What Happens When a Famous Rapper Falls in Love with Your Quote
By Mik Everett
Last Monday, I woke up to something weirder than I could possibly imagine. I woke up to find that Drake had posted a quote by me on Instagram. And that he’d credited the quote to another author.
There is no Thought Catalogue article entitled “What To Do If A Famous Rapper Steals Your Quote.” There is no Buzzfeed article on how to cope with the rabid fans of a rockstar insisting that you’ve stolen from him. To the best of my knowledge, this isn’t a very common problem to have. Sure, I’ve heard of academic and artistic plagiarism before, usually involving two high-profile, Entertainment News celebrities. But I’m not a celebrity. I’ve sold, like, two hundred copies of each of my books. I live well below the poverty line. I’m a regular person who said something kinda catchy once on the internet, and lots of people liked it. And Drake liked it. I am so disconnected from that quote and the people who use it; I am simultaneously on the outside looking in on the very idea of fame, and in the very middle of it.
To be clear here, nobody broke any laws. Drake did not take credit for the quote. He attempted to cite the quote, like we all learned how to do in middle school. He just cited the wrong poet; The Instagram post Drake screen-capped had presented the quote without credit, so Drake probably assumed it belonged to the man behind the Instagram account where Drake found the quote. That poet (he goes by Mustafa) did give me appropriate credit for the quote, eventually. After Drake had re-posted the quote and attributed it to Mustafa Ahmed, I think it kinda blew up in Mustafa’s face and people started hounding him to give me credit. And he did add my name in, briefly. Then he deleted the whole post. But on the internet, that doesn’t matter. Everyone else is still attributing the quote to Mustafa. And there’s no way to fix it. Just try messaging Drake on Instagram.
On one hand, it’s not that big of a deal. The quote has been used several million times on the internet, and is rarely credited to me. On the other hand… I would really, really, really like to make a living as an author. And in our day and age, there are no more camera-shy Thomas Pynchons. To be a financially successful author is inextricable from being a famous author.
In the winter of 2011, I sat down at my laptop, got on Tumblr, and wrote out a quick exercise I’d had in my mind for a while. You can find the original text here. I entitled it “What Happens When You Fall in Love with a Writer,” because that was the sort of thing that seemed like it might explode on Tumblr. It did, by moderate measures (it currently clocks in at 35,647 notes, though that is most likely inaccurate. I’ve seen it approach 50,000 several times, only to fall back again, like unpredictable gas prices). But the final line of the essay– “If a writer falls in love with you, you can never die”– was extracted by another blogger, without credit, and it soon topped 200,000 notes. A friend in India messaged me to tell me that his co-worker had my quote pinned up on her bulletin board in their office building in Dubai. Again, modestly impressive for a nobody blogger– only I wasn’t credited. Thinking I could pick up on the sudden fame of my words, I made a Zazzle store, hoping to sell iPod cases and mugs emblazoned with the quote. A screenshot of one such product is the image that Drake, and several others, have posted on Instagram. I never made more than about $10 from product sales.
It’s not about money, and it is. Drake isn’t making money off my quote, but again, in an artist’s world, income is inextricable from fame. And I’ve somehow found myself in the position of having a quote that is a million times more famous than I am. Could it generate income for me, if that quote was tied less tenuously to my identity as an author? It’s impossible to know for sure, but I wager a yes. Many of my readers found me by searching for the author of their beloved quote on Google.
Which brings me to the next weird thing that happened. A fan messaged me on Goodreads:
Sure enough, it was apparently “news” that Drake “wants to date a writer.” Not that he used the quote of a largely unknown struggling author, mind you. That’s not news. Just the part where Drake posted something on Instagram. And it was tagged, “Almost as exciting as Amtrak’s author residency program.” (Update: A second article has since been brought to my attention. This article also attributes the quote to Mustafa Ahmed.)
On one hand: Honor. Never in a billion years did I think something I would say would be ranked on the same list as Amtrak’s writer residency program (which, admittedly, was a thing I got more excited about than I’ve been in years). On the other hand: No honor. No mention of me. The quote was referred to a a ‘popular Tumblr platitude.’ I might as well not even exist. Despite the fact that by Googling the quote, as the reader Jackie Cooper obviously did, it’s very easy to find that I am the sole author. Apparently journalism school just isn’t what it used to be.
My dad used to end every story by saying, “and the moral of this story is…” and supplying us with a lesson, whether one existed or not. Here’s one of my favorite stories: There was a famous athlete at University of Kansas when my dad attended school there. The athlete’s name was Neugent, and he was a swimmer. He had fans, and they would all carve “Neugent Bites” into the wooden desks of the lecture halls at KU. You could walk into a lecture hall with a thousand seats, and every single seat would have “Neugent Bites” etched into the desk. You could always tell the posers because they didn’t spell Neugent right.
One night, the swimmer was in a sorority house after hours. The story goes that he was in a room with several nude girls, but that’s always how stories go. They were tipped off that the house matron was on her way up the stairs, and Neugent, likely inebriated, did a toad-dive out the third-story window of the sorority house and broke his leg. My dad had a 9 a.m. lecture the next morning, and when he walked into class, every single desk was etched with “Neugent Jumps.”
My dad took a semester off to work in the salt mines (back when you could do that to pay your tuition), and when he returned, the desks had all been replaced. He never saw “Neugent Bites” on another desk again. The moral of the story is that fame is fleeting. Mr Neugent was my special-ed math teacher in high school, and his brother was my sister’s orthodontist.
I’ve learned my own lesson, inflicted Greek-gods style. Rather than turning me into a flower to stare at my own reflection forever, I’ve watched my few, trite words achieve fame and immortality, while I remain unknown, along with my numerous works on homelessness, social issues, and literature. Any number of meaningful quotes from me are largely unknown. No one talks about my poems on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs or gender identity. No one cares. That is, probably, the best karmic retribution for making trite statements about immortality for immortality’s sake. I may remain unknown, but it’s clear to me that this quote will never die.
This piece was originally posted at mikeverett.com and is reprinted here with permission.
Mik Everett is a transrealist author and poet with American Regionalist tendencies who hails from Wichita, Kansas. As an author, Everett is concerned with social activism and progressive change. She hopes that her non-fiction Memoirs of a Homeless Bookstore Owner, currently available from Unknown Press, and her upcoming novel Land of Plenty can help to galvanize that change. Everett is actively engaged in homelessness outreach and is involved in a number of other social issues, including promotion of independent literature.