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Rappers owe viral stars more than head nods

Trey Alston

 // Jul 20, 2018

Artist // Instagram

Shiggy, the internet's latest hoot, hopped in front of a camera wearing an Easter-pink sweatsuit, cut on Drake's "In My Feelings," and created one of the most bubbly, in-demand dance crazes of today. He wasn't even consciously doing anything spectacular — he later told Sway Calloway on TRL that he just "felt like dancing" — but a few of his movements were isolatable, mainly the heart made of hands, the stirring movements, and the vibrant smile that adorns the faces of us all when mindlessly dancing with friends. The fifteen-second clip would become the precipice for the #InMyFeelingsChallenge, an enormous, worldwide contest of who could stick Shiggy's formula the best while getting increasily wackier and cockamamie. Everyone from Ciara and Russell Wilson to Drake himself emulated Shiggy's signature dance. It became so big that Shiggy cavorted the song to the top of Billboard's Hot 100. When a picture circulated around the internet showing that Shiggy and Drake actually connected together, following Drake personally thanking the viral sensation for what he did for the song's exposure, a story conjured out of thin air: The Toronto superstar had gifted Shiggy $250,000 to truly show his appreciation for his viral dance craze.

Of course, it turns out, that didn't happen. At all. In an Instagram video recorded after he caught wind of the rumors, Shiggy vehemently denied receiving any money. "Niggas is lying," he said in the video. "$250,000? What kind of shit is going on, man?" Later on, he poked fun at the accusation even more. "You think he walking around with a chequebook in the club?"

So, for what it's worth, Shiggy got zilch (thus far) for catapulting Drake's dance song to the top of the charts. His fifteen-second video created a ballyhoo of interest for the New Orleans-esque dance single that didn't even get the full red-carpet treatment that Drake typically rolls out. Now that it's a worldwide phenomenon, Drake owes a great deal more than what amounts to a head nod. There should be some kind of compensation in addition to the recognition and opportunity that come with it. But, as we've come to see, rappers aren't willing to fork over any financial rewards — they pay in clout, not coins.

Before the release of "1 Night" in 2015, Lil Yachty was a rising SoundCloud rapper that was largely indistinguishable from many of his contemporaries—save for those instantly recognizable red braids. The juvenile, horny song about a misunderstanding after a one night stand was interesting enough, but immediate serious traction eluded it. That is until YouTube comedian Caleon Fox uploaded a sketch called "When Bae Asks You What Are We," in which he used the song to describe a hairy situation that he placed himself in. His dance movements and absurd costumes caused the video to go viral, with the conversation then turning to what song was playing during the video. That was in December of 2015; by February 2016, Yachty had become a star from the song's popularity, even walking the runway in Kanye West's Yeezy Season 3 presentation. The next month, he released his Lil Boat debut project. Yachty later extended a thank you to Caleon for jumpstarting his career, but ultimately that was it.

Vine was the one-stop shop for viral antics. If you plugged in a bubbling rap song into the platform, there was a chance that creators would fit it into a six-second comedy sketch that would capture the attention of the world. T-Wayne's "Nasty Freestyle" caught wind of the Vine wave, leading to him signing with 300 Entertainment off the strength of hair-whipping, six-second dance clips with his song as the backdrop. OG Maco's "U Guessed It" became an anthem in 2015 from the videos that Vine users made entailing an enormous amount of craze. OG Maco signed to Quality Control Music Group and, nearly immediately, cast the song into forgotten territory. The scores of Viners who gave the song the legwork to succeed were left in history.

I get that no one's making aspiring comedians and casual fans record to these songs in an effort to go viral themselves, but there has to be some kind of compensation for being the reason that someone else's work goes viral instead. Think about when Peaches Monroe's Vine for "Fleek" catapulted her made-up word into the lines of nearly every popular song in hip-hop from 2014 to 2016. She's just now finding footing thanks to a public campaign to get her compensation, drawing attention to her line of hair extensions, but the artists that profited from her creation largely left her out to dry. Social media's response was to support her, but this same sentiment is nearly never shared by the celebrities that rake in the profits.

Drake partied with Shiggy in Los Angeles, but this isn't so much of a thank you as it is an opportunity for a photo op that'll benefit him more than it does Shiggy. He knows the narrative that celebrities don't support their benefactors — so here goes the opportunity for free press. If he were genuine about Shiggy's support, he'd give him something — be it an opportunity or, as we all would like to see, compensation.

But actually giving money to him would have opened a slippery slope that would cause more problems than he, or the genre, could probably contend with. There would surely be an increase of people looking to replicate this success throughout the world, then claiming responsibility for the song's popularity. This would turn into beckoning for money as well. There's also the question of just how much money would be acceptable for the song's popularity. $250,000 for Shiggy's contribution sounds absurdly high, even if Drake will rack in bigger bucks. But then, the lower that figure gets, the more controversy would arise that would bring up another discussion of just what figure would be suitable.

Caleon was a good sport about his whole situation. In an interview with Thizzler, he explained how Lil Yachty reached out to him, prior to the paroxysm of Caleon's video, and struck up a rapport, thanking him for using "1 Night" in his viral skit. As the song's popularity grew, Yachty would keep him updated up of each threshold it hit — to a certain extent. By the time that Yachty had reached superstar status, he and Caleon had lost touch, growing apart. However, he did contact Caleon to be in the official "1 Night" video but the two's schedules never aligned. "I don't really expect him to put me on because his song blew up off of my video," Caelon said. With a hint of contempt in his voice at the very end, he doubles down on his belief. "I'm not going to waste my time and energy getting mad because he didn't take me with him."

A guest appearance in a music video or a night of debauchery with a celebrity are not acceptable forms of reimbursement for either jumpstarting or sparking new interest in an artist's career. Not being paid in either opportunity or a sizeable monetary reward reeks of exploitation. A shoutout doesn't suffice either, because creators can only ride that wave for so long. Then, it's back to searching for the next means to go viral again while the artist that they helped rakes in the profits. It's impossible to go back and rewrite time, but Vine artists undoubtedly felt this pain, too. While the artists that they catapulted went on to sign record deals and become minor celebrities, the creators faded into obscurity when the app shut down.

Recently, Shiggy got the opportunity of a lifetime when he went in for an interview with Power 105's The Breakfast Club. While some of the discussion offers insight into who he is, a majority of it was about the #InMyFeelingsChallenge and what has come of it. Being that Charlamagne Tha God, DJ Envy, and Angela Yee are usually concerned with their guests' pockets, the question of what kind of compensation he got from Drake came up. Shiggy happily revealed that he didn't get anything. The hosts were incredulous, with Charlamagne pressing the matter, but Shiggy seemed genuinely happy with the attention that he is receiving. Even those around him realize what he may be too hesitant to say — he deserves a slice of the pie for what he did for Drake's song. Caleon deserves more than an interview shoutout from Lil Yachty. Vine creators, most of the time, didn't even get the recognition. But they deserve that, and then some, for creating much of the culture that existed years ago.

But these 'shoulds' sadly may not come to pass. The industry takes full advantage of those willing to breathe life into it without contracts, so as Ty Dolla $ign and Jimmy Kimmel bring the phenomenon to primetime television, Shiggy will have to inevitably step back and find another way to get to the top. He'll probably move on, as does everyone who finds themselves in similar situations. Time shows that the artists win in the long run. Hopefully, at some point, we come to a consensus that we need to reward these creators generously.


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