His name is Mac Lethal, a rapper. He writes fast little rhymes. He posts them on YouTube. Sometimes, they go viral.
It happened again this week.
On Tuesday, Mac Lethal published his latest creation, a video titled “Oh My God! You Need To See This!” (Or at least, I think it was titled that for a while. And then I guess it changed.) It (was) a fantastic title, especially for a video that, presumably, was made to go viral. But the content of the video isn’t all that important. In this case, this was a screed rap against the lunacy of the Westboro Baptist Church, an emotional outburst of words and beats in the wake of the wounds of Newtown, Conn.
But this post isn’t really about Lethal’s latest video, in and of itself. This is more about Lethal, or what he represents, or what talent and ambition represent in today’s free-store culture. I’ll pause to note that these thoughts are incomplete, these ideas bloggy and undeveloped.
But let’s start with Lethal. He is a Kansas City native. Put out a few albums. Raps about the Royals. A year ago, he was living in a somewhat crappy apartment in Overland Park. The kind of place any late 20-something would live.
And for me, this all makes him interesting. He’s been around the KC rap game for years, showing up at shows in Lawrence, hosting shows on the radio, playing a cultural character in a Midwest city with too few of them.
He is not famous. No, not in that way. But if you live in Kansas City, you may have HEARD of him, and you might think you should know who he is, and in this odd Internet age, that can be part of this bizarre realm of not-really-famous fame.
“Hey that’s Mac Lethal. He’s the Kansas City dude who raps insanely fast and writes sort of ironic songs. I guess I’ve heard of him”
Maybe if a Kansas City rapper would have made it big; maybe if Tech N9ne had produced a best-selling, top-40 single, the environment would be different. Not better, mind you; but different.
Last fall, Lethal released a YouTube video of him in a kitchen, spitting out some of the fastest lines you’ve ever heard, an ironically goofy cover (at least, that’s the way I took it) of Chris Brown’s “Look at Me Now”.
The fact that this YouTube video now has more than 27 million views is important to our overall thesis here. But it is, perhaps, just as interesting (although maybe not all that important) that Lethal could gain such click-ified success by rapping lines like: “Gotta butter up another one, and put it on the skillet, another couple minutes until it’s done-done / ain’t nobody fucking with this kid, so tell Jerry Sandusky I’m gonna kill him with a stun gun.”
But all this Internet fame, all this viral success, all this bizarre creation of art, well… it leads to few questions.
What do you do after you create a video with 27 million views… and then go viral again? And has Mac Lethal passed a threshold … an invisible barrier of internet fame, never to return again? I guess what I’m saying is this: If Mac Lethal has ambitions, dreams about being an artist who supports himself on his work… does becoming an Internet sensation hinder this pursuit?
Part of Lethal’s appeal, part of what makes him unique, is how home-made it all feels. He creates a beat on his iPhone, he sits on his couch, he spits out a perfect rhyme on the “first” take, and then he turns the camera off. This is not Rebecca Black, we’re told, or some methodically planned lip-dub proposal; this is hip-hop in its purest form.
And it’s quite brilliant, in its own little way. But here’s the question: When you get 27 million views while rapping about flapjacks, can you maintain authenticity?
Seattle is a music city. This is the rep, anyway. For years, a young rapper named Ben Haggerty plowed away in the local hip-hop scene. He performed at local shows, appeared at Seattle sporting events, and earned thousands of clicks on YouTube.
He was not famous. But he was notable. A white rapper from Seattle with a little bit of talent. If you asked people around the Seattle scene, they might say something like… “Yea, I’ve sort of heard of him.”
But how does somebody like this break through?
Earlier this year, Haggerty released a song called “Same Love”. It was a serious song about serious stuff.
Within a few weeks, it viral. A few weeks later, it went to No. 1 on iTunes. At some point during all this, Haggerty performed on the Ellen Show with his producer, Ryan Lewis.
She introduced him as her hero: His name is Macklemore, a rapper.
I thought off Macklemore the other day when I watched Mac Lethal’s latest creation. Maybe it was the similar names. Or the thought of two underground musicians taking on an admirable, emotional issue.
And then I scrolled through the “About” section on Mac Lethal’s Westboro rap.
It had the lyrics, and some info on Lethal’s facebook and twitter pages. And then it had this message:
“Please send this to Ellen Degeneres ASAP!!!!”