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Token: White Rap's Black Sheep

White rapper Token at a photoshoot

Benjamin David Goldberg, known best by his alias Token, is a white rapper borne out of Massachusetts who has amassed a sizeable fanbase through his unique YouTube rap videos that showcase indie-styled special effects alongside energetic videography and above-average choreography. Through these videos he was able to build up a platform and fanbase which would enable him to release full-length projects independently. In 2018, Token released his second studio album “Between Somewhere” which peaked at #4 on the Billboard Hot 100. This milestone cemented Token as a topic in the same discussion around other, more revered, independent rappers such as Chance the Rapper and Russ. Part of Token’s “appeal” is his rapid-style flow with an evolving and fluid syllabic style that draws parallels from modern Eminem.

And this is where my issue with Token begins.

Token can best be summarized as a gimmicky rapper whose speedy bars deliver nothing but verbal diarrhea. Token’s approach puts a heavy emphasis on wordplay and flows that have him sporadically jumping around the beat with each verse at the cost of substance. His words are so rapid that I find myself understanding and retaining absolutely nothing that he says by the time the track is over.

While I can see the appeal in Token’s style, his corny punchlines and forgettable one-liners aren’t exactly the most quotable or relevant. Take this short bar from his Billie Eilish-inspired track “Hi Billie Eilish…”:

“The god is moving, you gotta do hallelujahs for that
My broad is Jewish, Shabbat, she give top as soon as she back”

I chose this line in particular due to its overall place in the song. On first glance, it seems like a pretty clever line with a witty reference to religion alongside the Jewish tradition of “Shabbat” (a day of rest on Saturday). My issue with this bar is that 1) The punchline passes by so quickly that most listeners won’t even comprehend what he said and 2) It has absolutely nothing to do with Billie Eilish; and you will find that most of this song doesn’t either.

-Link to Token's "Hi Billie Eilish..." song-

Another track that contains all the same flaws as “Hi Billie Eilish…” is “Hi J. Cole…” which was the first song in what is looking to become a concept Token focuses on for his next few releases; possibly culminating into a full project containing these “Hi…” songs.

While it can be argued that Token is merely paying homage to Billie’s and Cole’s songs, the lack of utilization of this “Hi…” concept in his lyrics make this feel more like a clickbait gimmick aimed at the fanbases of different artists. In fact, he says that’s what it is in his behind-the-scenes video for “Hi Billie Eilish…”.

Alongside his questionable vocals, his production choices are extremely odd. On most of Token’s tracks the beat never remains consistent, switching between entirely different instrumentals every few bars. Unlike the numerous beat-switches done for Kendrick Lamar’s “DAMN”, Token fails to intertwine separate productions meaningfully which makes his music feel unfocused and, in some cases, immersion-breaking.

Older Token tracks were much more consistent from a production standpoint which gave him a much steadier foundation to experiment with different flows without compromising the overall tones of the track. These newer mash-ups Token finds himself rapping to do not lend themselves well to the sporadic style he has created. While I don’t particularly enjoy Token’s older works either, they are much more appealing on the surface level to me than his more recent endeavors.

All of these factors culminate into what has essentially become the “white rapper stereotype”.

While race doesn’t really factor into this style of fast rapping (arguably popularized by black rap superstar Busta Rhymes), many white rappers have become synonymous with rapid flows. This may be a result of Eminem’s hit single “Rap God” that became a worldwide phenomenon for the way Em flawlessly showcases his record-shattering words per minute. Since then, more and more rappers churn out fast-paced rap songs in an attempt to capitalize on and recapture what made “Rap God” such an iconic song, including Eminem. While some of these songs have come into their own and are celebrated by different fanbases, we cannot ignore the plethora of downright awful attempts at this gimmicky style.

Eminem with sunglasses rapping Rap God in his YouTube music video
Token and many other white rappers are inspired by Eminem's hit single "Rap God".

From the range of white rappers, Token is by far the biggest culprit of this.

The thing about music is that it is a constantly evolving medium where artists need to adapt to trends and create a lane through innovation and creation. What sets Token apart from a rapper like NF, a fellow white rapper who consistently utilizes fast raps in his songs, is substance and diversification. While NF is sometimes creating rapid verses over bombastic production, he also maneuvers into slower and more introspective pieces that provide much-needed substance and a look into his mind state.

Token just strings punchlines together without really delving into himself outside of accolades and childhood trauma. The lack of effort couldn’t be more apparent, and I refuse to buy in to somebody who seemingly doesn’t respect his craft and instead views it and its consumers as bags of money.

Token can essentially be boiled down to a personification of stereotypes that surround white rappers. He is a fast rapper, who can say a lot of words but fail to make them really mean anything. He comes across as only rapping for the check. He appropriates the culture without bringing anything of significance to it.

He is mutilating the image of white rappers.

Written By: Michael Miserendino

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