Waka Flocka Flame Goes Boom
From Atlanta hustle to Paris bustle, hip-hop's unlikeliest star tests his ballistic bark on international turf. Will he make it through the fire?
Still, despite all these difficulties, Waka’s appeal, both in his music and as a person, is his gentle charisma, playful sense of humor, and sweet heart. The latter quality might not be what one imagines when he raps, “Suck my dragon balls, bitch, call me Goku” like he wants to rip somebody’s heart out with his teeth on “Wild Boy,” the breakout hit for rangy white rapper Machine Gun Kelly. But as the fans on the streets of Paris learned, Southern hospitality is ingrained in Waka. Says the producer South Side: “They can say whatever they want to say about my boy, but you’re going to love him. He’ll make you love him. Make you love who he is. He can say the stupidest shit, but it’s because it’s him…” Waka’s magnetism trumps all.
Back in Paris, Waka Flocka Flame is returning to his lo-fi beginnings as a rapper — sort of. A trash can has been overturned in a corner of an opulent but Euro-intimate hotel room, acting as a mic stand; three high-grade pillows have been stuffed along the wall for soundproofing. A white Parisian dude sits next to his production rig, running Pro Tools off a Mac, while three of his friends mill around, offering advice and, at one point, conspiring to wrap a shower cap over a smoke detector so that blunts may be puffed unencumbered.
The day before, Waka linked up with the Paris-and-London-based producers Special Delivery — who have worked with dancehall stars like Gappy Ranks and Mavado — and decided he wanted to record some mixtape tracks with them to increase his street buzz in Europe. So here we are, Waka wearing his Ray-Bans indoors, face pressed to the mic, cutting verse after verse, ad-lib after ad-lib, re-listening to each take. It’s fascinating to see him work this way — so meticulous about properly sounding out the word “Squaaaaaad!” — doing a live cut and paste, freestyling lyrics, then reworking the lines.
“I’m educated,” he says confidently. “I get the right feel, quality. But I rap so Ebonics, it’s like, Ay, where you at, bruh? Ay, you know where I’m at, bruh! Whaass hannenin’? And you’ll be like, how the hell do you spell all that Ebonics shit? Fuck it, I don’t even wanna spell it, because I’ma feel stupid writing it down.”
He also doesn’t need to: Waka works so quickly and efficiently he puts down full verses for three tracks in as many hours. Kanye’s supposed to call later, presumably so Waka can meet him in a much more posh studio than Suite 408 of the Renaissance Paris Vendome. But when the Special Delivery crew suggest that Waka cut a video for the freestyle he just recorded on a song by French rapper Booba (“Repose en Paix” or “Rest in Peace”), he’s down.
Yet, for all this global networking, Waka still longs for his relatively docile life back home in Atlanta: He’s now a family man who shares a sprawling estate with his seven-year-old “stepdaughter” Charlie and his beautiful girlfriend, Tammy. He says Tammy’s mad at him because he dropped $2,400 on Rosetta Stone (the French, Spanish, and British English editions), but hasn’t used them yet — “Shout out to Rosetta Stone,” he ad-libs comically. He beams over photographs of Charlie perched on his shoulders, then explains how having her in his life has changed him.
“I can’t be in a video slappin’ a stripper no more,” he says. “She might see it and say, ‘If Daddy thinks it’s okay…'” And while the coat-check girls at the club were enamored with him, he had no further interest. “I just like to flirt,” he says. “It sells.”
After the hotel-room recording session — and an interlude where Waka calls random fans on Skype, resulting in girls squealing and hanging up when they see his face peering out of their computer screens — we’re in a slate-black, Euro-issue Audi, blasting “Repose en Paix” through the Paris streets. One of the Special Delivery dudes leans out the backseat window with a camera and gets some incredibly cool shots of Waka in the front passenger seat, rapping into his Brick Squad Monopoly chain like it’s a cellphone, as a Citroën pulls up alongside to check out the scene.
The Eiffel Tower is our destination — its daily sparkling light show at midnight will look dope in a street video — but when we arrive, video concerns are secondary to Waka’s need to take iPhone pics of himself standing in front of the Tower, not noticing that a gaggle of fans nearby are also taking photos of him.
He’s got his Ray-Bans on, a Brick Squad Monopoly bandana around his head, and a fresh-out-the-box polo tee on his back. As he looks heavenward, his energy shifts from work mode to that of a gaping tourist, staring up at one of the wonders of the modern world.
Clicking flicks of himself, cheesing in front of the tower, he marvels simply: “Man, a lotta people can’t say they seen this.”
This story was originally published in the May/June 2012 issue of SPIN. You can buy this issue now!