Posts from the ‘Knowledge’ Category

The Tipping Point: Lil’ Wayne, social media, the internet, hip-hop and America

“Don’t hate the game, hate the institution.”

That was Lil’ Wayne’s closing line on “Walk In,” the intro to Tha Carter I, the album that ignited his stronghold on hip-hop — or, at least it’s record sales. Ironically, the phrase has never been more fitting.

After going platinum in a week three years ago with Tha Carter III, Wayne did the unthinkable and damn near did it again with Tha Carter IV, which hit retailers last Monday, moving 964,000 units.

To sell a million copies in this day and age is a challenge to which few have answered the call (just Adele, Britney Spears, Beyonce, Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga this year). To do it in the first week phenomenal. But twice in a row? That’s almost unfathomable, especially for a rapper.

To be sure, plenty of other hip-hop artists have gone (multi)platinum, some even diamond — but none right now other than Kanye, Eminem, Jay-Z and (maybe) 50 Cent or T.I. Even Jay-Z and Kanye’s Watch The Throne hasn’t hit platinum status yet (though it will soon) and “only” did 436K in its first week. Wayne’s lineage Drake, the lone newcomer whom one might think would have a shot at a first-week platinum album, checked in at 447K.

For the past few years, artists and music labels of all genres — hip-hop, in particular — have tried to figure out just how to break through in the music industry. Generate a huge buzz via mixtape: Drake did that, as did Wiz Khalifa. Get a chart-topping single: B.o.B. did it, Wiz, too. Receive the ultimate co-sign: Drake fits this bill also, along with Big Sean. Accumulate a massive Twitter following: Wale is well over a million.

None of the above have resulted in Weezy-esque success, though Wiz’s and B.o.B have gone gold, and Drake platinum. So given the current market, to many, Wayne’s achievements may seem unexplainable. But they’re not. As with all landmark accomplishments, it is a matter of perfect timing.

Longtime — and unbiased — fans will tell you that in recent years, his raps and the quality of his albums have deteriorated and regressed. His ability to churn out a hit has done the opposite, however. While he began his current run in 2004 and 2005 with Tha Carters I and II, plus two stellar mixtapes, Dedication and Dedication 2, the tipping point came in 2007, and Malcolm Gladwell’s book on social epidemics helps make sense of the situation.

In it, he laid out three rules: The Law Of The Few; The Stickiness Factor; and The Power of Context. Wayne has been blessed to be in position to take full advantage of all three.

The Law Of The Few

In 2007, Wayne officially caught fire, as he recorded, or was featured on, 70+ songs, including those that made the pervasive mixtape, Da Drought 3. In April 2007, when Drought 3 dropped, Facebook hit 20-million unique visitors in the U.S. By June 2008, when Tha Carter III was released, that number had jumped to 131 million — including college students, adults and anybody over the age of 13. This is critical.

The Few, who Gladwell calls Connectors, Mavens and Salesmen — the 20 percent of the population who do 80 percent of the “work” in spreading messages — had more access to the general public than ever. The masses, in general, were more connected than ever. And the ability to discuss, support and promote one’s favorite artist was placed on a stage that millions could see.

Lil’ Wayne, then, had a platform like no other hip-hop artist before. Still relying on word of mouth, Facebook blasted through a social megaphone.

The Stickiness Factor

“There are specific ways of making a contagious message memorable,” says Gladwell.

Wayne has mastered this, no doubt. While his bars declined, they became increasingly ripe for one’s next Facebook status. “I’m so hot…,” “I’m so cold…,” “I’m so sick…,” etc. Lines that, essentially, mean nothing, are applicable to anyone on a social network looking to talk some shit about themselves.

Beginning with Da Drought 3, hundreds of millions of Facebook statuses must surely be credited to Wayne. His similes and metaphors, often non-sequiturs, may not have been poignant or poetic, but they are simple. As a result, they’re contagious, they’re sticky, they’re memorable.

All of a sudden, everyone listens to the new Wayne song to get their Facebook status (which, remember, is growing exponentially at the time), and in return, he gets invaluable publicity.

The Power of context 

On top of this social media boom, context is absolutely crucial to much of Wayne’s success. He’s the bridge between two generations of music-listeners, emerging at the perfect intersection of hip-hop, social media, the internet, race relations, American culture.

Without question, there have been better, more skilled rappers than Lil’ Wayne. Nas, B.I.G., Pac, Jay-Z, Ice Cube, Scarface and Andre 3000, to name a few. So to relate Wayne’s success to him being the “best rapper alive” is a flawed theory, because he’s not. Period.

Quite simply, Wayne is dealing with a different America than those that came before him. Just as Barack Obama, who was elected as the country’s first Black president just five months after Wayne’s Carter III dropped, dealt with a different country than any Black leader who preceded him. It was an event whose time had come.

The Biggie’s and Pac’s and Jay-Z’s chopped and chopped, but it wasn’t until Wayne that America was socially, culturally and technologically ready for hip-hop to be the dominant mainstream force it has become. Weezy finally cut through the log, arriving at the the tail-end of the music-buying culture of the 90s and early 2000s, and on the cusp of the digital download age we currently reside in.

As soon as the floodgates opened, however, they shut just as quickly as record sales plunged. The axe was dulled. Thus, aforementioned newbies, like Drake, are too late. Others were just too early. Those who could have challenged Wayne — 50 Cent or T.I. — opted for lucrative business deals or couldn’t keep themselves out of jail. Kanye can’t stay out of his own way (and I’m sure he’s OK with that).

More white kids (the most essential group to any artists record sales) know, and have access to, more rap music than ever, thanks to social media and the Web. Hip-hop is more pervasive and ubiquitous than ever given improved race relations and the power of the internet. Unfortunately, anyone looking to break into the game now is doing so at a time when record sales are abysmal.

Wayne, however, landed right on time.

To use one final analogy: Michael Jordan kicked down the doors of the sneaker industry endorsement game. But it’s been those who have come behind him — LeBron, Kobe, A.I., DRose — who have reaped the greatest benefits. Are they better players, or have they had better careers than Mike? No. But they’re playing a different game. One that was primed for them by those who came before, just as Dr. J., Magic Johnson and Larry Bird had done for MJ.

The easy way out is to say that what Wayne has done is inexplainable. Or jump to the fallacious conclusion that he must be the best to ever do it. Neither are true. This is not to negate or minimize Wayne’s accomplishments (major props on this first week), but rather to analyze and put them in some context, and think about the importance of timing.

As he said, “don’t hate the game, hate the institution.”


FNP Radio 6.7.11

Tonight marks the final episode of Fresh-N-Proper on Radio DePaul (as an undergrad, at least). Mounds of gratitude to anyone who has ever tuned in, even if only for a minute, and to the good folks at Radio DePaul for providing me with the platform to enlighten via music. If you’ve been a consistent listener, you’ve been put on to some dope shit, no doubt.

Tonight’s episode will begin promptly after the conclusion of Game 4 of the NBA Finals. Listen Live on Radio DePaul.

Below is a list (in alphabetical order) of all the cats who have been guests on Fresh-N-Proper (or Chicken & Waffles with PWelbs):

Big Sean

Big K.R.I.T.

BJ The Chicago Kid

Black Cobain


Chris Shields

Christian Rich


Dee Goodz

Defcee & Kid Quo

Dom Kennedy

Fly Union

L.e. For The Uncool



Phil Ade

Phil G

Phlyy B

Project Mayhem

Ro Spit

Rockie Fresh

Rugz D. Bewler

Skooda Chose

Smoke DZA


Stay Humble Ent. (Big Homie DOE, YP, Onis)


Vic Mensa/KTD


Willie The Kid

Young Chris (first guest ever)


Saw my homie Wes post this the other day on Twitter and FB, and the shit is sooo on point. Brilliant, but simple, perspective courtesy of Chris Rock with his typical witty, insightful social commentary.

Brother Marvin..

Marvin Gaye’s birthday (April 2) and death anniversary (April 1) both passed a few days ago. Obviously, the man is a legend. Peep this video I spotted on dream hampton’s tumblr. Incredible. Brother was recording seated.

Bring It Back: Big K.R.I.T. on Fresh-N-Proper

With all the buzz around K.R.I.T. lately, I figured it’d be nice bring this one back to the top. K.R.I.T. on Fresh-N-Proper on Radio DePaul almost a year ago on April 6, 2010, just before the release of his first mix tape, K.R.I.T. Wuz Here:


Below is a wicked freestyle that I felt compelled to reinstall, too:

Pay attention!


FNP Radio 3.29.11

‘Lotta K.R.I.T., ‘lotta funk, ‘lotta today. Should be good. 10PM-Midnight CT. Listen Live on Radio DePaul.

Narwuard x Lil’ B + Odd Future

Lil’ B…

Odd Future…

Nardwuar’s is crazy enough by himself; with these two … epic.

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