This feature is part a larger series where we will examine the “business model” impactful hip-hop artists. Visit last week’s instalment, about Tory Lanez, here.
For a generation aspiring hip-hop artists, one commodity is cherished like no other. A far cry from anything that the culture’s time-honoured four elements could’ve anticipated, this one elusive attribute doesn’t play into the concept showing your prowess over your fellow rapper, graffiti artist or B-boy. Instead, this sought-after status symbol is anything but straightforward to obtain and so many ill-fated attempts to cultivate it have left artists as the brunt the joke. Above longevity, credibility or any those hallmarks a healthy career that artists the past prioritized, what many today’s rappers really covet is virality.
As outlined by the Oxford dictionary, virality essentially relates to “the tendency an image, video, or piece information to be circulated rapidly and widely from one Internet user to another.” This is a fairly common occurrence in the hip-hop world. Whether it’s Lil Pump’s “Gucci Gang,” Sheck Wes’ “Mo Bamba” or the many incarnations Blueface’s “Thotiana,” these widely disseminated tracks can form the basis a fanbase that treads somewhere between meme-oriented and sincere or act as a launchpad for artists to explore more meaningful work in the months and years that follow.
While Gazzy Garcia and his team know exactly what it takes to elicit this reaction from the public— which can be all found in their deeply cynical but no less effective “Pump Plan”-– another artist that has learned how to bend the internet’s attention span to his will is Joyner Lucas. As far as artistry goes, Lil Pump and Joyner Lucas couldn’t be at more opposing ends the spectrum and the concept being in the same sentence as the man behind “Drug Addicts” would likely cause the Worchester, Massachusetts MC to experience physical pain. Nevertheless, the common ground is their desire to accrue as much a viral presence as possible in order to further their respective careers.
Where Lil Pump does so through Instagram-based feats extravagance and teenage hijinks, Joyner’s approach is built on provocative output and capitalizing on trends or news cycles. But where other artists would package the music as an afterthought, part Joyner’s mastery the viral world comes in his unorthodox approach.
Joyner Lucas at the 61st Grammys – Jon Kopalf/Getty s
Explained in the wake his politically charged and Grammy-nominated “I’m Not Racist,” Joyner granted Revolt TV a glance into how he constructs music. The perfect marriage between the audio and the visual a black man and a Trump-supporting white man was no accident and was the product an upended methodology to the average artist’s process:
“I take the video first approach. I write the video treatment first. I write the soundtrack to the visuals and once I know what the video is going to look like, I go and create the record around the structure the video. That approach works for me… the typical Joyner Lucas fan, they love that about me and that’s what they look forward to.”
For many rappers, the visual aspect the music rollout is an afterthought rather than the utmost importance. In Joyner’s case, it takes precedence on the grounds that “I’m a director at heart. I’m trying to venture f into movies. I’m trying to get into a bigger world.”
As it stands, the polarizing nature “I’m Not Racist” and his decision to show things from both perspectives paid f and has resulted in the video amassing 121,501,860 views to date. A number that many rappers would envy, what makes the successful unveiling the track all the more exceptional is that its YouTube views even surpass that Joyner’s “Lucky You” collaboration with the eternally popular Eminem.
While “I’m Not Racist” propelled Joyner to newfound heights and prompted Em to declare that he “should’ve won a Grammy” for the track, this recipe for success is one that he’d prototyped from an assortment different angles and continues to tweak as the release his new album ADHD edges closer. Long before he was discussed by CNN, Joyner had ran plays on how to breach the mainstream’s defences in two distinct ways. Introduced his rework Desiigner’s “Panda,” the lyrically adept MC began to repurpose the prevailing “mumble rap” hits the day to present himself as “the alternative” and to capitalize f the audience’s familiarity with the beat. Whether it was “Gucci Gang,” Future’s “Mask Off” or 21 Savage’s “Bank Account,” his reworks these popular tracks yielded big numbers time and time again and helped him to build a viral buzz as the “antidote” to perceived inanity in hip-hop. In coincidence with these tracks, Joyner was perfecting the formula for the video that would take him into the stratosphere with the heartrending anti-suicide anthem “I’m Sorry” and the road safety awareness on “Frozen.”
No matter how well meaning– or alternatively— transparent these efforts seem to you, there’s no denying that Joyner was acutely aware their potential to go viral and understandably knew that it could benefit his career. Over the past month or so, this tactic has been implemented by him for both the divisive “Devil’s Work” and “ISIS.”
Logic and Joyner performing at 2019 Boston Calling – Taylor Hill/Getty s
In the case the former, the sheer brashness wishing death upon R. Kelly, Tomi Lahren, Donald Trump and Suge Knight in exchange for the return Nipsey Hussle, 2Pac, Michael Jackson and others was always going to generate a response due to shock value. As a student the game, Joyner understands the allure controversy and as such, knows that it’s a way to transform an artist’s song from a passing concern to a must-listen so that you can adequately provide your own two cents. Hailed as a moment for the culture by Rihanna, the quickness with which he retweeted this praise on his scarcely used social media channels made it clear that it was the sort response that he hoped to garner. A move used to maximize the impact when he does post, it once again served him well when it came time to release “ISIS.” Complete with a verse from former enemy Logic, the video rollout with the caption “what’s beef…” was an attempt to send the Twittersphere into hysterics. Squashing their issues may have been done in public for marketing purposes, but here we are discussing it all the same.
Capable igniting social media curiosity with every move, it is undeniably a smart approach for an artist that is relishing his renewed independence. But if chart success remains the ultimate metric success in the rap game, the devil’s advocate would have to ask whether Joyner is doing what’s best for his overall prosperity. After all, these momentary waves infamy and enduringly pritable careers aren’t necessarily indivisible. As it stands, Joyner has had three tracks make their way on to the Billboard Hot 100-– his feature on Eminem’s “Lucky You,” the Chris Brown-aided “Stranger Things” and his recent track with Logic. Now, considering that each appearance on the Hot 100 has come with the crutch an artist that consumers are more acquainted with, it makes you wonder whether his viral hype is as transferable as once hoped.
Let’s make one thing clear. Joyner Lucas is an immensely talented rapper and a man that has had to construct his own lane at every fork in the road. Deemed by collaborator Boi-1da to be “one the best lyricists and storytellers I’ve ever heard” and “not your conventional artist,” it’s clear that he has all the tools to sustain a career in the industry. Enble as his regularly replenished viral status may seem, the real question is whether he needs to dispense with responding to what’s timely, in favour producing art that is made with timelessness in mind. If ADHD arrives with the impact that the viral model would suggest then his decision will be vindicated. If not, perhaps the effectiveness controversy and taking the internet by storm isn’t as sustainable as it may initially seem on paper.