Is Your Favorite Rapper Hurting You?

Hearing Paula Zahn rant inaccurately, and fairly stereotypically, about Hip-Hop on CNN these past few days (“Hip-Hop – Art or Poison?”) has been, well, depressing. It really seems there’s a generation of folks out there who can’t, or rather don’t want to, understand the difference between reflection and causation (i.e. the music isn’t the reason for the actions, the actions are the reason for the music). A lot of people argue that mainstream MCs limit their topic matter to how much money they have, violent ghetto imagery, and their supposed sexual prowess. These arguments are, in some cases, valid, but the problem is they never address the real issues going on with our music and our culture and this is because people like Paula Zahn know nothing about Hip-Hop. Zahn and her friends ridiculed current songs for their misogynistic and sometimes nihilistic content, but very few folks emulate negativity, even if it’s shown in an interesting light. Plenty of folks, however, are attempting to emulate the supposed “good life” they see in videos. The question we need to start asking is “is this emulation of supposed prosperity hurting us?”

The common excuse most commercial rappers have for their lyrics is that they’re talking about the lifestyle they’re living and they mean them not to be demeaning, but to be potentially uplifting in a “I did it, and so can you” kind of way. Of course none of this is expressed in-between the monotonous Big Willie-isms they throw at listeners line after line. So what’s the harm in some lyrics about drinking expensive champagne, riding in expensive cars and throwing some 22’s up on the whip? In all honesty, there should be nothing wrong with it. People should be smart enough to see their own realities versus what’s being pumped into their eardrums. Unfortunately, I’ve seen plenty of evidence of late that proves the listening public, whether they want to admit it or not, have become pawns to rapper’s lyrical whims.

Last year I wrote an article chastising Jay-Z for boycotting Cristal, noting that the vast majority of his audience, and the world, can’t afford the drink, making his “boycott” simply another way of getting his face in the news. Well, my story landed on quite a few well trafficked message boards and people jumped on me, saying that Jay-Z is one of the most influential people in their lives (despite none of these folks actually knowing the man) and that they all either knew, or were, people who’d save up all week just buy a bottle of Cris at the club on the weekend and live it up like Jay does. Errrr, excuse me? Jay-Z doesn’t have to save up all week to buy Cris, you do, what should this tell you? It should tell you not to buy Cris because you can’t afford it. Just because it’s in a rap song and in a video as a supposed example of “the good life” doesn’t mean you need it. In fact, if you have things like rent, car payments, child support, school, or any other real responsibility your saved money should be going to that. If you don’t have any of those responsibilities guess what, you still shouldn’t buy it because you should be saving that money so you can make future moves so that one day that bottle of Cris won’t be a week’s worth of pay, but rather one day’s worth of pay.

While people’s sheep-like nature is almost completely to blame for this it’s now up to the rappers to change the situation that they created. For the most part the big issues that stem from such lyrics are happening in the communities the MCs come from, so what can they do to fix it? There is actually a really easy solution. MCs, don’t just tell everyone you’re a baller, explain to them how you became a baller. I’m not saying go in depth about being some big time drug dealer, because 90% of ya’ll weren’t. I’m saying throw a line or two in there about saving your money, about how it doesn’t happen overnight, about how you can have a perfectly good time without all the luxuries and did have a perfectly good time without them while you were coming up. Better yet, explain to everyone how you spent more weekends working than partying to get to where you are today. Don’t just tell everyone about the party, talk to us about the long ride it took to get there.

In an each one teach one world the MCs that get the most radio airplay need to start reaching out to those they have an influence over through their lyrics. Stop talking about your own great wealth and start talking to folks about how to get a piece of their own. If people were saving up their paychecks to buy a bottle of champagne just because you mentioned it on a song clearly they’re listening. Now that you have their attention it’s time to do some good.


zebrabot said…
I agree with you Adam, I mean all you hear about is bling bling and all that nonsense. For once the rappers should convey a positive message to listeners.
sabir said…

I agree ith you in part, Adam, but I think there are much deeper issues underlying this.

The truth is, whilst there are a lot of mainstream rappers who are all too willing to espouse the formulaic rhetoric of metarialism and 'Big-Willie-isms', the fact is there are a hell of a lot of rappers out there who are trying to make something of the art form without having to do this. Just check anyone that keeps their ear to the underground, or anyone who actually has the sense to go looking for good music in places other than Billboard Chart magazines or MTV Music channels.

However, why is it that these millions of underground emcees, back-packers and Native Toungers, break-beat heads and Five Percenters, cipher-rhymers and all round Hip-Hop lovers are not being heard? Where are they? Is there ever a program dedicated to them on MTV Base (Hardly! - they're too busy re-re-running the re-re-runs of 'The Fabulous Life of Rappers' or of their 180th series of Cribs) ... are they going to appear on the cover of the Rolling Stones magazine or Time? (Yeah right!) ... the fact is, to the majority of the Hip-Hop audience (and let's face it, ever since the early 90s that's about 80% rich white folk) all this stuff is uninteresting. Therefore the only rappers who are priveliged enough to reach that platform of superstardom and wide mainstream exposure, are only allowed to do so once they conform to and fit nicely in to the Big-Corporation's way of doing things, and that is: where there is the most demand, try and aim your supply there.

In an industry which is slowly becoming more about a battle for technological and commercial supremacy than it is about artisitic superiority, it is more than expected that the big label Execs and Directors of the Board would not mind sacrificing the integrity and quality of Hip-Hop (after all, what is Hip-Hop to them other than a market research report and a big business development model?) for the ever-increasing lure of lucre?

What I always say to people is this: If you want more thoughtful or less-watered down rappers, try and get mixtapes or locate them on the internet. Don't expect billion-dollar Corporate dinosoars like MTV (who only began playing black artists VERY RELUCTANTLY, remember, after Michael Jackson's Thriller blew up and they could no longer ignore its commercial viability) to give a crap about the well-being of the culture or the integrity of the artform, because they dont.

If you ask me, anyone who is willing to argue that rappers are on the whole gearing off towards mindless materialism or hedonism with no substance, is simply looking at things from a very distorted angle. The fact is, there are loads of rappers who don't do this, but you simply won't hear about them, because the widely accepted media outlets (like MTV, which I used as my main example) which people use to keep them informed are so utterly in-tune to profit-making and risk-minimising that they just don't give a crap.

Just a thought
Admin said…
Another thought. How come no one mentions the responsibility of these artist that can't get any 'shine'.

When will people take control of what it is they feel is the problem? Mobilization is affecting change through action not talking about what we already know is going on.

Time to make forward movement. Meaning, it's time to stop having the same conversations and make ourselves heard through action. Too much complaining, not enough taking things into our own hands.

It's in the mind of the individual as well as the collective to create what we want to be. And be seen as.

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