“Niggas always wanna hate. ‘Oh, he ain’t writin his s**t. Oh, he ain’t recordin’ it. Oh, he ain’t alive.’ So the FUCK WHAT? Haters always gotta down someone tryna do something with his afterlife,” Nathan Smith, manager of legally dead rapper MC Bern, says passionately.
While Smith ranted, Bern sat slumped in a nearby chair with a dead expression, dead.
That’s the default for Bern, a legally dead artist whose newest album, Top 5 Dead Not Alive, is quickly rising on iTunes. The hysteria around the Atlanta artist, who died in December from an overdose of codeine and promethazine, has reached a fever pitch that far eclipsed his career when he was alive.
“What he’s doing is amazing. It’s like Pac’s posthumous career on steroids,” says Blake Hayes of Complex. “Here’s a guy that’s a marder of the lean movement, and his team is like. He’s dead, but he’s still here. He’s still touring, still recording. It’s a genius paradox.”
His management team constructed the idea when they gave the rapper a unique funeral that had him sitting on a table, purportedly writing rhymes.
“I got the idea lookin at him, I’m like damn. I can’t go back to the hood. What if we just kept it rockin’? Would the fans call bulls**t?”
Smith shocked the audience at a Lil Bern memorial concert by bringing his corpse onstage. He notes that fans were initially mortified and ran out of the club, but once the drums from his Lex Luger-produced “Ballin’ In My Afterlife” track dropped, the fans returned and danced feverishly, screaming “RIP!”
“I knew right then and there we had something,” he said while packing Bern in the specially made tourbus freezer to preserve his body.
Since his death, Bern has “released” three mixtapes, though few of the songs have any of his vocals on them. They’re recorded by someone with a distinctly different voice and lyrical style than that of the nasal Bern, but the fans don’t mind. He received a huge spike in voting for the XXL Freshman list, even though Smith morbidly notes, “my man ain’t the freshest no more.”
Bern even received Donkey of the Day from The Breakfast Club’s Charlamagne for “stinkin’ up the studio” during his interview.
Despite the missteps that come with being a decomposing body, music journalists say his story is one-of-a-kind.
New York Times writer Lance Hunt recently queried, “Who really sets the benchmark for what alive or dead is? Are scientists and coroners overrulers of divine force? Declaring someone’s life ‘over’ is a purely presumptuous and reductionist action of a bully so mired in the chasm of capitalism that they’re eager to rid the playing field at the first absence of pulse. Bern has bucked the system. Bern is giving a middle finger to biology and proving we’re entering a post-death world.”
It’s for that reason that conspiracy-throwing critics are less thrilled with Bern. One Youtuber said he promotes a “problematic idea of being rewarded for nihilism.” Other claims that he’s a part of an unsubstantiated “zombie agenda” and “the first rapper to be his own blood sacrifice.”
At a recent show in New York, the crowd rocked as they song along with a recording of Bern’s latest “Woke War track.” As the fans poured out of Webster Hall, one dashiki-clad white woman said he was a “revolutionary,” claiming “I feel his spirit. He’s literally an ancestor but still rockin’ with us.”