I want to admit something to you all, and it’s that I have a love/hate relationship with rapper Lil Durk. It’s actually pretty simple why I feel the way that I do. I love how talented he is as a hookwriter, songwriter and everything else that has him heavily leaning on autotune for a D’Angelo Russell style assist. However, I find myself at odds with his contractual record label situation, and it’s strictly in regards to the fact he will never be the rap star his talents justify. The issue is not that he’s signed to Def Jam – a great place for any talented artist to be – but moreso with the fact that he’s also signed to rapper French Montana’s Coke Boys imprint. Rappers signing to other rappers fails 99% of the time, and it’s usually because they fail to sign with an A-List rapper.
Rap is very similar to professional wrestling. Not that it’s fake (that’s debatable) but moreso because a rapper’s appeal and a wrestlers appeal are both tied to that intangible known as charisma or star power. The fans have to like you, love you, and usually want to be you, and that affection allows rappers to transcend from being an average rhyme spitter to becoming the next Drake. There are 3 diferent levels of rap stardom, and like to denote them as A-list, B-list and C-list rappers. I want to make this point very clear before I continue: there’s absolutely nothing wrong with not being an A-list rapper. Just like star quarterbacks need offensive lineman and Hollywood Hogan needed Kevin Nash and Scott Hall, A-list rappers need B-list rappers and C-list rappers. Everything exists like an ecosystem, where there are big fish that profit the most and some that are able to live just comfortably being a big fish in a small pond. The problem becomes with a B-list or C-list rapper thinks they’re A-list but that’s an entirely different article, and I’ve digressed.
A-list rappers are your crème de la crème of the genre. This includes acts such as Drake, Jay-Z, Kendrick Lamar, Wiz Khalifa, Lil Wayne, Snoop Dogg, T.I., Kanye West, Ludacris, Eminem, Nelly, Nicki Minaj and a few others. These are people that if you saw them hosting Saturday Night Live you wouldn’t find it out of the ordinary. Once you’re an A-list rapper, you’re a household name and you’ve reached a level of fame that used to allow artists to go platinum once upon a time. Those days are long gone now, but these artists are still the ones able to parlay their superstardom into an array of money making ventures, from stadium tours to movies alongside Steven Seagal – looking at you 50 Cent.
B-list rappers include rappers that are a tier below charisma and star power wise. Examples of these artists would be Nas, J. Cole, Wale, Gucci Mane, Common, Macklemore, Iggy Azalea, A$AP Rocky. These artists are famous enough to where people know them but they’re not quite at the level of superduperstardom as the aforementioned artists. They’re usually B-list for a variety of reasons: lack of longevity, incarceration, career suicide, or most likely, being signed to an A-list rapper. A-list rappers are notoriously reluctant to help other artists become as successful as them. Maybe it’s the competitive nature of rap or just trying to keep the club exclusive. Who knows.
Some artists waver between A-list and B-list – such as Rick Ross and Young Jeezy among others – but that’s moreso of them having similarities with other A-list artists and them cancelling each other out. Continuing with the wrestling comparisons earlier, there’s room for Brock Lesnar and Goldberg to reign supreme but not at the same time. Eventually their paths will cross and one will rise above while the other bumps back down to B-list
C-list rappers are anyone who’s broken out in a regional sense but are not going to appear on nationwide radio anytime soon. They are most likely able to carve out a fanbase in their hometown or state and remain a relatively big fish in their small pond. Their career path usually decides around how much touring they do, and whether they decide to keep releasing albums. Also, I should point out that just because a rapper falls on the chart in the B-list or C-list category doesn’t mean they’re less talented at rapping than the A-list rappers, and vice versa. If rappers had stats or ratings like a video game there would be 4 stats: charisma, technical prowess, songmaking and individuality/creativity. Charisma is one part of the rating, the one that decides how big of a star you can be, but the other factors play a role as well.
Now that I’ve explained my stance on this, now let me return to why I’m kinda saddened with Lil Durk’s career situation. Lil Durk has the potential to be a B-list or C-list rapper if this was based solely on rapper “statistics” but he falters in two areas. Firstly, his personality kinda lacks – no pun intended. He’s not captivating at all in interviews, which is weird considering how much personality he displays in the booth. The other is that Lil Durk is signed to French Montana, who himself is a B-list or C-list rapper depending on the day. French Montana himself has signed to a joint venture deal between Diddy’s Bad Boy, Rick Ross’ Maybach Music and Interscope. As I mentioned before, A-list rappers such as Diddy and Ross are very reluctant to have an artist become bigger than them an increase the number of fish in their miniscule pond, so the chances of Montana becoming a legitimate superstar are slim and none, which further hinders Lil Durk’s career prospects. It’s almost like a pyramid of sorts, where Diddy and Ross are in the pros, Montana is in the minors and Durk is the graduating senior hoping to break into the league. In order for him to make it and join the top tier league he has to take someone’s place, and they are willing to fight tooth and nail to keep the current order as it is. So Durk has an uphill battle. He’s most likely resigned to having to wait for one of the current cream of the crop to retire or move on to another challenge to open up a metaphorical roster spot.
As I was writing this I was listening to what I feel is Lil Durk’s best body of work, “Signed To The Streets 1”. All of his talents are on full display on this project and he really has a bright future ahead of him, songmaking wise. I just hope he’s okay with none of those songs taking him up to that A-list group of rappers, because that seems a little too far out of his reach at this point. We’ll just have to stay tuned and see how this all plays out. And if you have any issues with where I’ve ranked any of the artists above, or feel I left some artists out, please let me know in the comments below. Let’s get it.