In August, the Detroit rapper Teejayx6 made his strategy to California for his first Los Angeles live performance, at Rarehouse. In movies from the occasion, he lumbers across the stage, head down, clutching his microphone prefer it was an enemy. However then one thing weird occurs: Two burly males in navy jackets studying “U.S. Marshal” stomp onto the stage, converse some stern phrases to the rapper, then take him into custody. They march Teejayx6 outdoors to a ready automobile and drive off.
Inside minutes, footage of the incident hit Instagram and Twitter. And inside hours, web sleuths found an internet site with actors for rent enjoying cops, together with one who was photographed arresting Teejayx6, making it clear the entire bust was a sham.
And but everybody received what they needed, roughly. Followers on the present noticed a live performance, and likewise a little bit of efficiency artwork. Followers on the web received to unravel a thriller. And Teejayx6 took what might have been a small present that left a minimal mark and made it into an occasion that ricocheted throughout social media.
In Teejayx6’s comparatively speedy rise to web notoriety over the previous few months, he’s made scamming central to his music; his finest songs are like “10 Crack Commandments” for on-line monetary crime. Nevertheless it additionally manifests in his picture: He courts the meme economic system assiduously, enjoying a personality in an ongoing social-media drama that’s simply as necessary as his music, most likely extra so.
The identical is true of lots of this 12 months’s most necessary breakout rappers — DaBaby, Blueface, Megan Thee Stallion, NLE Choppa and others — who perceive that in an period during which social media and streaming are interwoven amplifiers, enjoying a personality is as necessary as making nice music. Being beloved (and typically laughed at) on social media — see 6ix9ine, Lil Pump and different anime characters of the SoundCloud period — is simply as necessary as any track. Creating micro-moments that followers can manage round often is the most sturdy foreign money of all.
That is true even of essentially the most technically expert rappers of the present technology, DaBaby and Megan Thee Stallion. DaBaby’s spectacular new album “Kirk” simply debuted at the top of the Billboard album chart. However simply a few years in the past, he appeared at South by Southwest sporting a diaper, planning to go viral. When he carried out his breakout hit, “Suge,” on the BET Awards this summer time, he appeared onstage in a muscle shirt, wanting like a pumped-up Popeye. His compact toughness is a frequent topic of memes: There’s one which likens the form of his head to a PT Cruiser, one other that exhibits a furiously stomping Topsy Cat and reads “DaBaby on his strategy to beat anyone” up.
Megan Thee Stallion’s entry into the meme slipstream has been barely much less direct, however no much less efficient. Her catchphrase “sizzling woman summer time” birthed infinite tweets, Instagram captions and memes. And Megan leaned into the phrase, releasing a song with that title in August, and efficiently making use of for trademark safety for the phrase.
Earlier this 12 months, the Los Angeles rapper Blueface helped construction this pathway throughout the supernova that was “Thotiana,” considered one of 2019’s greatest but most evanescent rap songs. As he was turning into a rap star, he was turning into an even bigger viral sensation, nailing a number of signature gestures — mopping the ground, slicking his eyebrows — that turned simple memes. And he’s confirmed adept at sustaining a spot within the social-media dialog, even when he’s been much less current on hip-hop radio, as seen in his latest public dialogue about his throuple residence life.
And he’s already sprouting affect. You see a few of Blueface’s eagerness to entertain in NLE Choppa, whose breakout hit this 12 months was “Shotta Movement.” Within the track’s video, Choppa wields an improbably lengthy gun, however he additionally dances with athletic verve and comedian timing. And it’s these sharp-elbowed strikes which have develop into his signature — in a single hilarious clip circulating on-line, he previews music for the legendary music government Birdman, considered one of hip-hop’s nice stoics, herking and jerking wildly whereas Birdman maintains a cool distance. Unsurprisingly, the remix of “Shotta Movement” options Blueface. Within the video, the 2 rappers go verse for verse, and dance for dance, every attempting to out-GIF the opposite.
Teejayx6 has stated that he, too, has seemed to Blueface as an affect, particularly in his rapping, which is extra spoken than straightforwardly rhythmic. His finest songs — “Darkish Net,” “Swipe Story” — are like recitations filled with hacker-speak and rip-off classes: “The federal government tried to ban me from the darkish net/I downloaded Tor browser and received again in/Went and received a VPN, simply purchased one other BIN.”
He’s launched three albums this 12 months, and his music is bettering. However he’s dedicated to stirring up on-line dialog as properly. The day after the Los Angeles present, he caught with the bit, posting a video of himself at a Wells Fargo with the caption “Bonded out again on the identical [expletive].” Later, the caption was modified, after which the video was deleted — a cycle that’s develop into a part of his technique.
In late September, Teejayx6 got here to S.O.B.’s for his first live performance in New York. It was an unruly, nearly reluctant present — transient and appealingly uncooked. The act of rapping for an viewers appeared to annoy him. One member of his crew handed out ski masks to viewers members just like the one Teejayx6 was sporting so that they, too, might develop into the meme.
The following day, his consultant started circulating a #FreeTeejayx6 hashtag, suggesting he’d been arrested. Quickly after that, a self-evidently pretend mug shot made the rounds, as did a pretend New York Instances tweet asserting the information of his arrest: “He was caught with $50,000 money & fraudulent financial institution checks.”
It was all false, but in addition plainly entertaining — what number of occasions might somebody pretend his personal arrest earlier than diminishing returns set in? However Teejayx6 often is the best rapper for this age of pervasive disinformation, for an period of almost-true and could-be-factual. While you’re by no means sure what you’re seeing is actual, an artist who freely bends and invents the reality feels prescient. And even if you happen to can not belief your eyes, you may nonetheless belief your ears.