It was a sunny day during my senior year of high school. I, along with a good portion of my graduating class, left the school after last period. Rather than going home, however, we walked to the rear parking lot of a local shopping center. I had no idea that the following hour would change the course of my entire life in an unbelievable way. They were all there to watch a rap battle. I, on the other hand, was there to participate in one.
I had been “a rapper” since freshman year, where I would walk around the football games freestyling, and upload remixes of songs I liked on SoundCloud. I had also won another rap battle my sophomore year. That being said, most of the people there thought I was going to lose, and many of them told me not to even try. To make a long story short, I won, and I won by a lot. A friend of mine videotaped the entire thing, and I decided to put it on YouTube. I remember joking with my good friend about it having the potential to go viral.
As I’m writing this, that video (titled “White Kid Kills it in High school Rap Battle) is at 14,320,957 views. This is the second version of the video where I have blurred out my opponent’s face for his privacy. The original unblurred version of the video got 2,436,664 views before I unlisted it. This brings the total view count to almost seventeen million views. To put simply, I now have a blossoming music career because of this video. I have gained just under 100,000 subscribers in a little over a year on YouTube, and my first single on Spotify just surpassed 120,000 plays. I’ve been able to travel, do shows, and make music my full-time career, and I owe that all to this video. So why would I have mixed feelings about it? One would think I’d love the video that jumpstarted my career. Not so much.Though that video was the spark that ignited my career, it also casts a shadow over it. I have strived to make meaningful, lyrical music for a long time, yet that brief performance of me verbally assaulting another high school student has received over one hundred and fifty times more attention than even my most popular song.My real problem with that video, however, is the way it makes me look as a person, and as an artist. I am not a homophobe, yet I used words that to a member of the LGBT community, are very offensive. Being 17 at the time, and having to put on the character of a battle rapper with the intention to win, I made the conscious decision to say the things I did, without any consideration for how it might impact how people saw me. Nobody who knows me well would consider me prejudice in any way, nor a homophobe.In fact, it wasn’t until relatives of mine (who are gay) congratulated me on the video’s success that I realized what I’d shown to almost seventeen million people. Though my opponent was straight, and I wasn’t using these words in a way meant to disparage the LGBT community, I certainly wasn’t using them in a positive way. I was mortified at the thought of my gay friends, family, and loved ones hearing those words leave my mouth in an attempt to verbally dominate another teenager. That’s when it really struck me the impact that certain words can have. Millions of people have now seen and heard what I said to that kid, and it gives them a skewed perception of who I am as a person. I’m not a bully, or a homophobe, or a person ignorant enough to ignore the effect my words and actions have to people who have been historically marginalized and discriminated against. The person saying these things, calling this other student fat, effeminate, gay, etc was not me. It was the character that I was portraying in order to win the competition I was in.Rap battles are not nice things. Very rarely do you hear one battle rapper saying anything nice to another one. In fact, the whole purpose is to insult and humiliate your opponent. I understand how it could be seen as bullying, though he was the one who challenged me, and knew full well what the competition entailed. I won’t apologize for insulting him, as that was the purpose of the contest we both willfully entered. I apologize for the way in which I insulted him. It was lazy, unoriginal, unintelligent, and ignorant. As a honors student with a rather extensive vocabulary, it makes it that much more inexcusable that I couldn’t think of a better way to insult him than by using derogatory slander.This is not how I want to be seen as an artist, and as an adult human. I don’t want my children to think that this is an acceptable way to act or talk. This video has been both a blessing to me, as well as a curse. I do not know whether I will keep it up forever, but I do know that I look back on that 12-minute video now and feel almost nothing but embarrassment. To the people who have been hurt by these words, I’m sorry for perpetuating the use of them in such a careless way.