Music

Bhad Bhabie’s Rap Career Is A Cynical Cash Grab Rooted In Cultural Appropriation

We have to talk about Bhad Bhabie. We didn’t want to. But here we are. The label system in place that give her a shot over the number of passionate, die-hard rappers currently grinding in rap’s eroded middle class, should be called out by name — Atlantic Records has forced our hand by reportedly forking over millions of dollars on a multiple album deal for the viral star born Danielle Bregoli.

And it seems as though she may have semi-legitimate shot at becoming much more than the absurd “ghetto”-acting “Cash me ousside, how bout dah,’ white girl hashing out her troubled adolescence on The Dr. Phil Show. Her debut single (which continues with the appropriated slang spelling) “These Heaux” is already doing numbers on Youtube, to tune of 28 million views, and a followup track called “Hi Bich/Whachu Know,” also dropped, both of which she’s received a flurry of online attention.

But, looks can be deceiving. For one thing, the only reason anyone knows about her is from the Dr. Phil clip gone viral, and her fame is predicated on behavior that should be out of character for a 14-year-old white girl in America, which is exactly why people were so intrigued to begin with. Bregoli, who comes from predominately white town of Boynton Beach in Florida is adopting a persona fashioned from the distanced perusal of another culture, and from a lifestyle she probably doesn’t really know except through reality TV and Worldstar videos. It’s not a reach to look at this teenaged redhead with a belly button piercing suddenly rocking cornrows and rapping about hoes and bring up cultural appropriation.

Still, when the viral fame hit, Bregoli hired a management team, who openly waffled about how to extend her fifteen minutes, entertaining nightclub appearance offers despite her alleged underage status, and a reality TV show deal. In the end, rap seemed to be the most convenient avenue for making a little extra money out of her unexpected rise to stardom (it appears to have worked too, if TMZ’s estimations about her label deal are accurate). It shouldn’t be discounted that they settled on a typically “Black” genre after numerous blogs pointed out her initial fame piggybacked on the sensationalism of a white girl who “acted Black” and trap remixes sampling her catchphrase began hitting Youtube.

However the hip-hop lifestyle has been glamorized to seem desirable and attainable by the internet, the truth is that young white women who are immediately handed the keys to the kingdom by label heads tend to burn out quickly. There was a time teen rappers didn’t even cuss, let alone title their songs with demeaning slurs toward an entire gender. At fourteen years, Bregoli is still just a kid, but she’s being cast as much older to present the illusion that she’s the one making all the decisions, not being steered toward money-making opportunities by potentially predatory adults.

In light of this, it’s hard not hear “These Heaux,” with its menacing, trap-rap nihilism declaring Bhad Bhabie “ain’t nothing like these hoes,” as a too calculated cynical cash grab that her team pulled just because the money was there. Bregoli shows no indication that she ever wanted to be a rapper; she never talked about writing rhymes and dreaming of hip-hop stardom, her claim to fame was stealing cars and “mushing” her mom in the face. She doesn’t even look like she’s having fun, stone-facing her way through her videos, barely inflecting the probably-ghostwritten lines, and in general going through the motions of “how to rap” 101. Her “Don’t compare me to no one” demand seems like a grainy Xerox of the sort of thing a rapper would say, not her own voice.

If all this sounds scarily familiar, that’s because we’ve seen something similar happen in the past. In 2012, a spunky, tattoo-covered hipster white woman from the Bay Area named Kreayshawn released a music video for her song “Gucci Gucci” and the internet went completely bananas, resulting in a mega-viral hit, a label bidding war that ended in Sony offering the untested artist $3 million to produce her debut album for them, and a frenzy of essays debating whether Kreayshawn was a parasite imitating Black folks for profit, or a legit fan of hip-hop seeking to find her place within the culture.

Now we’ve clearly got ourselves a Kreayshawn 2.0 on our hands in the form of Bhad Bhabie — who is also a white girl, albeit younger than Kreayshawn was at the time “Gucci” popped off and therefore more malleable to the wishes of the adults profiting off her image — and the same questions to rehash over her cultural legitimacy, artistic integrity, and ultimately, where she fits in on a pop landscape that is vastly different than the one Kreay entered five years ago.

However, unlike Bregoli, Kreayshawn rose to prominence on the wave of her music, not pre-existing viral fame. From the catchy beat anchored by a sample from Kreay’s own previous single “Bumpin’ Bumpin'” to her breezy punchlines decrying “basic b*tches” for selling out to fashion labels, it was clear that she loved making “Gucci” and enjoyed rapping — at least until she aligned herself with Sony Records and the pressure to sell hit.

In the midst of the consternation over Kreayshawn’s place in hip-hop, her White Girl Mob cohort V-Nasty became embroiled in a controversy over the dreaded n-word, the backlash of which spilled over to Kreayshawn’s career, and had us all questioning whether any member of a girl calling themselves “White Girl Mob” had any right to call anyone soft-a “n*gga,” no matter how they grew up (To recap: they don’t).

The online outrage over V-Nasty’s antics, combined with some honestly confusing rollout strategy (There’s Something About Kreay physical media was only available through scene-kid apparel chain Hot Topic), and dubious commitment to musical quality effectively tanked Kreayshawn’s musical ambitions, and eventually she was relegated to the sidelines of C-list social media personality status. She just couldn’t prove she belonged, and truthfully, she didn’t. “Gucci Gucci” was a one-off fluke, and the remainder of her musical output what inconsistent as best. It became clear; she just didn’t want to be a rapper anymore once the opportunity presented itself.

If Kreayshawn, who at the very least genuinely liked making music before “Gucci Gucci”‘s viral success, didn’t belong, what in the world makes Danielle Bregoli or the adults pulling her strings think that her rap career will be any more successful?

It’s ironic that the premise of her first single and its accompanying music video are admonitions about inauthenticity. The video lampoons the accouterments of other trap-rap visuals including a rapper brandishing a prop AK-47 at his cameraman for effect, as well as other social media personalities who get by posting sponsored selfies with products they never use whose utility is shaky at best.

Yet, Bhad Bhabie appears to miss the irony herself, standing on the rooftop of an apartment building, barking rhymes that she probably didn’t write about the perceived fakeness of the two cultures she has exploited to slingshot herself into the spotlight. Whether she wants to be a social media personality or rapper, nothing about her persona sells her as either.

It also doesn’t suggest she’s invented a third, more interesting option — quite the opposite in fact. This video is more tired and try-hard than the thirstiest struggle rapper, it doesn’t even contain the compelling, can’t-look-away charisma that Danielle exhibited on the The Dr. Phil Show. Despite its millions of views, “These Heaux” should put an end to the craven trend of turning memes into music; defiance isn’t always an act of bravery, sometimes it’s the most cowardly and cynical move of all. In Bregoli’s case, her swiping of hip-hop culture makes the video not just cowardly, but downright gross.

Atlantic Records seems to have missed the lesson in Sony’s ill-advised gamble; betting on virality rather than authenticity and a consistent record of quality has almost never worked when it comes to rap music. Though case studies like Kreayshawn, Bobby Shmurda, and Chief Keef — or even Iggy Azalea — all failed to achieve longevity for very different reasons, the list of washed up one-hit wonders keeps growing. And it will continue to do so until labels realize that one hit doesn’t automatically mean a full-fledged rap career is possible or probable. Chasing fame always comes at a price, and something tells me Bhad Bhabie is going to find out just how much like her fictional antagonists she really is.

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