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Episode 60: The Variety Show #2

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We talk about Wale getting dropped off Atlantic, the Eminem River video, Tyler, the Creator working with A24 film studios, Atlanta Season 2 talk, the God’s Plan music video and charity.

 

How DJ Khaled Went from Club DJ to Mogul

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We all know DJ Khaled as the living meme he has become today. Through his prolific posting on Snapchat, his involvement in several chart-topping pop singles and his unparalleled chauvinism, DJ Khaled has cemented his place in hip-hop culture. Now, what if I told you that not only is he not a DJ, but he isn’t a producer either? While Khaled often receives production credits for his involvement, his name always appears alongside other producers. This begs the question, who is DJ Khaled? Where did he come from? How did he get the celebrity endorsements that accelerated his career into overdrive? And most importantly, what does he actually do these days?

DJ Khaled was born and raised in New Orleans, to a musical family. During his teen years, Khaled worked at a record store, where he was fortunate enough to be present at Lil Wayne’s first meeting with Birdman. He then spent a few years as an actual DJ, performing in sound-clashes. These sound-clashes are intense performances where DJs compete for the best sound system and control of the crowd. It was here that Khaled refined his skills as a hype man. It’s easy to forget that the “DJ” moniker was in fact earned – not a title he just slapped in front of his name.

Khaled moved to Miami in 1998 to co-host a program on WEDR “99 Jamz” and was given a show after a few years. It was during his near ten-year stint as a Miami radio DJ that he made the connections he needed to take his career to the next level. Between then and his record debut in 2006, Khaled befriended Akon, Rick Ross, and Pitbull to name a few. In addition, he became an official member of terror squad and began producing beats for Fat Joe and his label mates.

DJ Khaled Actually Djing…..Whaaaat?

After spending about a decade sowing seeds, Khaled launched his debut album, which featured verses from several heavy hitters, most notably Kanye West, Fat Joe, and Jadakiss. This started a routine of Khaled creating rap albums where he doesn’t rap at all. Over the next few records, Khaled would also stop producing; instead recruiting the hottest young producers to provide beats for his tracks. So how are these even his albums? The simple answer is that Khaled is a catalyst. He is the creative driving force behind the music, despite not being an active feature. Khaled gets the people he thinks are the best or most creative in a room and lets them do their thing. In many ways, Khaled functions as more of an executive producer. He oversees the grand vision rather than diving into the nitty-gritty of the instrumentals or the lyrics.

The next and final stage of Khaled’s career was his explosion onto the mainstream. Khaled dropped a few music videos getting traction based on Khaled’s over the top bravado.

DJ Khaled Brings In the Numbers

In particular, the “Hold You Down” video got reviewed by H3H3 productions, receiving over 3 million views. The video itself, on the other hand, received 256 million views to date. In addition, Khaled’s Snapchat became legendary. When he documented being lost at sea on the platform;  it was a boon not only to Khaled’s brand but also to Snapchat itself; showing the power of the platform’s stories feature. The story was picked up by several major news outlets; and gave Khaled the exposure he needed to realize his true potential as a prodigal living meme.

DJ Khaled. The Icon.

These days, Khaled seems to spend the majority of his time touring around the U.S. promoting various brands he’s associated with. Or, he is at home with his son Asaad. Khaled’s policy of never taking Ls coupled with his wholly defiant belief that he is God’s gift to music has played a role in the way many artists have approached their own music. The collaborations he has orchestrated has been a boon to many artist’s careers. His most recent single “I’m the One” is currently sitting at over 950 million views on Youtube. Khaled’s unabashed positivity has blessed the internet with a slew of hilarious catchphrases, propelling him to celebrity status. With all of these accolades, Dj Khaled has earned his status as a top-tier producer and cemented his place in hip-hop culture.

Episode 59: Thou Shall Not Pass

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This episode is all about gatekeepers and critics in an ever changing media landscape. Tyler and I debate the role of the critic and shoutout our favorite youtube reviewers from TheNeedleDrop to DeadEndHiphop.

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Episode 58: Does Three 6 Mafia Worship the Devil?

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This week’s episode is all about Three 6 Mafia.  We explore the Mystic Stylez album back when Three 6 Mafia were considered a horrorcore group from Memphis, then known as the triple 6 mafia. This episode explores the alleged rumors of their satanic worship.We try to definitively answer the question if they are satanists or not.

Also, we talk rappers’ rebranding efforts over the last few years.

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Episode 57: The Variety Show

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This episode features our hot takes on several subjects. We discuss how China has decided that Hiphop is immoral and is banning hiphop culture and tattoos on television in an attempt to save moral decency, Tom Hardy’s mysterious mixtape from 1999 that seems to have disappeared from the net and Erykah Badu’s conversation with David Marchese.

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Episode 56: Collective Action

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This episode is all about hiphop collectives. From Native Tongues to the Wu-tang and OddFutureKillThemAll. We are celebrating when groups and crews make it to the booth. A good collective effort from a group can help increase interest for a brand  – but it takes collective action!

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Episode 55: New Year, New Beef: Biting Not Allowed

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Major news alert! We’re now on the podcast network Girth Radio.

The latest episode is all about biting and the beef that comes with it. Joe Budden vs Eminem, Uncle Murda aka Lenny Grant vs Mad Skillz, and Cardi potentially taking another person’s flow.

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How Asian People Are Perceived in Hip Hop

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Learn about Asian Representation in Hip Hop: Bad Rap Film Review – A Case Study

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Hiphop has often been said to be the great equalizer. A space where minorities could be given a voice. And so, with great interest, I came into this documentary about Asian-American rappers vying for their place in hiphop.

Rejecting the traditional path set out by their families, Bad Rap, sets out to explore how a motley crew of Asian-American rappers handle fame, success, and failure. The documentary showcases battle rapper Dumbfoundead, hipster rap “it” girl Awkwafina, Lyriks, and eccentric Rekstizzy.

Each character has a different story and reasons for getting into hiphop and reminds me of a time when hiphop was an authentic expression of youth culture. Notably, Dumbfoundead has the most experience as a veteran emcee gaining notoriety thanks to his battle credibility on Grind Time ( a battle rap league) over the years and has put out albums prior to the shooting of this documentary. His story centers around not living to the hype of his earlier but promising mark.

Newcomer Awkwafina is an odd choice. Her flow is reminiscent of Kreayshawn while her quirkiness reminds one of Das Racist. It’s very clear that she wasn’t as serious about her rapping as some of her peers featured in the documentary, already suggesting a possible move away from the music once her rapping schtick fizzles out.

Rekstizzy seems to be the odd man out. Rekstizzy early on in the documentary is at odds with his manager because he wants to pull off a controversial idea and wants to maintain his artistic integrity. While he is as quirky as Awkwafina, he seems authentically interested in hiphop and wants to push the boundaries of the culture. He tells his manager that he is self-aware. He knows that people are offended by the very notion that he is a rap artist.

The story is an important one. Not only because it tells the story of a community that is not often represented in the media but because the trials and tribulations will seem universal for those born to immigrant parents.

These are the youth that instead of following the traditional path opted into choosing hiphop as their native tongue.

The Asian-American community has played an active role in hiphop becoming accepted into a broader mainstream consciousness. Yet their experience in hiphop is often questioned whether or not it is authentic. The film explains that even if someone in the Asian-American community was a part of the street life, their rhymes could not reflect that because of a perceived lack of authenticity. As hiphop matures, it will have to reflect the changing shape of America.

A Watershed Moment for Asian-Americans

Touched upon on the documentary was the rise of Chinese-American rapper Jin in the early 2000s. The acceptance of Jin was a contradiction of sorts. On the one hand, finally, there’s a voice in hiphop for east Asians signed to popular rap label, Ruff Ryders Entertainment. On the other hand, Jin was marketed by being “othered” and labeled exotic with the misstep that was his first single, “Learn Chinese”.

And there’s the rub. Many of the artists featured in the documentary talk about marketability, but no one seems to have a clear cut answer in how to carve out a lane with longevity.

The Times They Are A-Changing

It seems to be a tricky world to navigate. As the hiphop community has been slow to embrace cultural changes, the cultural zeitgeist has moved with lightning speed.

Interestingly, the documentary ends by following-up with the characters two years later. Awkwafina has transitioned from being the NYC It girl to hosting a web talk show and being on MTV’s Girl Code, and Lyriks (a 90’s head with a christian influence) has started a successful Youtube cooking channel.

A nice character arc develops at the end for Dumbfounddead who becomes our de facto protagonist. In the end, it seems Dumbfounddead has made a successful return to music and finally found his voice wrapping things up nicely.

For fans wishing to see more diverse voices in hiphop, I would say this is a must-see. It’s a great watch from a sociological perspective but also for anyone wanting to glean insights into the cold hard world of the music industry.

 

Albums That Were Worth the Listen – 2017

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1. ROZE AZURA NJANO – CunninLynguists

Cunninlynguists return with a full fledged LP that is both insightful and timely. The album is a celebration of black music. Boasting powerful production with its artsy, jazzy, and smooth sound. It’s reminiscent of the days of J Dilla and A Tribe Called Quest.

I’m not going to act like this album didn’t go over my head a few times but that’s okay. This album takes repeated listens and even then it’s still pretty abstract.

From HipHopDX:

“The album, originally entitled Chromesthesia, is about the title character, Rose Azura Njano, and her journey to find herself and figure out her own story — which leads her to an interesting discovery by the album’s last track,” Kno told HipHopDX. “Her name represents the three physical primary colors and we thought it would be interesting if the path of someone who could ‘hear colors’ was used as a personification of black music’s roots in American upheaval.”

Here is what I can gather:

Riot! deals with police brutality – a subject talked about on albums a lot this year. Riot speaks on the  police as an oppressive force in the projects, painting a picture of the police state going on in many hoods in America today. A clever line about black females being lionesses/ not being less. The correlations between the police department and the Klan in the south. Systematic oppression. There’s a lot going on here. The color Red is introduced.

Red Bird is a bit more abstract. Literary  allusions to Romeo and Juliet and Edgar Allen Poe. I think the allegory here is that Rose is like a caged bird looking for freedom from the hood.

Violet – The color purple is introduced. The color purple. Get it? This song directly takes aim at Trump. Themes of the alienation of America. Meritocracy. Survivor’s guilt. There’s a really good metaphor about America’s Appetite for Destruction based on the biblical story of Adam and Eve.

Gone – This song is essentially about Gentrification. And yet it feels like it’s about so much more. This song challenges facets of late capitalism. Stating the irony of how corporate America will demonize the hood, then sell back the images to middle America who will then eat it up.


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Jimi and Andre – Referencing Jimi hendrix and filled with biblical images I’m not sure what to make of it. It’s poetic. It’s filled with plays on the color purple to reference black artists (i.e. Prince’s Purple Rain). Purple is also used to as a literary device for royalty. Purple = Black Royalty.

No Universe Without Harmony – Okay, this is probably the most straightforward track. My third eye is now open. The group talks about manifesting vibrations. Good wordplay.

It is my pick for Album of the Year (AOTY). Powerful literary imagery. Great metaphors. Heady and necessary.

Stand-out tracks: Red, White, & Blues; Violet, No Universe Without Harmony, Gone

2. NO DOPE ON SUNDAYS – CyHi The Prynce

CyHi takes us to church. After the release of the Black Hystori project many people anticipated what CyHi would do next. CyHi does not disappoint. Starting off with the banger Amen!, CyHi takes us back to the block preaching the street gospel.

I wasn’t sure what I would think of this gimmick, especially after Jeezy did it with lackluster results but CyHi’s faith and duality of street banging and faith in God seem genuine.

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CyHi’s delivery on the album takes on a spoken-word esque flow at times. As a lyricist, CyHi is no slouch. This is street poetry. Many bars have CyHi recalling growing up in the hood and selling bricks.

Great bars are peppered through the album. Here is one example:

“I been stabbed in the back more times than Paul Pierce”

  • Nu-Afrika is Black Hystori CyHi. This is going to be a lot of fans’ favorite. They way he flows here is effortless. He flips the concept of being told to go to Africa and basically asks what if America’s black icons left to re-build Africa since America steals from black culture and doesn’t get the credit.
  • Don’t Know Why has CyHi doing a more poetic verse to then transitioning to rapping to a trap-style beat with Jagged Edge doing the chorus.
  • Dat Side sounds like a sequel to That Part, including a feature from Kanye. CyHi rides trap beats really well.

As CyHi recalls the life lessons he learned, the listener gets to learn his morals and code of ethics. This album will appease casual fans with its trap beats and modern production, in addition to appealing to fans of lyrics.

Stand-out tracks: Nu-Afrika, Amen!; No Dope on Sundays,

3. All AMERIKKKAN BADA$$ – Joey Bada$$

Okay. I’ll admit it. I slept on Joey Bada$$ and missed the whole Pro-era run. So I had to go back and listen to 1999. And well, I didn’t care too much back then but my issues with Joey have been fixed on this Lp. This has Joey all-grown up, finally finding his own sound. Some great production found on this album.

For My People features an anthem akin to Kendrick’s Alright. Great rhyme schemes with pointed criticism at the criminal justice system. If Joey continues this path, he may be considered one of the leaders of the new school.

Joey’s soulful singing on the album seems like a natural progression rather than a forced aesthetic.

Land of the Free has an old school west coast aesthetic. Joey spits game. There is a real clever line about religion being the opiate of the masses and how religion was weaponized for slavery.

Yes, Joey raps lyrical/spiritual/miracle with tongue-in-cheek poise. The album is filled with replay value. Joey Bada$$’s lyrical flourishes provide entertainment while the beats help communicate a message of Pro-blackness.

Stand-out tracks: For My People, Land of the Free, Devastated, Ring the Alarm

4. THE PROGRAM – Cam’ron

Okay, I cheated. It technically isn’t an album. But it’s importance for the culture makes it hold its own weight on this list. This project is filled with innuendo.

The Program is dark. Cam paints a picture of his early street life referencing Ma$e. The word play is classic Killa Cam. It’s Killa has Cam taking aim at his targets.


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  • Hello has a hard flow. This is what Cam sounded like in his prime. This will be sure to resonate with the streets.
  • Coleslaw has Cam taking aim at an unlikely target – Kanye West. The entire first verse has Cam question how Kanye moves; everything from being institutionalized to ranting about Jay on stage.
  • Instead of Lean being about what you think it is, Lean has Cam going off about pride.

Overall, a very solid project. It’s got me believing Cam has another classic in him. In addition to the Diplomat reunion, this has me very optimistic about future projects. This project of course is important for the culture since it re-ignited his beef with Ma$e.

Stand-out tracks: It’s Killa, Hello, D.I.A

5. 4EVA IS A MIGHTY LONG TIME – Big Krit

A double album by one of the most underrated rappers from the south that’s out now. The first side  was a lot more mainstream than I was anticipating. Some great features from Southern Legends; T.I, UGK, and CeeLo Green.

Layup features a Bone-Thugs-esque flow and harmony. Getaway reminds me of Logic on The Incredible True Story. Big Krit does a lot by combining new school and old school flows.

Keep the Devil Off is probably the most original concept on the album.

Sonically, the album is rooted in blues, soul, and jazz. Krit reminds me of kindred country cousin, Yelawolf in his storytelling abilities and southern flavor. Price of Fame has Krit open up about his struggle with depression due to his celebrity status. The album may have benefitted from some trimming but all in all a solid album.

Stand-out tracks: Keep the Devil Off, Big Bank ft T.I., Miss Georgia Fornia.

6. HEGELIAN DIALECTIC – Prodigy

Rest in peace Prodigy. This album deals with metaphysics. Prodigy was truly on another wavelength towards the end of his life.

Hegelian Dialectic according to Wikipedia :

In philosophy, dialectic or dialectical method implied a methodology used for examining and cognition of philosophical objects. Dialectical methods demands the users to examine the objects in relation to other objects and to the whole system, and examine the objects within a dynamic, evolutionary environment. Dialectical method is usually contrasted with metaphysical method, which examine the objects in a separated, isolated and static environment.

The album features similar themes to early JediMindTricks, and Zion I or more contemporarily, the hiphop duo , OuterSpace. Production wise it definitely reminds me of early Zion I.

Prodigy caustically raps on As If calling out monotonous rappers who he believes to be ripping him off.

Mafuckin U$a is a call to arms. A good message to people who might be acting a little too woke. Prodigy suggests concrete actionable steps towards progress.

It seems that Prodigy deals with his own mortality on this album. The Good Fight  has him rapping:

"Time to go, time to go and embrace the next
Plane of existence, but I ain't finished
I serve a higher purpose, don't become nervous"

"Man life too quick
I need more time to live 'cause I ain't done yet
I'm fightin' the good fight
Rather die swingin', everybody dies
Man life too quick
We got a lot of things to do, we ain't done yet, no"

Hearing the weight of these words and what he was trying to accomplish on the album, it’s obvious hiphop lost a monumental artist. The rhymes are heartfelt and poignant. Sometimes to the point of over-simplicity. But the album is a great send-off with Prodigy coming to terms of who he really is. The album definitely gets better with repeated listens.

Stand-out tracks: Spiritual War, Mystic, Snakes, The Good Fight

7. CTRL – Sza

TDE’s songstress has come out with her debut studio album after several delays. And boy was it worth the wait. Hell hath has no wrath like a woman’s scorn. Filled with spite, CTRL is hiphop’s answer to Taylor Swift.

SZA sings with a bluster that fits the hiphop beats served up as production. The album oscillates between her being a captive to love – to her brushing her shoulders off past relationships.

CTRL has SZA belt out heart-wrenching insecurities; like her constant appeal to her boyfriend to love her booty. The song, Love Galore, has a he/she said dynamic offering Travis Scott as a male perspective of a past flame, while Doves in the Wind has Kendrick throws shade on guys’ who constantly overcompensate.

The album delivers smooth sounds for anyone wanting to have some late-night reminiscing sessions.

Stand-out tracks: Drew Barrymore, Weekend, Gina, Love Galore ft Travis Scott

8. FREUDIAN – Daniel Caesar

The debut studio album from the Toronto native. Stylistically, the album is heavy with  a gospel influence; with measured funk sprinkled through out. His vocal timbre is reminiscent of early Frank Ocean. Let us hope, he’s not as reclusive.

Caesar’s silky smooth voice serves starry eyed lovers a soundtrack.  The harmonies are lovely and complemented by the women on this album. The song writing is strong.

  • The BadBadNotGood-produced Get You is the singer’s breakout song. As he details in the song, heaven for him is in the sheets with his lady love. Caesar sings tender affable lyrics for those of us infatuated with our partners.

Stand-out tracks: Take Me Away ft Syd, Get You, Best Part, Hold Me Down

9. BIG FISH THEORY – Vince Staples

Big Fish Theory by Vince Staples is this year’s sleeper pick. Staples comes out with a unique voice utilizing Chicago and Detroit house music. Due to it’s eccentric production, this album was let off a lot of people’s lists. A lot of people may praise Danny Brown for this but I think Vince simply did it better.

Vince’s lyrical abilities remain intact. His off-the-wall concepts remain fresh in a genre that has been running out of ideas lately.

The album features Damon Albarn of the Gorillaz on the track, Love Can Be and a really underrated verse from Kendrick on Yeah Right. The song Party People is a lot of things- It’s a party song. It’s thought-provoking with references to racial profiling. It also has him talking about his own insecurities.

It seems that Vince Staples made a rave record with a social conscience. I’m unsure whether that’s completely cynical or ingenious. But for now it will stand as a testament to Staples’ talent as one of the most compelling artists in rap out right now.

Stand-out tracks: 745, Big Fish, Love Can Be, Party People, BigBak

10. THE BEAUTIFUL & DAMNED – G-Eazy

The duality concept in my opinion has been done to death in rap music but that’s not going to stop me from listening to self-proclaimed Gemini, G-eazy, with an open-mind.

G-Eazy won me over this year with his Cardi B feature. There’s a cool reference to the Noisey documentary about the Bay area on his No Limit verse.

Interestingly, he has his girlfriend Halsey on the record Him and I. A take on Bonnie and Clyde.

The self-deprecating nature of the album makes me think that sometimes G-Eazy is too forthright. Pray for Me has G-Eazy rapping his paranoia over a trap beat.

Really the production on this album carries it. But it has some of the hottest beats of the year. Hearing him rap on The Plan it seems that he’s more at ease freestyling, as he finally lets loose on a trap beat.

This is another album that could’ve benefitted by a little trimming. As far as mainstream albums, it’s not bad. In fact, I would say it’s a better version of Big Sean’s I Decided album.

Stand-out tracks: Charles Brown, The Plan, Eazy, No Limit ft Cardi B, Love is Gone

11. TRIAL BY FIRE – Yelawolf

Before Eminem’s Rick Rubin-produced disaster came an album that actually gave fans of classic rock and rap hope. Yelawolf returned with a spoken-word flow with renewed energy and something to prove.

Trial by Fire is immensely personal. Yelawolf tells the story of his youth on a song addressed to his absentee father. Ride or Die talks about the challenges faced he encounter when he was coming up and is essentially a shout-out to his family and friends who helped him along his journey.

On the album, he combines country music tropes of alcoholism, poverty, tractors and trucks with imagery borrowed from Southern Baptist churches’ evangelism (namely, the idea of purifying fire).

  • Punk is probably the most interesting eclectic combination of music on the album with features from Juicy J of Three 6 Mafia and Travis Barker. The country infused rap rock works because Yela understands hiphop fundamentals and hiphop needs snares so he has Travis accompany him on the track while country violins play in the background to make something truly unique.
  • Row your Boat touches on themes of police brutality, and the challenges southerners face going against the grain.

Stand-out tracks: Son of A Gun, Punk

12.  BLUE CHIPS 7000 – Action Bronson

Action Bronson is the modern day renaissance man. It seems like these days he’s been focused on everything but rap. After several album delays, who could blame him? Blue Chips 7000 has Bronson returning to form after mixed reception to the psychedelic influenced Mr. Wonderful album. Bronsilini is back to straight rap.

  • Wolfpack features some impressive rhyming. La Luna features Bronson freestyling over a car rental’s phone holding service.
  • Let me Breath features a Fat Boys sample.

This album is a straight up fun listen. Every beat is unique. As always, Bronson’s zany imagery is entertaining to think about.

Stand-out tracks: Let me Breathe, La Luna

Honorable Mention :

DAMN – Kendrick Lamar

Hear me out. Kendrick dropped a classic last time.  I wasn’t a huge fan of DAMN when it came out. It got better with repeated listens but it wasn’t as ambitious. I hold Kendrick to a higher standard, this didn’t cut it for me. Solid Album.

CULTURE – Migos

Migos had a great year. This is undeniable. Not a lyrical album but as Chris Rock said in an interview, this album is better than any right it has to be. T-Shirt is my jam.

WU-MASSACRE – Wu- Tang

This is probably the best Wu group project in a while.

Podcast: Problematic Faves

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Happy Holidays everybody! Tyler and I return for one last episode before the holidays where we discuss the recent controversy surrounding Post Malone, the untimely death of Lil Peep and XXXtentacion as a controversial figure in hiphop and the Joyner Lucas I’m Not Racist video.

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