With Flockaveli, Waka Flocka Flame captured a divisive moment in rap
Original release date: 5 October 2010
As the 2010s sprung into life, Waka Flocka Flame materialised as a nightmarish vision hellbent on savaging everything that hip-hop purists held dear. “I ain’t got time for lyrics,” the Brick Squad soldier proclaimed during a radio interview in February 2010, eight months before his debut album Flockaveli hit the streets. Further assertions that lyricism no longer mattered attracted the ire of Method Man, who predicted that Waka’s time in the game would be “very slim”. (Meth later rolled back on his comments.) Four years after Nas declared hip-hop to be dead, the cover of Flockaveli could have been held up as an image of the man with blood on his hands. Waka’s simplified form of Southern rap eschewed all that northern focus on technical proficiency in favour of something more brutalist. Something, it transpired, that was impossible to deny.
Though born in Queens, Waka was raised in Riverdale, Georgia. Flockaveli drew from his mentor and ATLien Gucci Mane’s brand of trap music, while presenting as the final form of the 2000s crunk craze. It’s the unshot sequel to Hustle & Flow (as DJ Qualls says in the movie, “heavy percussion, repetitive hooks, sexually suggestive lyrics”). It’s strip club music if you want to rob the strip club. It’s in the lineage of No Limit’s gangster rap – as in, there are references to guns, gang signs and threats to anyone who even thinks about snitching – but this is a cartoonish, pop art depiction of criminality that feels like pure fantasy.
Waka is just one part of the story. Legend has it that producer Lex Luger – who took his artist name from the professional wrestler whose signature move was called the Torture Rack – connected with the rapper after cold-emailing him beats. Luger would go on to helm 11 of Flockaveli’s 17 cuts, serving thunderous instrumentals that could introduce Godzilla or powerslam Yokozuna. The Roland TR-808 kick drum has never sounded so pulverising. Slide one of Luger’s tracks onto your next party playlist, and whichever song that follows will feel minuscule in comparison.
There’s a pervasive myth that Waka Flocka Flame is a terrible emcee, but that’s only true if you have a very narrow opinion of a rapper’s worth. His flow lacked nuance, but Waka boasted a raw brawn that makes his on-record presence more powerful than a bullet train. Every word from Waka was like a brick thrown from the top of a roof. He could do more with ad-libbed syllables than most rappers could with a bar.
Take iconic single Hard in Da Paint: hard-angled and cold-blooded, Waka fires quotable after quotable over the grimy key riff: “N***a with a attitude like Eaze and Cube/ When my little brother died, I said: ‘Fuck school!’” With a habit of namedropping rap legends, Waka was never actually dismissive of his forefathers. The album title, of course, even invokes Tupac Shakur’s alter ego Makaveli. His vocal cords may be made of wrought iron, but Waka’s rapping throughout Flockaveli is always catchy and it carries chorus after chorus. Just bear witness to G Check: over Luger’s gothic synth riff, the hook is primarily made up of Waka chanting the title, yet in his hands becomes something anthemic and irresistable. Waka doesn’t even have a verse on G Check; instead, guests YG Hootie, Bo Deal and Joe Moses do a serviceable job of filling in the verses. Flockaveli is loaded with features, which is no bad thing: diluting Waka’s raw power makes for a more balanced overall listen. For the most part, though, they sound like mortals performing in the palms of the rapping colossus that is Waka. And when the mysterious Baby Bomb shows up on TTG (Trained to Go) to repeat “I’m Baby Bomb” over and over again, you know that everybody isn’t taking this too seriously.
Things didn’t get any better than this for Waka. His joint album with Gucci Mane and Ferrari Boyz was a hellish club record and better than most people remember, but his second (and still most recent) solo album, 2012’s Triple F Life: Friends, Fans & Family, failed to recreate Flockaveli’s sense of immediacy. By the time Kendrick Lamar was bringing lyricism back to the rap zeitgeist, Waka’s flame had all but extinguished. “By 2012-2013, I had $30 million,” he said last year. “At that point in life, I’m being real on my dead brother, why was I rapping? What was I rapping about? I’m rich. I wanted to be rich.” Still, for a brief time, Waka set the sound of the moment. It’s a style that can’t be divorced from its era – and when you smash up the landscape, sometimes it’s hard to stick around.