Tag Archives: inner-city

From the Hood to the Burbs; Balancing Authenticity and Success in the Rap Game

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What constitutes the failure of a rapper?  Losing all authenticity, or going bankrupt?  In an ideal hip-hop world, the two would go hand-in-hand.  Rappers who boast fake personas would lose their fan-base, record labels would drop their deals, and Rick Ross would watch the BET awards from his couch from 2013 on.  Alas, the reality is that rappers almost always have to face a choice between maintaining their integrity, or chasing money.  The only rappers we hear about have attained monetary success and dropped the authenticity that made them hungry for money in the first place; and the artists who remain devoted to their street credibility and authenticity? Well, let’s just say they’re still in the streets.

In many ways, rappers try to maintain their authenticity by swearing fierce loyalty to their “hood.”  Young Jeezy might have a crib in the suburbs now, but, his music is “for the hood.”  Peep some lines from Jeezy’s hit single “My Hood” from Thug Motivation 101:

(Chorus)“Every time I do it I do it for my hood/

Every time I do it I do it for your hood/

Every time I do it I do it for they hood/

It’s understood, I do it for the hood!” (2x)

                                                                                                                          (Verse 1) The streets love Jeez and I love ‘em back

And If I still had to work I’d front you a sack.

It’s all gravy still reach ‘em with my words

And make ‘em feel good like the first and the third.

Young Jeezy, much like Jay-Z, jumpstarted his career and gained street credibility as a successful drug dealer.  Of course, he dropped that business when he gained fame as a rapper, seeing that he no longer needed the money from such a risky business.  He was evidently a friendly guy, loved by the whole neighborhood: “The streets love jeez and I love ‘em back/and If I still had to work I’d front you a sack.”  The ‘first and the third’ in the last verse refers to the bi-weekly arrival of welfare checks, as to say that Jeezy’s rap nourishes the hood.  His verses—stories of hood ambition and drug dealing success—are his version of a government handout, making the people “feel good” with motivation in times of poverty and hunger.

Jeezy creates his own public persona, this image of him strolling the streets and handing out drugs to smiling crack-heads who stand waving to the celebrity returning home: Hey Jeezy! Nice to see you again! Keep doing it for the hood! We’re still here…thanks for the drugs!

This is all hypothetical, of course.  Young Jeezy doesn’t walk around the hood.  It’s far too dangerous after boasting about all the money he has to go strolling through areas of poverty, and rappers complain about fake friends asking for handouts just as much they as they assert their street cred.  Instead, Young Jeezy uses rap to connect with the hood from a far.

Many successful rappers establish a sort of double-life, bragging that they can afford to move out to the suburbs, but still connect to the inner-city through their music.  T.I. speaks to this double life on his hit song  “I’m Illy:” “Rarely out my element, barely out the ghetto with/ One foot out and one foot in, intelligent as fellas get.”  He keeps “one foot in” the inner-city to maintain his authenticity, but still admits that—albeit barely–he is “out” of the “ghetto.”

The rapper’s double-life makes sense: Who wouldn’t brag about being able to afford a crib in the suburbs.  Despite the ugly cookie cutter houses, the suburbs come with many amenities that white people take for granted on a daily basis.  For black men, the suburbs represent a safe haven where they aren’t being monitored on an hourly basis with police drive-bys, or being stopped and frisked for simply walking from one house to another.  Black men have spent their entire lives being racially profiled, trying to evade the mass-incarcerating justice system that pinpoints them as the prime target in the war on drugs.

The problem is, rappers could do a lot more for their neighborhoods after they gain monetary success.  T.I. had a joke of a show on MTV “Road to Redemption,” attempting to show the world that he could change lives in the inner-city, one by one.  After the show, he ended up back in jail and destroyed any image of a role model he had established prior.  Rappers could use a bit of these bountiful portions they speak of to start high-quality programs for inner-city children. Instead of claiming that their rap is even close to a substantial handout for the poverty-stricken hood, they could give back to their neighborhoods without physically returning.  Perhaps, Jeezy, you could create a center for the arts where kids could go after school to record music or make beats, as a way to keep inner-city children away from the gang violence and drug trafficking that has led so many black youth to jail or death before the age of 21.

I’m not saying that this double-life is bad for hip-hop.  But I think rappers could do a lot more to re-connect with their roots in a way that would live up to what they portray in their music.  In many ways, that would give a rapper authenticity in my eyes, and give some credibility to rappers and hip-hop as a genre to the millions of people who write it off as a calamity of guns, drugs, and violence. Yes, you can be authentic and rich, if you just put your money where your mouth is.

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Thoughts on Gun Violence, Hip-Hop, and the Hood.

In the aftermath of the tragic Newton Elementary School shooting, we are, as a nation, attempting to recover from the traumatic shock of such a terrible event.  A collective cry in favor of stricter gun control has emerged from the tears and bewilderment.  Here I am wondering why it took the death of 20 children and six teachers, and the shooter’s own mother for us to finally call for stringent gun control. We have children dying every day from gun violence in urban communities in senseless fashion.  We have a video game culture that promotes opening fire with assault weapons on crowds of oncoming humans.  Yes, we have a huge problem with gun violence in the United States, but why have we waited for an elementary school shooting to ignite urgency?

Ravaged by gang violence and crime, many of our nation’s urban neighborhoods face the tragedy of senseless murder on a daily basis. Whereas we were rocked as a nation from the Sandy Hook massacre, families in city limits face the constant fear of gun violence with no end in sight.  Chicago, for example, faced 36 homicides in the month of November, 33 of which were at the face of a gun barrel; that’s not even a high-mark statistic.  November was actually one of the safer months, with August calling in 57 bodies, 49 of them from bullets.  I’m not trying to minimize the tragedy of Sandy Hook, but there are two very different reactions to gun violence, differentiating school shootings and gang violence.  When a white man murders 20 children, we cry for gun control.  Yet, when gang violence causes over 400 black-on-black murders in Chicago, we blame black culture and hip-hop music?

And yet, the NRA and its army of second amendment disciples continue to spew their argument for liberal access to firearms. The most entertaining argument I’ve heard is, to paraphrase, “if everyone had a gun for protection, the shooter would’ve been stopped much earlier.”  Ah, so we’ve gotten to the point where we should arm elementary school teachers (and perhaps, the promising sharpshooters of the next generation) to prevent school shootings?  Certainly not.

The thing is, many of the Americans who stand against gun control are the same people who blame hip-hop music for perpetuating a culture of urban gun violence. To these people, I say listen to the music that you consistently blame to deter attention from the real problem of remarkably easy access to firearms. Then, maybe you’ll discover that we already have an relevant example of what happens when everyone has a firearm for their so-called “personal protection” in urban communities.  Clashing gangs have their members armed with weapons to protect themselves against enemy fire, but all that results is murderous crossfire.

Hip-hop doesn’t get a free pass from perpetuating inner-city violence, but it certainly shouldn’t take all the blame.  Crime didn’t come from hip-hop, but music can certainly glorify and magnify the reality of gang violence.  Rappers can also be, in a sense, reporters of crime from the streets, going along with Chuck D’s claim that hip-hop is “the Black CNN.” Just as hip-hop could take more responsibility to criticize gun violence, we could take more action as listeners.  The fact that gun violence is glorified is not a problem of hip-hop, but rather a problem of gun prevalence in urban communities.

We can continue to blame our nation’s “culture of gun-violence,” but in reality, the only action that will effectively reduce the violence is a firm set of restrictions on gun control.  Whether these guns get into the hands of young brainwashed gang members in the inner-city, or a troubled man who intends to shoot up a school of children, they are equally damaging weapons that rob innocent lives. We can continue to point fingers at hip-hop music and blame some vague problem with our nation’s gun culture, or we can take action now, and ensure that assault weapons stop hitting the streets, for the sake of innocent children in the inner-city and the suburbs.

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