It’s 2014, or any year since, and you’re pressing play on Rich Gang: Tha Tour Part 1. You might be returning to hear Young Thug and Rich Homie Quan run laps around one another and hip-hop as you’ve come to know it, or you might be listening for the first time, on the recommendation of an online tastemaker who lied about how much the tape meant to them for some clout on a decade-end list. It really doesn’t matter how you get here. What matters is getting to Thug’s shape-shifting, mind-melting “Givenchy.”
Which means, of course, that you have to endure Birdman talking his shit. Here’s something more than a producer tag or introduction, yet far, far less than a first verse. It’s a magnum opus in boasting-cum-bullshitting, the opening shot to a booted horserace, the state of the union address from Donald Trump off a molly (something that, for what it’s worth, would be foolish to rule out of the realm of possibility). It is a masterclass in the type of chest-puffing that music writers call “braggadocio,” which is MFA-languge for “completely fucking made up.” It’s when slogging through this that you’ll hear my favorite Rap Lie of all time: “we never hungover (never, boy).”
It’s a line that I’ve never quite found the willpower to force out of my brain, no matter how many childhood memories or genuinely useful pieces of information fall by the wayside in its stead. It is equal parts perfectly unnecessary and completely untrue, the wart that cannot be excised from the otherwise Platonic ideal 2010s rap song. And yet it is inevitable.
Whenever I try to sit down and write, I find that the only topic of which I can speak with any level of authority and confidence is my own cultural memory. This is all that comes naturally, although it provokes a fear somewhere deep within me. It conjures the thoroughly depressive notion that perhaps the entire project of constructing an identity, at least for the hyper-online - which we all have become, to varying degrees of extremity - is nothing more than the overlay of our increasingly specific cultural preferences and their corresponding manufactured memories. And so this poses a problem: Writing what I know necessarily makes it so that the target audience, to the extent that one could be said to exist, is precisely and exclusively me (one reason, among many, that I do not expect anybody to read this shit). But to the extent that even one of these entries reaches anybody, either in the eyeballs-on-the-screen or the more enduring sense, I’ll feel thankful to have played my part in confirming that you weren’t fucking crazy to remember something feeling important to you; that even if your interests ultimately did – or, in the present sense, do – amount to nothing other than simulating the feeling of membership in some artificially constructed community, well, at least you have found an artificially constructed neighbor.
But anyway, it’s become clear to me that terrain of my imagination is shaped, more than anything else, by my enduring obsession of the cultural promise broken, the path not taken, the prodigy who crashed and burned. I’m not interested in counterfactuals, alternate histories, or ‘turning points,’ which, to merit interest, would necessarily have to exist in the first place. I hope only to approximate the feeling, however fleeting, however meaningful it was, that something different than what we have today felt not that long ago within the realm of possibility. Which means, of course, capturing the dread that accompanied each revelation that the moment would come crashing down upon us. It’s not hard to draw the connection between this obsession and my punishing relationship with the Brooklyn Nets – the team that wasn’t, that never could be, that for a sharp and exhilarating moment seemed like it could.
I want to write, in other words, about the foreboding, inevitable doom conjured by Birdman spouting off about never getting a hangover, about gold toilets and chandeliers, on perhaps the most brilliant song on the most brilliant tape in my memory. How, in a pharmakonic sense, you can’t have Givenchy without that tedious verse, just how you can’t have Young Thug without Birdman or, to be honest about it, you can’t have Tha Tour Part One without the cancellation of the actual tour. The force that kills the promise is always there, lurking; it would not be outside the bounds of reality to suggest that its inevitability is part of what makes the promise so tantalizing in the first place.