The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Bhad Bhabie goes from Internet meme to real-life rapper, and it’s a little complicated

Bhad Bhabie (Danielle Bregoli) has turned viral fame into a recording contract.
Bhad Bhabie (Danielle Bregoli) has turned viral fame into a recording contract. (Josh Sisk for The Washington Post)

In 1990, 2 Live Crew fought the powers that were with “Banned in the U.S.A.,” a ­Springsteen-sampling paean to the First Amendment. Nearly three decades later, fellow Florid­ian rapper Bhad Bhabie paid ­tribute to Luther Campbell and ­company — whether she knew it or not — with her Bhanned in the U.S.A. Tour, stopping at ­College Park’s MilkBoy ArtHouse on Tuesday night.

Like the Crew before her, Bhad Bhabie is best known for controversy. Before she adopted her nom de rap, the now-15-year-old Danielle Bregoli found viral fame as the subject of a “Dr. Phil” segment titled “I Want to Give Up My Car-Stealing, Knife-Wielding, Twerking 13-Year-Old Daughter Who Tried to Frame Me for a Crime.” (Subtle!) Her vague threat to the audience — “cash me ousside, how bout dah” — became an enormously popular meme and was even remixed into a minor ­Billboard hit. Soon, Atlantic ­Records — the same label that signed 2 Live Crew, but also the one that signed the Walmart yodeling kid — came calling, and Bhad Bhabie was born.

On the mic, Bhabie shares the flows and fixations of her teenage contemporaries, rapping about designer labels and designer drugs over pulses of pneumatic bass and horror-score melodies. In concert, her presence outstrips her pint size, but any menace she musters on record evaporated when she opened her mouth, her squeaky voice a reminder that, yes, she is still just 15. Bhabie can count the number of her original songs on her hands, and she supplemented such fan favorites as “Gucci Flip Flops” and “These Heaux” with remixes of songs by Kodak Black and YBN Nahmir, fellow youngins that Real Hip-Hop Heads just don’t understand.

As Bhabie told the crowd, “One of my favorite things is taking someone’s song or beat and making it your own.” That kind of unapologetic appropriation — be it of a rap song, of street slang, of culture in general — has been the knock on Bregoli since Day 1. When accused of cultural appropriation, she told the Fader last year: “I just ignore it because it’s ridiculous, it really is. You cannot act a color. How I act is me.”

I don’t doubt that Bregoli believes she is being true to herself; where she’s from is more “The Florida Project” than “Pleasantville.” And I’m wary of those who would vilify a 15-year-old rather than the major label that is propping her up and capitalizing on her viral infamy. But the fact remains that Bhad Bhabie will probably have a longer, better-covered career than Asian Doll, the ­20-something rapper who opened the­­­ show, despite Asian Doll’s ­superior rapping and unique Dallas-meets-Atlanta-by-way-of-Instagram style. Bhanned in the U.S.A.? No, this is America.