Personally, I think one of the best parts about Halloween is dressing up in costumes. I know some dread it while others go all out. But, I feel like our costume choices often unlock a hidden side of our personality. Sometimes, these traits are ones that we want to showcase more but have difficulty doing so on our own. Other times, we just want the opportunity to dress in ways that may not regularly be deemed societally acceptable. I think my costumes always spoke volumes about who I was at that moment in my life. Ever since I was little, my outfits had to be pretty. Even if I was dressed as a vampire, she had to be a vampire princess. As I grew older, I wanted outfits that could be sexy but still fashion-forward. The pretty princesses slowly transformed into the Morticia’s. But the one thing that remained the same was that I’ve always picked costumes that I either resonate with or resemble physically. I’m the same way when I cosplay for conventions. I’m not comfortable in wigs or completely masking myself; I always want to shine through. In Hip-Hop, artists have created their own costumes through alter-egos and characters. Sometimes the personas come in the form of different pitches or outlandish clothing. The subject matter of the songs may even differ from what they typically release. A few rappers feel so passionately that they officially release music under these pseudonyms. No matter how the characters are unleashed into the world of music, they represent something. They allow artists to show the range of their abilities while revealing different depths to their personalities, often even revealing a more vulnerable, intimate side to them.
Eminem is quite synonymous with his alter ego, Slim Shady. He used the persona to showcase his more comedic lyricism, re-introducing the character in his song, “The Real Slim Shady.” Within the first verse, he jokes about his race in addition to other sensitive topics, including domestic violence. He beats the listener to the punch by reacting to his own controversial lyrics, recognizing that he tends to piss people off with his crass and outlandish subject matter. In doing so, it shows that Slim loves to get a rise out of his listeners. He then employs the song to defend his reputation and how he’s constantly the target of criticism when other artists are far more inappropriate. Ironically enough, his vulgar and immature lyrics both prove and contradict his points as he discusses sex and how the media feeds it to our children while blaming artists like himself, juxtaposing these same ridiculous lyrics with the backlash he faces. In doing so, he comments on how absurd it is to assume that children don’t know about sex when the media hypersexualizes everything. He also remarks on the idea that sex is completely human and natural, but the wisdom only lasts so long as he offsets every logical lyric with something twice as bizarre. Slim Shady also acts as a villain to the entertainment industry, allowing Eminem to utilize his alter-ego to reflect on his distaste for it. Through Slim Shady, Eminem can be as controversial and disrespectful as possible for the sake of building up this character; the more exaggerated each line is, the more appealing and entertaining Slim Shady is to his audience. While Eminem has been the face of criticism, using Slim Shady was the perfect way to separate the art from the artist to rap without any repercussions.
Eminem also features Slim Shady with the queen of characters, Nicki Minaj. On “Roman’s Revenge,” Nicki unleashes one of her many personas, Roman Zolanski, who’s a young child that seems to get himself into trouble when around Slim. Throughout the song, Nicki uses violent and aggressive diction paired with Busta Rhymes’ iconic line, “rah rah, like a dungeon dragon,” to paint Roman out to be a chaotic monster who’ll take down anyone in his way. Slim Shady follows suit and adopts her tone while maintaining his controversial, aggressive lyrics to express just how psychotic Slim can be when in the right company. By the third and fourth verses, both Roman and Slim have had enough disrespect from those around them in the rap game and are ready to take action. They outline their plans for revenge while reinstating their power, conjuring up fear in all those listening. Nicki then uses the outro to portray another character, Roman’s mother, Martha, to remind listeners that this is all theatrics. While Nicki’s sentiments may ring true, this song is quite different from her usual style, especially the rest of the songs from Pink Friday. With that being said, it allows her to channel her frustration and aggression in a way that remains on-brand for her. By adding Martha in as an additional character, Nicki gets to the dynamics of her artistry while still building up the character development of both Roman and Slim Shady. By reprimanding them with such urgency and fear, Martha shows just how much these two characters have lost it. Interestingly enough, with artists as dynamic as Nicki Minaj and Eminem, we view these characters less as completely separate people, and more as extensions of their personalities.
“Stan” displays a different character penned by Eminem; one that’s more relevant today than ever as it’s become the official name for internet super-fans. While he may be just as mentally disturbed as Slim Shady, there’s nothing humorous about him. If anything, he’s quite horrifying. Eminem rapped “Stan” from the point of view of two different characters: himself, and a fan named Stan. He created Stan as a response to the terrifying fan mail Eminem was receiving due to his crazed portrayal of Slim Shady. People were taking his lyrics a bit too much to heart, and it was inspiring disturbing behavior. The first verse already starts off on an alarming note as Stan resembles an obsessive significant other, wondering why Slim “still ain’t callin.” He explains how he left multiple ways to get in contact but tries to brush it off as logistical errors. His tone shifts as it becomes more well-acquainted, referring to Eminem’s family as if he knows them personally while conversing with an absent Eminem about his own. While he starts to mirror Slim Shady’s aggressions towards women, his first letter ends on an endearing note as he sings Eminem’s praise, reminding us all of the times that we tried to get a celebrity’s attention because we admired them so much. By the second verse, Stan starts to get frustrated with his attempts to reach the rapper. He mentions conversing with him outside of multiple shows, upset that he was getting let down by his favorite artist. He continues his second note to explain how he relates to Eminem’s music so much because of a similar upbringing. However, the tone starts to darken as he mentions having his name tattooed across his chest and self-harming in vivid detail. He even expresses how his adoration surpasses that of his significant other, causing rifts in his relationship while pushing his conversation at Eminem over the edge. By the next letter, things take a turn for the worst. Stan’s now angry and drunk, threatening to kill himself while directing the blame solely at Eminem. At the same time, Stan’s attempting to kill his girlfriend, taking notes from Slim Shady’s lyrics in the song “Bonnie and Clyde”, while demonstrating an example of how detrimental art can be when taken literally or out of context. The last verse comes from Eminem’s perspective as he finally reaches back out to Stan, addressing his complaints and expressing his concerns. He wanted to help him and knew that a response would, but upon realizing he saw Stan’s demise on the news, came to realize just how fucked up he was. It also reiterates that Slim Shady was a character all along, humanizing Eminem by showing his empathy. The back and forth demonstrated just how much weight we put on celebrities while idolizing them to the point of forgetting that they’re real people, forcing them into situations like this.
Rappers also release music under official pseudonyms, causing a bit of confusion as to who these new artists are and where they emerged from. One such artist who created quite the stir was Flying Lotus. FlyLo had produced a song titled “Between Friends,” which was later featured on an artist named Captain Murphy’s mixtape, Duality. However, the song first appeared on an Adult Swim program, picking up attention and directing it towards the mysterious Captain Murphy. The mixtape included eerie cult footage and not much else, making it extremely difficult to put an identity behind Captain Murphy, causing speculation around artists like Tyler, The Creator. Upon releasing the project, Captain Murphy performed in California for the first time, hiding his true identity with a cloak. By the end of the show, he removed it to reveal none other than Flying Lotus, making his debut as a rapper while surprising the audience.
Similarly, Madlib created the personality Quasimoto when he put together a personal beat tape for an intimate group of friends in California in the ’90s. When Madlib decided to finally rap over his own music, he pitched his voice up to mask his voice that he wasn’t fond of, giving birth to Quasimoto, also known as Lord Quas. The character, which was inspired by the red-masked Oms from Fantastic Planet, typically takes on a devilish role as you hear him conversing with Madlib throughout tracks, urging him to get into trouble. He first introduced his chaotic nature in his debut album, Unseen, and in tracks such as “Bad Character,” listeners can get an insight into just what type of antagonist Lord Quas is. Like a true villain, he mentions smacking people with bricks, “sniffin’ paint laced,” and “[havin’] ya slavin’ in [his] dungeon.” He reemphasizes that he’s bad-natured by default, reiterating throughout the hook that “no matter what [he] do, [he’s] labeled as a bad character.” In the title track, “The Unseen,” Madlib uses a play on words to rap about how Quasimoto is the unseen extension of himself, using the mythical creature to represent underground artists in a mainstream industry. He refers to Madlib throughout the song, asking him to “change the beat up” as if they’re two completely different entities. One of my favorite Quasimoto lines comes from the track “Greenery,” which was featured in the 2005 album, The Further Adventures of Lord Quas. In the song, Madlib switches between his own voice, his pitched up Quasimoto voice, and several samples as the different ‘characters’ go through the motions of buying and smoking weed. While purchasing the herb, Quasimoto asks for “an ounce of that shit/[to] half that shit with Madlib,” essentially referring to himself as his smoking partner, ensuring that he’s not technically splitting it with anyone; it’s all for him. As someone who prefers smoking weed by themselves, the wordplay was absolutely hilarious. The dialogue between Quasimoto and Madlib not only reflects his internal conversations but brings them to life for listeners to fully digest the realm of his imagination.
Another dark example is the release of Tupac’s posthumous album, Tha Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory, which was the only album released under his alias, Makaveli. While in prison, Tupac familiarized himself with Nicolas Machiavelli’s The Prince, a book that detailed the Italian diplomat’s political ideology. The album featured outspoken lyrics about Tupac’s multiple battles while using Machiavelli’s strategies to lay out the blueprints. However, given the timing of the release and his eerie subject matter, including predicting his death, the album raised a lot of questions. One of the most chilling was the correlation between Machiavelli’s idea to fake one’s own death to fool their enemies, and the speculations surrounding Tupac’s passing and if he ever really died.
Impressively enough, Mac Miller created his mixtape, Delusional Thomas, about his darker alter-ego, while using his producer alias, Larry Fisherman. His introduction track, “Larry,” creates the outline for the mixtape, utilizing a creepy pitched-up voice and terrifying sound bites to build a mortifying scene, one that contrasts heavily with the music Mac Miller was releasing at the time. He opens the song with the line, “I’m sicker than a biohazard psychopathic murderer,” creating a psychotic character that seems more aligned with artists like Tyler, the Creator or Eminem. His controversial lyrics like “tattoos of baby Jesus burned in my foreskin” appear to be extremely out of character for the rapper, but as the song progresses and he references tragic issues that plagued his life like drug use and depression, we see an unfortunate parallel to his later music. He referred to Delusional Thomas as another part of his mind, and while the lyrics tend to be hyperbole, those very themes seemed to become even more prevalent in his life as he got older and started incorporating these ideas into the music he was releasing as himself. In his song, “The Star Room,” he alternates between his two voices, and it’s especially difficult to watch the music video that accompanies it. When we hear these alter-egos, it’s easier to think of them as made-up characters. But to see them come to life and consume a person, revealing them to be their truer self, is really really difficult.
J Cole took an interesting approach when introducing his second self; because of his albums including KOD, you may remember a common phrase that revolved around it. ‘Platinum with no features.’ This was Cole’s third studio album technically with no features, which caused a bit of confusion because of one featured name listed. That name was kiLL edward, which was included on the track, “The Cut Off.” It didn’t take long for listeners to recognize the uncanny resemblance between Cole’s flow and kiLL edward’s, so once it became common knowledge that it was in fact J Cole, it was agreed that the album featured no additional artists. Edward was the name of J Cole’s abusive step-father, so the sentiment of ‘kill Edward’ is fairly justifiable. This character didn’t necessarily act as a catalyst for Cole, but more so as his rival. He embodied everything that Cole didn’t want to be, so in a song that discussed cutting off those who harmed a person’s progress and growth, kiLL edward takes on the role of an addict, using unhealthy substances to stay afloat. In the chorus, the alter-ego repeats the lines, “gimme drink, gimme smoke, get me high, let me float. I’m a cloud, comin’ down, put me down, gentle now.” This path of destruction contradicts Cole’s lines as he raps his verse with strength and determination, using his success and ambition as revenge towards those who did him wrong, including his step-father. Whether they used him or hurt him, they were not going to see the fruits of his labor. So while kiLL edward tries to tempt him into falling into behaviors that would get in the way of that end goal, he overcomes the obstacle and keeps the end game in sight. I think it’s a really cool way to highlight how your past tribulations can be your biggest motivators, using that pain to want something better for yourself.
One of the most creative characters in this post is attributed to the late, great MF DOOM. And what better way to celebrate the artist on DOOMSDAY. MF Doom’s alter ego goes by the name of Viktor Vaughn and is the scientific mastermind of every comic book/Hip-Hop lover’s dream. The name is inspired by the Fantastic Four arch-nemesis Victor Von Doom, also known as Dr. Doom. Viktor Vaughn gave MF DOOM the space to have fun with new-school styles while maintaining his exceptional lyricism, embracing his character by transporting himself back in time. By incorporating Dr. Doom’s love for science and technology, MF DOOM created levels for the teenage genius, helping him to fit in with younger generations while still standing out through his maturity and intelligence. Viktor Vaughn first made his arrival on his debut album, Vaudeville Villain, using the title track to fully introduce himself. “Vaudeville Villain” gives Viktor Vaughn the perfect comic-book character entrance with his flow, theatrically listing out how he fights those around the neighborhood and always gets his cash. He’s lost among these new artists, but it doesn’t make him weak; his clever lines and witty instincts will always put him at the top no matter who his opponent is. In Viktor’s second volume, Venomous Villain, “Viktormizer” describes him as “college educate; medical school specialized in psycho mental disorders, brilliant mind, smart!” While most of the characters mentioned throughout this post were similarly in touch with different aspects of the psyche, Viktor was seen as exceptional. He was a genius. He was the main character. He may have been the villain, but he was a damn good one. The rest of the introduction plays out like the panels of a comic book as MF DOOM reenacts exactly how Viktor meets some of his enemies, building mystery as he has a sense of anonymous notoriety. MF DOOM truly embraces the dichotomy of superhero/villain and their normal identity, using that to illustrate his alter ego.
“Like, Viktor, he supposed to be like a younger cat. Like, maybe a sophomore in high school type shit. So, his whole attitude has to be different. He’s like, more spontaneous, spunky, you know what I’m saying? He got little funny stuff to say here and there. It’s more from a younger guys perspective. I had to really get into character. It wasn’t that hard, though. It’s just a matter of remembering how it was back then at that time and just capturing that in lyrics.”MF DOOM♥
Halloween gives us the chance to embrace all of the different characters we’ve ever wanted to be. Whether they’re suppressed and hidden desires, childhood icons, aesthetic dreams, or just the truest forms of ourselves, it’s the chance to explore other sides of who we are and who we can be. Alter egos allow us to free parts of our minds that we don’t normally feel comfortable unleashing in the world. This Halloween, embrace yours and be who you want to be.♥
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