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Begin with a subject of extreme talent and meager means. Give him a record contract. Bless him with the best producers this side of Dr. Dre. Have him record the seminal rap album of the decade. It should be understated yet penetrating and disturbingly honest. Give the album a title (Illmatic) whose meaning people will debate for years to come. Release the ambitious opus into the world. Tell the artist that the album is extremely creative. Secure for him a perfect review in the most prominent hiphop magazine of the day. Have a throng of underground heads hail the album as a classic. Tell the subject that he is the second coming of the god Rakim. Tell him that he is the prophet who will save rapdom from itself.
Ensure that the album sells way below expectations. Underpromote the singles at all costs. Avoid gold status like the IRS. Have your subject snubbed at various awards shows. Offer him only small change for all his vaunted gifts. Tell him that he deserves more. Tell him that someone of his ability should be destined for fame and riches. Convince him that he has been cheated.
Now quietly jettison his team of all-star producers, save one. Give him a new squad of sound-shapers—men who understand that the world is best viewed through the filter of green. Tell the subject that he must switch his gospel so that others may better understand. Keep the critics at a distance and the yes-men at his side.
Release two albums exalting the subject’s status as the prophet of the new school. Pack them tight with stale samples and kickless, mind-numbing drums. Promote the living daylights out of both albums. Then clandestinely leak a hardcore bootleg version of the earlier album. (This will serve to remind the subject’s underground fans of his original promise.) Release only the weakest of these songs officially, and save the best of the bootlegs for later. They will soon come in handy.
In the meantime, have the subject release disingenuous tributes to fallen prophets he has either warred with or avoided during their lifetimes. Put the subject’s videos in heavy rotation on MTV and the Box. Ensure that the subject is iced down and sipping Moet in all of them. Convince the subject that all who do not accept his new image are player-haters. Have him dismiss them as such. Now surround him with a crew of mostly talentless hacks, to emphasize his gifts.
Observe how swiftly the subject switches from understated genius to verbose follower. Note how the subject’s popularity swells like a boil, how his prophet complex blooms to delusional proportions. Observe him as he turns this mania into a marketing scheme, crucifying himself in videos and using biblical allusions for song material.
Allow the subject to rename himself after a 16th-century French astrologer and seer and then self-title his album. Stand by as he celebrates this renaming with a hook written in the key of schizophrenia (“Nasty Nas to Esco to Escobar now he is Nastradamus”). Lace the entire album with vacuous percussion, jangling bells, and cheap horn samples. Avoid drums that might induce head-nodding. Remix the best of the bootlegs; downplay gritty vocals while prominently displaying cotton-candy keys.
You will know the process is nearly complete because the subject—clearly tone-deaf—will insist on singing many of his own puerile hooks: “Shoot ’em up, just shoot ’em up, what?/Kill, kill, kill, murder, murder, murder.”
Suppress any lyrics that offer intellectual challenge. Dismiss unconventional thoughts, original observations—trailblazing of any sort—as outdated. Have the subject maintain the lyrical status quo by restating banalities as though they were prophecy. Be sure the subject relates street maxims in only the crudest of terms: “You a fool if your main bitch is easy to fuck.” Urge him to utter the phrase “real nigga” no less than three times on every song.
After a few final touches, the “falling-off” process shall be complete. For a few songs, replace the previous group of untalented hacks with a new squad of even dimmer phonies, and invite them to make several guest appearances on the album. Suggest to the subject that skits are the wave of the future—but nothing too profound; marijuana endorsements and idle threats directed at unnamed thugs will suffice.
You will know you have succeeded when the subject amounts to a massive disappointment. Assure him that he is not alone, however; several other “subjects” in rapdom will have already walked his path. Alienated and despondent, the subject’s original followers will migrate to richer pastures. Their departure will matter little to the subject, because he will promptly dismiss all critics and former followers as player-haters, just as you taught him. Besides, the subject’s material gains will afford him the luxury to deny his plummet from artist to opportunist: “You should idolize Nas in the flesh/Don’t wait ’til I’m dead to say I was the best.” CP