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.