Lil Dicky, Russell Westbrook, and the Outsider Effect

Philadelphia rapper Lil Dicky has made a bit of a name for himself in 2013. You might know him from the hilarious video for his song “Ex-Boyfriend”, his hip-hop take on the plot of The Lion Kingor from his debut mixtape So Hard released earlier this year. He’s been releasing a new song or video every week for most of the year and it’s been apparent that Dicky has a gift for clever lyrics, inventive flow, and excellent beat selection. I mean, how many people can take a Meek Mill/Drake beat and turn it into an ode to staying home on a Friday night?

The problem with any hype debut is that it becomes the thing for which you’re known and what people expect of you. Look at how hard Asher Roth struggled to overcome “I Love College” or how many people were upset that Yeezus wasn’t another College Dropout. It would be easy to listen to So Hard and dismiss LD as a joke, a comedian with some good bars, but not a real rapper. (This is simply not true. One would only have to listen to songs like “The Cypher” or “Flames” to see that Lil Dicky could more than hold his own as a “real emcee”) This, along with the pressures of trying to break into hip-hop in general, is the attitude that creates “Russell Westbrook on a Farm,” the latest release off of his project Nothing Was Quite The Way It Used To Be Before.

Over the beat from Drake’s “Pound Cake” Dicky confesses that he never thought he’d be a rapper. He grew up wanting to be a comedian and started rapping for fun and discovered he had talent for it and decided to pursue that as a career. He makes an honest admission that rap might not be the most respectable career choice where he grew up but he wants to continue it. The lines are clever and Dicky’s clearly mastered wordplay and creative flows. He rides the beat with an expertise that underlies his natural ability while experimenting with some quick double-time flows.  The lyrics are authentic, one of the most important things you can ask for from a rapper. You can tell that this is a personal song about the struggles any new rapper faces, but it’s particular to Lil Dicky at the same time.The whole song is about ambition and confidence, about being convinced that you can succeed at your craft, even when the rest of the world isn’t so sure.

The closing of the song shows exactly what Lil Dicky is capable of when he gets to flesh out a new idea. In it he spins a tale of an alternate universe Russell Westbrook that grew up farming instead of playing basketball. The song imagines what would happen if this Russell, who wasn’t bad at farming, discovered a basketball court while riding his horse and it turned out that he was just as gifted on the court as he is in our universe. Would the NBA accept this kid who clearly has all the skills he needs to succeed if he didn’t have the same pedigree that actual Russell does? If he did make it, would Russ still dream about his farm even though his gifts have brought him this far?

The point that Dicky makes is a valid one in hip-hop circles. What do we make of the outsiders that don’t come from where we expect them to or follow the established narrative of rappers? Lil Dicky, in trying to overcome his comedian reputation, is showing that it can be something special even if the narrative doesn’t fit. The important part is to let those with gifts speak for themselves rather then trying to speak for them. What someone debuts as is not always what they’re going to be and we should be thankful for that. It means that there’s growth in an artist and they get to be true to who they are rather who they were. As Lil Dicky closes this track, “Greatness ain’t about cake.”

You can listen to “Russell Westbrook on a Farm” below and if you feel like you need to get in on the ground floor of Lil Dicky’s career, he has a Kickstarter going to fund a new album and a tour that you can find here.

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