By Luke Winkie
MuchDank found its muse in Tekashi 6ix9ine. The 22-year-old rapper, who is currently behind bars and facing in life in federal prison on racketeering and firearms charges, and in 2015 pled guilty for use of a child in a sexual performance, came with an explosive combination of ingredients. A catalogue of testy interviews with The Breakfast Club. A Gushers-dyed perm. A peppering of dadaist ink. These pointed to a desperate, uniquely millennial thirst for a very specific type of depressing viral fame. So, as Tekashi scaled the mountain, and made his enemies, and mustered a Trumpian refusal to ever back down, (even as they were hauling him off to court), MuchDank enjoyed an incredible 2019. The YouTube channel currently stands at over one million subscribers, a lot of which is built on the transformative power of making fun of 6ix9ine.
For the uninitiated, the MuchDank methodology is simple: They morph the hottest tracks in our current wave of SoundCloud rap into a lightheaded slurry, laying bare the fundamental absurdity of the bars. Here, for instance, is 6ix9ine's "BILLY," with the "RRRAH-RRRAH-RRRAH" part stretched out into apocalyptic extremes. Here is the "FEFE" video, with uncomfortably realistic ice cream sound effects dubbed over the feast. Here is that famous grilling on Hot 97's infamous Breakfast Club morning show, made even more hallucinogenic by MuchDank's careful editing. ("I LET MY NUTS HANG.") If the music industry feels particularly delirious right now, take some solace in knowing that, at the very least, MuchDank is in on the joke.
"[6ix9ine] knew to succeed at the level he is at, he needed to embody the meme he was," says one of the principle members who makes MuchDank's videos over email. (To this day, they remain completely anonymous.) "The hair, the tattoos, his humor, and the image he portrayed has made him such a memorable character and it seems that he knew this so he continued to push this to the absolute limit. And, obviously, it worked."
Two years ago, MuchDank barely existed. The channel was one of the many ghost ships bobbing around YouTube's crowded seas with a scant 27 subscribers. That changed after they became fascinated by a painfully awkward interaction between Joe Budden, then a host of Complex’s Everyday Struggle, and the Migos. The clip in question is an all-timer, especially if you're a connoisseur of obtuse rap interviews. The three of them sit on a BET Awards red carpet, shades on, full-drip, while DJ Akademiks is left lost-in-translation as he questions Takeoff about why he didn't appear on the group’s trajectory-altering hit "Bad & Boujee." (“Say again? What'd you say?”) But it touched on a fundamental truth: interviewing Migos is a hard job. That was MuchDank's eureka moment, and they got to work fleshing out a prehistoric incarnation of their craft. The MuchDank-ified version of the exchange was hilarious and weird, and 1.2 million views later, the team had a directive.
"From there we wanted to capitalize on the views and popularity that video gained by creating similar content and gradually adding our own twist with each upload," he says. "In all honesty, we think this brand of humor resonated with us because we just like stupid shit."
In the years since, MuchDank has gotten odder and more esoteric — recent highlights include this expert flip of Post Malone's "Psycho," and a tribute to Drake's instant-mantra verse on Travis Scott's "Sicko Mode" — but by and large, the success of the channel is attached at the hip with the strange arc of SoundCloud rap as a whole. We live in a world of superstars like Lil Pump, 6ix9ine, Smokepurpp, and Sheck Wes — authentic, mealy-mouthed misfits who are radically redefining what hip-hop is. As the MuchDank creator tells it, a guy like 6ix9ine clearly understood the currency in reforming oneself as a human meme, and in a world where an established star like Kanye is dressing up like a water bottle on SNL and making a regrettable, (but highly bloggable) Trump turn, it certainly feels like that nihilistic ethos has infected the rest of the culture. No one can prove definitively that "Mo Bamba's" immediately iconic "HOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOES," or "Gucci Gang's" titular brain-melting refrain were put on this Earth to be memed, but there's no way that's not part of the calculus. MuchDank is a necessary reciprocation. The sole force contextualizing the absurdity in the way it ought to be: memes in the time of Lil Xan.
"Memes follow culture, not matter how obscure that culture is. Hip-Hop is now the most-listened to genre of music. Memes are now such a big part of the internet. So it only makes sense to put these two things together," says the MuchDank creator. "Rappers are definitely starting to notice it. But it’s hard to know how many of these music memes are intentional, by the artist and label, and how many are made on social media by a random person. 6ix9ine for example, was definitely both. He was a meme, but random people also made memes based on his music, appearance & personality. That was probably the key to his success."
The MuchDank team says they never make videos to "hate on" anyone, and they've never received any explicitly negative feedback from any of the rappers they've poked fun at. (If anything, the responses have been mostly positive.) The creator tells me that one notable fan the channel has is Logic, which was a relief, because a number of MuchDank videos focus on Logic's biracial identity and "could be easily taken the wrong way." But in a recent interview Logic clarified his status: "I love MuchDank dog, I fuck with you MuchDank, you're hilarious." This was a relief for the crew. "We're pleased to hear we didn't offend him," he says. "Because that wasn't the intention."
"We try to not prey on the person but more so make the situation weird and awkward or perpetuate an existing joke," explains MuchDank further. "With the Logic video we were attempting to take the meme that Logic always talks about his race and push it to the point of absurdity. The joke was never about what Logic's race is."
In fact, the MuchDank creator tells me that occasionally they've been contacted by various labels and PR firms looking to have their artists featured in one of their videos. Generally, MuchDank declines those opportunities, but they'll sometimes accept if they think the "video they're proposing has the potential to be cool," and also because it means they won't have to worry about any copyright issues with the source material for the clip. (They also tell me that they never accept payment for any of these collaborations: "I'm not really sure why we don't. But I think a big factor is that we come from a time on YouTube when making money and 'selling out' just wasn't cool.")
It is strange to think that music industry executives would look to a meme channel — which has built an entire empire on making rappers look silly — as a way to elevate the stature of their clients, but MuchDank tells me that that's never been a concern for the label heads that reach out. "They've never straight up mentioned if they like or want their clients to be memed on," he says. "But they've never been against, so I guess that's what they're looking for."
The music industry is a fossil that's never been able to keep up with the internet; independent rappers have clearly realized this, and creators like MuchDank have stepped up to provide a madcap commentary that follows a certain demented logic in the millennium's frazzled state of being. In 2019, the only way to stay on top is to make sure you're being made fun of the most.