How Diplo and 2 Chainz are flourishing in a dying industry
Once upon a time, 2 Chainz and Diplo were working toward fame in the traditional lanes of the music industry. But that was before they learned the lucrative art of making the Internet laugh. 2 Chainz gave Skip Bayless one of his chains on ESPN2. You can order Diplo-ordained weed grinders with one-day shipping. 2 Chainz rhymed "turkey lasagna" with "pajamas designer." Diplo inked ubiquitous troll-rapper Riff Raff to an utterly deranged eight-album mega-deal. In 2014, being a meme can bring in a lot of money, and for that fact alone, Diplo and 2 Chainz are innovators.
It's not selling out or a misplacement of ideals: Both artists have worked hard to not be taken seriously. Diplo has aggressively scrubbed his name from the door-kicking, revolution-simmering, M.I.A.-dating DJ we knew on Piracy Funds Terrorism. Sure, he's traded politics for ass-shaking, but we're better off with his irreverence. Tity Boi changed his name to 2 Chainz and set his sights on the pop charts. He's a millionaire now, and his records are suddenly being reviewed by the likes of Pitchfork.
The two are a sign of the times. In our increasingly concentrated music industry, personality has never been more important. You can see it everywhere, even in the stodgiest of scenes. There's a reason that indie-rock lifers Grizzly Bear and the National are fading, while Vampire Weekend frontman Ezra Koenig's quirky humor is only picking up steam. Diplo cracked the code: He realized that you can keep your set saved on a MacBook and still have a face and voice. And if the crowd gets bored of his sunburned face, his identity now includes a massive cartoon Jamaican bounty-hunter friend (Major Lazer, in fact) who is always just a projection away.
The kids want something they can dance to and something they can laugh at. They want their rappers in Versace and their beats to sound like something from Looney Tunes. Perhaps the world has gotten too heavy, too overloaded with information, and the goofiest entertainment is the only thing that makes sense anymore. 2 Chainz and Diplo provide the exact sort of nihilistic joy needed to get through the day in a world of crippling environmental degradation and economic disparity.
And this world needs efficient pleasure, so neither artist spends much time in one place. 2 Chainz's albums are practically invisible compared to his feature verses, and Diplo's discography is so knotty with remixes, curation and side projects that he presents himself almost as more of a brand than an individual artist. Wu-Tang's GZA is only about ten years older than 2 Chainz, and he's spent the past couple of years playing the twenty-year-old Liquid Swords in full. It's hard to ever imagine that happening with Chainz's Based on a T.R.U. Story, but he's headlining festivals and GZA's grinding it out on the small-club circuit.
2 Chainz and Diplo are both consummate professionals, groomed perfectly for a world in which the spotlight shifts around faster than ever. They generate a constant stream of music, words, color, bizarre media appearances and designer viral music videos. They will come to play, and nobody will shed tears of any kind. They've learned to be appreciated as entertainers, and they've learned to expect the acclaim to come with a dose of condescension from critics and fellow artists who are losing their own audiences. And Diplo and 2 Chainz will pack up and take the party to the next town, working tirelessly to make sure that pop culture stays within striking distance.
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