Denver hip-hip duo Top Flite Empire has dropped a video for the track “WAVE,” from the debut album Bad Decisions, and it’s causing a stir within the local rap community, thanks to the manner with which it tackles race and class stereotypes, and the prejudices that people harbor without knowing it.
Top Flite Empire formed about seven years ago and consists of King Tef and Hypnautic. Tef says that “WAVE” was inspired by the personal experiences of the two artists, one of whom is black and the other white.
“Him being white is already a situation, because of how people automatically look at white rappers,” Tef says. “Me being a black man with a private-school degree, people see a rapper and automatically make the judgment that he can’t be smart. These judgments have been passed on a lot in our lives. A white kid from Littleton who went on the wrong path for a while, and then because his best friend committed suicide, he started to rap. And you take a black kid who was doing great in school, headed to a private college, his brother passed away and he begins to rap. It’s not the usual story of two dudes who rapped their whole life. It’s two people who have a reason to rap. A lot of people can’t sell that.”
Taking those themes, the two men wrote a song challenging perceptions and asking listeners to understand the difference between reality and subconscious stereotypes. And with the group starting to get some national attention and enjoying the spotlight, the notion of remaining in the real world was important to both of them.
“You can live the life and love the spotlight, but at the same time, there’s a reality behind it that you have to pay attention to,” Tef says. “When we wrote it, we were in a different area in our minds. When Hypnautic came in, he had written a verse, but he had just found out is son had aplastic anemia. He wasn’t in a party space or anything like that. So when he wrote his verse, he took it way seriously. At that time, we were in L.A. with Dem Jointz, the producer of ‘WAVES’ and the dude who produced Compton with Dr. Dre. So when we wrote the song, it was based off the situation. You’re there and you’re in a space where it’s all fun, and that’s the fame that you get to work with, but at the same time, reality’s happening to you. Reality was hitting him very hard at that time.”
The video, which was directed and edited by King Tef and Hypnautic, respectively, and shot by Jacob Fillmore, sees Hypnautic portraying a police officer who is married to a black women, while Tef plays a wealthy man with a white wife. Tef’s character is pulled over by the cop, though we don’t know what, if anything, occurred beforehand. The facts are scant, and it’s left to our own minds to fill in the blanks. How we do that is the whole point of the song and video.
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“The idea was to take a reality that’s very vivid," Tef says. "But then, I didn’t want to make any conclusions. So you have to create the stereotype yourself. A lot of people will see the white cop and the black gentleman sitting there, and the gun’s on the gentleman, and they’ll already assume some situation occurred. Or they’ll take that the black gentleman has a white wife or the white gentleman has a black wife, and they’ll notice that. If I was with a black woman or he was with a white woman, no one would notice anything. I wanted to take that reality, that we stereotype and don’t even notice it. We automatically come to premature conclusions.”
Top Flite Empire will release a new, deluxe version of Bad Decisions in April, then head out on an extensive promotional tour. With the album hitting number eight on the iTunes hip-hop chart and number one on the local-area Billboard Heatseekers chart, all without any promotional work, the buzz surrounding this video is making a bigger push a no-brainer. For now, take a good look at a refreshingly challenging and intelligent locally produced video.
“You’ve got to take situations for what they are and not build a judgment before learning what the whole situation is about,” Tef says.
Find out more at tfempire.com.