The Greatest Rapper in the World - Part IV
"True, it's a good indicator," Abdul from Joe's Repo Services tells me, "but I don't think that Billboard hits, or iTunes charts, are the best way to define the world's greatest rapper."
"Well, what would you say is?" I ask.
Abdul grunts as he lifts our TV free of the wall mount. He crab walks down the hallway, towards the truck. "What's important," he says, feet shuffling, "is your rep on the street, with the people."
"Example?" I ask, holding the front door open for him.
"Well, Jay-Z and Kanye West sold out Madison Square Garden for seven consecutive nights. That's impressive."
"Hmmm. I hadn't really considered using live performances as a metric. No one comes to my live shows. As a strategy it doesn't seem likely to deliver any short term income."
Abdul places the television into the truck bed next to our former washing machine and barbecue. He shrugs. "I'm just saying, no one can tell you all of Drake's hits, can they? But everyone recognises the names ‘Tupac' and the ‘Notorious B.I.G.'. They stood up, they beefed, they asserted themselves. Imagine if they'd had Twitter back then." He drawls, "shit."
Umar comes from the house with his arms full of laptop cables that he deposits in a plastic moving crate, Abdul rolls down the truck door after he seals the lid.
"You need stature, my friend," Abdul says. "The iTunes sales come after you have the people's respect."
Kelly joins me on the driveway as the truck drives away.
"What are we going to do now?" she asks.
"I don't know," I say. "I think I need to explore my feelings through a rap."
"What are we going to do for money?"
"I still think we can make it through my EP sales and your shifts at the hospital."
She squeezes my hand. "But you don't have any EP sales, at all."
"Not yet, but now I have an idea."
In the bare living room I ask Kelly, "Who should be the focus of my diss track?"
"I still don't understand why you must do one," Kelly says. "It sounds really mean."
"I know it sounds mean, but it's a common thing in the music industry. In the game. Everyone does it, Cypress Hill beefed with Westside Connection, Dr. Dre and Snoop hated Eazy-E, there was Nas and Jay-Z, Eminem and the Insane Clown Posse, Aesop Rock and El-P, NWA and The Police."
"I've never even heard of half those rap groups."
"Neither had I, until they started feuding."
Kelly is letting me use her computer to find a potential dispute partner. A photograph of Flo-Rida fills the screen. He is posed shirtless, a teardrop is tattooed on each of his swollen biceps. Twin Desert Eagles hang from the sagging waistband of his boxer shorts.
The blood leaves Kelly's face. "Nigel, these rappers look dangerous. I don't think you should be doing this."
"I have to," I tell her. "If I want to be the greatest rapper in the world I can't be afraid of anyone. Or anything."
"What if they try and hurt you?"
"Relax, no rapper has ever actually been injured in a rap feud."
"Well, no Top 40 rappers. Was The Game ever in the charts?"
"You never had fighting in your best rapper qualities though."
"I need to do this, though. I need to make myself stand out. Differentiate myself."
"Exactly," says Kelly. "You say that all rappers make mean tracks about each other, so differentiate yourself. Don't write a diss track. Why don't you write a... a love track."
"A love track?"
"Yeah, write a track where you rhyme about how much you like another rapper. Write lyrics about how cool you think they are."
"You think people would want to listen to that?"
"They should," says Kelly. "I would."
"Okay. I'll do it."
Before the release of my single Hug Your Homey, all of my iTunes tracks had only one download, done by me, to make sure the download was working. Hug Your Homey debuted at number 3,105 on the New Releases chart. I promoted it heavily. I sent a message to all of my old waste services colleagues telling them to download it. I changed the name of my MySpace profile from "~*MC NiG3L*~" to "~*MC NiG3L*~ Hug Your Homey available on itunes NOW!!!!"
I recorded a whole EP of friendly rap tracks, including the songs The Hug Life Chose Me, Keep Up the Good Work, Kanye and a rap over Weezer's Island in the Sun called Ain't No Blocks by the Seaside.
After the EP was recorded I spoke with rapper Evil Eddie about him appearing in a music video with me. I'm not sure if he bailed because he learnt we were filming it all on an old Nokia, or if he knew the script involved a lot of hugging, or if he realised we were filming him before we even asked him.
My YouTube video "Evil Eddie Trips Over Cat While Escaping Man-Hug [SD]" had accumulated ten views by the time Hug Your Homey faded from the New Release charts. Most of the views were mine, making sure the video was working.
One morning, as Kelly and I ate generic-brand cereal dry, I checked the video and saw it had three thousand hits, and I had a hundred comments. The video had gone viral overnight on a cat forum. Most of the messages enquired about the cat's welfare, but some said they liked my songs. I replied to each comment, regardless of context, and I linked each of them to my iTunes download page. I did inform those who queried that the cat had died in the incident.
The ratio of views to downloads was always low, but it didn't matter, because the views kept climbing day after day. Someone posted an auto-tuned remix, where Eddie's gasp, the cat's shriek and Kelly's angelic giggle became the chorus for an 808 beat.
The next week I called Kelly during the last hours of her triple-shift at the hospital.
"Hi, it's me," I said. "Your favourite MC. How's shift three?"
She took a while to answer. "It's fine."
"I have great news," I told her. "I'm back in the charts."
"The new release charts?"
"No, the hot sellers. I'm blowing up!"
"You're blowing up? Are you ok?"
"No, I mean, I'm making it."
"You're making it blow up?"
"I'm making money. Do you hear that?"
"I'm swishing the scroll wheel of your mouse up and down," I say. "I'm viewing our banking e-statement. Cash money! We gettin' paid!"
The tiredness slips from her voice. "That's awesome, babe. I'm so proud of you."
"I'm the greatest rapper in the world!" I say. "Almost."
For two weeks my songs continued to sell. I wasn't making a lot, but it was more than my weekly salary at waste services. We could pay the rent again.
In week three the payments went down. I checked the charts and saw my songs plummeting from the hot sellers. And then I saw why. A new artist was emerging, his downloads rising, his track preparing to knock mine out of the charts.
The artist was True Drew. He'd written a diss track.
The track was called Fuck You MC Nigel.
The Thrilling Conclusion, Next Wednesday.
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The woman with the fake tan stepped into my office, sat across from my desk and lit a cigarette.
At least, she would, sometime in the next 20 minutes. Smelling the future has advantages, but precision isn’t one of them.