Scam-Rap Is The Future
In The Secret Life Of Pets 2, Kevin Hart plays the voice of a bunny named Snowball, a former anti-human revolutionary who has come to believe that he is a superhero. The movie ends with Hart, as Snowball, rapping way too much of Desiigner’s flukey 2015 smash “Panda” while dressing up in what I suppose would be an animator’s idea of rapper clothes. (“Panda” has since become my seven-year-old’s favorite song.) “Credit cards and the scammers!,” Hart-as-Snowball bellows. And thus, rap music about credit card fraud entered the kid-movie pantheon. Good summer for it.
Credit card fraud is nothing new, and neither is rap music that talks about credit card fraud. Future, Meek Mill, Kodak Black, Tory Lanez, Moneybagg Yo, and Gunna are all on the long list of rappers with scamming-related lyrics. City Girls have more or less built their image around the idea. In their lyrics, they are mercenary sex-monsters who happily and heedlessly take dudes for all their money, so fraud is merely one of the weapons in their arsenal. Even when they team up with R&B singers and rap about straight-up romantic love, they’re only doing it in the “Gone ‘Til November” sense, talking about how no, sorry, they cannot get into a relationship with you, they have to go get this money instead. Last year, as City Girls seemed primed to explode, JT, one half of the duo, actually went to prison and began serving a two-year sentence for credit card fraud. But her sentence didn’t slow down her group’s momenum. Yung Miami, the other City Girl, has been going on an early-’00s Bun B run, guesting on everyone’s songs and shouting out her incarcerated partner at every opportunity. If anything, City Girls are bigger now than they’ve ever been.
The summer has also seen the rise of GuapDad 4000, an Oakland rapper who has been going heavy on scam-related rap for the past couple of years and who was all over J. Cole’s Revenge Of The Dreamers III compilation. GuapDad styles himself as a charming and glamorous conman type; his story about tricking Drake into playing an afterparty for free, then bragging about it on Instagram with Drake, is central to his legend. But long before that, GuapDad was flashing giant decks of credit cards in his videos, adapting a persona as the pastor of Scamwood First Blaptism. It’s a comic ideal — Michael Caine in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, if he knew how to rap and grew up in the era of identity theft.
But GuapDad has nothing on the incredible, hilarious specificity of the Detroit teenager who calls himself Teejayx6. Teejay is one of the past summer’s great rap discoveries — a truly outsized personality who has made a name for himself by describing, in painstaking detail, exactly how to use the internet to rip people off. Teejay incriminates himself to insane degrees on just about every song, and he gives step-by-step procedurals on how he does it. A few months ago, Teejay released “Swipe Lesson,” a cheap and grainy and immediate song that presents itself as a scammer 101 class: “I’m ’bout to give y’all a free method, but don’t burn it out / Drop 40, get a prepaid phone, and make a Zelle account.” Imagine if young John Connor hadn’t been chased by a liquid metal terminator — if he’d somehow built a career about telling you how he hacked $300 out of that one ATM machine. That’s Teejayx6.
There’s a context for Teejayx6 — a whole Detroit scam-rap underground that’s been churning for a few years. On Vice, Ryan Bassil, who knows way more about this than I do, writes that the Detroit scam-rap scene dates back to March of 2017, when Bossman Rich posted his “Juggin Ain’t Dead” video on YouTube. Last year, the 25-year-old Selfmade Kash was arrested after being charged with using 3,000 stolen credit cards to fund his music career. Kash apparently had some kind of association with Detroit’s BandGang crew, who are making some of the most exciting underground rap music in the world right now.
But Teejayx6 remains the funniest and most specific scam-rapper currently working. He’s been in the midst of a viral explosion for just a few weeks now, especially after uploading his Fraudulent Activity mixtape to YouTube. (It’s on the proper streaming services now.) As a musician, Teejayx6 is almost gleefully amateurish. He raps in quick, cluttered rushes — as if he really wants to put you onto all this game, but he can’t take too long, since he has to go hit your aunt’s HSBC account up for another $4,000. His songs are short and usually hookless — just breathless bursts of information. His beats are cheap and featureless and lo-fi, though that’s changing, especially now that big-name producers like Metro Boomin are working with him. His lyrics are heavy on deep terminology, the sort of things that sound more credible because I have only the vaguest idea what they even mean: “The government tried to ban me from the dark web / I downloaded Tor Browser, then got back in / Went and got a VPN, just bought another BIN,” “Walk in Walmart so I can buy a burnt-out computer / The Feds burnt my IP, so I just use the wifi in Hooters.”
But Teejayx6 is also wickedly funny. He knows how outlandish his stories are, and he delights in it: “Catfished a lame white boy for $6,000 on Tinder / Scammed a cameraman for a video, then blocked him on Twitter.” He brags about scamming his cousin, or his grandmother. He complains that he can’t get haircuts anymore because he scammed his barber. He tells you exactly how nervous he was the first time he used a stolen card to buy a whole bunch of shit at Walmart, and then he says that he did it over and over: “I scammed the same Walmart 50 times, I gotta play it smart.” And he mixes those up with more conventional rap punchlines that are still outsized and ridiculous: “Shot a fat nigga in his stomach, and I made him poop.” Last month, while playing his first-ever show in Los Angeles, Teejayx6 was arrested onstage. But online, fans quickly theorized that the cops onstage arresting him were actors, and that the whole thing was a publicity stunt — another scam.
There’s more where Teejay came from. On the song “Dynamic Duo,” Teejay and Kasher Quon trade scammer stories and absurdist shit-talk for four gloriously silly minutes: “Please hit my DM if you got a bank account.” And Teejay has also teamed up with another young and viral Detroit scam-rap star: an extremely skinny white kid who goes by the beautifully improbable name ShittyBoyz BabyTron. ShittyBoyz BabyTron has floppy hair and a dirt-stache and an anime obsession, and I would like to know his whole life story.
None of this makes sense. But at the same time, all of it makes sense. Twelve years ago, Pimp C said, “Pimpin’ ain’t dead, it just moved to the web,” cannily anticipating the rise of Backpage. Crime tends to change faster than the rest of the world can anticipate; that’s why it works. And when corporations greedily, happily abuse the public trust, it’s hard not to cheer for the kids figuring out clever new ways to swindle those companies. Scam-rappers are, of course, just as happy to talk about conning old ladies, but that’s fun, too, in its own jarring and amoral way.
Scam-rap works as a fresh new take on the decades-long street-rap tradition, and it’s both scarier and more plausible than rap music about selling cocaine on streetcorners in 2019. The one real scam-rap stumbling block might be the simple fact that rapping itself is not necessarily a profitable endeavor. Not long ago, Pitchfork asked Teejayx6 whether he’d consider retiring from scamming and focusing on rap instead. Teejay’s response: “Listen: For a show right now, I could probably get $5,000. In the scamming world, that’s nothing.” By that logic, Teejayx6 will still be looking for account numbers on the dark web when Kevin Hart is screaming his lyrics in cartoons.
1. Blaatina – “Watch Out” (Feat. NLE Choppa)
Violent, rudimentary, low-tech Memphis rap is great in every form. But violent, rudimentary, low-tech Memphis rap gets a whole new dimension when the person making it is a young woman who sounds exquisitely bored.
2. Cam & China – “Keep It Pushin”
LA twin-sister duo Cam & China have been making excellently snarly rap music since the late-’00s jerk-music scene, when they were both in the group Pink Dollaz. They should be huge stars. They’re not. But every once in a while, they resurface with another piece of nasty, charismatic head-smack music.
3. Money Meech – “Letter 2 Al Woo”
Here, we have something that’s both overwhelmingly sad and brutally compelling: a young Detroit rapper telling the story about getting shot and talking about missing his friend and rap partner, who died in the same shooting. What can you even say? Rap music can be so meaningless, and it can be so meaningful. (I learned about both this track and the Cam & China one on the Passion Of The Weiss’ great weekly column the Rap-Up.)
4. Boosie Badazz & Zaytoven – “Dangerous Job”
I don’t know what’s going on with this grotesque video, but it’s pretty powerful to hear Boosie Badazz, a man who went away to prison for five years at the height of his career, rapping about how fraught the rap life is. “If you don’t know, rapping hard.”
5. Big Sean – “Berzerk” (Feat. A$AP Ferg & Hit-Boy)
Big Sean gets clowned a lot, and he usually deserves it. But when he and Ferg go in over a Hit-Boy beat together, he can be legitimately exciting.
IT WAS ALL GOOD JUST A WEEK AGO
every rapper trying to be Travis now tbh lmao, I went to like 4 festivals where rappers were like "open it up," and I'm like.. bruh.. nobody bout to mosh for your mid tempo ballad with Ella Mai bruh.
— Ashlee with 2 E’s 🏁 (@ashleeonair) August 28, 2019