Waka Flocka Flame: Gangsta Rap Made Me Do It
An interview and analysis with Brick Squad 1017's raucous sensation, who may be carrying the N.W.A. torch and making some of the last Gangsta Rap on a major.
Waka Flocka Flame makes Gangsta Rap. Not the current day Rap about selling drugs until I get rich and then rap exclusively about how rich I am incarnation of the genre, and certainly nothing close to the politically charged early-Ice Cube variety. Ideologically he instead leans towards the insular, purely angst driven middle period. The Efil4zaggin-style, "dedicated to the niggas that was down from day one" type of shit.
The New York-born, Georgia-bred rapper might also be the first post-lyrical artist in his subgenre. Not in sense that he doesn't adhere to the lyrical standards of golden age yore (though he clearly doesn't), but that his listeners themselves rarely even value his content. Waka acknowledged as much in a recent YouTube interview and created a minor scandal in the process. "I said I don't need lyrics. That's where everybody got it misconstrued," he clarifies in a recent phone conversation. He then explains what does draw listeners to his music: "It's the energy, the delivery, and the realness of the person that's making it."
He neglects to mention his obvious secondary function as a lightning rod amongst hip hop conservatives. Waka, funny name and all (it's a loose phonetic mash up of his government, Juaquin, and the onomatopoeia of a gun firing) is this season's go-to whipping boy for all-too-vocal old heads and their spiritual offspring, the Rap listeners who seem more concerned with who's destroying the values of yesterday than the actual quality of today's Rap music. The day after the interview for this piece was conducted Waka appeared on BET's 106 & Park where he discussed education and the midterm elections in the most awkward way possible. "Umm... voting cool..." he mumbled before trailing off into gibberish and then asking the hosts to "run that back." Of course, 106 & Park is broadcast live, so running the tape back was not an option. Sure enough the clip hit Worldstar and YouTubes and his Internet detractors sharpened their swords and manned their keyboards. A cursory Google search for "+Waka +106 +Idiot" delivers 177,000 results and very few, if any, of them appear to contain the sentence "Waka Flocka Flame is not an idiot." Waka's only response came on Twitter: "Kould(sic) yall tell i was nervous on 106&Park?" In re-watching the clip, that seems like a reasonable explanation. Waka looks more squirmy than flat out stupid and this discomfort is typical of most of his public appearances. He doesn't wear limelight well. When lacking the protective shield of his high energy riot music Waka just seems confused, wide eyed and grinning goofily.
SO WHEN I GET ON 106 N JOKE AROUND YALL TALK ABOUT ME LIKE A DOG SHAWTY BUT WHEN I BUY 30,000 WORTH SCHOOL SUPPLY N LAPTOPS ITS NO RESPECT
In conversation he is similarly aloof and almost strategically so. He's friendly, but far away. Any question about his very vocal detractors is met with close to complete apathy. His plea that "my fans love me" seems rehearsed in its nonchalance. While most rappers will quickly tell you they don't care about haters... and then spend several minutes ranting about why they don't care, Waka seems genuinely unfazed by all this negativity. And, yes, ignorance is bliss, but bliss isn't always ignorance. Sometimes it's just indifference. And sometimes indifference is the best course of action.
It helps too that that Waka's fans do seem to love him. Over the past 18 months or so, tracks like "O Let's Do It" , "Hard In The Paint" and "Luv Dem Gun Sounds" have provided the go-to car stereo subwoofer workouts across the country while his signature "Waka!" adlibs ring out in any hood. His debut LP, Flockaveli feels like a gift to that core audience. No ballads, no Pop concessions, just 80 minutes of full scale apocalyptic fight music, the bulk of it laced by in-house beatsmith Lex Luger. Only the Drumma Boy-produced single "No Hands," comes anywhere close to a traditional radio record, and even that comes off as dark and oddly introverted given the context. Hate it or love it, it's hard to look at Flockaveli as anything but the most uncompromising major label Rap album in years.
But maybe that's because it isn't exactly a major label album. Or at least it wasn't initially intended to be one. "[Originally] Flockaveli was a mixtape, it wasn't an album," he explains. Early mockup's of the artwork billed it as yet another DJ Holiday-helmed mixtape. "But the mixtape went hard, so my team decided to turn it into an album." Giving an artist this much creative breathing room on his debut was a high risk on the part of the label but it's hard to tell if their acquiescence came from a genuine faith in Waka or if it was simply an admission of defeat. Last year The State vs. Radric Davis, the planned break through album from Waka's mentor and Brick Squad partner Gucci Mane (or former? Both have remained tight lipped about their rumored split.) didn't exactly breakthrough, despite - or because of - several ill-advised Pop gestures. Flocka's sound and image is even more defiantly street than Gucci's and it's hard to imagine him over anything but the sort insular Post-Crunk that he raps to here. "The one thing about Asylum/Warner Brothers is that they let you be an artist," Waka says. "They let me do my album how I wanted to."
He didn't quite seem as happy about his label situation in the heat of a Twitter rant earlier last month: "That's fucked up when yo own label don't got yo back like my fans do Shawty FUCK this industry can't wait till my contact(sic) up... I worked my own shit from day 1 now when I get a lil buzz they wanna eat yo whole check.." In a room full of label folks, Flocka dismisses the rant as empty aggression. "You get mad you, just go in," he says. "It's over though. That was Twitter." This is an unfortunate retreat. Waka's long bubbling mixtape following and high performance fees on the modern day Chitlin Circuit put him in a position where he could actually exist outside of the label infrastructure. Fortunately the album itself isn't so spineless in the face of Rule #4080. On "Fuck This Industry" he offers some very constructive wisdom to budding artists: "Watch out for these labels man... make sure you don't get a 360, that shit ain't 100."
Despite the industry headache and continued headache, Waka remains resolute in his dedication to making music. "My fans and my friends encourage me to keep rapping," he says. "It makes my mother happy because I'm doing something positive."
Hold up. Positive? It's not the first word that comes to mind in describing an artist whose biggest hit opens with the couplet "I fucked my money up / now I can't re-up" but after some pressing Waka rationalizes it well enough. "I never said my music is positive. My music relieves the stress," he clarifies. "It's for people that's going through or living what I'm talking about. It teaches them how to relieve stress verbally instead of physically. So what I'm doing is positive."
And there you go. After 20 minutes of mumbling indecision and safe-distance generic rapper talk Waka finally and concisely expresses a logical agenda. And this is the frustrating thing. He understands the purpose of his music, he just rarely verbalizes it. In a recent interview with Complex magazine, Ice Cube recounted a bit of advice that Ice-T once gave him: "Cube, make sure you can always justify what you say on them records. They gon' ask you in them interviews, [make sure it’s] shit that you can talk about." Waka would be wise to heed this same wisdom. Flockaveli is a sonically massive record but it could be so much more than that. It could be a game changer. It's the industry's last uncompromising Gangsta Rap record and, in a lot of ways, a conspicuous indictment of the major label album model. If Waka could just better recognize and articulate his own strengths, just get comfortable in his own skin, then that referred positivity would multiply tenfold. A thoughtful Flocka Flame could be absolutely dangerous. But these are unrealistic expectations. Even if Waka did posses the drive and constitution to present himself as an Ice-T style articulate thug it would almost definitely be a professional misstep. If there's no such thing as bad publicity then, true or not, the continued "Waka's An Idiot, Son! Fozzie Bear!" retweets and half-baked blog posts are more valuable than any display of rational thought. Dumb rappers get better promotion.
Waka will be alright though. His fans love him.