“Do you like Bhad Bhabie?”  

This is a question you’ve probably been asked, or else have asked, as the 15-year-old rapper continues her meteoric rise to fame. What started as a bit of foul-mouthed verbal sparring on Dr. Phil two years ago (time flies!) has resulted in a substantial rap career with co-signs from people like Lil Yachty, Snoop Dogg, and YG. A record deal with Atlantic has certainly helped keep the ball rolling, and the streaming and social media numbers continue to paint a favorable picture. To be sure, there are naysayers. Vulture ran a piece in September that covered the more problematic aspects of Bhad Bhabie’s artistry, namely her explicit lyrics and choices in attire. But, is the young rap artist to blame for what the culture continually asks for? The success of such maverick figures can be largely attributed to the audience that feeds into them. In other words, she says more about us than we could ever say about her.

What exactly makes people care about Bhad Bhabie? The public’s generally short attention span runs contrary to her enduring visibility, making the case that there is something about her persona that prevents people from looking away. From the beginning, she seemed like something else entirely. Her now-infamous appearance on Dr. Phil has been memed the world over (and seems to have even inspired wanna-bes -- a sure sign of success), but the initial reaction took the form of several questions, including ‘is she mocking black culture?’ and perhaps more loudly, ‘whose child is this?’ The internet ran amok with people speculating about the adolescent’s upbringing, and what might have shaped her into such a rowdy personality. Going viral is primarily about how relatable or how absurd something is, and Bhad Bhabie fell into the latter. The small white girl sounded completely otherwise, taking on the cadence of someone much older, much more gangster, and, black. Bhad Bhabie’s catchphrase, coined during her inaugural Dr. Phil episode, had the kind of plucky charm you might expect from Gary Coleman’s Arnold Jackson on Diff’rent Strokes. It made the whole world not only watch in awe (not the ‘awesome' kind of awe, either). Her volatile mouth, which oft included referring to random people as “hoes,” became her charm, her manifesto. Back when Vine was still in use, a sizable group of videos featured young children swearing and making crude declarations, usually met with a chuckling parent loosely telling them to stop. Bhad Bhabie is this scenario blown up to a near-unrecognizable magnitude, albeit with a bit of appropriation thrown into the mix.

Overtones aside, Bhabie’s combative personality could not necessarily endure on its own. Left to her own devices Bhabie probably would not have done much of anything, fading out as quickly as she arrived. It took someone with a plan (and a desire to get rich) to guide Bhabie into her own. In this case that someone was her soon-to-be manager Adam Kluger. He made a wise decision by deducing that, of all the possible avenues of fame to explore, there was a place for the teen to thrive as a rapper. The idea to make the “cash me ousside girl” into a hip-hop artist was solely his. While she was a product of internet culture, her antics seem tailored towards a hip-hop audience. Her young life was marred by fights, grand theft auto, and a reckless attitude - all topics that could establish a loose credibility on the mic. Her marketing appears deceivingly Jerry Springer-esque, but the reality is much more nuanced. The apparent lack of management - career or otherwise - is precisely what Kluger was going for. She was to “be herself online, without constraints, regardless of what was considered age-appropriate,” notes an article in The New York Times Magazine.

A viral moment has an expiration date, but a viral moment with a convincing talent has the potential to thrive (think: the Yodelling Wal-Mart boy). While the public debates whether or not she ‘should’ rap, a team of talented producers have worked tirelessly to make songs that provide ample support for her existence. Condensed, the songs sound good. It’s a hard truth for many to admit because it seems to normalize her theatrics and appropriation of the culture, but the fact remains. Even if you take away Bhabie’s lyrics, the beats speak for themselves: the trap drums and warbling bass drops sound indistinguishable from the artistry of her peers.

Bhad Bhabie draws a large majority of criticism solely on the basis that she doesn’t have much of ‘right’ to rap. She’s an adolescent white girl who capitalized on a viral moment to make a full-fledged career, seemingly catered to the people that were so awestruck to begin with. Her desire to rap was not an organic process but rather an entrepreneurial one, thus lacking in the authenticity we typically require of our hip-hop artists. Still, it remains difficult to condemn someone by how they came to be in the studio, especially when they display a level of talent once inside. Her flow is far from dreadful and the majority of her jabs are actually pretty solid, to the credit of her ghostwriter of course. However, words alone don’t make a record, so Bhabie’s ability to deliver a passable, if not, enjoyable rap performance should count for something. The personality we first saw on Dr. Phil (or “Albert Einstein” as she likes to call him) has been nothing if not consistent, another reason the public has perhaps warmed up to her rap career.

The fact of the matter is that the outrageous sells. As long as audiences continue to respond to artists like Bhad Bhabie, the music industry and calculating entrepreneurs like Adam Kluger will continue to provide them. Should she rap? Another question, then: should an entrance into the rap game be motivated solely by monetary gain over honest artistry?

Bhad Bhabie isn’t what you “expect” nor even necessarily what you want from the rap game. But if there’s anything we’ve learned about hip-hop since the internet took the reigns, it is to expect the unexpected. The entryway to becoming an MC is no longer as secure and secluded as it once was. Anyone can find their way in with the right strategy, the right timing, or the right manager. Bhad Bhabie clearly has all three working in her favor.

When asked on a February episode of Adam Grandmaison’s “No Jumper” podcast if she planned on cleaning up her image, Bhabie chuckled. “They would be like ‘oh there’s another innocent white girl,’” she said, vowing to keep her personality and artistry intact. And why change a proven formula? Streams and co-signs continue to grow with each new release, with the legitimate makings of a fanbase underneath it all. Adam Kluger made her a rapper; the audience is making her an artist.