It’s hardest to describe a cultural phenomenon from the very middle of its trajectory. Not enough time has passed for hindsight to accurately characterize its origins, and its future remains distressingly uncertain, particularly for its primary stakeholders.
The rapper Lil Dicky finds himself in just such a position at the moment; profoundly validated by his present internet celebrity, while simultaneously anxious and supremely confident about his future. Our collective cultural consciousness is so obsessed with celebrity, that the process “making it,” particularly in retrospect, is often characterized as a mythical hero’s journey. But for Lil Dicky, who is so unequivocally in the middle of that journey, it feels nothing like an E! News documentary.
His experience demonstrates the importance of extreme self-awareness, and the sometimes incongruous combination of marketing savvy and artistic acumen that goes into the creation of a star. In an interview with the Daily Trojan, Lil Dicky laid out his specific strategies for achieving pop-icon status.
Don’t be just one thing.
Lil Dicky rose to YouTube fame over the past year with his hilarious rap videos, particularly “White Dude” and “Ex Boyfriend,” but even in just his two most successful videos, there is an impressive diversity of themes.
“White Dude” can best be described as a South Park style political satire, while “Ex Boyfriend” is a crass examination of male self-consciousness. Some of his newest songs, like “Make Belief” and “Russell Westbrook on a Farm” are much more introspective than they are funny.
Additionally, Lil Dicky has been approached by TV networks about creating a TV show at least partially inspired by his rise to fame. He’s hitting his fans with a wide variety of content on different platforms with a little self-reflexivity thrown in.
Do something no one has ever done.
Lil Dicky’s multi-medium approach is indicative of the fact that he is striving to carve out his own niche for himself. As he said in his interview with the Daily Trojan, no one has ever done what he is attempting: make verbally sophisticated comedy rap that also provides an enjoyable musical experience. Lil Dicky also sets himself apart by his general disregard for both political correctness and the conventions of the rap genre.
Embody the way your fan base experiences the world.
These days, it can be very difficult to determine whether a cultural artifact is critiquing or celebrating the phenomena it depicts. The Wolf of Wall Street or Kanye West’s “Yeezus” both perfectly embody this trend. This ambiguity in our great works of pop culture mirrors generational preferences for irony and contradiction. “White Dude,” like the works mentioned above, captures those sensibilities, and applies them to a topic very few are willing to satirize.
Emulate (but don’t copy) tried and true formulas.
Larry David, the creators of South Park and generations of comics before them have proven that people want to see unfiltered critiques on the absurdity of contemporary life, no matter how uncomfortable or “offensive” they might be.
The success of HBO’s Girls has similarly demonstrated that there is a high demand for media that captures the millennial experience. Lil Dicky channels both of these models in his work, but with his own personal twist.
Lil Dicky is doing all of this on his own. This portion of his career is exclusively being financed by his Kickstarter campaign, which raised just over $100,000. He seems to be doing just fine without the expensive corporate machinery that helped create many of our favorite popstars. Like a shrewd businessman, Lil Dicky sees a cultural need, and he intends to fill it as an artist. Let’s see how well we respond.
Ben Schneider is a freshman majoring in international relations and English. His blog, “The Way We Live Now,” runs Tuesdays. He interviewed Lil Dicky for an article that ran in print Tuesday.