Written by Andre Pettman
Remember when “I Don’t Like” and “Love Sosa” by Chief Keef came out? What about “All Gold Everything” by Trinidad Jame$? While all of these artists had varying degrees of success following the release of these songs, their careers each took a precipitous slide not too long afterwards for a variety of reasons. This blog looks at the rise of fall of these young hip hop artists and traces their success back to the music industry's racial divide.
Remember when “I Don’t Like” and “Love Sosa” by Chief Keef came out? What about “All Gold Everything” by Trinidad Jame$? “Crank Dat” by Soulja Boy? While all of these artists had varying degrees of success following the release of these songs, their careers each took a precipitous slide not too long afterwards for a variety of reasons.
By using YouTube and MySpace, young DeAndre Way aka Soulja Boy carved out a space for himself on the Internet in a way that had never really been done before. He flooded sites with song after song after song in the hopes that something would stick and catch on. One of these songs was “Crank Dat,” a song and dance track that turned into an unavoidable, chart-topping smash. The peak of every school dance was seeing 8th graders scurry to the middle of the gymnasium floor so they could “Superman that ho” in unison. I swear every time a cellphone rang in 2007, its ringtone was the chorus of “Crank Dat” pumping from the tiny speaker of a Motorola Razr and serving as the anthem for a new generation of hip hop.
“All Gold Everything” had little buzz surrounding it when Trinidad Jame$ dropped the track on his SoundCloud 3 years ago. An aspiring rapper who was working at a clothing boutique in Atlanta, Trinidad has since admitted that he had only started rapping 6 months before the song that would define his career was released. With a beat that he claims to have found for free on the Internet, Jame$ drops line after line about having money and wearing gold accessories, with the earworm “Don’t believe me just watch” as a chorus. While seemingly not too much different from your run-of-the-mill club-ready hip hop song, the music video for the track was both praised and heavily criticized for its depiction of wealth & excess. Many took issue with the way it portrayed the Black male in America, as someone obsessed with jewelry, clothing, money and nothing more. The release of the video for “All Gold Everything” is what started both the beginning and the end of Trinidad Jame$’ career.
When “I Don’t Like” and “Love Sosa” came out, I had never seen such an instant response to an artist the way people in my hometown of Kansas City latched on to Chief Keef. Kids would walk down the hallways of my high school blasting those songs from their cellphones and shoot videos of themselves mobbing with their friends in front of some lockers (keep in mind this is pre-Snapchat). There was something so relatable about Keith Cozart, the then-teenager from the South side of Chicago, whose raps seemed so effortless & simple, but also felt like they came from a place of frustration and anger. His music was so honest, too honest for some people, something that may have played a role in both his meteoric rise and his fall from grace.
As the golden era of ringtone music wound down, so did Soulja Boy’s popularity and relevance in the game. He squeezed every last drop out of the end of his run, with songs like “Speakers Going Hammer” and “Pretty Boy Swag” serving as the final curtain call of an era filled with hit after hit after hit. Soulja Boy still makes music, uploading mixtape after mixtape to the web in the hopes that something will stick. He tried to jump on different sounds and trends, with bop songs to music with Lil B, his spiritual successor. He pops up every now and again on songs with bigger rappers, but the feeling just isn’t the same.
I had the chance to see Soulja perform last year, at a Tucson club that had been re-branded so many times it felt eerily similar to Soulja Boy’s career arc. After enduring opener after opener, he finally graced the stage at 1:30AM, wearing Versace sunglasses and a Gucci belt. He performed for a paltry 25 minutes, but it felt like so much longer when you realize how many of his songs you know every word to. Before he left the stage, he threw out a handful of e-hookahs that bore his signature on them. As people scrambled to pick them off of the ground and the lights in the club came on, I looked around and realized there were only a dozen or so people there. As I left the venue, I caught a glimpse of Soulja hopping in to his Sprinter van and speeding off. Through the dark tint of the windows I saw there was a TV illuminated, with the screen filled with static. I always think about that TV when I listen to Soulja Boy, I’m sure there was something playing on it once before, perhaps re-runs of Sisterhood of Hip Hop or Love and Hip Hop Hollywood, and maybe, one day, something will play on it again.
In support of his mixtape Don’t Be S.A.F.E., Trinidad Jame$ went on a radio run to introduce himself to the mainstream masses. However, instead of introducing a new audience to his music, Jame$ became heavily scrutinized for his inauthenticity as a real rapper, as well as the content of the “All Gold Everything” video. He came off as self-assured and confident, but even he couldn’t have foreseen how quickly things would spiral. A few months later, he proclaimed that Atlanta runs NYC hip hop, ruffling the feathers of fans and critics alike, as they began taking shots at Jame$’s relevancy as a rapper. In some respect they were right; Jame$ often sounded lost and unprepared on his verses, ill-equipped for the pressures that came with signing a million dollar deal with a major label. The beats he chose were bland, the hooks he wrote didn’t catch on, and his featured verses on other rappers’ projects began to dwindle.
In 2014, Jame$ announced that he had been dropped from Def Jam, and told the rappers and producers that he had been collaborating with to not expect anything from him because he had “no money.” Since then he’s been virtually invisible, fading more and more into obscurity by the day. Last we heard he’s collected some royalty checks thanks to Bruno Mars repurposing the “All Gold” chorus for his own mega-hit “Uptown Funk.” Whether it was simply a lack of talent or a poor choice of words that led to Trinidad Jame$’s demise, his name has turned into something of a curse in the rap game. If your name is uttered in the same sentence as his, beware of being a one-hit wonder, a label that Trinidad Jame$ may never be able shake.
I still love Chief Keef, and have been an ardent believer and supporter of his throughout the years, but there was a time when he slumped hard, and has lost a lot of fans because of it. Accompanied with his fame were the demons of Keef’s past. First he was linked with the murder of Lil Jojo, a young Chicago rapper who was beefing with his crew. While Chief Keef denies any involvement, many believe he had a hit placed on Jojo. He would later serve jail time for various infractions, and when he got out things weren’t the same. The drill scene that he had so prominently been the leader of seemed to have run its course and its participants splintered, leaving Keef with no foundation to really return to. He linked up with producer Young Chop to try and re-create the dark, gritty intensity of his previous music, but nothing seemed to work. The holes in Keef’s artistry began to show: a lack of flow, lyrical ability, and overall coherence became more and more apparent. He seemed pre-occupied with riding ATVs around his backyard rather than honing his abilities as a rapper. Still, he kept putting out music, with the awful Bang 2 mixtape and a smattering of loosies that got lost in the shuffle. Keef seemed lost, and his career was on the verge of collapsing in on itself.
It wasn’t until he was evicted from his Chicago home due to problems with law enforcement and moved to LA that his career started to turn around. Free from the shackles of his major label deal, Keef began to change his style little by little, experimenting with creating his own beats, and mixing his songs to make his voice more clear and upfront. Mixtapes like Back From The Dead 2 and Sorry 4 The Weight were huge improvements from his previous offerings, with random singles that leaked out becoming some of my favorite songs of the last year.
These days, Keith Cozart has an extreme fondness for hover boards and paintballing, his Instagram providing an immortal archive of his exploits. In some ways, he’s finally living the teenage years he missed out on, ridding himself of the bloody lifestlye he used to lead and doing things that make him happy. Chief Keef is still on the comeback trail, as he released his first official album in 3 years, the double-disc Bang 3. While he may never reach the heights that were brought by “Love Sosa” and “I Don’t Like”, there’s still hope for Chief Keef to salvage his career.
These are but a few artists who have fallen by the wayside, but the list is endless. Soulja Boy, Trinidad Jame$, and Chief Keef are prime examples of artists who went from household names to having to cling to some semblance of relevancy. Why does hip hop have a tendency to cast away so many of their young stars? Is it because, unlike so many other genres, hip hop is based on competitiveness? Artists are pitted against each other instead of supported for their talents, perhaps in the hopes that they come out of it stronger than before. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case, as so many succumb to the pressure brought by the industry, their peers, and their fans. Young hip hop artists get no time to develop and are cast aside just as quickly as they are embraced. So often, an artist will produce hit after hit, but never see the release of an album, and when some do get this opportunity, their efforts are often subpar and sterilized for mainstream consumption. There’s a reason that hip-hop is often referred to as “the game,” with artists having to make all the right moves to stay afloat in the industry. One misstep and everything you’ve built will be pulled out from under you.
Oftentimes, these missteps can be traced back to the music industry’s racial divide. Hip hop was created as a means for Black people to safely express themselves, something to truly call their own. In an art form designed by Black people for Black people, White executives have become the decision makers for what a record sounds like, when it gets released, and whom it’s marketed to. White label executives and A&Rs use Black artists to make as much money as they can off of them, before dropping them when they begin to slip in popularity. The power structure of our society, mirrored in the music industry, has once again placed Black artists at the whim of White executives. I’ve made this comparison to say this: the fall of young artists is part of a problem that extends much further that hip hop. In many ways this is emblematic of the plight of the Black population in America. Look at the people who have traditionally been in power in the United States: they are wealthy, White men. In a nation that boasts a history of acceptance and diversity, the Black population, whose backs this country was built on, lack representation in any form; whether it be in politics or music. Young Black men and women are conditioned to hate one another, to believe that their success is contingent on the destruction of the other. Black individuals are incarcerated at an unbelievable rate, nearly twice that of any other race. They are brutalized by police officers and White people without any hope of justice. This tradition of degradation and racism is about as American as Thanksgiving or apple pie, and seems just as beloved and destined to remain. Make a mistake, or something that is perceived as such, and you’ve lost your chance, the systematic oppression woven into the fabric of this country will go to work to ensure that you are placed in a hole that’s nearly impossible to get out of.