BLOG: Lil Wayne and the Ghost of Mike Jones

As yet another year is poised to go the way of DMX’s career (and personal freedom) and Diminutive Dwayne sits comfortably atop the hip-hop throne as the best rapper alive not married to Beyoncé or about to do a stretch for mistaking the ATL suburbs for Fallujah, I—a young, inquisitive, and handsome magazine editor—have been thinking about what exactly the Martian’s accomplishment really means.
I was all set to hit you with a hot 16-part blog series on Wayne’s inability to correctly complete a simile (“Abra cadabra, I’m up like Viagra/I just do this shit for my click like Adam Sandler”) or make anything resembling sense (“Money so old it’s growin’ white hair/Young Money, baby”) and how this is either a side effect of living on a diet rich in sizzurp and cannabis or a revolutionary act of linguistic (t)errorism aimed at lames such as myself who insist on reading things like books and magazines when the educational paradigm has shifted completely to start and stop with YouTube videos and blog posts, but, as an early X-mas present to all y’all, I decided to spare you that. For now.

So back to the point at hand: The Lilliputian’s rare double of commercial and critical success—a million in first-week sales and best-of-the-year nods from sources as diverse as New York magazine and your mama—has truly made Wayne an alien in the music world. What sticks out about Wayne’s accomplishment is how rare it is in today’s game—to get both sales in the stores and plaudits in the press. And, yet, the fact that Wayne’s two-headed success is still the exception and not the rule illustrates perfectly hip-hop’s inability to deal honestly with how it figures achievement.

What I’m talking about is the way rap has become, and stayed, all about SoundScan numbers, and, more precisely, those for the first week. All we ever hear about is sales sales sales, as if the success of the label’s pre-release marketing blitz and the traction of radio singles with Midwestern White sorority girls is what it’s all about. Out of the other side of hip-hop’s collective maw comes all that talk about niceness, about spittin’ how you live it, all that Cornel West-type chuuch-ing about providing a voice for the voiceless, about refusing to be silent or silenced, all that lip-service to uplift and empowerment and repping the hip-hop culture and for us by us and…

Indeed, rap has been having it both ways for quite a while, with its expressed desire for g.o.o.d. music and its bewildering insistence that quantity has something to do with quality. That said, no one can stick to the narrative for too long, because it’s not really possible. When you really stop to think about it, all this shouting out of SoundScan numbers makes about as much sense as Baby with a pack of gum in his mouth.
Take, for instance, the case of young civil rights activist Soulja Boy, on the one hand, and, on the other, Killer Mike. All this is fairly obvious, I know, but it still seems worth saying. The reason SB (and Kanye and Wayne and T.I., and whoever else is still caking up in these breadless times) sells is because he appeals to a broader audience than do the Plieses of the world. (Check Plies’s first-week numbers Wednesday for confirmation of this fact. My prediction: 724. Note: Not 724K.) The reason Killer’s last platter—which had some heads around tha office wanting to horseshoe an XXL-rating wreath around Mike’s neck—had all the suction of Superhead with strep throat is because, when you really get down to it, the hip-hop audience as a whole is no more interested in complex, cultivated, or cutting-edge music than is the audience that buys records from four-leaf chancre Nickelback or Billy Cyrus’s daughter/penitentiary enticement.
Or, rather, it’s that the rap audience, whatever it might say with its jewel-encrusted mouth, tells the true, and different, story of what it wants and needs with its biker-chain, hipster wallet. Although the likes of Jay-Z, Eminem, Kanye, Wayne, T.I., and 50 Cent are indeed hugely talented, high-quality artists, their true genius is their ability to make music that appeals to people who listen to music other than rap. Big SoundScan numbers reveal the breadth of someone’s audience, not necessarily the quality of their music. The music may be remarkably good (Wayne, ’Ye, Em, Jay, T.I. [except T.I. vs. Tip, of course]), or it may be laughably bad (Soulja Boy, ’90s Puff), but it sells big numbers for the same reason: commercial pop appeal, with the right marketing/imaging/branding push behind it.

Just compare the sales histories and the awareness by the larger, non-rap-head culture of Killer Mike and Mike Jones if you really want to blow your mind. That Killer has more years in the game than MJ has actual brain cells means nothing, in the end, when it comes to record-industry success. And if rap really is just about the by-any-means-necessary, get-rich-or-die-tryin’ race to the paper, then how much smarter, really, is Mike, Killer than Mike Jones—or Soulja Boy, for that matter?

Unfortunately, Wayne’s amazing year won’t make rap fans any more honest about the way they talk about their favorite music; it won’t make anyone stop equating big sales numbers with big quality, big achievement, and big success. In fact, it’s likely to have the opposite effect. So just remember: Every time you bring up someone’s SoundScan figures in an argument over this or that rapper, what you’re really doing is laying the groundwork for the next Mike Jones, who, well, might actually be Mike Jones. And if that happens, not even Hova will be able to save your souls.—Devo

  • http://www.myspace.com/orionkids Say what?

    Greatly written from the mind of the xxl staf Geniuses

    Lets pray 09 resurrects the Anti-soundscan culture of Hiphop and bless us with Substantial spitting Mc’s ! like we had in the Golden Era

    Eric b & Rakim
    Public Enemy
    Krs 1
    Slick Rick
    Nas
    Jay
    B.I.G

    just one group is all we need to get this back right!
    Shalom!

  • http://www.incilin.blogspot.com INcilin

    Good post. Reads like something out of the mag. Nowadays, getting your album released in stores is an art unto itself.

  • Ace Rockolla

    I think that a person who describes himself as a “lame…who insist[s] on reading things like books and magazines when the educational paradigm has shifted completely to start and stop with YouTube videos and blog posts” should really take more care in constructing his prose. Your use of grammar and syntax is equally as lackadaisical as Wayne’s use of figurative language. I’m not saying you’re wrong, I’m just saying that if you want to hold artists to a certain standard, you should at least perform at the same level in your own occupation. And through claiming to be “educated” and “intellectual” while still espousing the same garbage LCD language that most of these rappers do (Jeezy, Weezy, Yeezy, Lil Boosie, Shawty Lo, etc. etc. etc.) you are only perpetuating the situation you seem to want to rail against.

    • te noh

      Very true Ace Rockolla. The writer complains that Wayne can’t finish a simile, but the writer can’t finish a comparison, e.g.:

      “Take, for instance, the case of young civil rights activist Soulja Boy, on the one hand, and, on the other, Killer Mike. All this is fairly obvious, I know, but it still seems worth saying. The reason SB (and Kanye and Wayne and T.I., and whoever else is still caking up in these breadless times) sells is because he appeals to a broader audience than do the Plieses of the world.”

    • Lester Diamond

      What are you, a fucking hip-hop philosopher?

      • te noh

        I think very deeply.

    • Devo

      My “grammar and syntax” are unimpeachable, like W. If a long sentence makes you uncomfortable, Ace, maybe that’s something to talk to your therapist about.

  • NAWLEDGE

    EVERYONE NEEDS TO READ THIS ARTICLE!

    Fans of Wayne and non fans of Wayne. Hiphop heads and ShitHop heads.

    COSIGN! Finally someone said it! Hiphop is not about soundscans people! Its about the culture.

  • Apollo Moses

    Great post!

  • te noh

    “All we ever hear about is sales sales sales, as if the success of the label’s pre-release marketing blitz and the traction of radio singles with Midwestern White sorority girls is what it’s all about.”

    Way to shit on yourself, XXL. You are the ones who do the sales predictions. You are the ones with the Wayne section (which you wouldn’t have if you thought C3 would brick on the charts). Where is the Budden section? Or the Crooked I section? Oh, that’s right — they are not as commercially viable as Weezy.

    You are the ones who post SB’s videos. You are the ones who chase the latest hip-hop fads. Now, that’s fine. XXL is a business, and y’all are trying to make that money. But, don’t write a bullshit article about how fans are obsessed only with sales figures that excludes the role XXL plays.

    SMH, of course sales have nothing to do with quality. Did the article need to be that long to get the point across? And, if that’s the case, then start covering good hip-hop in places other than the bloggers’ section.

    • Rob The Music Ed

      “Where is the Budden section? Or the Crooked I section?”

      Ummm where is the Budden album? And The Crooked album? Not that many of you would actually BUY a JB or Crooked album anyway.
      Bet you missed the Joe Budden feature we did in the Oct. 2008 feature too huh?

      Nothing in that article excluded the role that XXL plays in anything, counting up sales is something that we are all guilty off. One yaself!

      • te noh

        Okay, Robby. I will buy the Budden album when it comes out. I did buy The Block Obama II. Because I’m rich like that. But this is the point: you seem to be implying that there should only be a section for rappers whose albums LOTS of people are going to buy. Wayne got a section because a lot of people “would actually BUY” C3, not because you think he’s a good rapper.

        Let’s consider someone who did release an album. Q-Tip just released one of the best albums of the year. Q-Tip gets a feature; Wayne gets a section. And, the reason for the difference is perfectly clear. That’s fine — XXL is a business, and you follow the money. But, don’t come incorrect with an article that says that all we hear about are “sales, sales, sales” when you are the ones doing the yapping. It’s cool for it to be about the art, but an article like this makes it look like you’re clowning yourselves.

        Nothing in the article excused what XXL did, but nothing in the article accounted for it either. That was my point.

        I’m not guilty of counting up sales because I don’t care. I don’t work for XXL or Interscope. I’m not a manager or a music editor or a rapper or an A&R. I’m just a fan. And, I think most fans, excluding the criminally retarded, already know that record sales do not equal quality. So, this article doesn’t break any new ground and makes XXL (and anyone else focussed on sales) look bad.

        “When you really stop to think about it, all this shouting out of SoundScan numbers makes about as much sense as Baby with a pack of gum in his mouth.”

        • Rob The Music Ed

          So Wayne isn’t a good rapper?!?

          Why? ‘Cause he sells a lot of albums?

        • te noh

          Way not to address the issue.

          I never said Wayne isn’t a good rapper. Here’s what I wrote:

          “Wayne got a section because a lot of people ‘would actually BUY’ C3, not because you think he’s a good rapper.”

          I think Weezy’s aiight. You think he’s a good rapper, too. But, Wayne didn’t get the section because you thought he was a good rapper. He got the section because C3 sold like kool-aid pops. I’m sure that you think other rappers are just as good if not better than Wayne, but they don’t have a section. You just proved my point. Thank you.

          XXL is a business, and that is fine. It is also fine to talk about hip-hop as a business. But when you post an article that is about how we shouldn’t talk about hip-hop in this way, you’ve put a quarter in yo’ ass.

    • http://xxl ryan

      i co-sign wit te noh. he hit it on the nail. xxl is dick ridin wayne as much as his gay ass fans. yall need 2 stop bein hypocrites. yall say yall r about real hip hop but yall crown wayne as king. deres so many good rappers out there how about showin them sum light.

    • Koba

      Co-sign squared.

  • te noh

    “All we ever hear about is sales sales sales, as if the success of the label’s pre-release marketing blitz and the traction of radio singles with Midwestern White sorority girls is what it’s all about.”

    Way to shit on yourself, XXL. You are the ones who do the sales predictions. You are the ones with the Wayne section (which you wouldn’t have if you thought C3 would brick on the charts). Where is the Budden section? Or the Crooked I section? Oh, that’s right — they are not as commercially viable as Weezy.

    You are the ones who post SB’s videos. You are the ones who chase the latest hip-hop fads. Now, that’s fine. XXL is a business, and y’all are trying to make that money. But, don’t write a bullshit article about how fans are obsessed only with sales figures that excludes the role XXL plays.

    SMH, of course sales have nothing to do with quality. Did the article need to be that long to get the point across? And, if that’s the case, then start covering good hip-hop in places other than the bloggers’ section.

  • Simple like ABC, 123

    Lil Wayne is just another Mike Jones, another MC Hammer, another, Vanilla Ice, another, Jim Jones, another, Soulja Boy, it’s just another shit!!!

  • Curtis75Black

    te noh basically said it right there – Twice !! All you did was shit on yourself as a Magazine alone. Real fans know it’s not all about soundscan but the way ya’ll market and put ignorance on your cover just to sell because they are hot commercially basically does a disservice to Hip Hop in itself. What can we learn from Jay-Z or 50 cent that we didn’t know 6 to 12 mags ago ?

  • http://www.myspace.com/crockerishiphop Crocker

    MR. AUTHOR PLEASE!!! READ THIS. I’M BEGGIN YA.

    “Although the likes of Jay-Z, Eminem, Kanye, Wayne, T.I., and 50 Cent are indeed hugely talented, high-quality artists, their true genius is their ability to make music that appeals to people who listen to music other than rap.”

    God I love how people continue to laud 50 Cent as talented. The kid came up with a few catchy hooks and sold America for a year or two on this whole underdog, gangster appeal. He was nothing more than a hip-hop Rudy. And God knows how us crackers loved that diminutive mother fucker. That was the fucking selling point. He’s had one creative joint, “Baltimore Love Thing,” and the cadence on that mother was weaker than Grandpa’s prostate. He’s like Ice Cube without the substance, and in regards to who’s to blame for the first week numbers being so thoroughly scrutinized…Take a guess you simple fuck. It’s the over-saturated, lucky bastard who likes to shoot steroids in ass with that half-a-playwright Perry. Please, for the love of God, quit riding that fly-by-night’s nuts. He had a run. Just like Ja. That’s it. Fucking let it go already. Oh, and never again, in your life, put him in the same category as a Jay-Z.

  • Macdatruest

    I’m lovin how comin into 09′ muthafuckas is speakin the truth. Magazines shovel shit then turm around and act like they had nothing to do with it. Like crocker said, 50 cent is no everybody’s idea of talent. But magazines like XXL put him on a bunch of covers and basically helped hip hop turn to “by the numbers” bullshit. In the year of all the G-unit/Yayo/Fiddy Covers Redman and Method Man dropped hot ass shit, Purple Ribbon, DJ Quik formed a Supergroup. All cover worthy pioneer shit. XXL was a part in sweeping shit under the rug. I read more about what side of the bed Fiddy woke up on in XXL and what he thinks about what side another rapper wakes up on, then I heard about Ampachino, Tha jacka, Messy Marv, or the Outlawz. Graph is real as a bith. Corey Gunz is stupid as fuck!!! Yall still writin about Detox.Fuck Detox nigga. and Fuck this game yall playin’ XXL!!!! It’s New Shit Out Here Yall Just Don’t Like Who It’s Comin From!!!! And I Been Stopped Fuckin Wit Yall As Respectable Journalist When Yall Started Slanderin’ Wayne Regularly and Tryin To Assist Fiddy Weak Flat Swag Bitch Made No Talent Ass. Fuck Who Yall Like, Just Cover Music. XXL Tha Office is a good example of what happened to Hip Hop.

  • Hate Hate and more Hate

    **THIS IS A PSA TO ALL YOU HOLY BELIEVERS OF HIP HOP**

    Hip Hop as a culture is dead!!! Get over it bitches. It’s never coming back. So what Soulja Boy just flopped, the Industry will find someone worse than Soulja Boy to replace him. Hell, even Youg Joc is signing more wack niggas as we speak. So this shit will never end

    Hip Hop is a business. It always has been always will be. And like any business the quality of a business’ product will decline. This isn’t the 80′s or the 90′s, that shit is over!!!

    **END RANT**

    • tony grand$

      *bows head in shame*
      I, Agree, with Hate.
      *turns and walks away*

  • SILLY WILLY

    This drop is on point, Tha Office, but you gotta admit you’re a part of the issue. Being the editor and all, you should have a say on what’s going on on this mag! So, really, as per hiphop dying and shithopheads happy like pig in shit, what have you done lately ???
    We need an uprising of good music but you have to give them the time of the day. And XXL need Tara Henley back!!!!!!!!!!

  • amar

    i’m off topic here and i know i’m not saying anything against your point but…

    i’m kinda sick of ppl not giving wayne his due in hip hop. This guy got “bling bling” and “make it rain” into the dictionary with his voice. Don’t tell me that doesn’t mean anything.

    he’s also no lyrical god, but some of those lines u mentioned are hilarious and clever and he needs to get his due for them. “you homo niggas gettin aids in the ass, while the homie here trynna get paid in advance”…come on!

  • FlapJack

    Great post.

    I like seing Killer Mike get some love, he’s top 10 hands down.

    When are you ign’t fucks gonna stop comparing rappers to SB? He makes music for kids, and does a great job.

    Co-sign amar.. Lil Wayne haters are as narrowminded as 2pac-stans..
    And they’re everywhere