Twitter: Hip-Hop’s Medium For Choice Words
It was early last Saturday morning, or perhaps very, very late the previous night, when the stream of emotional posts began appearing on Kanye West’s Twitter feed: “The media tried to demonize me,” “I felt the recession from the ownership side,” “I’m ready to get out of my own way,” “I’m sorry Taylor.”
Unexpected candor or publicity stunt? Both?
Maybe neither. Humility and reflection aren’t new for Mr. West: he’s been self-lacerating since his debut album, “The College Dropout,” in 2004. And his trademark conflation of transparency and braggadocio remained: “What’s the point of dressing tastefully if I’m going to act the complete opposite?” he asked in another post.
But Mr. West’s feelings dump was only part of a busy week for hip-hop on Twitter. A couple of years past his most fearsome stage, 50 Cent was foaming at the keyboard about groupies and the relationship troubles of his friend the boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr., among other things. And a war of few words flared up between Soulja Boy and Fabolous, two minor stars.
Any of these artists might normally have taken to the studio to express the same sentiments they did on their Twitter pages — and maybe they still will. But for now, 140 characters has become the new 16 bars.
More so than in any other genre, save for maybe teen-pop, stars of hip-hop have taken to Twitter. As a medium, it suits hip-hop’s instantaneity well. It also offers the illusion of outsider purity.
“These tweets have no manager, no publicist, no grammar checking … this is raw,” Mr. West wrote, acknowledging the medium’s promise of highlighting artists in an unmonitored fashion. No need for a recording studio, just a smartphone.
Hip-hop has been quick to exploit new online platforms as they’ve developed, particularly for the promulgation of grudges. The standard for Internet-era rap conflict remains the flare-up between Soulja Boy and Ice-T in 2008, an exchange of hilarious insult-filled clips on YouTube. By comparison, the exchange this week between Soulja Boy and Fabolous, a far worthier adversary, was a minor dust-up.
Fabolous is the most amusing rapper on Twitter, an originator of numerous humorous hashtags that become “trending topics,” Twitter’s category of popular subjects. (A hashtag is a phrase included in Twitter messages to facilitate searches for posts on a common theme.) He’s the most comfortable with the medium, a digital natural.
Fabolous’s initial darts at Soulja Boy were prompted by a video, posted a couple of weeks ago, that purported to show cocaine belonging to Soulja Boy. (The woman who shared the clip, Kat Stacks, has made a name for herself by placing hip-hop stars in compromising positions.) He started a hashtag, #StupidBoySwag, a play on the Soulja Boy song title “Pretty Boy Swag.”
Earlier this week, after some provocation by Soulja Boy, he started another, #SouljasCokeHabit: “#SouljasCokeHabit made him believe those gucci pillow cases he had on his bed on MTV CRIBS was REAL.”
On Wednesday night Fabolous and Soulja Boy reached a détente in a joint appearance on the New York radio station Power 105. By Friday, Soulja Boy appeared to have scrubbed his feed clean of any offending posts. (Fabolous recently had a Twitter skirmish with Joe Budden, who’s been at the center of several online quarrels in the last year or so, one of which, with Raekwon, turned physical.)
Twitter rewards speed and frankness, which makes it optimal for an artist like 50 Cent, who restarted his career several years ago with a series of self-released mixtapes that bypassed the traditional label system. And at his most ferocious, 50 Cent has used the Internet viciously. A 2007 dispute with Cam’ron played out in video clips posted to YouTube and other sites.
At his peak, 50 Cent was the most blithely cruel of all rap stars. But his recent records have been duds, which might not have humbled him but has certainly quieted him, and allowed others to pay him little mind.
For many months 50 Cent didn’t bother with his Twitter at all: it was ghostwritten and largely promotional. In recent weeks, though, he’s embraced the form fully. The 50 Cent of Twitter is a ready provocateur, though not in his old, familiar way. He’s barely disagreed with anyone on his Twitter: so far the worst barbs have been affectionate pokes at his G-Unit crew mates Lloyd Banks and Tony Yayo.
Instead he’s crass and pugnacious, a snarling celebrity shuffling groupies, proclaiming, “if you aint 18 quit following me,” and adding, “This adult entertainment!” He hasn’t offered this much fun in years.
The biggest surprise of the hip-hop Twitterverse is how unsurprising these developments have been. Of course Mr. West is self-aggrandizing, even in his most vulnerable moments. And of course 50 Cent is loose-lipped (though who knew he was as grammar-challenged as he is?).
And, of course, these rappers are as addictive online as on the radio, with personas that are so signature as to be parody-worthy in their own right. A handful of mock Twitter accounts have emerged: Among these are Budget Kanye (an enthusiastic, spendthrift Mr. West); English 50 Cent (50’s posts rewritten in plain language); and Humble Kanye (Mr. West being magnanimous).
Not every rap star is so predictable on Twitter. Slim Thug is an unexpected comedian. Cam’ron and Nicki Minaj communicate with fans, often hilariously. Drake offers cryptic koans. Eminem is purely promotional. Jay-Z barely touches his account.
But each of these, for better or worse, seem like aberrations. By comparison, Mr. West has been true to form, unfiltered and scattered. His Twitter is endlessly fascinating and endlessly mockable, wholly lacking in irony, whether he’s boasting or confessing.
Mr. West has kept a relatively low profile since he hijacked Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech at last year’s MTV Video Music Awards. A few weeks ago he made some of his first public appearances since then with performances at the offices of Facebook and Twitter.
But now he’s back at saturation levels, thanks to his Twitter intensity and a slew of new songs that he’s releasing weekly through his blog,. This is the familiar Mr. West, logorrheic and punchy, seeping all over the media available to him.
And though his emotional awakening was compelling reading, he doesn’t privilege the sincere over the petty. A couple of days after apologizing to Ms. Swift, Mr. West was rambling about Prada suits. “How bout some good old fashion horrendous spelling and bad grammar …. so you know it’s really me,” he wrote. “#ITSAPROCESS.”