What’s passive income and why are influencers so hell-bent on lying about it? – Screen Shot
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What’s passive income and why are influencers so hell-bent on lying about it?

If you’ve never come across the term ‘passive income’ while scrolling through your preferred social media platform, first of all, well done—I’m not sure how you’ve been able to dodge it for so long. If you have, you might want to stick around regardless because, as this article’s headline suggests, you’ve probably been fed a pack of lies.

What is passive income?

Passive income is money that you earn either automatically or without putting in much effort. It can come in various different forms, such as renting out a flat to someone (as long as the property owner isn’t a real estate professional), receiving royalties from a book, song or film, and investing in dividend stocks. So far so good, right? After all, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to supplement your income, especially not when faced with soaring inflation and a slowing economy.

The real issue here isn’t passive income itself, it’s the fact that it’s being promoted by countless individuals online as an easy way to make thousands each month. Their selling point? It’s supposedly easier than a traditional 9-to-5 job.

The reality is, if you’re looking to ‘make money in your sleep’, you’ll need to work at it just like you would a full-time job. And that’s me going for the best-case scenario here. From courses, e-books and other various products online to vending machines in high-traffic areas, you name it, and there’s someone on YouTube, TikTok and even Reddit claiming that they make insane amounts of money from it for close to no work.

Just set it all up and you’re ready to go, is what passive income-obsessed netizens tell those who, understandably, wouldn’t mind making money effortlessly. While many people claim to be making passive income, particularly on social media, according to Census Bureau data, only 20 per cent of American households earn such pay. The median amount that those households make from those sources is $4,200 a year.

The difference between passive income and leveraged income

What people often call ‘passive income’ is income that isn’t dependent on a single paycheck or employer. But in a lot of cases, they’re confusing it with leveraged income—putting in time and effort in advance to earn recurring profits from selling something specific. Even worse, many of us go as far as to mistake a side hustle (aka, more work) for passive income.

Taking renting out a property for example. Although it’s described as a way to create passive income by many sources of authority online, it’s easy for people to underestimate the time and money needed to buy and maintain said property. It doesn’t take much for unexpected repairs and expenses to eat into rental profits, and I’m not even getting into the details of what being a property owner entails.

Speaking to The New York Times about her distaste for the way both terms are seen as interchangeable nowadays, Gina Vanegas, 37, explained that she had initially felt ashamed of that extra money, especially when family and friends would refer to it as “passive income,” implying that she didn’t have to do any work to earn it.

“Thinking specifically as a Latina, it’s ingrained in our stories to really have to work hard to get ahead,” Vanegas told the publication. “Somehow passive income doesn’t count as hard work, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.”

The COVID-fueled race for passive income

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the world, and most of us ended up with too much free time on our hands, we began to question whether working a traditional job would provide us with enough money. Mindsets changed, leading gen Zers and millennials to think of different ways to earn extra income, save for the long-term future and enjoy the present.

Though I won’t claim that I have the perfect solution to solve all your worries, one thing is for sure, hustle culture is not dead, it’s just rebranded into something even more deceiving. So be wary of what people tell you online—but you can trust me of course.

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.