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The new face of Twitter memes is a grinning dude in a leather jacket and no shirt, pointing to his head as if he’s just had a brilliant idea. He’s called Roll Safe, or #rs for short, and he’s played by actor and filmmaker Kayode Ewumi.
Roll Safe, a wannabe rapper from London, was the star of Ewumi’s popular 2015 video series “Hood Documentary.” Ewumi described R.S. to Vice as a type of guy everyone in London knows: “That guy in the hood convinced that he knows everyone and everything.”
Here’s the scene where he does the head tap that launched the meme:
“Hood Documentary” was successful at the time, and helped launch the careers of Ewumi and his co-director Tyrell Williams, but more than a year later, R.S. is having a second coming. America has discovered him and Black Twitter has made him a hot new meme. Black pop culture site Bossip is already calling it: Roll Safe is a phenomenon on the same level as #Saltbae.
So, how does the Roll Safe meme work? Basically it indicates that you’ve got a bright idea whose logic is terribly, terribly flawed. You can’t be broke if you don’t check your bank account, right?
That’s the prototypical #rollsafe, but let’s take a look at some more:
Black Twitter Roll Safe is the best Roll Safe, but now that he’s being declared the biggest meme of February, just two days into the month, he’s also on Reddit. And Reddit has depression.
Wow, that’s dark.
Of course, they’re already trying to do Roll Safe memes with different characters. Like Donald Trump.
It was posted on r/dankmemes, so it’s impossible to tell if this is ironic! Let’s just hope it is and move on to Shrek.
Communist memes have been very popular ever since Bernie Sanders broke out in the Democratic primaries last year, and now we’re starting to see some anti-Communist memes, too. Roll Safe has been pulled into this battle over the memes of production.
These examples really illustrate the difference between memes on Black Twitter and on Reddit. Black Twitter originates new memes and applies them to relatable, real-life situations. Reddit then co-opts those memes and applies them to… well, other memes.
This points to a possible cause of the much-lamented original content drought on Reddit: It’s hard to create new memes if memes are all you know. If you spend most of your time cleverly remixing existing ideas in a quest for upvotes, you’re relying on other people, who are actually living their lives, to bring fresh material into your content vacuum. The snek is eating its own tail.
Or, to phrase it in the form of a Roll Safe meme: If I keep thinking about memes all the time, I’ll never run out of ideas.
Roll Safe is the new king of memes. Long may he reign, even though “long” in meme time is about a month.
Jay Hathaway is a former senior writer who specialized in internet memes and weird online culture. He previously served as the Daily Dot’s news editor, was a staff writer at Gawker, and edited the classic websites Urlesque and Download Squad. His work has also appeared on nymag.com, suicidegirls.com, and the Morning News.