Op-Ed | 070 Shake & the Double-Edged Sword of Being a Kanye Protégé

The views and opinions expressed in this piece are those solely of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of Highsnobiety as a whole.

Over the course of G.O.O.D. Music’s June release slate, we have been treated to a litany of musical moments that seem predestined to endure within popular culture. Whether it was the venomous bars of Pusha-T’s DAYTONA that reignited one of the most hotly contested hip-hop beefs of the 21st century, the exercise in career revitalization that is Nas’ NASIR, or Kid Cudi’s therapeutic candor that made KIDS SEE GHOSTS such a joyous auditory experience, each new addition has contained euphoric highpoints that have the propensity to take on legendary status in the years to follow. Just as these instances where Kanye West’s whirlwind of hand-chopped records has presented each of their primary artists at the pinnacle of their game, these seven-track records have also been revelatory due to the spotlighting of an enchanting, relatively unknown vocalist by the name of 070 Shake.

Responsible for some of the most ethereal moments of the roll-out, the New Jersey-born songstress and G.O.O.D. Music signee has been abruptly catapulted into mainstream culture as a rest of these star-making turns. While her contributions to tracks such as DAYTONA’s “Santeria”, NASIR’s “Not For Radio” and even a writing credit on “WTP” from Teyana Taylor’s sophomore album K.T.S.E. have corroborated the hype which surrounds her, the history books will show that the breeding ground for Shake’s real dalliance with the affections of the general populace arose from ye-standout “Ghost Town.” Built around her liberating declarations of “nothing hurts anymore, I feel free,” her incendiary performance on the marquee track of Kanye’s latest LP has incited a thousand blogposts and think-pieces that swiftly got the unacquainted up to speed on exactly who supplied those astounding vocals.

Assigned the title of Kanye’s latest ‘protégé,’ the artist lesser known as Danielle Balbuena may have released a string of buzzworthy projects prior to her visit to Wyoming, but it would be naïve to think that the amount of eyes on her material hasn’t exponentially grown since she was ingratiated to an audience of millions by Yeezy and his cohorts. With her debut album Yellow Girl expected before the year is out, the new conundrum lies in whether this cosign from divisive ‘free-thinker’ West can propel her forward as it did for a string of soon-to-be household names or whether it will serve as the poisoned chalice that it’s proven to be for a number of once-burgeoning artists.

To clarify, being championed by Kanye is by no means a Madden Curse-esque cultural hex or a harbinger of doom like winning the Grammy’s Best New Artist Award. For artists including John Legend, Chance the Rapper, Kid Cudi, Lupe Fiasco, Big Sean and Travis Scott, the pedestalization of Kanye West in hip-hop played an irrefutable role in heralding their arrival as hot prospects. When it comes to artists such as Legend, Lupe, and Big Sean, it was a simple case of ‘Ye plucking them from obscurity, showcasing them on his records and thus informing the public that they were forces to be reckoned with from here on out. For Chance, Cudi, and Scott, his enthusiasm about their output (intermingled with the hype that they’d organically garnered) served as a conduit to boost them towards further notoriety for years to come. For the most part, this non-interventionist approach has been prosperous for the careers of his mentees, as outlined by Travis Scott in a 2013 interview with Grantland:

“Man, it’s ill. ’Ye told me all the time, he wants me to carry the music through time. He trusts me with the sound and shit.”

Ever since their first encounters, La Flame and Kanye have been very much comingled in both their personal and professional lives, but the looming spectre of ‘Ye has never threatened to eclipse Travis or detract from his standing as an artist. However, as has been illustrated numerous times over the years, this hasn’t always been the case for the prospective stars that have tried to outrun his hulking shadow.

After signing with G.O.O.D. Music following the amicable termination of her deal with Pharrell’s Star Trak, Teyana Taylor has been a parable for what can happen when you slide out of the forefront of Kanye’s fickle and sporadic mind when it bypasses you in favor of the latest trend or wave. Aside from debut album VII, a trio of appearances on label compilation Cruel Summer and her engrossing performance in the visuals for The Life of Pablo’s “Fade,” fans had little to no new content to consume from the 25-year-old artist in recent years until the unveiling of K.T.S.E. as the conclusion of this year’s release slate. Even though the record may be gaining widespread plaudits for its sizable merits as a body of work, its marketing and delayed release has left the internet awash with allegations that her alignment with G.O.O.D. – and Kanye in particular – has ultimately sullied its efficacy.

As compiled by Dazed, the combination of his overshadowing presence at her listening party and its late emergence on streaming services has left many feeling that Teyana is “not a priority” or that ‘Ye is afflicted by a rampant bout of ‘Diddyism’ by using the label’s artists to increase his own profile. Given that Kanye once lavished praise on her for “fighting against the entire system,” the fact that her only moments of sustained exposure have arisen when she’s been permitted to do so by the G.O.O.D. framework seems paradoxical at best, and at worst, an indication of negligence from the label itself.

In a scenario that bears resemblance to the dearth of music that we’ve heard from Teyana since she signed on the dotted line, the tumultuous years that were endured by CyHi the Prynce before the release of his debut full-length attest to the perils of placing Kanye and his entourage in the driving seat. When the ink dried on his Beyoncé-approved deal with G.O.O.D. Music, the Georgia-bred MC was riding high off the back of his exhilarating verse on “So Appalled” from ‘Ye’s hedonistic opus My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. In the years that would follow, fans and critics were left to ponder when he’d finally break from the cyclical pattern of mixtapes that he turned in for five long years while his major label debut continued to remain entirely conspicuous in its absence. Then, in the wake of Black Hystori Project 2: N.A.A.C.P in 2015, the frustrations that he’d internalized for years finally came to the surface in the form of “Elephant in the Room,” a lyrical barrage of ill will about his diminutive standing in the label’s hierarchy.

“Do you know what it’s like to be really signed to you in real life?” inquired Cyhi as an introductory jibe towards Kanye before the track would soon take aim at Def Jam, his exclusion from a Complex magazine cover and even detail a proposed kidnapping of his long-time mentor. While all parties were quick to fan the flames and even claim that the track was a collaborative effort, what become clear was that the frustrations Cyhi espoused on wax were born of a legitimate disdain for his stunted progression.

A further two years on and his debut album, No Dope On Sundays, would finally emerge and serve as a reaffirmation of all of the talent that placed him on G.O.O.D.’s radar to begin with. Reminiscent of Travis Scott’s considered use of his Kanye affiliation, the production for the album was largely outsourced and enabled him to put forth his own undiluted vision while still embracing his ties to Yeezy on his own terms in the form of lead single “Dat Side.” Now aligned with Sony Music as opposed to his ill-fated dealings with Def Jam, his divergence from the fold was pivotal in reiterating his worth in the eyes of Kanye, and hip-hop at large, and it appears that a new collaborative project between the two is now in its formative stages.

In the volatile environment that is spawned when two creative energies collide, conflicts between labelmates can manifest and subsequently be quashed just as quickly. In the case of Cyhi and Kid Cudi (who had a well-publicized run-in with Kanye in 2016), their differences were easily reconcilable and each dispute between protégé and guide have become an integral part of their respective mythologies.

For Consequence on the other hand, his departure from the flock has had a far different, but no less profound, effect on his career. Although he may have entered the rap game in 1993 after he was featured by cousin Q-Tip on a myriad of A Tribe Called Quest material, the Queens MC was doomed to languish in the shadows until ‘Ye purposefully brought him back into the viewfinder of commercial hip-hop on The College Dropout’s “Spaceship.” Two years on from Kanye’s rousing introduction to the masses, Consequence would offer his own cohesive project in the form of his singular full length LP, Don’t Quit Your Day Job.

Following a string of mixtapes and appearances on the lauded ‘G.O.O.D. Friday’ series, the long-time confidant of ‘Ye would uproot from the label in 2011 before levelling a series of diss tracks at G.O.O.D.’s inaugural president, and his eventual successor, Pusha-T. Titled “Man Purses” and “Plagiarist Society,” the latter of the two would double down on claims that he’d been an integral cog of the writing process for “every album” Kanye had ever made. In the years to come, the pair would call a truce and ‘Cons’ even rescinded his beef with Pusha in order to work on The Life of Pablo, but unless he can capitalize on the merits of 2016’s A Good Comeback Story, then it seems to be a foregone conclusion that the spat will constitute a lot of his legacy in the eyes of mainstream audiences.

Speaking of which, the notion of fraternization with Kanye being a defining characteristic of a career has also been detrimental to various artists that were forced to skip the maturation process and subsequently wilted due to premature exposure to wider audiences. For a case study of this phenomenon, you need only cast your mind back to the hyperbole that ensued after Kanye incorporated Desiigner’s “Panda” into TLOP’s “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 2.” After an XXL Freshman cover and the hasty release of mixtape New English that sought to capitalize on his buoyed relevance, the artist that had been touted as the heir to Future’s throne was soon hit with accusations of ‘falling off’ after 2018’s Life of Desiigner failed to deliver on that early promise.

Although his career after his association with Kanye elapsed hasn’t gained the same sort of vitriolic ire, Mr Hudson was the recipient of a similar deluge of publicity after lending his talents to tracks on both 808s & Heartbreak and Watch the Throne. Nestled in between these high-profile features, the British musician released his own debut solo album Straight No Chaser on G.O.O.D. in 2009 and it would yield a solitary hit single in the form of the Yeezy-assisted “Supernova.” Conceived after Kanye wondered whether “we can make you a popstar,” the answer appears to have been a resounding ‘no,’ and Hudson has instead carved out his own niche by writing, producing, and featuring on music for everyone from Duran Duran to Paloma Faith to JP Cooper. However, it suddenly seems as though there’s the vague possibility of a reappraisal or rekindling of their relationship after Hudson cropped up on KIDS SEE GHOSTS-closer “Cudi Montage” with some emphatic vocal work.

From this mixed bag of career trajectories that have played out in the public eye after budding young hopefuls were emblazoned with the dubious honor of ‘Kanye protégé,’ it seems clear that there is hope for 070 Shake if she can evade the trappings of this rapid ascent to prominence. While Desiigner, Consequence, and others have shown that the coveted cosign is by no means a preordained path to success, Kanye’s knack for surrounding himself with innovative artists remains undisputed – and those that utilize the platform in order to carve out their own pathway rather than resting on their laurels are entirely capable of attaining greatness. With Yellow Girl allegedly on its way this year after being somewhat recalibrated by her experience in Wyoming, only time will tell as to which of these two categories she’ll fall under after its release.

For more like this, read our take on just how ‘good’ the G.O.O.D. Music rollout has been right here.

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