Introducing scam rap, a music subgenre where artists teach you how to scam – Screen Shot
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Introducing scam rap, a music subgenre where artists teach you how to scam

“The government tried to ban me from the dark web. I downloaded TOR Browser and got back in. Went and got a VPN, just bought another BIN,” raps away Teejayx6, a 19-year-old from the east side of Detroit. Decked in a black ski mask, the young rapper illustrates the process of accessing the dark web in great detail—down to the bank identification numbers he uses to make fraudulent transactions. Welcome to the fringe world of scam rap, a viral subgenre glorifying and breaking down fraudulent activity step-by-step for listeners.

Detroit and the rise of scam rap

Mentions of fraudulent activity in music is nothing new. Future, Meek Mill, City Girls and Kodak Black are all on the long list of rappers with scamming-related lyrics. You are most likely to have already been introduced to this subgenre even if you don’t follow any of the artists mentioned.

In The Secret Life Of Pets 2, Kevin Hart voiced a bunny named Snowball—a former anti-human revolutionary who has come to believe that he is a superhero. The movie ended with Snowball rapping away Desiigner’s 2015 smash ‘Panda. “Credit cards and the scammers!” bellowed Snowball in a snapback as scam rap quickly infiltrated the kid movie pantheon.

Scam rap has been associated with Detroit-based artists where the subgenre is deeply rooted in credit card frauds, identity thefts and other illicit ways of splitting people from their money. Credited with its own rap scene, scam rap in particular seems to be flooding out of Motor City with many upcoming rappers mentioning scamming in their lyrics.

Though not exclusive to Detroit, the city’s scam rap can be differentiated from the rest with its off-beat flow and rap style. Artists like Kasher Quon and 10kkev leverage bouncy beats filled with high synths to produce sounds similar to “a loading screen on a low-budget video game.” Their rap style lies somewhere between frenzy and monotone to create feverish energy that eventually matches the anxiety-ridden sentiments of the scamming lifestyle they allegedly live in.

The 19-year-old face of scam rap

Scam rap surfaced in 2017 when Bossman Rich dropped his single ‘Jugging Ain’t Real. The track featured the rapper flashing stacks of cash while rhyming off-beat about BINs, Bitcoins and credit card frauds. Interest in the subgenre along with true scam cases peaked post that.

Scam rap went mainstream in 2019 with the rise of GuapDad 4000, an Oakland-based rapper. Styling himself as a charming conman, the artist is credited with scamming celebrities like Drake into performing at his afterparty for free—later boasting about it on Instagram. However, it wasn’t until Teejayx6 (real name unknown) came onto the scene that the subgenre really took off.

Incriminating himself to insane degrees in just about every song, Teejayx6 shot to fame with his breakout single Dark Web where he coaches listeners by giving them step-by-step instructions on how to access the dark web using the TOR browser. Immersed in pop-culture references and terminologies, most of Teejayx6’s songs are dramatic scam stories that play out like heist movies.

In Swipe Story, the 19-year-old artist breaks down the process of stealing PS4s from Walmart, outlining everything from embossing fake credit cards to lying to the cashier about why he needs $3,500 worth of gaming equipment. He later raps about scamming different Walmarts in a sum total of 50 times. In Violin he raps about buying social security numbers, and in Blackmail he goes as far as scamming his own grandmother.

During his first-ever show in Los Angeles, Teejayx6 was arrested on-stage by US Marshals. But internet nerds were quick to theorise that the arrest was staged with a bunch of actors and that the whole thing was a publicity stunt—yet another scam. So why hasn’t the real police caught on yet? Is scam rap legal in the first place?

Robin Hoods for the age of cryptocurrency

Scam rap’s existence highlights a cultural shift to psychological, data-driven crimes where rappers involved aren’t afraid to delve into the details regardless of the authenticity of their claims. Given that many of Teejayx6’s ‘alleged’ crimes involved swindling some of the wealthiest companies on Earth, artists like him are considered “Robin Hoods for the age of cryptocurrency.”

Acknowledging the fact that “scamming celebrities is easier than normal people because they fall for it quicker,” Teejayx6 has allegedly scammed Blac Chyna and Dave East. The young rapper further separates himself from the ruthless types of frauds with a positive motive backing him up. “I’m really helping people in the long run,” he admitted in an interview with Genius. Upon purchase of his mixtape The Fraud Bible, Teejayx6 stated that his fans get an actual fraud bible—a guide which includes “actual methods, BINs and everything required” to carry out scams.

“People want to label me a scammer,” he mentioned in an interview with Pitchfork. “But I’m really helping fans out, giving them advice and even money if they need it.”

Popular, but not too popular

“Scam rap is going to be a thing for a while because it’s money,” admitted Teejayx6. “Anybody would like to make money. So it’s just a matter of time before the whole world catches on.” The artist, however, warns against the repercussions that entail the subgenre’s mainstream popularity.

“It might bring problems like the police only if it gets too popular,” he said. In an interview with Complex about the future of scam rap, the young artist mentioned how scamming is increasingly becoming the “standard job for rappers” replacing what once was drug dealing. When asked if he was worried about the repercussions of his self-incriminating lyrics, Teejayx6 stated that he was only worried about seeing somebody he has scammed in real-life.

“If I ever get big, somebody that I scammed in the past might book me for a show just to rob me. In the life I live, I always have to be careful. I scammed so many people from different cities, different states. I don’t know who’s trying to book me. So I’m really terrified.” In his No Jumper interview, the 19-year-old perfectly sums up the doubts we currently harbour in the back of our minds, “Even if I was under investigation, there is no proof, there’s no video proof. I could be saying all this, it could be a lie, it could be entertainment.”

While scam rap’s influence is yet to ‘ill-favourably’ manifest itself in popular culture, you can either head to the comments section of these music videos for detailed how-to guides from other fans (in hopes of not being scammed yourself in the process) or bop your head to its anxious synths and off-beat rhymes. The so-far legal choice is yours.

When DNA testing meets your music playlist

Collaborations have become the ultimate marketing powerhouse. From food enterprises partnering with influencers to fashion brands collaborating with… well, literally anything, companies have realised that alone you die while together you thrive in today’s over marketed, hyper-saturated world. Just a few days ago, Spotify (which has been leading in collaborations across social media) dropped the news of yet another strange yet not surprising collab: together with the world’s biggest commercial genealogy website, AncestryDNA, the two platforms are offering their clients an opportunity to determine their musical DNA based on their home-testing genetic test results.

Far from being solely used to reveal a baby’s father identity or to collect more evidence from a crime scene, DNA testing today has advanced considerably and is merging with a wide range of sectors that offer information on a person’s life, including a curious trip down ancestry lane and DNA profiling at national borders. The trust we have developed with DNA testing has become so concrete, that in theory, it only makes sense to start selling listeners their own music taste according to their newly discovered genealogy. Once the Spotify account is linked to the AncestryDNA data, the streaming platform creates a brand new playlist that mirrors the DNA results. To give you an example, if you have French and Swedish origins you might end up listening to the new wave band Marie et les Garçons mixed with Scandinavian rap.

“How do we help people experience their culture and not just read about it?” Asks Vineet Mehra, Executive Vice President and chief marketing officer at Ancestry. Music is the answer, apparently. I have to give it to Spotify and AncestryDNA, while I am sceptical as to whether this is ethnic stereotyping in the making, with the recent public fascination with ancestry (the commercial DNA testing industry is set to be valued at £261 million by 2020), a music playlist that is not only based on existing algorithms such as songs you might have played and artists your friends follow, but that are enriched with tracks from the cultures your ancestors came from the companies have quite frankly tapped into a genius way of capitalising on this growing trend.

There is nothing immediately harmful in the collaboration between these two platforms—apart from the usual privacy concerns we apparently no longer really care about—but I do wonder how can DNA dictate one’s taste? I see why the project could be a shortcut to discover music that would otherwise remain unknown and set me on a journey into my ancestors’ rhythmic past. And I get it, we are all curious to find out that our family history is much more exciting than we like to admit. But I ultimately struggle to accept that something so personal and subjective such as my music taste, can be dictated by a power marketing alliance between two companies and their data-based assumptions (most probably correct) on what I should like because I have some French in my overtly Italian blood.

According to Spotify, a person’s musical DNA is the breakdown of genres that derive from one’s listening habits, which I believe is informed by experiences, taste, feelings; where I chose to rent a flat in London, the cafe I like going to and other elements whose origins are much complex than ethnicity and geographical roots. Yet I have to admit that if I am right, then how come our music taste has suddenly become so predictable? While I haven’t matched my AncestryDNA test with Spotify (yet), I have no doubt the tracks that will brighten my playlist will be spot on to my taste.

The Italian philosopher Franco Bifo Berardi once said that in the algorithm era there is no space left for the unpredictable and that our present is informed by pre-existing models. The collaboration between Spotify and AncestryDNA, while being an undeniably savvy merge, feels like yet another step towards a future where even the most random and uncertain traits of our personalities become utterly predictable.