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Waka Flocka Flame Is a Great Rapper Whether He Knows It or Not

The “Hard in da Paint” MC recently disparaged his own skills, calling himself a “wack rapper.” Guess we’ll have to defend him from himself.

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Every week, Micah Peters surveys the world of music—from new releases to bubbling trends to anniversaries both big and obscure—and gives a few recommendations.

I was already thinking about anime, so I’ll just start there: Demon Slayer is a show about a group of swordsmen who protect the human world from things that go bump in the night. Among these swordsmen, Zenitsu isn’t the strongest, smartest, or the most skilled. His peers have picked up as many as 10 “forms” through training; by the end of the first season, Zenitsu has only one move, but he’s made it unstoppable. “If you can only do one thing,” his grandfather tells him in a pivotal flashback, “hone it to perfection.”

One of the internet’s greatest joys is “Waka Flocka Goes in the Booth,” a minute and 40 seconds of video from a recording session for the rapper’s debut album, 2010’s Flockaveli. In the clip he’s punching up his vocals on a collaboration with Yo Gotti, and attacks his ad-libs with delightfully singular focus. BAOW BAOW BAOW BAOW BAOW. Like the … OK meme, if you know nothing else about Waka Flocka you probably know about this video, which has often been used as a stick to beat him. Sure Flocka had energy, but you could never accuse him of being lyrical, which purists—the reactionaries who feel so strongly about rap as to engage in stupid, endless online debates about what’s ailing it—prize above all else.

Flocka himself is one of these purists. On a recent episode of Complex’s Everyday Struggle, Flocka spoke about his favorite topics, like individual agency, labels, and the music industry. Naturally, he got candid about his career: He rapped solely to get rich, which isn’t that much of a revelation, but, brace yourself, he knew he was “a wack rapper.” Although he was signed to Gucci Mane’s 1017 Brick Squad imprint and scored such mainstream hits as “O Let’s Do It” and “Hard in da Paint,” Flocka’s heroes were KRS-One, Nas, Goodie Mob, and DMX. “I can’t rap like them folks,” Flocka said. A common refrain among the many takes online was a backhanded compliment: Flocka was a bad rapper who nonetheless made great music, sort of like how Nas is a peerless rapper but has like 10 good songs.

OK, but here’s the obvious thing—and I feel like I’ve said this a million times on this very website—rapping is more than lyricism. Rapping is also energy, dexterity, delivery, and sonics. Mastery of just one of these is enough to make someone great: Charlie Clips commercially released two forgettable singles, but he will eat anyone in a one-on-one battle. Gunna has basically used the same flow on every song since 2017, but he’s perfected that flow, and it works every time. DaBaby can also find his pocket in any song, and has switched his flow once, as a joke. Yes, circa 2009-2013 Flocka’s lyricism and dexterity were lacking, but goddamn if he couldn’t start a riot with his hard-nosed delivery, which actually places him in DMX’s lineage! Moreover, with street-classic mixtapes like his LeBron Flocka James series, as well as DuFlocka Rant, Flocka arguably—it’s still a source of controversy—laid the groundwork for the drill movement. Flocka is important. Flocka is hardly a “wack rapper.”

In fact, when Flocka tried his hand at being a lyrical miracle in 2014 with a spate of remixes, and then with I Can’t Rap Vol. 1, it was meh. The shock of Flocka actually spitting quickly wore off, and then there were still 19 more songs. There was basically no reason to listen to it if you liked everything he’d done up to that point—it wasn’t what he was good at, and there were plenty of people who did this kind of rapping better.

But back to Demon Slayer: The worst thing about Zenitsu is that he’s a coward, and can’t pull off his one move until he goes into a fugue-like state, usually after fainting. When he wakes up on the battlefield, he’s always convinced someone else has come to his rescue. That’s the saddest thing about Zenitsu, which, incidentally, is also the saddest thing about Waka Flocka Flame: He doesn’t know he’s great.

Now for some recommendations:

“That Way,” Lil Uzi Vert

Whether Lil Uzi Vert’s long-delayed Eternal Atake will actually arrive in two weeks is between him and whichever transdimensional beings he answers to, but I feel secure in saying “That Way” is the best thing we’ve heard from it, provided the stray songs we’ve been hearing over the past two years were actual album cuts. He disassembled the Backstreet Boys’ saccharine pop hit “I Want It That Way” and rearranged it into a saccharine pop hit you could conceivably hear at a strip club.

“That Way” is further proof that no one is better than Uzi at parroting melodies a listener will have picked up by the end of the song, even upon hearing it for the first time. By the time you get to the part where Uzi, over a picking guitar, sings “can’t call 911 ‘cause I’m in Reeeeeno,” you’ll be singing, too.

“No Sucker,” Lil Baby

Don’t look now, but Lil Baby and Moneybagg Yo are now seven-of-seven: They’ve given us “All of a Sudden,” “Bank,” “No Cutt,” “FWM,” “U Played,” “TOES,” and now “No Sucker,” from Lil Baby’s sophomore album, My Turn, out last Friday.

When Baby closed his verse, “They done killed that boy with a hand strap / You straight, I ain’t givin’ your mans dap,” I remembered that I watched How High 2 two months ago, for patently important reasons. Baby has maybe three lines in that movie, and one of them is “I don’t even do truces.”

Offset makes his acting debut on NCIS: Los Angeles

The myth around Offset built itself as Migos’s star began to rise—while the group were becoming the subject of magazine profiles, he was doing time in DeKalb County Jail for violating probation stemming from a theft and robbery charge. Offset was the attack dog, the tough guy.

That might well be a kind of true, but Offset was also the bite-sized backup dancer in that Whitney Houston music video, the goofy teen pop-locking in his bedroom. Offset has always been a theater kid. And you know what? His cameo on a recent episode of NCIS: Los Angeles was kinda decent!

“Yellow is the color of her eyes,” Soccer Mommy

A whole song happens before it, but there’s a sad, beautiful moment at the four-minute, 50-second mark when Soccer Mommy, shielded by only her guitar sings, “Loving you isn’t enough, you’ll still be deep in the ground when it’s done.”

“When to Say When,” Drake

Drake’s video for “Chicago Freestyle/When To Say When” was directed by his photographer, Theo Skudra, and is thus a window into the rapper’s daily life, rather than the fun, concept-driven videos he’s been making with Director X. There is a “Song Cry” sample and a “Superman” interpolation, and Devin Booker is there for some reason.

It occurs to me that we’ll never reach Peak Drake because Drake can always be more Drake.