The Internet is currently applauding actor Shia Lebauf for “going in” on Lil Yachty, Drake and Hot 97 personality Peter Rosenberg in a new freestyle.
For the most part, the “Transformers” star is getting rave reviews online after Charlemagne played his track for the world on The Breakfast Club Friday morning.
TMZ and other truth benders are gassing young Shia into believing he is the next Pac following the track. But as his partly-Jewish brethren, I have to provide a slight reality check.
Shia can definitely rap. In fact, if we’re talking strictly wordplay, you could argue he’s miles ahead of Pac. But Hip Hop culture is deeper than the craft of rap. And while Shia’s words to Rosenberg and Drake seemed mostly comical, his brewing beef with Yachty doesn’t seem to come from a place of respect for the culture or the craft.
Yachty, who’s busy using his talents to make money because rap’s his primary source of income, responded to Shia’s unsolicited diss like this: “He’s not worth it, he’s not important enough. It was a joke to me. It’s all a joke.” But is Shia really joking? Or does he truly think he’s doing the culture a service by calling out Yachty’s lack of lyrical miracles?
Like Drake or Childish Gambino, Shia is talented enough to change lanes and create a career in the rap industry that would undoubtedly overpower Yachty’s. But that doesn’t make it an effective use of his talent. And it doesn’t make him anymore down for the culture than Yachty, Soulja Boy or Eli Porter for that matter.
Shia can afford the free time needed to sharpen his pen for Sway‘s freestyle challenge, but that is not the full extent of Hip Hop culture. Creative self-expression is the key. And since the vibe can enter the ether through any artistic form, Shia needs to understand he is better off representing the culture on the film set than on the mic.
No matter how many multi-syllabic couplets he’s able to squeeze into a given bar, he will never be able to talk to Hip Hop millennials like Yachty does. And he won’t gain any traction in his uphill battle by grasping at standards set by past generations. Yachty may have looked like low-lying fruit to swing at. But if that’s Shia’s only lane into the game he won’t get as far as he thinks.
Shia’s tats of Missy and Pac are beautiful gestures, but they are not proof of pedigree. Not even unmatched lyrical talent entitles him to call out Yachty like he’s 50 Cent checking Ja Rule‘s thug passion. But it’s not completely Shia’s fault. This is just another unfortunate reality of popular culture.
A similar phenomenon swept the nation with Drake’s “Back To Back.” The track was lauded by pop audiences whose critical mass drowned out the much less enthusiastic reviews from Hip Hop’s purists. Many of whom were unmoved by Drake’s superficial barbs, but couldn’t deny his diss’ pop appeal. After all, the track was so infectious it earned a Grammy nom. But it also tricked a generation of Hip Hop tourists into believing Shia’s freestyle can be described as “going in.”
Again, Shia’s talent shouldn’t be overlooked. But neither should the implications of his words and actions. It’s all fun and games until people start thinking they can claim ownership of foreign cultures. Then it becomes America.
Shia’s bold lack of self-awareness is no different than that of the UCLA students who conducted a study to prove that it requires a certain level of intelligence to enjoy J. Cole‘s music. They believed the false narrative echoed by rap isolationists who believe that lyrical complexity equals absolute superiority. They tried to apply that faulty logic to label people as less intelligent than them; and Shia’s call out of Yachty isn’t much different.
It’s good to see people go out on limbs to try something new, but I hope Shia has an escape plan before his new hobby changes his whole life. Branching out artistically is one thing. But just make sure you can survive the fall if your branch snaps. We don’t want to have to dig a hole for young Shia’s rap career before it even gets started.