Before notching his first three Billboard hits— “O Let’s Do It,” “No Hands” featuring Wale and Roscoe Dash, and “Grove Street Party” featuring Kebo Gotti—Waka may have seen himself as just that. To hear him tell it, his ambition wasn’t to become a rap star at all. Waka says he planned to stop making music after his first album, Flockaveli.
It’s a story often told by “hustlers” who say they're just rapping to make some quick change. But Waka’s deadly serious when he explains that his real goal was to put his best friend and protégé Slim Dunkin on and fall back into a leadership position. “That was the plan from jump,” says Waka. “Dunk had more charisma and more drive than anybody. I guess he was hungrier.”
You can’t be selling computers in your raps then talking about killing somebody and taking your girl to the movies in the same verse. You gotta stick to the script. You gotta know who you are.
When Slim started out, he had no idea how to put a rap together, so Waka showed him the ropes. “We’d be in the booth and he’d be like, ’Damn, I can’t rap. They gonna chew my ass up.’ I’d tell him, ’Nigga, they ain’t swanging harder than us. We’ll beat their ass.’ Just wild young shit like, ’Man, we’ll fuck their girl.’ Just wild shit. Man, we rapping about fighting and getting crunk. He was like, ’Fuck it, that’s all we do anyway.’ I just showed him to put it down.” They did a pair of mixtapes together, Twin Towers and Twin Towers 2: No Fly Zone and Dunkin was featured on two tracks from Waka’s debut album.
One lesson Waka imparted to Dunk was the importance of “sticking to the script.” Of not deviating away from the person you’ve presented yourself to be on record. Or, in Waka’s words: “You can’t be selling computers in your raps then talking about killing somebody and taking your girl to the movies in the same verse. You gotta stick to the script. You gotta know who you are. You gotta know what you want to deliver. We just delivered ourselves.”
But all these plans came to a screeching halt on December 15, 2011 when Slim, born Mario Hamilton, was shot and killed inside an Atlanta recording studio by another rapper named Young Vito who had grown impatient while waiting to use the studio. His friend’s death shook Waka to the core.
“I felt like that was my Christmas present,” he says. He puts the Dutch down and looks at me. “We had a crazy year and you offer that? A corpse, my nigga? Going from calling that nigga, doing shows, going to studios, going shopping, from partying to playing basketball, getting him anything—any simple thing—to none of that. That shit is over with. Like, rap? That shit was a dream we had; not that I had. That shit crazy.”
Despite—or maybe because of—the death of his best friend, Waka is now determined to succeed. If not for himself, then for Slim and for all the people on his team who depend on him to do well. But in order to succeed, the man who loves to do whatever he wants will have to concede a bit, to play the game, to leave a little of his old life behind him. Even though he says part of him wishes he could have caught Slim Dunkin’s killer himself—“He happy he in jail though. He turned himself in. That’s a smart man"—Waka says he understands the big picture.
You have to come to a realization with yourself like, ’Yo, where I wanna be? Do I want to hang in the hood? Do I want to help my n*ggas sell drugs? Do you really wanna run this corner? They gonna build a playground on some sh*t that we died honoring.
“I think as a person, you have to come to a realization with yourself like, ’Yo, where I wanna be? Do I want to hang in the hood? Do I want to help my niggas sell drugs? Do you really wanna run this corner? So when we die we ain’t nobody but some niggas that lived it. They gonna build a playground on some shit that we died honoring. That’s fucking crazy. You know how many neighborhoods I go to now, that when I was a kid them shits were wild as shit? Now them shits is tourist spots. Or fucking supermarkets. It’s like, Damn, that nigga died for that area right there? So you just a nigga representing a corner that you don’t even own.”
Throughout his career, Waka discovered something else you can’t own: A sound. Say what you will about Waka Flocka Flame—and rap critics have said a whole lot, complaining that he can’t rap, that his lyrics lack depth—but when he burst into the game, he did so in a lane he carved for himself.
Mixing the menace of trap rap with the party vibe of crunk, Waka—along with producers Southside and Lex Luger and his engineer KY—crafted a musical identity that was as easily identifiable as his iced-out Fozzy Bear chain. From “O Let’s Do It” to “Hard In The Paint,” Waka’s chest-rattling sound was unmistakable. But as any super-successful artist can you tell you, success doesn’t just breed envy—it breeds imitation.