This Sunday during the Super Bowl, K-Fed is set to hit the small screen in a Nationwide Insurance commercial that pokes fun at his run of bad luck (i.e. releasing a rap album that bombed, getting dropped like a hot potato by his scandalous superstar wife, and generally being the butt of water cooler jokes across North America). What’s interesting to me about the Fed-Ex spot is the failed rapper has already begun his crossover campaign. He’s not even going to try to get respect in hip-hop—he’s just going to move on to the next form of media, and see if he can get a little more love/fame/money there.
This move points to a dynamic that’s becoming more and more prevalent in hip-hop. Everybody wants to be a rapper. Except rappers. (Even failed ones!) They want to be rappers-slash-actors-slash-entrepreneurs-slash-whatever else.
This won’t be news to anyone, but just as the advertising industry has stopped pushing concrete products in favor of selling lifestyle-based brands, the music industry is no longer in the business of promoting music. Recording artists have ceased to be considered musicians. Instead, they are all purpose media stars who dabble in music, modeling, acting, fashion and entrepreneurialism. Obviously, this is a recipe for some seriously crappy music.
Salon.com cultural critic Cintra Wilson explores this development in her hilarious, scathing anti-celebrity tome A Massive Swelling: Celebrity Reexamined as a Grotesque and Crippling Disease and Other Cultural Revelations. The book coins a new term for the crossover impulse: Brunitis (after Bruce Willis’s awful blues band, Bruno). Wilson claims that this is a perverse affliction that causes celebs to develop insanely big egos and that it “compels [the] star to disgrace itself with an unbecoming art medium.”
I think it’s safe to say that Brunitis has hit hip-hop with a vengeance, if even rappers who are desperately on the come up don’t want to be just rappers anymore.