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Monday, Nov. 4, 2013

Waka Flocka Flame Can’t Rap and Is Proud of It

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Waka Flocka Flame is checking into his hotel in Newport, Va., and as rap stars tend to do when they’re spotted in public, he’s caused a bit of a commotion. It’s only moments after he’s arrived when he’s mobbed by a screaming, ecstatic woman. “I just got attacked by a grandmother!” he whispers into his phone after breaking free from her, almost laughing in disbelief. “For real: I just got attacked by an old lady! Like, she literally grabbed my hand and rubbed it!”

Waka is used to having this kind of effect on people, albeit usually on people a bit closer to his own age. “I’m Waka Flocka,” he brags. “The girls flock around Flocka.” Flocka is perpetually the most popular guy in the room, and he carries himself like he knows he’s the most popular guy in the room. That confidence serves him well. He’s currently on tour with the electronic producer Steve Aoki, whose neon, Top 40-leaning house music is worlds removed from the brute, gunpowder-coated street rap Flocka specializes in, but the shows have been a breeze because, as Flocka reminds me frequently during our interview, he’s Waka Flocka. Making people go ape shit is just what he does. “It’s easy: I turn shit up!” he explains. “I could turn a church up!”

Rave culture may be alien to Flocka, but to hear him tell it, it was only a few years ago that he was a rap outsider, too, and that didn’t hold him back any. Flocka became the most contentious rapper of 2010, the year of his breakthrough debut Flockaveli, by showing absolutely no regard for the genre’s traditions or values, spitting in the face of lyricism with his primal, sometimes simplistic prose. His detractors ripped him as a terrible rapper, and rather than rebut that criticism, he adopted it as a badge of honor. “They say I can’t rap / I agree!” he hollered on this summer’s mixtape DuFlocka Rant: Halftime Show.

“I’m not into rap,” he insists. “I say that a lot because I literally jumped into a sport. It’s like getting drafted into the NBA when you’ve never played college or high school basketball. It’s like, ‘How did I get here? How was I even drafted?’ I don’t even know how hip-hop started, to be truthfully honest with you.”

Despite his rhetoric, Flocka does make some attempts to actually rap on Halftime Show, one of the year’s most surprising mixtapes. Nobody will mistake it for Illmatic, but the mixtape is a moodier, more cerebral listen than anybody could have expected from a rapper who’s always prioritized volume over substance. “A lot of people say, ‘Waka can’t do those low-energy beats, all he do is yell,’” Flocka explains. “And I’ll be like, ‘Why don’t you yell and try to make yourself a couple million dollars and let’s see how that works out for you.’ But for DuFlocka Halftime, I did try to mellow my style down, because I was in a different space at the time, and those were the beats that made sense to me.”

Where that mixtape tested Flocka’s range, his latest, From Roaches to Rolex, reaffirms his commitment to hard, visceral rap. It’s as vicious as anything Flocka has ever released, Flockaveli included, in part because it’s the first thing he’s ever released that seems motivated by genuine anger. These songs channel the sort of fury that can only stem from feeling personally betrayed, and there’s no doubt who all that rage is directed toward. On track after track, Waka fires shots at Gucci Mane, his one-time mentor, collaborator and business partner. The two had been growing apart for a while, but this year they severed their relationship completely after Gucci ceaselessly badmouthed his former protégé.

“Honestly, I hate to say it, but that did motivate me,” Flocka says of their falling out. “Me and Gucci, we had a deal. Like, I told him how I was going to attack the mainstream, because he was great at doing the underground hip-hop. Even though I was up and coming at the time, I knew how the mainstream public took to me. So I said, ‘I’m gonna take this and you’re gonna take that, and we gonna run music as a whole.’ And we had that understanding. But I feel like in a sense the student outgrew the teacher, and the teacher got jealous of the student. So he created a story that was false, and made half the population believe what he said. And I was like, ‘Goddamn man, that really hurt.’ I’m the most loyal friend you’ll find on the planet. I’ll never cross no man’s name that I call a friend, so when that happened, that was just torture.”

There may be an explanation for Gucci’s erratic behavior. After a series of particularly explosive Twitter rants this fall, Gucci apologized, explaining that he was addicted to prescription cough syrup and intended to enter rehab. That story hasn’t won him much sympathy, however. Asked if Gucci’s syrup addiction changes his opinion about his estranged mentor, Flocka doesn’t even pause before responding. “Hell no,” he says. “Fuck him.”

Waka Flocka Flame performs as part of Steve Aoki’s “Aokify America Tour” with Borgore, Deorro, Felix Cartal and Kryoman on Friday, Nov. 8, at 8 p.m. at the Rave.

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