Internet Money is shaping up the future by relishing in right now. (ABOVE: Don Toliver in the music video for ‘Lemonade.’)
Everything one both does, and will ever do, in the year 2021 is predicated upon either money, the internet (which was invented by Deandre “Soulja Boy” Way), or the “internet money” amalgam of each component. Twitter rants, Chrome extensions, Zoom Meetings, the emails that most of those Zoom meetings should have been, Amazon splurges, Desktop Computers…internet. Stock Market orthodoxy, nine-to-fives, side hustles, stimulus checks, virtualized office gigs…money. Bitcoin, NFT, Elon Musk himself, Dogecoin, Blockchain, Bitfarms, Silvergate…internet money. America is money. Modernity is the internet. American modernity equals internet money.
It’s a wave that was, beyond merely capitalized upon, epitomized by the ascent of the “Internet Money” hip-hop record label that took on its very namesake in 2016. As of today, after being founded by Taz Taylor as a grassroots production faction five years back, Internet Money exists as a nation-spanning project in right now-ism that markets itself simultaneously as a label and a collective – which, boasting acts ranging from Lil Tecca, to Future, to Trippie Redd, to TyFontaine, to A Boogie Wit da Hoodie, to Swae Lee, allows its ambiguity in the ranks of each category dabbled in to be overwhelmingly made up for by its relevance.
The experiment that is Internet Money cannot have ever worked if it had not been for the marketability of the now. (“Now” actually doesn’t exist – by the time “now” comes out of your mouth, whatever “now” used to be is long gone – but we shall get into that in due time). Whereas it is widely arguable that the eternity of hip-hop – or contemporary music in general – is one that is firmly rooted in whatever time period the artifact in question was produced, one of the most lucrative discoveries of pop has been the operation of sound as an agent of time travel: in hip-hop’s 90s East Coast renaissance, for instance, as much as the music may have lived in 1990something, the essence was distilled from inadvertent nostalgia born into black culturati decades prior. Such dynamics were traceably the footprint of samplage. The late New York City MC Big L’s 1995 single ‘No Endz No Skinz,’ in one case, was a swagged-out warble that directly addressed gold-digger grievances synonymous with what was quickly becoming hip hop’s novelty. The sample, in contrast, was taken straight from a sentimental 1975 jazz jam off of an even more sentimental Louis Bellson Drum Sessions record. Even more so, Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo’s lone 2003 Neptunes joint album The Neptunes Present… Clones was born into, straightforwardly, that very year in and of itself. But still, at their “creative, commercial, and financial peak,” as Rollie Pemberton put it for Pitchfork that August, they successfully built an entire brand upon predicting the future through use of production to act like it was already here – and because their predictions came in the form of influence, most of them inevitably came true.
Given such an inherent timelessness attributed to music writ large – where the zeitgeist seems to be strictly either past-construed or future-oriented – Internet Money’s most immense benefactor, along with its most immense crutch, is that it chooses eleven times out of ten to not only remain in the present, but typify it to a point where a consumer’s rekindled intuition for the now is exactly what makes Internet Money music more tangible than most. Time travel is metaphysical. Because of the role it has learned to play in widespread production, all music conceived post-technology boom is hereditarily complex; the collective mind of the listener has been conditioned to understand its musical intake through a lens that looks at modernity as a backdrop, and all that lies before and after it as the natural foreground of the cultural canvas. To be fed production that speaks exclusively from the vantage point of present-day, is to once and for all dabble one’s feet in the waters of vanity after eons spent indulging in it entirely via reflections. Why take technology and time-travel to pleasures that existed eons either ago or ahead, when the same science is capable of constructing identical paradises specifically for the time we’re living in? Internet Money ditches the time machine altogether. Just like the American modernity it embodies on several levels, it recognizes that there is no room for worrying about the transcendent, when all it will do, at the end of the day, is transcend us.
It is Internet Money’s present-centered take on the world that makes its output a secret code almost solely decipherable to those young – or trap-oriented – enough to understand it completely. For anyone whose first experiences with hip-hop music conjured scenes of sitting awestruck on living room couches, head in hands, with Illmatic or The 18th Letter blasting through cheap overhead headphones, Internet Money cannot make any sense whatsoever because it lacks the sole through-line (the past) that has ever made any catalog worth something substantial on a cerebral scale. The generation that grew up, albeit, on the concept that rap could be just as much, if not more, braggadocious than conscious – whether that idea was founded by hyper-expensive designer wardrobes, raucous festival outings, or the mere fact that there wasn’t really anything worth comparing to whatever was hot – is able to understand Internet Money’s right now gospel because right now has veritably always been the structural reference point.
The only substantial artifact such a theory can be addressed through is the Internet Money Collective’s first and only full-length studio offering, B4 The Storm (2020). Elementally, the record is made up of throwaways by several of the artists on its extensive roster – Wiz Khalifa, 24KGoldn, and The Kid Laroi being namely examples – but still, much to any predictable effect had they been released via their individual discographies, the tracks register as individual dips in the oldhead-forbidden lake of materialistic musicality. Nowadays, they only rap about cars, girls, and money!! It becomes easy for one to hear their old Uncle Cartwright making his gripes known more and more vigorously as the album trudges onward. What happened to the REAL music!? The boom-bap! The HEART! The SOUL! You telling me this really makes y’all feel something???”
With the same immediacy it takes for Uncle Cartwright to smell his Fourth of July frankfurters burning on the grill beneath him and rush to scrape them from the grates, B4 The Storm seems to both charge the atmosphere and leave it wondering what may have happened 48 minutes afterward. It isn’t necessarily as much about substance as it is about swag: if the album were a political candidate, it would absolutely blow it on the debate stage against a conscious-rap contender of Uncle Cartwright’s liking – but, hey – you can bet your bottom dollar that it would look fly as hell en route to its historic defeat. Both the album and its maker prioritize immediacy over perfection. If the latter is the language modernity speaks, Internet Money asks, why go through a translator when you could brag-rap through the trouble in much shorter time?
‘Lost Me,’ the lavish third track on the LP, can be argued to be an ideal illustration of the latter solely off of the roster that contributes to it (iann dior, Lil Skies, Lil Mosey). Lil Mosey himself has been mantled time and time again with the cloak of not being taken seriously. It is easy for one to weigh his deficiencies over his multi-millionaire talent – he was embarrassingly out-rapped by Megan Thee Stallion during his XXL Freshman Cypher freestyle two years ago; his skin color isn’t doing him any favors for Uncle Cartwright’s generation of old school hip-hop Bible thumpers – but, still, the numbers do not lie – his 2018 debut Northsbest birthed a double platinum single, he forged his own acclaimed music festival off of its very namesake, and as of 2020, his net worth is reported to be three million dollars. (Lathan “Lil Mosey” Echols is 19 years old). His youth, in conjunction with his anti-seriousness vantage point, inadvertently epitomizes the careless ethos that both he himself and Internet Money writ large stand for. There is no concern worth fielding about the outside world when one is iced out. Clout is the goal. Success simply comes with it. “When I hopped up in that Wraith, that’s when you lost me,” he snarls in the track’s opening line. The song is effervescent and bubbly, boastful 808s booming beneath equally boastful teenage bars. When I first blew up, that’s when you lost me…New chain, don’t care what it cost me, yeah…Blew up in your face, you looking salty…Got your main on my line, I left her calling!! Much to the evangelism of Internet Money’s gospel, Lil Mosey could not care less about how many jokes he happens to be the butt of. But Lathan “Lil Mosey” Echols himself does not speak in his raps – his money does. And just the same, citizens themselves do not speak in American modernity – the money does. In both spheres, whether we like it or not, there is no choice but to obey the direction things are going in. Internet Money, whether literal or figurative, wins on every roll of the dice.
In similar fashion, ‘Lemonade’ amassed over six-hundred seventy million streams on Spotify, along with platinum RIAA Certification, en route to becoming the collective’s most popular song to date. It epitomizes on several fronts the untouchable area of life from which Internet Money Records seeks to reach its base. Writing about the single for Stereogum in 2020, the music critic Chris Deville called its multi-layered guitar instrumental a “fine canvas for (Don) Toliver’s impassioned chorus about getting head from college girls and tripping on codeine.” And, as bluntly put as it may be, the assessment is very much kosher: Gunna, Don Toliver, and Nav – 27, 26, and 31 respectively – frankly do not care about the crippling responsibilities of adulthood, as much as they do the endless pleasures of youth. Pre-Internet Money cultural revolution, music was, merely, a distraction from the former; time travelling to the past or future via sound never did change the fact that one still had to return to their dull reality after the melodies faded out. In true Internet Money audacity, conversely, the preachers of “Lemonade” have the guts to assert that youthful fun is not strictly limited to a sense of temporal elusiveness. The luxury can last for as long as you want it to. And it is all a matter of being simplistic enough to realize that you are allowed to put the clunky time machine aside.
Although the namesake of “Lemonade” was not chosen in reference to his groundbreaking rap startup, its music video was directed by the prolific 24 year-old Lyrical Lemonade founder Cole Bennett. “Online,” Deville mused about ‘Lemonade’’s crux in the aforementioned Stereogum article, “attention is the most valuable currency of all. So Internet Money, the production and promotional collective with the #1 song on Spotify’s domestic chart right now (in this case, October 19, 2020), is aptly named.” Even without truthfully being a core component of Internet Money as neither a record label nor a collective, Cole Bennett lives as one of the most dynamic living embodiments of such a hyper-modern construct. Before it was an international hip-hop staple, his Lyrical Lemonade was a high school blog founded upon the skeleton of Q&As and performance reviews. When Bennett’s mother gifted him a camera, yet, it quickly morphed into a more vigorously video-based operation – now featuring extensive documentaries, commissioned music videos, and increasingly pervasive short films – which, shortly thereafter, would lead Bennett to willingly drop out of college in pursuit of doing adjacent work full-time.
The onslaught of careers launched by the initiative since that point speaks entirely to the American modernity Internet Money welds into the business of music. Prior to 2017, perhaps most notably, Lil Pump was exactly what he exists as today (a drugged out clout-driven jester whose faux-earned swagger far exceeds the talent tucked beneath it), albeit less popular. One viral Lyrical Lemonade-directed music video for ‘D Rose’ (2018) later, and he was thrust into the epicenter of the middle-to-high school playground rap zeitgeist. (One can argue that Pump’s later cult hit ‘Gucci Gang’ better fits the description of Career Landmark than ‘D Rose’ does – regardless, as of today, respectively, the individual videos have 1 Billion, and 200 Million views on Youtube).
Just the same, the late emo rap landmark MC Jarad “Juice WRLD” Higgins could have likely been solely defined by an addiction-or-death determinism that loomed over drug-ridden stories similar to his own (he started drinking lean as a freshman in middle school). Whereas decades-long grinds to the tops of musical mountains have often been the most routinely drawn out escapes to such fates, yet, Higgins found his ascent to pioneer stature virtually overnight: after the independent release of his 2017 EP Nothings Different, Bennett featured the single ‘All Girls Are the Same’ on Lyrical Lemonade, soon going on to direct its accompanying music video (which has amassed 212 Million Youtube views as of today). Less than a month after ‘All Girls Are the Same’’s video touched the internet, Interscope Records signed Higgins to a deal worth $3 million, and a Lil Yachty remix was previewed. Since his death in 2019, Juice Wrld’s net worth has ballooned by over 60 percent of what it was at the time of his signing.
The longstanding argument against a “microwave society” becomes unavoidably two-sided. Microwave society grievances were coined, and are often shoved down young throats, by the Uncle Cartwright generational archetype; since the turn of the Century and Y2K gave symbolic birth to a tech dawn that would soon make old-school primitivism obsolete, the gripe from those unwilling to assimilate has been that rapid supply has stupefied the demander. And by many means, even from youthful perspectives, such sentiments have begun to ring true. As rapid-fire social justice infographics made Instagram a haven for efficient digital activism over a summer’s worth of tension and protests, many users complained that it also allowed the work to stop at the screen, with tangible labor being replaced by story reposts and well-intentioned hashtags. With an increasingly critical spotlight being placed on big-name corporations like Amazon over the past year, too, the costs of rapidity have found themselves steadily scrutinized on a human scale. “Convenience is a perk of modern life and it is also a curse,” the New York Magazine journalist Sarah Jones wrote in a recent essay about COVID-era demand spikes. “Someone has to pay for speed, and it will either be the customer or the worker. Amazon, like most companies, decided to shift the cost to workers.” She went on to refer to an anecdote in which one Amazon worker, Darryl Richardson, was forced to urinate in a bottle in order to ship orders on tight timing. “They aren’t health-care workers, struggling to save lives from a deadly pandemic; they’re shipping toiletries and home goods. How badly do any of us need a pack of shaving gel tomorrow?”
But there is, of course, another side to the matter that is seldom as passionately argued as the alternative: what if quixotic convenience is good after all? In the same breath in which it forces an Amazon worker to defecate on the road, it may shorten a once-deadly wait for medical facilities poised to prolong hundreds of lives at once. The same exact moment that someone is getting fired for a robot, identical technology is spawning into an enterprise that may put money into their pockets years down the road. And – whether Uncle Cartwright wants to admit it or not – at the same time that a teenager is detached from hip-hop’s conscious roots, a young rapper who would have died undiscovered in the ghetto twenty years ago is going big overnight.
Of course, it is difficult to seriously weigh the drastic long term detriments of prioritized quickness – worker abuse, tech dependency, job market shrinkage – against an entire side of the dynamic that predicates itself upon things that people once waited for without complaint. Yet, with acts like Internet Money, the music industry unsuspectingly becomes the single most convincing breadth of any argument in favor of materialism. Status that took your favorite rapper decades to obtain can be your own in a matter of hours. You don’t need to be featured on a late night television talk show to gain America as your audience. Your wifi is more vital to your success than your talent is.
In many ways, the music industry models the corporate infrastructure of American Modernity. Music has long joined forces with the very technology that threatened to make it obsolete. With developments like NFTs, cryptocurrency exploits, and elements as simple as video calling gradually storming the limelight, America as a joint entity is beginning to do the same.
As technology in both the music industry and the job market looks to make the past less and less of a voice in the conversation of pertinence, each sphere finds itself stuck between present and future. Which is to be prioritized over the other: Maximizing the present while it’s here? Or inventing a future that we’ll want to live in when we get to it?
The present, Internet Money strangely exhibits by living in it, does not exist. Yes, the collective thrives in the right now more than they will ever seek to look towards tomorrow – but if, by the time you can finish saying the word “now,” it has already passed, what value did it ever hold? By building an entire culture off of exaggerated immediacy, on-demand luxury, and seemingly eternal youth, the Internet Money Record label-slash-faction goes several lengths in proving that there is no such thing as time if you’re enjoying it. In the year 2021, every single United States citizen is consumed by one of three things: the internet, money, or internet money. Modernity is the internet. America is money. American modernity is internet money – but, whether you look at it from a societal or musical lens, it is far too busy having fun for it to realize that it isn’t going to last forever.