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Harvard’s WHRB looks like many other college radio stations. A wall of vinyl records hangs on one side, a homely, beat-up couch on the other and a hand-me-down vintage amplifier powers a PA system. But as a bevy of students eagerly waited outside in frigid temperatures on Thursday night — navigating the quickly-forming slush from the day’s snowfall — the station buzzed with an air exclusivity.
They were waiting for SoundCloud-turned-mainstream sensation Lil Pump.
There’s something incredibly odd about watching a police escort clear a path for an 18-year-old rapper who’s holding a cup full of lean — or perhaps, something meant to mimic the look of the often rap-referenced Promethazine, codeine and Sprite mixture.
Purple drink has been an integral part of hip-hop folklore since the days of Houston’s DJ Screw (who sadly, overdosed on the dangerous cocktail and passed away in 2000). And though, officially, Lil Pump claims to have quit using the potent libation, his sprightly Instagram persona keeps the question of his sobriety alive.
On Thursday, as the 18-year-old “Gucci Gang” rapper buoyantly walked into WHRB, to deliver his version of a commencement speech to a room full of cheers and students yelling “Esketit” (Let’s get it), he held his purple cup close by, capping a masterful media trolling that began on Monday.
“From the Dean of Harvard Lil Pump, I come over here to present to you… what’s this s--- called again? The commencement speech,” the rapper said as the room erupted in laughter. “It is a great honor to give this address and I promise that I will not take this lightly. First, I am filled with a great sense of happiness and accomplishment. My peers and I have put effort in the last two years. It was by no means easy,” he said, referring, presumably, to his rap career.
Lil Pump’s label, WBR, sent out a news release on Monday claiming the rapper would deliver Harvard’s commencement speech in May. While some publications warily reported on the release, questioning its veracity, others gladly ran with the coverage, making for a hilarious press run for his latest album, “Harverd Dropout” (released last Friday). The antic serves as a continuation of a running joke the rapper has perpetuated often, once even tweeting “I REALLY DID DROP OUT OF HARVARD TO SAVE THE RAP GAME.” He never enrolled in the school.
This tongue-in-cheek approach to his career might cause many to dismiss him as a frivolous product of the SoundCloud rap era — a disposable “mumble rapper” with nothing substantial to contribute to the culture. Yet he also stands as a marker of a changing rap landscape: one that doesn’t utilize profundity or rap virtuosity to ascribe value.
Hip-hop has splintered into various factions, and not every single career has to be built on “bars.” He’s having fun and thus far, it’s worked for him.
There’s no game-changing affirmations on “Harverd Dropout,” because it doesn’t need them. It’s a party album — perhaps a truer, more authentic reflection of the rapper's life. “My goal is to be the most ignorant, richest rapper I could be,” he recently said in an interview with Vulture.
His cavalier attitude, like it or not, subverts the in vogue performative woke culture that permeates much of the music industry.
Thursday night’s appearance at Harvard was certainly a public relations stunt meant to garner buzz and sell records. But his joke worked.
The night's attendees may or may not have cared if that was purple drink in Lil Pump’s cup. The police escort sure didn’t seem to wonder. Everyone was too busy snapping photos for the ‘gram.
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