X-Shai, a self-designated “Alternative” artist is relatively new to Hip Hop, but something about his new song, “Tell Me” feels very, very familiar. Almost like something we’ve all heard before. Born in Accra, Ghana, X-Shai is a recent transplant to Atlanta’s East Side. Within a year of relocating there (in 2016), he had shifted his focus away from other artistic pursuits and immediately launched into a full blown music career. Between 2017 and now, he’s amassed enough content to constitute a thorough mixtape, which is impressive considering that doesn’t leave much time for him to have struggled through any kind of a learning curve.
In “Tell Me” X-Shai presents himself as an obviously talented, highly passionate rapper, and I was immediately excited about this artist when I heard his verse begin. Then I realized something — I know this flow. I know this beat, too. The main problem with this song isn’t the rapper, who, again, is actually very talented. It’s the recognizable a flow and beat that belongs to an existing, well-known song, namely, Eminem’s “Mockingbird.” This could’ve come about as a total coincidence, of course, but it seems a little too spot-on to pass off as a randomly occurring similarity. The main problem with the verses (especially verse one) is that they are recognizably copping the flow from Eminem’s song, “Mockingbird” — even some of the rhyme schemes are the same. Either X-Shai is both an accomplished enough producer that he was able to recreate a beat in the likeness of “Mockingbird” or he’s an inexperienced beginner, making the understandable mistake of thinking he can use a type-beat which ultimately sounds too similar to the original song. Though type-beats are hardly a crime, and many mainstream artists are now admitting to using them, this song, with the flow sounding so similar to “Mockingbird” and the beat being so similar to that same song, X-Shai might have gone one step too far in taking influence from the greats.
But let’s remember one thing: X Shai is a new artist, and we all mimic the greats before we can manage to find ourselves as artists, before we have our own sense of identity in our music and our own sound that feels authentically something we have some ownership of. In terms of copping Eminem’s flow, that may have been something we could overlook. Flow can be one of those creative hurdles for many new artists, still inexperienced at the process of making a hip hop song. And when it comes to the idea of mirroring flows, especially with respect to those flows that are recognizably belonging to some other known-artists, I still am not entirely sure it even should be taboo to mirror another rapper’s flow from time to time.
I think it definitely can be bad form to copy a flow, but it really needs to be judged on a case-by-case basis. Also, it’s just an inevitability that there will be similar beats which will just happen to co-exist at the same time, and it’s conceivable that two artists might find the same type of flow when using a similar type of beat. There’s no conclusive evidence here that X Shai’s song was deliberately ripping off Eminem’s song, and if he did borrow Eminem’s flow, for an artist still finding his own voice, I am willing to call that sort of thing forgivable. I suspect it happens in hip hop more than we think, and maybe we should re-think whether or not this is really “wrong” — though I am hardly one to be the judge of that. That said, copping the flow of one of the greats should NOT be done arbitrarily, and certainly never as an attempt to piggyback off the hard work or success of someone else, just to get out of having to work at the creative process for yourself. The fact that the beat X-Shai’s verses are rapped to is also recognizably similar to “Mockingbird” isn’t helping anything. Copping the flow from “Mockingbird” was a choice I personally could be ok with, but having a similar sounding beat to go with it is bordering on a bad look.
Only time will tell, but personally, I suspect X-Shai will one day emerge a truly-original artist, with his own distinct style and voice. As with any artist, though, he has come in to his own, in his own way, in his own time. He has a lot of talent and shows a lot of talent. X-Shai need to spend a little more time in the come-up, but, when it comes to waiting on the development of an artist who has great talent and who shows real promise (and who can handle one of Eminem’s flows) — for that — hip hop is always willing to wait.