Dave Chappelle is pimping the game, quite literally everyone else is getting pimped by the game. Let me preface this by saying that I love Kevin Hart. I was the biggest Kevin Hart fan in the world in middle school. It started with "Grown Little Man". "Grown Little Man" was 5th Grade me’s favourite thing in the whole world. I bought the movie on the iTunes Store. I begged my mom to take me to Walmart and buy me an iTunes card so I can go home and purchase the film so I can watch it on my iPod. There aren’t many comedians, especially at that time, that could stop me from bootlegging (rip megavideo).
And as I got older I kept up with Kevin Hart. I watched his next special "Seriously Funny" and that’s in my top 10 all time comedy specials. Kevin Hart is an introspective comedian, much like Richard Pryor. His material isn’t social, it’s personal. And it used to feel raw and honest. His next special "laugh at my pain" delved even deeper into Kevin’s life and struggles. And I watched him get into “Think Like A Man” and I loved the film. And before I knew it Kevin Hart was undisputedly the biggest actor in Hollywood. And for some reason the bigger he got, the less I enjoyed the specials. The material felt tamer and it felt more formulaic and agenda driven.
And I don’t expect Kevin to get into social issues, but he would always talk about things that were going on with him, regardless of how terrible it was, as honestly and as funny as he could. But since he became the most popular person in the world, everything he says began feeling like a political statement. He began to sound like there was a brand agenda behind it. And there definitely is, so I don’t blame him.
The Kevin Hart brand is one of the biggest brands in the world and his brand is his livelihood, so damage to it is damage to food in his children’s mouths. Kevin Hart used to unapologetically talk about the domestic issues he would go through with his girlfriend and now he spends a whole special apologizing for how his personal life affected his brand. Talking about what happened to him is part of how he does stand up but the way in which he did it felt more like he was trying to appease sponsors. And I can’t blame him. When rumours came out of Kevin Hart cheating on his girlfriend, he was tarnished globally by every single media outlet including local news channels.
Kevin Hart is the first mega comedian of the internet age. And that has propelled him to being the biggest comedian of all time. He’s the guy that gets all the film roles, is all over the billboards and commercials and is selling out stadiums. And that casts a wide net of people that are aware of him. And Kevin provides advice on life on his own social media and that makes people follow him for more than just his comedy. People tune in to Kevin Hart for motivation and inspiration in how he handles all of the work he puts in to become the biggest comedian of all time, while also maintaining a family.
That’s his brand and it’s a very expensive brand. And the growth of the brand has impacted the comedy. And this isn’t one of those articles to bash artists that go mainstream cause you can’t blame them. In a perfect world everyone’s responsibility to their craft would outweigh the quest of wealth. But when you have a family in a capitalistic society, it’s difficult to not put the money first because the money is how you feed your kids.
So Kevin Hart did everything Dave Chappelle popularly shied away from. Dave talked about how he was asked to put on a dress by film studios, less than a decade later Kevin Hart is wearing a dress on Jimmy Fallon. And that’s not a knock on Kevin Hart's character, it just means he is dedicated to reaching the highest level of wealth. I kept up with Kevin’s latest specials and I didn’t enjoy them, there were bits and pieces I enjoyed but I didn’t see any artistic growth, it was basically a long statement to the press. I brushed it off until I watched Kevin Hart on the Joe Rogan Experience where he discusses that exact thing.
Kevin explains how he can't do certain things to protect his image because his responsibility is to his kids, employees and everyone underneath the Hart umbrella. And that’s why I can’t blame him, Taylor Swift, or any other “pop star” that has compromised the art form in some way, shape or form in exchange for financial gain. Today, more than ever, your personal brand is lucrative. The idea of selling out no longer exists. Everything, including your likeness, is profitable. It’s about knowing who is profiting. If you’re releasing art and not making a dime, that just means someone else is. And so there’s a generation of young artists that are trying to profit from their art and everything around it, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
And yet there’s a history of a certain rebellious nature that gets people into the arts. It’s that rebelliousness that I see in Dave Chappelle. Dave, much like Carlin and Pryor before him, sees the art form as a way of communicating his philosophy and truth. Dave sees the art form as a medium for truth. The art represents the most fundamental truth of our being and acts as a mirror that reflects ourselves back to us. And that’s what makes the dopest art that transcends time and space. It’s because it remains constantly true regardless of how much time has passed. Dave Chappelle once said "'There’s something so true about this genre when done correctly, that I will fight anybody that gets in a true practitioner of this art form’s way. Cause I know you’re wrong. This is the truth, and you are obstructing it. I’m not talking about the content; I’m talking about the art form.”
That’s why the Vatican has infinitely expensive pieces of art created by some of the most renowned renaissance artists while building the city. The paintings transcend time and space and are representations of what they believed to be the most fundamental truths at that time. And those are the things that survive the test of time, things that remain true in essence. And those are the things we can feel.
When Dave Chappelle does stand up I can feel the authenticity. I can feel that this is unapologetic. And that’s because of Dave Chappelles understanding of the almost religious like dedication one needs to have for their craft to make them one of the greatest. Because that’s the building blocks of everything before it gets popular and corporatized. The kids in New York that were B-boying and spraying graffiti on the wall, spinning records and rapping were expressing themselves in the most honest and authentic way they knew how. Nobody taught them how to do that, nobody forced them to do that, they didn’t know they could make money from it. They just honestly felt that, and that turned into Hip Hop, arguably the most profitable form of communication today.
Hip Hop was a rebellion to the commercialization of disco. Hip Hop was what Jazz used to be. Jazz was a rebellion. Jazz used to be completely about improvisation and letting your soul speak through the instrument. The profit was never at the forefront of the art form, and as soon as it became the centre, the art suffered. Dave Chappelle decided to leave instead of letting corporatization compromise the art, came back and got to do it his way. And that’s something you have to commend. Cause if you’re not making a lot of money and your excuse is your dedication to the art, people during your lifetime will make fun of you. Patrice O’neal lived his whole life as one of the funniest comedians on planet earth. But he never went mainstream. Highly respected comedians like Bill Burr, Louis CK and even Kevin Hart have praised him for being one of the funniest people in the world. Patrice's material was outspoken, fucked up and honest. Patrice talked about society, the human experience, men and women and he did it recklessly, like a comedian should. But he didn’t get the praise during his lifetime because he didn’t get the opportunities because he was honestly, too real.
But that’s what comedy is. Hundreds of years ago they had court jesters who held political significance because they were the only ones who could tell the King bad news. Because they disguised it in jokes. And that’s what a lot of artists realized. You can really say everything if you just make it art. Art can be controversial and divisive but it does start a conversation. And that’s what it’s done historically. Artists use their voices to speak the hymns of the everyday person. And that’s because they spoke on the most fundamental truths in the most palatable way. Art is a limbic resonator. Limbic resonance is the idea that the capacity for sharing deep emotional states arises from the limbic system of the brain.
Your brain is flooded with dopamine when listening to a good song, reading words that resonate or watching a dope comedy special. And in those moments artists would also spread their philosophies. So while your guards are down, you’re also thinking about the argument the artist just made. And that is a world changing method of communication. Artists have historically been labeled heretics and jailed because of how powerful it is as a method of communication.
Poetry, music and art were used in revolutions, wars and times of turbulence to enact change. Slaves during the transatlantic slave trade would send messages of revolution through music. The culture of art as creative communication is rooted historically and deeply in truth. But the concept of celebrity that started in the 50s with the birth of television and evolved through the invention of the smart phone and social media has changed the entire way we communicate our art.
Every aspect of your life is part of your livelihood now. The concept of being a public figure makes you extremely wealthy but also makes every aspect of your life globally relevant and profitable to multiple people. And that makes you an asset and weapon for the media and the media’s interests. And so we have a world of media assassination campaigns and cancel culture. Because media outlets pick up stories about celebrities and drag their name through the mud for clicks. And it’s part of the game.
These people are some of the most notable people in the world and their names are clickable. That's why different brands use celebrities to advertise their products. If Michael Jordan wears those shoes, billions of people will see it and purchase it. If Lebron James drinks Gatorade, we’re all drinking Gatorade. That lucrative likeness is what has driven the Kardashian-Jenners to a fortune. People want to see them so corporations give them money to use their products, and it's made them billionaires.
From the 50s till 2010 most of the conversation surrounding celebrities was controlled by news channels and some print media. There were only a few outlets that people listened to and there were only a few celebrities that even existed. Every once in a while the slander would hone in on a specific celebrity like Michael Jackson, OJ Simpson, Britney Spears, Mel Gibson, John Lennon, Tupac Shakur or Dave Chappelle. And none of those people could see everyone’s opinion about exactly what they’re doing all the time. Those people would become the global distraction and the main story in the headlines.
And now because of the tangibility of fame, there are more classes within celebrity because there’s levels. And the higher up you go, the wider the net of the people that talk about you and the more clickable you become. And that’s why we have “cancel culture”. Because people dig up your past to slander you in order to get clicks. And it's not just media companies anymore, it's any kid that wants to get clicks. That's what happened with Doja Cat this past week. Doja Cat achieved the peak of her fame so far by getting her first number 1 hit. She incentivized her audience to stream the song by telling people she would show her boobs if they streamed her song to number one. And she did it, but after succeeding she told the audience that she lied and that she would, in fact, not be showing her boobs. And suddenly all of these videos appeared of Doja talking shit and being drunk online with a couple of racist incels. Doja was accused of being racist and her name was tarnished. And that has hurt her brand, which hurts her livelihood. And she just released a full press release and apology. And this isn't about her being right or wrong. This is about the culture surrounding celebrity and the new artist. This culture isn’t new, it’s just amplified.
The foundations of celebrity incentivize the media’s weaponization. Your brand is your reputation and if your reputation is tarnished then your livelihood is attacked. And that’s the same thing media companies tried to do to Dave Chappelle. When Dave decided to quit his show and fly to South Africa because he wasn’t willing to compromise his art, rumours were spread throughout reputable media outlets that he was smoking crack. A claim he vehemently denied to this day. Mainstream media is centralized and controlled by a select amount of corporations and so a small group of people have control of the dissemination of information through the majority. And if they turn on you, they can make your life miserable. Especially if your livelihood is dependent on the perception of your likeness and they are in control of that perception. Dave proved to be uncancellable, but he’s one of one.
To reach a certain level of “success” as an artist today there’s a level of getting pimped that you have to be okay with. The amount of clicks your brand gets determines the amount of sponsorships you can get and money you can make. And that’s the game everyone’s a part of. You can’t sell CDs from the back of the car anymore, music is free. You are part of the brand game. And the brand game requires a certain level of dedication to the perception of the brand, which can sometimes compromise the art form. And that’s when you have to draw a line in the sand. And Dave did.
Dave stood up for the rights of expression and what art is. Not many people that achieve the most success in their art form during the social media age can honestly express their opinions without fear of repercussions from their sponsors or streams of income. It's like when Elon Musk smoked weed on camera while on the Joe Rogan Experience and Tesla stocks dropped. Marijuana is completely legal where he lives and it could even help him with his workload, but publicizing it made investors unhappy and the stocks for the company, that is currently completely unaffected, began to fall. Because his likeness is as much a part of the company as the car is. That's what it's like for modern artists. And because of that we lose some of our generations greatest communicators.
Art is subjective but to me it feels like it’s the medium of fundamental truth and I think we have a responsibility to it. That doesn’t mean everyone needs to speak on social issues or politics but it does mean being true to oneself and to the art form. It does mean not creating something exclusively for financial gain or to gain mass appeal. But that’s because of how highly I view and value art and authenticity. I feel the ultimate search for “real” inside of me because that’s the makeup of all of my favourite things. All of my favourite artists, poems, paintings, songs, movies, articles, photographers and comedians were all capturing something real that resonated with me and captured my life or got me to think about something in a different way. That doesn’t mean I won’t turn up to Gucci Gang, but it’s not even close to existing within the same realm as Kendrick Lamars "To Pimp A Butterfly", because of what that album represents to me. That album is the ultimate truth within 16 songs. Like it or hate it you can’t deny the authenticity in every lyric.
And authenticity sounds pretentious cause it’s one of those things that’s immeasurable but it’s undeniable. It's the reason why Black Lives Matter protesters sang "Alright" during protests, because the song resonated and communicated something real that transcends music. The emotion in the music is the same as the emotion in Bob Marley's music. Which is why the whole world mourned his death and remembers him to this day as one of the most important pop culture figures, nearly 30 years after his death. Because it’s truth encapsulated in music.
It’s the same feeling that made me fall in love with George Carlin's comedy specials and it’s what I feel when I watch Dave Chappelle. And different genres of art do that to different people. But now we’ve entered an era of mass commercialization of every single art form. This isn’t meant to look down on those artists that focus more on profit than the art. Because I can’t blame you. Everyone needs to make money and some people have families to feed. But this is exactly the time to draw a line in the sand if your goal is to be one of the greats. You can either fall for the commercialization and decide that your art is malleable by corporate interest or you can remain uncompromising regardless of corporate interest and create something that transcends time and space. And that’s what my favourite artists have always done. And that’s what Dave Chappelle has done. Chappelle did it his way and is successful for it. Chappelle should be a beacon of hope for the uncompromising artist that beyond the horizon, you really can do this shit your own way.