After decades of fighting for its due respect, Drake and Cardi B's Las Vegas residencies cement hip-hop's place at the forefront of modern culture.
Since its embryonic stages, hip-hop has fought tooth and nail to be recognized on an even keel with other genres. Although it’s jarring to think of now, there was a time where hip-hop artists would only attain chart success as novelty acts or one-hit-wonders. Thankfully, hip-hop’s best and brightest no longer have to lampoon the genre or make a mockery of its artistic tropes to be successful. In fact, they don’t have to pander to mainstream audiences whatsoever-- proven by the fact that it is currently the most streamed genre in America. With Drake bookending Spotify’s 2018 Top Songs list alongside XXXtentacion, Juice WRLD and Post Malone, today’s widespread acceptance of hip-hop seems largely irreconcilable with the days where 2 Live Crew faced obscenity charges and the FBI kept a watchful eye on N.W.A’s every move.
If any story of 2019 encapsulates this overhaul in public perception, it’s the news that not one, but two, high profile rappers have inked deals for Las Vegas residencies. Rather than being a lightning rod for moral panic, hip-hop is now being welcomed into America’s playground in the desert with open arms and ginormous sums of cash. The first to hop aboard this newly opened avenue, Drake has followed in the footsteps of pop songstresses and EDM heavy-hitters by signing a contract to perform at Vegas nightclub XS for the next couple of years. Rumored to be worth a staggering $10 million for a minimum of ten shows, The Blast has suggested that this deal is the culmination of a bidding war between XS and several other clubs. Days later, it emerged that the 6 God’s money move was mirrored by Cardi B as she unveiled a new agreement with the Palms. Outlined in an Instagram tirade, the Bronx-based artist outlined exactly why she deserves this lucrative spot:
“Yes, it's true that Cardi got a residency in Las Vegas I see a lot of you motherf****s in the comments talking bout 'she only got one album, I thought you gotta be a legend, why her.' Bitch, f**k you mean ’why me?’ Because I bring bitches out!”
Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Said to be held at their new “dayclub and nightclub amphitheater-style complex” known as KAOS, these two deals may seem like just another trapping of their worldwide fame but it represents something far larger for hip-hop at a global level. Although the genre had begun to make in-roads, courtesy of nightclubs such as Drai’s, LIGHT and JEWEL, these two new deals carry a sense of occasion to them that parallels artists in rock, country and pop. Yet as little as 14 years ago, former Las Vegas sheriff Bill Young embarked on a quest to ban hip-hop shows in the county following a violent altercation after a Nelly and Fat Joe concert. Under political pressure, the Gaming Control Board informed all venues that they’d be culpable for any criminal activity in the wake of a rapper’s performance and this would lead to a planned Snoop Dogg show at The Rio Hotel being unceremoniously canceled. In the wake of this scrutiny, J Michael Carr Jr of Vegas-based company A New Way Media explained how this unfair stigma had manifested and the ominous precedent it set:
“The demographics of Las Vegas have changed over the past ten or fifteen years. No longer is it a retirement community. We have a lot of young people moving here, a lot of black and brown people. And the [Vegas residents] are scared. The Sheriff is playing to his Republican base and to their fears and anxieties. If this can happen in Las Vegas—the entertainment capital of the world—it can surely happen in small rural areas.”
While hip-hop’s top stars are on the fast-track to being welcomed into Vegas’ palatial auditoriums, the significance of these residencies for the genre lies in the fact that there remains two sides of the coin. In the same era that Cardi and Drake are invading a formerly genteel entertainment hotspot, hip-hop is still facing suppression and censorship in places far removed from the Nevada desert. In China, hip-hop culture has been the subject of a ban on “low taste content” due to its perceived mortal impunity since last year. A move that has affected both consumption of US mainstream hip-hop and the burgeoning underground scene that was blossoming in the country, this blanket prohibition of the genre is evidence of rap’s continued fight to be respected as an artform.
In addition to the decrees of The Communist Party, Russia also placed restrictions on hip-hop that has prompted numerous arrests. Believed to be founded on “sex, drugs and protest.,” the nation’s president Vladimir Putin has since stipulated that “if it is impossible to stop, then we must lead it and direct it.” Across the straits of The Black Sea, 2018 also saw Turkish rapper Ehzel detained for lyrics that allegedly promoted drug use whilst the United Kingdom placed draconian legal restrictions on the drill rap scene and removed music videos by order of the police. What’s more, this summer’s Wireless Festival at London’s Finsbury Park may be headlined by Travis Scott, A$AP Rocky and Bardi herself, but only retained its license after agreeing to strict rules on profanity in lyrics and any “vulgar gestures, actions or remarks during the performance.”
Four years on from 2 Chainz’ Instagram post about being unfairly barred from every club in Vegas, it’s heartening to know that things are moving in the right direction. Propelled by hip-hop’s undeniable stronghold over youth culture, “sin city” has heeded the writing on the wall and recognized Cardi and Drake in the same breath as Gaga, J-Lo and Mariah. Although it’s probably just another accolade in the portfolio for traditional pop acts, this represents a moment that carries a similar magnitude to Jay-Z finally opening the doors of Madison Square Garden to hip-hop back in 2003. As flag-bearers for a genre that’s been historically suppressed and discredited, Cardi and Drake’s move into a deceptively conservative town is a real show of defiance to those who wish to keep hip-hop’s advances at bay and represents hope for fans in countries such as China, Russia and Turkey.
With sources suggesting that Post Malone will be next to put pen to paper on a residency, it would be easy to bicker over who deserves this platform and who doesn’t, but what matters more it is its potential knock-on effect for hip-hop culture. When a young Aubrey Graham set out to become a rapper, the concept of receiving a mil per show as part of an exclusive Vegas deal would’ve seemed absurd even in his wildest dreams. For the next generation of aspiring MCs, this unfathomable acceptance from the mainstream will now seem within their grasp and that can only be a good thing for rappers at large.