Danielle Bregoli’s leap from meme to rapper continues with her debut mixtape that leans heavily on mimicry and trails dreadfully behind the current sound of hip-hop.
When Danielle Bregoli went viral as the “Cash Me Outside” girl in early 2017, few people expected, much less wanted her to stick around. Memes, by their nature, are supposed to be disposable. But music executive Adam Kluger saw a way to capitalize on the widespread attention surrounding the unruly Floridian teenager, even if she had more haters than fans. He took on the role of Bregoli’s manager with a vision. “The initial idea was to brand her,” he says in an interview with The New York Times. “To take this villain—relentless, crazy-attitude kid—and just brand her as this supervillain.”
In August 2017, Bregoli uploaded her debut single, “These Heaux,” as the rapper Bhad Bhabie. And with it, Bregoli became the youngest female rap artist to break the Billboard 100 chart. Only a few days later, she inked a multi-album recording deal with major label Atlantic Records. Kluger’s strategy had worked. As a meme, Bregoli’s prickly personality was easy to dismiss—people loved to make a punchline out of the 13-year-old white girl who flirted with delinquency and said that she got her accent from “the streets.” But everything that made her so cringe-worthy on “Dr. Phil” actually made her a more marketable rapper. On “These Heaux,” her loud, confrontational personality translates seamlessly into a no-fucks-given rap persona, as she fires off bars about “dick-riding” hoes. It’s a tale as old as the American music industry: Labels are quick to pour money into white artists because they’ll be more “palatable” for a mainstream white audience. Bhad Bhabie gets to be a supervillain: she’s bad and is celebrated for it. She gets to leave Boynton Beach, Florida, put a down payment on her own house, and pay off mom’s mortgage. Meanwhile, black girls with brash attitudes and big mouths don’t get viral off of “Dr. Phil”—and they certainly don’t get million-dollar record deals.
On 15, her first mixtape as Bhad Bhabie, Bregoli doesn’t show much versatility past her well-established tough-girl character. She’s successful in imitating the sound of today’s rap hits; most of the songs on 15 come across like they’re specifically engineered to be placed onto Spotify’s “RapCaviar” playlist. The beats are glossy “type beats” programmed by no-names to sound exactly like something prominent producers Tay Keith and Metro Boomin would make. And through her major-label resources, established rappers like YG and Lil Yachty are paid to bolster Bregoli’s credibility, while buzz-worthy up-and-comers like Dallas’ Asian Doll, Atlanta’s Lil Baby, and Miami duo City Girls make it seem like she’s hip by association. And Ty Dolla $ign, the most on-demand crooner of 2018, contributes another one of his magical hooks on the syrupy R&B tune “Trust Me.” The resulting tracks are catchy but formulaic, trailing behind the current sound of hip-hop.
She raps like how she talks, with a ridiculous accent that’s informed from AAVE, her South Florida upbringing, and her Brooklyn-raised mom. On the Lil Yachty-featuring “Gucci Flip Flops,” Bregoli cranks up her theatrical “blaccent.” “Fuck it, hit your bitch in my socks/This a big watch, diamonds drippin’ off of the clock,” she drawls, overemphasizing each consonant and morphing vowels like she’s trying to lap peanut butter off the roof of her mouth. Her unconventional pronunciation is the most interesting thing about the song. But it’s not so much a testament to her originality, as it is an extension of her knack for imitation.
In her essay “Who Really Owns the ‘Blaccent,’” critic Lauren Michele Jackson suggests that blaccents used in comedy (like Awkwafina’s Peik Lin in Crazy Rich Asians or Ilana Glazer’s “Yas Kween” in “Broad City”) is not so much an “evocation of blackness” as it is other factors like “power, imperialism, commerce, the digital age.” She asserts, “There are blaccents built from blaccents, but maybe not from blackness itself.” The same could be said for Bregoli’s delivery, which isn’t interesting simply because she necessarily sounds black. It’s notable because it’s a mimicry and exaggeration of what she thinks a rapper, a hood rat, or a bad bitch would sound like. She intensifies her accent for performances and switches it off for interviews. But in terms of rap technique, Bregoli doesn’t have much to offer besides borrowed flows.
In a refreshing moment of vulnerability, Bregoli finally gets real about her life in the nearly seven-minute closing track, “Bhad Bhabie Story.” It recalls a more quiet section of the original “Cash Me Outside” interview, where Dr. Phil asks Bregoli about her father Ira Peskowitz, a deputy sheriff for the Palm Beach Police Department who left her and her mom when Bregoli was only 2 years old. Bregoli fires back one-word answers, avoiding eye contact with a steely gaze and pretending like she’s unaffected by the questions. But when Dr. Phil asks, “Does he have another family?” Bregoli’s eyebrows scrunch together and she nods without a word, looking like she’s fighting back tears. She finally illustrates her current relationship with her dad in the opening lines of “Bhad Bhabie Story” as she raps: “Reached out to my dad/We met at the mall on some other shit/Pissed off by his tattoos ’cause they had the names of his other kids/Like fuck me, I don’t exist?” It’s one of the rare instances on 15 that she reveals that she has real emotions underneath her hard exterior—and it’s fascinating.
Looking further into Danielle Bregoli’s story, it becomes more clear why she acts like she’s invincible. On top of the estranged relationship with her father, Bregoli’s mom Barbara Ann was diagnosed with cancer in 2007. Bregoli was only 4 years old when she started helping take care of her mom. Although Barbara Ann is in remission now, the cancer came back several times throughout the years. “I think the second time I had it she was 11, and she was real mad,” Barbara Ann says in an interview with Dazed. “To be honest with you, that’s when all the craziness started.” The hostile, loud-mouth Bhad Bhabie is like protective armor for Danielle Bregoli, a teenage girl who’s been hurt, dejected, and had to grow up fast. But 15 only offers glimpses of the real Bregoli, while the Bhad Bhabie on display is one-dimensional, painfully predictable, and derivative of what a rapper is expected to be like.
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