Slava P’s birth name is Versace Bentley Mazda.
Considering that the idea of “hip-hop” has existed for less than forty years, it’s fascinating to think how many trends have come into fruition and withered away. In the ’10s, this ‘trend-cycle’ has been hyper-accelerated thanks to the internet providing more avenues from which “talent” can be discovered. During the last three years, Tumblr may gotten more artists signed to multi-million dollar contracts than Lyor Cohen in the 90’s. Artists incubated within the warm womb of the internet eventually squeeze their way out into the mainstream to varying levels of success. With this new-found accessibility, two new trends have sprung forth: swag rap, and the niche white rapper. Swag/luxury rap was popularized by Lil’ Wayne/Kanye West and beaten to a near-unconscious state by hundreds of other rappers all speaking loudly and at the same time about excess — but not necessarily in a clever or captivating way.
The notion of a niche white rapper sprung up around the same time Asher Roth linked up with DJ Drama in his quest to appeal to dorm room dwellers with nonsensical content and poetics about girls and bros. Since then, dozens of white rappers have come out of the woodwork to appeal to almost every demographic, but only two niche white rappers have managed to master the marketing of luxury rap. Riff Raff and D-Why. On the dark and winding road of swag, these two men stand as signposts at the sharp fork.
One sign points to Riff Raff, the eccentric and ill-inked Texas native who seeks out buzz as if his life depended on it, recording songs and videos with whichever teenage sensation has the world atwitter today. Most of Riff Raff’s catalog can be found on YouTube, and the visuals often leave more of a lasting impression than his twang-ridden and Dr. Seussian delivery, which comes off as sloppy with brief flashes of humor. Whether he’s dying his hair to match Kitty Pryde’s or beefing with his former boss Soulja Boy on Twitter, you’d be stressed to find a white rapper who takes himself less seriously than Riff Raff.
At the other end stands D-Why, a West Virginian college graduate who may be the closest thing the rap game has to a rhyming mannequin. This menswear-loving bro has spent the last four years developing his brand, getting beats from producers like Hit Boy and T-Minus and laying down his adenoidal, bravado-filled, Big Sean-esque sing-song bars on top of them. His content revolves around pop-culture references and Starbucks orders, and most of his music videos feature D-Why dressed exceptionally well while rapping in a double-time staccato and making the sort of hand gestures that we’ve grown to hate Drake for. Though he may look like a Lonely Island stunt double, you would have a harder time time finding a white rapper who takes his personal brand more seriously than D-Why.
Will either of them become your favorite rapper? Probably not. But although Riff Raff’s whole persona is polarizing, he still signed with Diplo’s Mad Decent for $3 Million [ed. note: I am almost 100 percent that figure was a joke]; and while D-Why is overly cocky at times, (he says he’s “Ralph Lauren meets Lauryn Hill” and “Chuck Bass meets Chuck D” IN THE SAME DAMN SONG!) he could pick up a similar deal with a boutique label looking to make noise in the tumblr-sphere.
It’s as if someone put a pair of impressionable teenagers in two rooms; one with nothing but a Paul Wall discography and cartoons, the other with stacks of fashion magazines and early aughts hip-pop.
It’s been 13 years since The Slim Shady LP shifted public perception of “white rappers” away from the often-nonsensical lyrics of the Beastie Boys and the high-top faded tomfoolery of Robert Van Winkle, towards the tortured and exceedingly-serious emoting of Eminem. In the decade that followed, Eminem became the archetypical white-rapper that others would (unsuccessfully) try to hold a candle to by attempting to match his deranged content and intricate rhymes.
The difference today is that the Internet’s accessibility has finally fully fused with the ever-expanding modern worship of the ignorant and ironic. There is now a white rapper for every listener, just like there’s an energy drink for every lifestyle. But can you taste the difference between a can of Redbull (Mac Miller) and a can of Red Rain (Chris Webby)? What about Rockstar (MGK), Monster (Yelawolf) and Grape Rockstar (Rittz)?
D-Why and Riff Raff are different because they’ve taken those ingredients and repackaged them in a more creative and vivacious way. They are the fair trade Espresso shot and 5 Hour Energy of the rap game (respectively). From this point forward, you’re going to see a lot of fame-hungry white rappers following the lanes built by Riff Raff or D-Why. In the immediate future, arguments about real hip hop are only going to matter less and less. Because for better or worse, they are very real.
ZIP: Riff Raff – Summer of Surf Mixtape (Left-Click)