By Jeremy Essig
By Jason Robinson
By Hans Morgenstern
By Joseph Hess
By Peter Gilstrap
By Julia Burch
By Jeremy Essig
By Nathan Smith
When St. Louis ex-pat rapper Wafeek cracks, "I could be two men 'cause I'm contradictin'" on his new record, The Aristocrats, it's said almost in passing — just another touch of the sly, mischievous wordplay found in his verses. Upon closer inspection, however, it's one of his most revealing lyrics.
Wafeek revels in paradox.
For instance, on the song "Internet Celebrity," he unleashes two minutes of verbal vitriol toward the type of fleeting fame spawned by the Web, dissing everyone from Tila Tequila to Rick Ross in the process. "I'd send your ass to Hell for a Pitchfork review," he declares. "If they like it, then you're cool/If they don't, then you're screwed."
Never mind that Aristocrats is co-produced by — and exclusively released on — the influential hip-hop blog the Smoking Section, where, as of December 4, readers can download the entire album for free. (The project is officially titled The Smoking Section and Trackstar the DJ Present: The Aristocrats Mixtape.)
How does he reconcile the fact that he's backhanding the hype machine with one hand while hitting up one of the best-known hip-hop blogs for some cross-promotional buzz with the other?
"I'm nothing if not transparent," Wafeek (given name: Damon Murray) explains over the phone from an Orange County recording studio. "On that song, I flat-out say I want to be an Internet celebrity. I want to be famous, but being famous is all about what people think. I always say I don't give a fuck what people think. It's these ongoing contradictions that we all have. I'd rather be more blatant about it. I want to put it in your face and just let it out there."
Wafeek (a.k.a. Wafeekee) was born and raised in St. Louis. After graduating from Soldan International Studies High School in 1998, he made a name for himself in the local hip-hop scene by forming the group Pangea, alongside his close friend and fellow emcee Rockwell Knuckles.
He left the city in 2004 and briefly lived in Tucson, Arizona, before moving to Los Angeles, where he attended the prestigious Musicians Institute (famous alums include Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante and Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo).
He still lives in LA but maintains close ties with his hometown. In addition to featuring dozens of shout-outs to the Show-Me State, Aristocrats was coproduced and hosted by local DJ Trackstar. Two of its tracks are excerpts from Wafeek's earlier collaborations with St. Louis hip-hop artists Vandalyzm and Black Spade.
The Aristocrats is just his second solo release, after The Lip Service Mixtape in 2006. The title of the new record, an allusion to the legendary dirty joke that was the subject of a documentary film in 2005 (also titled The Aristocrats), is yet another example of Wafeek's study in self-contradiction.
The mix was originally dubbed The White Trash Project, in reference to several interludes and tracks that provocatively address issues of race and identity. Wafeek ridicules everything from the white hip-hop audiences and promoters who prop up negative black stereotypes to the "Clear Channel rappers" who play into those clichés in search of a quick buck.
In what is perhaps his most inflammatory moment, he devotes an entire song, "Dr. Love," to James Watson, the Nobel Prize-winning scientist who helped discover DNA, only to proclaim that it is evidence of inferior races.
"Dr. Watson said niggers is gay," Wafeek playfully croons on the song, over a gentle piano beat. "I love Dr. Watson. It's elementary, yo. Seriously, Google the motherfucker, it's real."
Remarkably, he decided that the title needed to be toned down.
"In order to use a title that incendiary, all the content needs to be in that direction, not just some of it," he says. "Otherwise people might hear that and say, 'This nigger just called it White Trash just to get my attention.'
"I don't mind being controversial, I'm still going to say whatever the fuck I want. But the thing that makes me feel good about that is that I won't say it unless I mean it. I can't just be shocking for the sake of being shocking."
Indeed, while racial conflict is a prominent theme on Aristocrats, it is by no means the only one.
Virtually nothing is off-limits to Wafeek's fierce, sarcastic flow. He even rhymes about global warming and features a hook that bemoans, "Earth Day is the worst day/'Cause we be drinking bottled water when we thirsty."
The standout cut is a biting satire of Lil Wayne called "Die Backwards." The Kanye West-produced beat from the Wayne song "Let the Beat Build" is played in reverse, while Wafeek spits lines like "I'm sick of nonsequiturs/The medicine is metaphor" at a mile a minute.
It's the Internet, though, that Wafeek most takes aim at most often.
The song "Instant Gratification," for example, is a loose narrative about a young girl who discovers a gay porn video after being left to play at her computer by her dysfunctional family. "The independent porn business is despicable," 'Feek irreverently rhymes. "No, I don't own a copy — but I did rent it, though."