Since the dawn of the new millenia few acronyms have garnered as much public support and societal scorn as YOLO. The phrase You Only Live Once, although it is more reminiscent of a daytime soap opera than urban slang, has become a calling card for the most prominent rappers in Hip Hop. The term Drake coined and Rick Ross helped popularize has dominated Facebook pages and Twitter feeds since “The Motto” hit radio waves a year ago. It started out like most trends, harmless enough before becoming the incessant white noise of a generation. Now YOLO is on public trial, accused of vehicular homicide.
Over Labor Day weekend up and coming Southern California rapper Ervin “Inkky aka Jew’elz” McKinness was in the passenger seat of a friend’s 2005 Nissan Sentra when he sent out this tweet:
Minutes later he and four of his closest friends were involved in a fiery one vehicle accident. There were no survivors. At first it was believed that Jew’elz was just another life cut tragically short due to driving while texting. However, after his sister took over his twitter account she informed followers he was a just a drunk passenger, not the one driving “drunk af…drifitng corners.” Marquell Bogan, 23, Dylan George, 20, Jonathan “J Watts” Watson, 21, JaJuan Bennett, 23, and Ervin McKinness, 21, five lives cut entirely too short. The story becomes even more tragic when his family and friends revealed these five young black males were out celebrating Jew’elz recent signing of lucrative record deal with an unidentified record label. Friends said that all of the deceased had dreams of making it big in the music industry. Those dreams are now deferred forever, YOLO.
Many in the media have used this tragedy as an opportunity to question the philosophical merits of YOLO. They have used tweets endorsing missing classes, drug use and binge drinking as reasons why the motto should be stricken from our vernacular. This is an oversimplified approach to a very complex issue. YOLO is our generation’s carpe diem. The question is what does seize the day mean? Does it mean ‘f*ck b*tches, get money’ or ‘go to school, be successful.’ It all depends on who you are talking to, it is subjective. YOLO like most things is benign possessing no positive or negative elements except what we ascribe to it. Although, it may provide a certain motivation to pursue one’s goals, whether good or bad, those goals were almost certainly there before Drake said “How ya feel, how ya feel, how ya feel?”
A good parallel would be the phrase “Don’t Waste Your Life” which was coined by Minnesota Pastor John Piper and popularized by Grammy nominated Hip-Hop artist Lecrae. The term is similar to YOLO in that it stresses the brevity of life and the desire to live with no regrets. It is drastically different in that its motivation and morality is based on Judeo-Christian values such as chastity, integrity and evangelism. Just like YOLO the phrase has been used by adherents for noble causes like feeding the homeless and ignoble purposes like bashing other religious groups.
Although, Drake has yet to issue a statement on the fatal car accident he has to be troubled by people taking his lyrical banter so seriously. Everyone remembers the bad life decision gone viral that Drake’s “Free Spirit” caused and now people are endangering their lives and others while tweeting YOLO. The one car accident that killed Jew’elz and his friends could have easily been a twenty car pile up that claimed dozens of lives.
When asked by Tim Westwood after a show in London what YOLO meant to him, Drake said, “”Rap, Hip Hop and music in general has always been about being young and feeling young and kind of feeling a little rebellious and feeling like, ‘Let’s live to the fullest.’ That’s what music has always done for me. It has caused that energy to surge through me. I think that’s all Y.O.L.O. is.” That is what YOLO is to Drake. It is ending a lucrative acting career to pursue unlikely success in the treacherous shark infested waters of the rap game. It is following your heart and fulfilling your greatest ambition, not ending your life prematurely and taking your closest friends with you. While we mourn a rising star whose light was snuffed out all too soon let us make sure to make the most of our own lives, after all you only live once. Word.