What is a political relationship? What is politics?
You finna be hip hop’s next greatest rap star. You spent your childhood and teenage years listening to Tupac, Notorious B.I.G., Wu Tang Clan, Kris Kross, Dr. Dre, Common, Snoop Dogg, and Warren G. You think you know all about it. You spent your middle school years deciding whether or not you’d be a rocker or a hip hopper. The music rapture came when you trembled when two tough eighth graders told you that they liked your FUBU and Tommy Hilfiger gear, thinking they’d beat the shit out of you if you didn’t say hip hop. You knew you had already decided in their favor. You almost shat yourself when the two dudes, Daniel and Jose, moved closer towards you to ask you where you got them clothes, you thought they’d jack your shit right off of your chubby, brownskinned body, could skin you alive like you were a rare breed mink at a fur farm. I got ‘em at Mr. Rags, you said half proud, half scared, already sensing that the front end of your bowels was touching your tighty whiteys. You fool, you said to yourself, they’re tryna befriend you. Be cool.
Nine years later and here you are. Sitting in a small office on the fifth floor of the Island Def Jam building in Santa Monica, California. What a dope place for the production of hip hop, huh? You sit in this red leather office chair, lean back for a bit because you just asked the record executive who loved how marketable you were to step out for five minutes so that you could bask in the moment.
You’re alone in the office. As you lean back, you check out the view of palm trees, immaculate streets and white couples holding hands as they saunter on the sidewalk through floortoceiling windows. You remember Daniel and Jose, the three a yall were The City’s Cypher. A onceuponatime trio, rapping, writing and performing together at the drop of a hat. They’re your big brothers, and without them, you wouldn’t be in this sterile office with the paper that would guarantee your granddaughter’s granddaughter some paper for life. The City’s Cypher owned the San Francisco rap game, or so you thought, until you realized that Millbrae really isn’t The City after all. Daniel and Jose took on producer and manager roles, respectively, since said record executive only wanted to sign you when he caught your show at The Viper Room in Hollywood. Daniel and Jose were initially pissed, but they couldn’t be happier for you because they wanted to make connections, too.
Yo, I’ll help you get your money up, too, you promised. I’ll have more clout in the game once I drop my first album. I can’t come up without you guys, you explained. You made them believe you needed them. You think you do. The record executive told you to drop them completely.
They’ll hold you back, he insisted. They’re my fam, you replied.
Fam lets you smoke their last joint, fam lets you have the drunkest girl at the party, fam lets you throw up outside the window of the car they just washed. Fam lets you get the first verse of each track, fam lies for you (because dudes don’t have sleepovers), and fam lets you keep your FUBU and Hilfiger jeans even after they thought they was gonna steal it. That’s fam. But do you throw dirt in they face when you sign a contract that recognizes how your talent stands apart from theirs? Do you side with the record label, thinkin’ they’ll see how ill yall are when you get to the top? Or do you go with trill hip hop, stay on the independent music route, keep hip hop pure?
If you sign the contract, go to section 2.
If you don’t sign the contract, go to section 3.
After you signed your real name on the line after the X, you realize that it is the last time you’ll see or hear your real name in a long time. Frankly, you might never again make contact with the name your mama gave you. From now on, everyone will call you by your stage name – The Blunt. Lil Blunt, if you feelin’ it. You also accept The Bleez, Young Bleezy, and Lil Blu.
The record executive who is now in charge of how famous you get and responsible for your creative direction, Mr. AV, gives you one of the fakest hugs you’ve ever experienced – it evaporates as soon as your freedom does. He passes you a cigar, bigger than the blunt you rolled at Rock The Bells back in 2007, how you got that sucka through security shows you how often magic happens. D and Jose are just behind Mr. AV, there to shout and remind you that moments of “We did it, baby!” and “Fuck yeah!” should always ground you. Mr. AV ushers you to a nearby studio. Old man says he wants to hear five tracks in twentyfour hours, only two of which need to be digestible hits. What the hell, D and Jose protest. Talk some sense into him, they say. It’s impossible.
Nah, fellas, we can do it, you charge. You think.
You bang out five tracks as requested. Mr. AV knows nothing about rap, much less Bay Area hip hop. The way it slaps (you know if you listen), the scratchiness in your voice, the way the beat inhales your mind, how you can gig and go dumb. The only thing true to Bay Area music, you find as Mr. AV shakes his head in disappointment after hearing what you came up with, is how it’s treated with onesixteenth of the respect it deserves.
You go back to the studio, this time without D and Jose. Mr. AV thinks it would be best if they just become a part of your entourage that you’ll acquire at some point in your marketing schema. You’re assigned to Scott Storch and T-Pain, music makers you always hated on, especially for their getrichquick acts. You’re mad as hell about how your boys are being ousted this quickly into your tenure with Def Jam. You’re signed onto the same label as Kanye West, Rihanna, Justin Bieber, The Killers – how could you pass this up? But how could you trade in D and Jose – your now nonamed best friends who’ve always had your back – for gimmicky dunces like Scott Storch and T-Pain? If they’re your true friends, then they’ll still be your friends if this doesn’t work out? Right?
If you fight for Daniel and Jose, go to section 4.
If you decide to work with Scott Storch and T-Pain, go to section 5.
Not only do you decide not to sign the contract that you know you’ll never get again, you pull your pants down, rub your ass cheeks on it, and you rip it up. You call in the record exec, Mr. AV, put the pieces in his blazer pocket and tell him that you wish you could take up his offer to help you sell out hip hop, and treat it like cheapened women, but you’d rather not fuck up the future for the youth of America. You’re gonna make your own way, as you have been, you say. You walk out with Daniel and Jose. You give each other highfives and knowing nods and never look back at the Island Def Jam building. You all head to your car parked at a meter. You find a parking ticket on it.
Damn, that’s fam, D says.
I woulda taken the advance and ran, Jose jokes.
You all get into your 1979 pearl Oldsmobile Cutlass and smoke up a blunt. Blunt, everyone calls you, pass that. Now the The City’s Cypher is back together, without the infiltration of a mainstream record company messin’ up your steez, the three of you are at odds about what to do next. D says it’s time to head back to the Bay, to home base to relax and re-group. Jose still wants to fuck an LA girl, any girl, and suggests that you all head to Mid-City to sell your CDs and merch. As usual, you are the deciding factor.
If you choose to go back to the Bay Area, go to section 6.
If you choose to stay in Los Angeles, go to section 7.
They my homies, you say to Mr. AV.
That’s another thing we’ll need to work on, Mr. AV insists, your accent. Didn’t you go to college? We need you to fit that J. ColeyDrakeishKanye West persona that’s hot right now. Intelligent rap. It’s important to capitalize on the college student and college dropout market, son.
There’s no hope for them. They need someone like you. You can’t be too much like Lupe Fiasco, though, the guys upstairs would kill me. You gotta keep it quiet, stay partying. You have to step your game up if you wanna be in this for the long run. With all due respect, Mr. AV, you say without pleading or sucking his dick too hard, Daniel and Jose are integral to my creative process as an artist.
Every rapper does require an entourage, however, all the dudes you mentioned are my idols, and they’d be nothing big without their crew. I’m not askin’ you to sign my crew, just to have ‘em around for support. Whatchu say, Mr. AV?
Mr. AV concedes. He lets D and Jose stay for a while, thinks their roles could be defined further as he assembles your media team. He puts Scott Storch and T-Pain on hold for now.
Your first single, “Party Like” catapults you onto the Billboard Top 100. Debuting at #4 ain’t too bad, you say to yourself. You still feel like you’re on top of the world. Especially when you’re on a private plane starting your first mini tour to New York City, Toronto, Philadelphia and Miami to perform this one song. D and Jose popped open the second bottle of Courvoissier and all a yall are set to do an interview with Katie Couric, Rocsi and Terrence from BET’s 106 & Park, Angie Martinez, Tavis Smiley and even motherfuckin’ Barbara Walters comes outta semiretirement to hear what you have to say to the American people. “Party Like” reaches success in Brazil, the United Kingdom, Canada, Mexico, the Philippines, Argentina, Australia and even rap heads in New Zealand love you. Thanks to D and Jose, your sound is funky like The Roots, your lyrics are on point like OutKast and your style is as fresh as P. Diddy. You travel like them, too, and swag drips into your everyday. You’re kind of a big deal, son.
You’re tired. You’re on planes every other day, never getting to explore cities, you just sleep above them. You’re in and out of various studios, still tryna find the follow-up song to your success.
One day, at an airport terminal, a couple of security guards stop you and your crew because they found half a kilo of weed in a bag on the conveyor belt, mixed among all your shit.
D is currently being patted down. Security thinks it’s his. Jose is already through security, he puts his hands up, forfeiting guilt. It ain’t mine, he says quickly. Quicker than the sweat dripping down D’s forehead. If neither of you claim the bag, you’re both fucked.
You know it’s your bag. How else did you think you were going to stay up, jetsetting, countryhopping, continenttraversing, and shit. You forgot to flush that shit in the toilet before you left the hotel. You thought you were on the way to another interview, realized you were on the way to one via Dulles International Airport and it slipped your mind when you napped in the tinted Range. One a you has to confess. Is you gon’ be a snitch? By the by, these racist ass security motherfuckers in Washington, D.C. won’t let either of you go without first being beat, then stuck in jail for a minimum of three months to a year. There goes your recording contract, you think. People won’t give another dime to your name, you drug lord, you say to yourself. But D shouldn’t go down for your mess, you asshole. You have three seconds to decide, you bitch. 3…2…1…
If you choose to claim the bag, go to section 8.
If you choose to say nothing, go to section 9.
Hellllaaaaabitches! T-Pain says when you meet him for the first time. The public doesn’t care that he’s a father. It’ll be years before a National Public Radio Tiny Desk Concert will reveal that T-Pain can sing well without synthesizers. Scott Storch is in the corner, playing with beats on his drum maker. The public hasn’t cared that he’s actually a talented musician.
Your first song gotta be about hot bitches in the Bay, T-Pain declares. I had some good pussy in Oakland last year. I’ma be on the joint, too, you don’t mind, right? I got the hook already, too. Nappy Boy on the beat, yafeel?
Pull your panties down low
Never try to resist, oh no!
Oh, let me love come tumbling in,
Into your body again
It’s wack as fuck but you smile anyway. T-Pain is already harmonizing, clearing his throat by gargling Hennessy. You already waved goodbye to D and Jose, practically threw up the deuces to their faces when you chose to go with your newest producing team, might as well be all in it. All or nothing. Nothing even matters. You know those lyrics. Lauryn Hill and D’Angelo. Everyone who hears this joint will know the sample. You let the hook slide, you hate the excessive high hats, but you rap on the pentatonic beat that Storch makes. Together, the three of you make history.
You get dreads. T-Pain becomes your mentor. Scott Storch becomes the main producer on your forthcoming album. You wear neon stunna shades everywhere you go. You collab with other females, in studios for choruses and in hotel rooms for nightcaps. This song, “Panties,” is a commercial success. You perform it at clubs, radio concerts where other artists are the more worthy headliners, yet you shop this song around so much that journalists and music reviewers are sayin’ that you’s about to be the next one hit wonder if you don’t get to the lab soon.
You try to get T-Pain and Scott Storch back with you, but they ain’t been paid yet. You talk to Mr. AV but he gives you the runaround, says you need to be patient and that he has other highlevel artists to tend to. You’re fifth priority he says. So you hire Rob Kardashian as your manager, but unfortunately, you’re his second client ever. Your voice is on the radio, but it’s not in the boardrooms.
Rob’s fighting for you, but it’s not enough. And your record label is starting to turn its back on you. Whatchu gonna do now, boy?
If you choose to wait it out, tweet that mothafucka and let all yalls fans put pressure on him: @TPAIN.
If you choose to continue fighting, tweet @DefJamRecords, and ask, “What the fuck!”
You, D and Jose drive the 7 hours up the I-5 North to get back to Millbrae. Around the Middle of Nowhere, CA, Jose plugs in his iPhone to the stereo system and plays an onthego mix consisting of artists that y’all look up to: Kanye West, Jay Z, J. Cole, Drake, De La Soul, Talib Kweli. You have the backseat to yourself. You stare out the window where you gaze at open farmland, the mountainside, the cattle, and cattle dookie sprinkled on acres of dried grass. You focus on white space, on one white cloud dissipating back into the sky, probably back to where it came from. You think you see your dreams die. You replay the short LA trip in your head – how you went out there to do a show, got girls’ numbers, finally had Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles, got offered a piece of paper to guarantee you a happiness you thought you wanted and left feeling kinda angry, a previously unthinkable sadness. And then you focus on how you got to a glass ceiling, shattered it without surpassing it, you think twice about ripping up that paper, you fear that you’ve burned a big ass bridge that can’t be rebuilt with any big time talent seeker. You think you fucked up. D and Jose are rapping along like dumb ass motherfuckers, they think they’re your crew, but they’re your hypemen, on the real. You furrow your brow. You pull your beanie off your bald head. Your fists curl up. You watch Jose, rappin’ in the passenger’s seat, his jawbone and facial muscles flexing and relaxing along to each lyric. That’s what it means to spit, you think to yourself, I taught him that. Even D has his rap hand gestures down pat (and that mofo is driving!), as if he could bring Ameslan back. As if he was a real rapper. As if he could recant the spirit of Kanye’s College Dropout self.
You sit up, in time for the next track, “We Don’t Care.” You realize that you never put on your seatbelt. It’s just something you notice, not something you act upon. You are about to experience something so cold man / We never had nothing handed took nothing for granted / Took nothing from no man, man I’m my own man, you rap along as you stare at your purple Avengers. You think you need some spitfire. You consider going back to the Bay, renting out your own studio instead of relying mostly on GarageBand; you think about upgrading your website from Blogspot to WordPress so that you could upload audio tracks, you think about how you need to go harder, need to write more and go to more open mics. You need to network. You need to live life so you can have shit to rap about. Is you living hard enough? You think about how much that all costs. How much it requires an endlessness that you can’t yet qualify. You think about how your Mama works a fulltime job, works twelvehour shifts at some contact lens manufacturing company in Fremont that’s gonna fold in two years, how your struggle doesn’t compare to hers, how you shouldn’t compare yourself to your Mama, to Kanye, to Jay, to Justin Bieber for Christ’s sake, and how you can’t, for the life and shock in you, mitigate how you’re not feelin’ this shit no more. And what’s this? You feel intense regret. The guilty kind. So, in the Middle of Nowhere, near the stank ass town of Buttonwillow, CA (hey, it ain’t they fault that waste corporations like to take dumps there) in the middle of “Mr. Nice Watch,” you grab Jose’s iPhone, quickly roll down the window, and chuck that shit like a javelin, floating as far as the dookie and dreams that sit on seemingly unattainable pedestals.
Great job, cuz, you’re still an asshole. At least, you’re a sensitive asshole.
Of course, D and Jose stop the car, ask what the fuck! hella times, beat you up, as you slip from the brawl with minor bruising until you offer to run and go get the iPhone, just to see if there’s some way to recover it. Jose needs his music and his folks’ phone numbers, but not as badly as he needs the phone number for an interviewer he’s supposed to meet with on Friday.
If the iPhone works still, don’t worry, it’s all good.
If the iPhone doesn’t work, it’s okay, it’s all good, but you have to pay Jose back for that shit.
Mid-City it is! The three of you walk up and down Crenshaw, peddling CDs on the street. D sells a CD to some overweight, frumpy-looking chump who hosts a weekly open mic at a dive spot in West Hollywood. The three of you decide to go.
It’s hard to find. You think you might be late, so you park the Cutlass in a nearby alley, an L.A. no-no. You find the spot, you sign up, y’all are going fifth. The open mic is at a big ass taqueria, and it’s where all of the locals and the wannabes go. It’s tight! It’s also a full house, all kinds of folks are there, even folks who look like they like hip hop, and hipsters who will try dance to your words. The place, Hipolito’s, smells like carne asada, sweat, and cheese. Jose feels at home, he even flirts with the worker at the register, which gets you free nachos, and he thinks he will finally get to fuck an LA girl named Reina, not knowing, and will never tell you and D how he found out what M2F stood for.
Anyway, the acts before you are aight – two guitarists, one spoken word poet, one monologuing actor motherfucker who got boo’d off the stage – and you think you have a good shot at turning the night around for the crowd.
Straight from the Bay, the host introduces, we have The City’s Cypher!
Give ‘em a round of applause, y’all! The crowd is still cheerful, still hopeful, possibly tipsy off that good from the tequila bar. The host drops the CD of beats that you pass to him, cleans off some residue, and puts it into the stereo like it’s nothing. You’re worried, but that fades once the first song is done. The second track plays on, the crowd is feeling you, the dudes with thick black framed box glasses sing along to your chorus, you feel successful. And as Jose is performing his part of a verse, the track skips. Jose drops the ball, is thrown off by the repetitive screeching blaring over the speaker system. Your set is over. The host turns off the CD, says, while on the mic, that it’s faulty and that he doesn’t know how y’all do it in NorCal, but they don’t play like that in LA. That you need to step off so the next act can get on. He’s been drinking. You had some Reposado yourself. You get territorial. You didn’t come to this open mic to get told by some dude off the street who hosts open mics for fun. This dude didn’t know, that just six hours earlier, you were about to be big. That you woulda been able to buy this taqueria, bulldoze it, set fire to the debris, hire the host’s entire family to pick up the ashes as you piss on their timesheets. He didn’t know you. He didn’t understand your hunger. Fuck a taco-eating, mic-hogging, ignant pretender from L.A. Next thing you know, you put your hands around dude’s neck, telling him to choke on embers or your dick. D and Jose separate you before LAPD get to the taqueria. The three of you run out and leave the taunting crowd while Jose shouts to the girl at the register, “Mi amor! I’ll see you later!”
You run back to the alley, only to find out that someone broke into the Cutlass and stole all of the change that D keeps for that extra eight cents when he buys two regular tacos at Jack in the Crack for ninetynine cents. The culprit also stole D’s duffle bag for the trip.
Fuck! he screams. He’s the only one sober enough to drive. D! Drive! you instruct. You hear sirens. You think the LAPD siren is louder than the pigs in the bay.
You end up in front of Reina’s house. On the way there, you found out that she is the heiress to the Hipolito empire. Y’all wanna go to the Bay, but can’t, until Jose gets it in. He’s adamant about pulling a Luda, says having hoes in different area codes is an investment in your penis and your music. It’s the ExtenZe before ExtenZe was ExtenZe, Jose argues, like allnatural male enhancement wherever you go. Whatever, you say as you fall asleep in the back, your drunkard ass always does that shit, all lightweight status after two shots. D scribbles rhymes for the next mixtape before he falls asleep. Jose stays up for a few hours, watches the front porch, waits for Reina to get off work.
Once Reina’s red Honda Civic S.I. rolls into the small yellow house’s driveway, Jose gets out the car and is inside the spot while you and D are asleep. Don’t sleep, a voice inside your head repeats. You said this to yourself when you was at the studio late at night in Daly City, renting the cheapest time slots available. Nobody sees this, but the trunk of Reina’s hatchback opens from the passenger side, and out comes Placido V. Flores (inmate #100459511), the host of the Hipolito open mic, the sucka on the street, your murderer.
He is Reina’s cousin. He recognizes the Cutlass, knows it’s an LA anomaly, only because of the San Francisco dealership license plate holder you got on, and never got around to replacing, sees you and D asleep. Stay asleep, he evilly whispers to himself. He walks slowly towards the gate to the backyard where his Tio Hipolito keeps the barbecue pit and accompanying lighter fluid. Placido pours the lighter fluid all over the Cutlass and pulls out a cigarette and a lighter from his pocket. He lights the cigarette, smokes it ‘til the embers touch his fingerprints – all of this happening just before D wakes up just in time to see Placido flick the cigarette onto the hood of the car. The fire runs over the hood of the car and D’s eyes widen when it approaches the windshield.
He hurriedly rushes out of the car, fumbling over the seatbelt to do so. You feel the car shaking. You hear someone screaming your name in your dreams. You think it’s a happy hip hop fan. You wake up to flames. You’re still drunk. You don’t know what’s going on.
You’re alone. You’re asleep.
“I’m a fucking musician!” you say to one of the security douchebags in a private room at the airport. You get held up there for a few hours, until a representative at your record label can pull some strings and grant you an advance to pay for your $3,000 bail. Your whole team is held up, they go back to the hotel and you spend some time in handcuffs in a cold cell.
It’s a good thing you took the fall for your own bullshit. Because some of the policemen, the lawyer assigned to your case and even the judge who let you go with a good deal, all love your one song on the radio, you’re good. You’re infallible from then on. You pay a $2,000 fine, perform a hundredfifty hours of community service and you complete drug counseling. Your publicist issues a statement for you, saying things you’ve never said, like how you’ve never done drugs in your whole life.
But now it’s time to get back on track. You need some time to work on music. You wanna just lock yourself up in a studio. Your record company wants the same. Because the drug incident worked out and brought you positive publicity, you have other great opportunities, but you feel it’s too to stray away from your goal.
If you choose to fly to a recording studio in Sweden, dope!
If you choose to be a part of a sitcom in Toronto, you become Drake’s newest artist.
D goes to jail. Great job, some homie you are. You knew D had gotten into too much trouble when he was younger. Hip hop was all he had. And as if there aren’t already enough men of color in the prison industrial complex. Now you can say that you not only contributed to that system, you’ve provided someone else in your newly acquired income bracket with a license plate, broom, or a pair of prescription eye glasses – all made by your boy, D! Good stuff, bro.
You get to continue to travel the world. The ladies love you in Europe. Jose remains in your inner circle and he gets signed by Mr. AV as an independent rapper. You two get to collaborate on various hit singles. You even get to work with Beyonce, in fact, she cheats on Jay Z with you and nobody, not even Jose, knows. You got Janet Jackson, Mariah Carey, Mick Jagger and Coolio on speed dial. You have the iPhone 8. You are exposed to the finer things in life: you have penthouse apartments in New York City, Paris, Seattle, Miami, Buenos Aires and even Prague! Yo, you’ve never even been to Prague, but you’ve flown over that shit hella times. You produce six albums before you phase out of the rap game and promote your two daughters, Nicole and Malia, as the next up-and-coming R&B duo. Willow Smith is their dance choreographer. On each album, you have a song dedicated to your homie D, who is still in a jail somewhere in Oklahoma for the possession of marijuana from back in the day, when you made him take the fall for you. In fact, you learn through the years that prosecutors have been able to somehow charge him and hold him in the penitentiary for two murders in the small town of Franklin, Georgia. Because the law circuits are tied and you become too busy to do shit about it, D spends his lifetime in jail, waiting for somebody, for salvation.
You never even visit him. You never got to apologize. You kinda did, with one verse you had on Wiz Khalifa’s song about fallen homies. You just never had the time. He hears your songs in prison. You hope he’s okay. He hopes you’ve made it. You were mistaken this whole time. So was he. You hope he’s forgiven you. He has. The only consolation is that he finds Islam, reading scriptures from the Qur’an on the cell walls, and believes he’ll meet Allah in paradise.
You, however, die peacefully in a 35,000-acre mansion in New Jersey.
You’ve had three wives, and your two daughters are from the one groupie turned model that you settled with. You live next door to one of Russell Simmons’s phat mansions and the two of you exploit yoga and kombucha equally. You have your own award-winning record label and you bequeath most of your shit to Jose and your sister Amelia. The whole world cries for you, not as much as it did when Aaliyah and Lisa ‘Left Eye’ Lopes left, because you done did some fucked up things in your lifetime, too. You know what those mistakes are. Don’t front. But, it is a sad day in hip pop when you pass.