star persona finally taking over as Lupe became the first Rap Buddha. He would find a way to be compassionate about the plight of the most underrepresented people in the history of the world while making passionate Hip Hop that united the backpackers and the thugs and the sensitive kids alike. I mean, he seemed to be a venn diagram of all three. I wanted him to become the Barack Obama of Hip Hop. But as my over the moon expectations showed their illusory nature, so did Lupe’s ability to pull those worlds together. The truth is, no one should have to do that. I wouldn’t have asked that of Kanye or Talib or the artist formerly known as Mos Def, but Lupe seemed to have all these disparate traits fighting for dominance all the time and all at once. Ideas are tricky things though, and sometimes a medium isn’t quite fit to convey certain very nuanced points. For Lupe, that manifested itself in public. He went after everything and everyone with a zeal unmatched for a while, but all the conversations seemed to leave him remiss about humans in general. Now, it feels like he’s trolling us. What the hell is “Drizzy’s Law?” Oh, is it not okay that women like to be catered to in Hip Hop as well? What the hell is telling Rosenberg to get off Kendrick’s nuts? Isn’t that just a juvenile swipe at a kid whose musical DNA very closely resembles your own? Life batters all of us, but I want the Lupe who believed in people back. Miss me with all this until he shows up.