If you pay attention to the Rap Internet, you are probably up to your elbows in people slinging the term “appropriation,” mostly in the context of the Harlem Shake meme. Even more loosely, people have been talking about what the idea of “ownership” in hip-hop actually, like, means these days. If you want to get caught up to quite literally the rhetorical end of it, just read The New York Times‘s Jon Caramanica’s piece from last week, “A Hip-Hop Moment, but Is It Authentic,” which basically explains that rap music is a land of messy boundaries that are becoming more and more blurred, and no amount of finger-wagging and thinkpiecing is going to change anything.
And that’s fine, because appropriation is something that goes on every day in hip-hop and is indeed something to be noticed and thought about, but not necessarily criticized. So instead of thinking about Baauer and how he’s single-handedly ending the idea of pop music as we know it, let’s think about Lil Wayne and his new video for “Love Me,” featuring men of the moment Future and Drake double-teaming a hook for a song that is loosely about getting double-teamed by as many girls as humanly possible.
Lest we forget, a large chunk of why the Rap Internet even exists is because of the prolific output of Lil Wayne. In what could be termed his “mixtape era,” he fell into ubiquity by using the Internet to give away as much awesome music as humanly possible. He was quite literally the Rapper Eater, destroying everything in his path, be it a beat or a rapper who had the unfortunate luck to show up on a track with him. People started talking about him, because he deserved to be talked about, and they talked about him (and other prodigious talents) on the very Internet that spawned him.
As he worked too hard all these years to establish, Lil Wayne is not a human being. He is more powerful and stranger than hip-hop, or even time itself. These days, he’s become a Rapper Eater in the worst possible way, existing in a Gollum-like deathlessness where he subsides off of other rappers, lean, and rudimentary skateboard tricks. I am Not a Human Being 2, his upcoming album, quite plainly asserts this fact in its title. And where he once gleefully feasted on the flesh of his competition, now he merely absorbs them, expelling their husks so that he may live another day.
Wayne in many ways is one of the progenitors of Future’s style, specifically the strung-out robot vocal thing that Future does so well. But now, Future is, well, the future of that style, and Lil Wayne is not. So instead of forging ahead, Wayne simply put out a Future song in “Love Me.” The track originally showed up on Future’s FBG: The Movie mixtape, and finds Wayne going back to the Futuresque well, riding a sublime beat by frequent Future collaborator Mike WiLL Made It, and in the process nicking a style that he himself helped pioneer. It’s a similar move to what Kanye West has often done: Find the hot act, suck them in and then invert them in an attempt to prove you can do what they do, only better. Writing of West’s warping of a Lex Luger beat for “H.A.M.,” Alex Pappademas at Grantland said, “By buying a rising Virginia producer’s beat and then tricking it out like the Sistine Helicarrier, Kanye was borrowing a little of Lex’s insurgent young-gun swag and his basically-unrivaled-at-that-moment Southern trap-sound credibility while simultaneously putting a competing producer in his place.”
And ultimately, that’s sort of what Wayne is doing here: Appropriating by curating, engaging in defensive trendhumpery, effectively saying, “Easy there, Future. Verses are my job. Stick to the hooks. Like T-Pain.” It’s as complicated as any of the hoopla surrounding “Harlem Shake,” though a decidedly subtler brand of complication. And at the end of the day, fuck it. Everything’s gotta come from somewhere. Even the stuff we hate.