Innovation is the name of the game in hip-hop, and keeping name recognition rivals the importance of making good music. Waka Flocka Flame manages both, acting as the vessel between ringtone rap of the mid-2000s and today’s trap bangers.
In 2005, a smattering of pop and pop-rap hits dominated the Billboard year-end charts. That same year, the Texas rap scene underwent something of a renaissance, presenting a series of southern-grown artists to the national hip-hop scene. Names like Bun B (of UGK), Slim Thug, Chamillionaire and more would share a moment in a limelight filtered purple, indicative of the slow-loud-and-banging (henceforth S.L.A.B.) culture of Houston.
A well-deserved showcase at the time, Texas was no stranger to voluptuous basslines and heavy-hitting raps; the Geto Boys, Underground Kingz, Devin the Dude and the like dripped through the 1990s, giving Texas a swagger all its own in hip-hop. With many of these names snatched up by James “J. Prince” Prince’s Rap-A-Lot Records, Houston was primed for a stayed existence in rap. And yet, the candy-painted scene seemed to dissolve, at least nationally, just as Jolly Ranchers did in their ubiquitous Styrofoam cups.
Ok, I can’t say for sure Jolly Ranchers dissolve in lean, but the point stands. As quickly as it came, much of Texas’s rap-o-sphere migrated back to the Greater Texas Area.
Out of the clouds kicked up by an entourage of Cadillacs and Buicks returning to arid Texas, one Houston MC would help prime hip-hop’s trajectory for the financial success it would see today: Mike Jones.
To jump back to those Billboard charts, Mike Jones was the only Houston rapper to make the top-100 songs of the year in 2005. His self-aggrandizing, club-bopping cut “Back Then” took the No. 92 spot, shining above behind a deal of 2005 Houston bangers that were near-equals in notoriety.
Bun B’s “Draped Up” debuted in 2005, and immediately drew attention with it’s remix that jampacked the entirety of the Houston rap scene into a four-minute 35-second cut about the S.L.A.B. motherland.
Trae Tha Truth’s “Swang” was equally laced in Houston-callouts, though taking on a notably luscious and nocturnal turn compared to Bun B’s hit. Trae also warranted his own posse-cut remix, outclassing the seven features on the “Draped Up” remix with nine of his own.
2005 also saw Paul Wall’s “Sittin Sidewayz”, Chamillionaire’s “Ridin” and a bevy of other highlights from Houston’s heyday. But what was it about Mike Jones that stood above the rest?
Who? Mike Jones!
Shea Serrano, in his glorious manuscript titled The Rap Year Book, lays out the story of Mike Jones’ rise to prominence. To spare trying to fill his gargantuan, well-written shoes (please, buy the book and don’t think twice), I’ll attempt a quick summary. In an effort to build his name recognition, Jones, who would pen and spit personalized tracks tailor-made for strippers in the Greater Houston Area, would inject each track with an innumerable amount of shoutouts to his personal (allegedly) phone number and name.
Mike Jones catchy tunes drew the attention of a certain, then 12-year-old middle school student (Me) and rap fans around the land who likely tested fate and their parents phone bills by dialing the number emblazoned across Mike Jones’ tracks.
“(218) 330-8004 hit Mike Jones up on the low, cause Mike Jones about to blow!” The rallying cry was tattooed into the brain of any rap fan by the year 2005, a catchy and nasally bar repeated throughout much of “Back Then”. Soon after, Jones’ profitability skyrocketed. His debut album, Who Is Mike Jones? Went platinum two months after its released, but more importantly signaled an incoming rap trend: ringtone rap.
Thus constructing a song with a earwormy, repetitious sequence became a staple, allowing artists like Soulja Boy, Jibbs, MIMS and too many more to count to snatch up a piece of the commercial rap pie. According to Complex, the ringtone market blossomed to its best year in 2007, when artists and their polyphonic interpreters amassed $881 million in sales.
The bubble, like all good bubbles, burst, leaving in its soppy remains the building blocks for hit artists like Drake and Rick Ross to garner national appeal, as well as for the sustained careers of hip-hop’s growing gatekeepers like T.I., Lil Wayne and Kanye West.
Of course, from there the story goes that much like Houston, Atlanta experienced a renaissance of sorts, remodeling the slappy Texas sonics into the sometimes beloved and sometimes abhorred trap sound. Taking the codeine syrup foundation and mixing into it ignorant amounts of bass and equally inaudible lyrics (also know as mumble rap for some hate-filled listeners), acts like Future, Migos and the rebirthed 2 Chainz directed earbuds across the nation to a city soon to be known more for its trap houses than for its internationally acclaimed airport.
But this isn’t a story about Mike Jones. Nor is it a story about ringtone rappers. This is a story about a duo who capitalized on the repetition and marketability of ringtone rap while ushering in a sauced-up, 808-driven spectacle that helped reignite Atlanta’s trap sound.
This is a story about Lex Luger, Waka Flocka Flame, and a musical bridge known as Flockaveli.
Flocka! (Bow Bow Bow)
2010 signaled shifting tides in rap. A trip in time sees the Billboard Top 100 dominated by pop-rap cuts of the day from Drake (“Over”, “Miss Me”), Nicki Minaj (“Your Love”), Timbaland (“Say Something”) and Eminem (“Love the Way You Lie”). Growling underneath the surface of the sugary jams however, was the raw, unadulterated energy of Atlanta’s soon-to-be-trap scene.
Where Drake, Rick Ross and Jay-Z were unable, to satiate the carnal, bloodthirsty rhymes once pioneered in New York and on the West Coast, Waka Flocka Flame and his trusty producer Lex Luger satisfied a craving pushed to the background in hip-hop.
Though Flocka would use 2009s L-Don Beatz’s produced “O Let’s Do It” as his career’s fire-starter, 2010 would divulge a forest fire of Flocka flamers, all encapsulated by his debut album, Flocakveli.
Named as an interpretation of Tupac Shakur’s Machiavelli-inspired moniker, Makavelli, Flockaveli was the first release from Gucci Mane’s 1017 Brick Squad label not from Gucci himself. Featuring Flocka’s caustic, scathing vocals and Lugers monstrous beats, Flockaveli managed the lyrical brutality that would be absorbed by future artists such as 21 Savage and Young Dolph with the nourishing repetition of the days of ringtone rap.
“It’s a party, it’s a party it’s a party/ it’s a party, it’s a party, it’s a party,” Flocka announces on Flockaveli single “Grove St. Party”. On “Bricksquad” he switches up the tune to, “Young Money, Bricksquad/ Young Money, Bricksquad/ Young Money, Young Money, Bricksquad,” reminding listeners that he’s rocking with Young Money artist Gudda Gudda for the duration.
Spilling over into his verses are the head-knocking, speaker-thumping adlibs ranging from any combination of (spoken in a shout) “Flocka!”, “Bow, Pow, Bow!” “Bricksquaaaaad!”, all perfectly serviceable lines for a chopped up ringtone.
Akin Mike Jones’ spiritual successor, his unabashed fondness for his stage name infatuated a then-high school aged Brandon, and surely teens and rap fans around the country, with shouting Flocka’s adlibs through high school halls. Changing periods was equivalent to hearing a riot wash through the halls, with the five-minute exchange lined with the corrosive, unplanned call-and-response.
Though neither of Waka Flocka Flames’ subsequent albums rearranged the sonics of his debut, Flockaveli left its mark on the rap game. Few artists can say they single handedly made a case to revive ringtone rap, just as few can admit to being the source material for the trap sound. Waka Flocka Flame however, can say both, with Flockaveli continuing to stand among one of hip-hop’s greatest innovations.
Thoughts on Flockaveli? Find me @bjtripleot on Twitter of email firstname.lastname@example.org