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DO YOU NEED TO BE REAL TO BE REAL?

slim

Slim Jesus spreading his gospel

kayu

Ready to die?

Recently (and unfortunately), I found myself watching Hip-Hop journalist DJ Vlad’s interview of ‘Slim Jesus’, a 19-year-old, white rapper from suburban Ohio.  Slim Jesus has recently experienced a jolt of success from his half-tempo, ode to gun-wagging called ‘Drill Time’ and the accompanying video which features him and his buddies pointing lasered-up glocks and techs toward their cameraman.  On ‘Drill Time’, Slim, who some have mockingly compared to the cartoon character ‘Caillou’, brags incessantly about his vast collection of firearms and a gleeful willingness to use them before delivering his final line:

Ain’t afraid to catch a body and skip out from state to state/
and if there’s a witness, I’mma kill ’em too and I’mma beat the case

Now, there’s really nothing new or shocking about a song like ‘Drill Time’ and one could comfortably make the argument that Slim Jesus’s brand of tough-talk has become passé in Hip-Hop culture; I wouldn’t disagree.  But, I did find one thing particularly refreshing about Slim Jesus which brings me back to the interview I referenced above.  When DJ Vlad quizzed him about street credentials, Slim happily admitted that he had absolutely no connection to crime.  In fact, SJ laughed off the idea of being involved in street work as “Stupid” saying, “I make music and I’m not out here doing some dumb shit trying to ruin what I got goin'”.  When asked why he rapped about guns and murder, Slim unashamedly and inarticulately leveled with his interviewer, “That shit is dope.  If i rapped about driving around in a car and listening to country music, no one would give a fuck about that shit.  I make music about shit that sounds cool”.

Of course, the notoriety of ‘Drill Time’ and Slim Jesus’s admitted lack of street credibility quickly led to a backlash from so-called, ‘real’ street artists like ‘Lil’ Mouse’, ‘Chief Keef’ and, most famously, ‘The Game’ who kindly expressed a fear for ‘Slim’s’ safety lamenting, “Lives can be lost playing those games, be careful Slim Jesus”.  In one sense, I can completely understand any negative reaction caused by a fully fabricated ‘Gangsta’ act and, particularly, the resentment felt by folks who actually endure the dangers of a criminal life.  On the other hand, am I to believe that most ‘Gangsta’ rappers actually live out the lyrics in their songs?  And the bigger question, should they?

cube

Like, totally dude

I, for one, would never expect a celebrity entertainer to be anything like the image they cultivate for the media so, for me, Slim Jesus doesn’t seem any different than, say, Ice Cube, the self-professed ‘Don’ of Gangsta Rap, who, as far as I know, grew up in a relatively stable, middle-class home and has no criminal record to back up his claim of being a ‘Natural Born Killa’.  Speaking of which, his rapping partner on the aforementioned track, ‘Dr. Dre’, is unarguably the sonic architect of modern Gangsta Rap but, unless I’m mistaken, Dre works that angle from what appears to be a fairly safe distance having had little trouble with the law outside of charges which stemmed from beating up a female TV personality and failing to pay child support bills.  Both Cube and Dre, core members of NWA (the Gangsta Beatles), once bragged about having “Started this gangsta shit” (the song was called ‘Hello’) and while they make a good argument, what they conjured up seems to have been a product of their imagination rather than their experience.

Now, this point is not intended to be a criticism.  I wouldn’t dare expect any sensible human being to commit violent crimes for financial gain while living in the most affluent and opportunity-laden nation in the history of the world.  Statistically speaking, active gang members have an 80% probability of going to prison and a 50% chance of being killed on the job which seriously impairs recording sessions for a follow-up album.  And as far as that ‘hustlin’, ‘grindin’ and ‘paper-chasin’ goes, studies show that, in America, a typical drug dealer nets less per week than those who work minimum-wage jobs*.  With such high risk and so little reward, only a short-sided, uneducated or ignorant individual would launch him or herself into a life of extreme danger which offers very few prospects of success; Rap stars come across as far too astute for that.  Considering the perils involved with true ‘Gangsterism’, it seems a much, much, much wiser (and American) idea to create and promote a romanticized image of street life which can then be marketed to consumers who are hungry for vivid portrayals of hyper-violence and raunchy macho hubris, than to actually launch oneself into a ghetto suicide mission.  But that’s just me.

rick ross

Officer Ross

the game

Don’t stop, get it-get it!

I, for one, can separate fantasy from reality and, quite frankly, I enjoy doing so.  It seems pretty obvious, John Wayne wasn’t a cowboy, Hulk Hogan wasn’t a world champion, Arnold Schwarzenegger wasn’t a terminator and i don’t expect any rappers to seriously be warlords or crack kings, even if that’s how they present themselves when promoting their various products.  From what I understand, Rick Ross, who portrays himself as a high-level, gang-affiliated mobster, was once a clean-shaven prison guard (keeping gangsters off the street) while ‘The Game’ used to work ‘the pole’ as an exotic dancer (i wonder if women made it rain on him?) before developing his own Rap identity.  All of this is inconsequential to a listener like me because i’m simply a music fan who’s not terribly interested in the personal background of any artist.  But logical thinking aside, it does seem as though there’s an increasing expectation for today’s Hip-Hop stars to back up their blood-soaked words with real life action despite the apparent absurdity of this concept.

To be fair, some Hip-hop personas have done the time.  Bobby Shmurda, Cold 187um from ‘Above the Law’ (ironic band name) and multiple members of ‘Black Mafia Family’ have all been locked up for drug trafficking and other violent crime.  Back in 2005, Gucci Mane shot and killed an attacker who broke into his home while old-school legend Cool C is currently serving a life sentence for murdering a police officer during a botched bank robbery attempt.  In the early 2000’s, 50 Cent became hugely famous for, among other things, having been shot multiple times by a street rival, a detail that served as a credible asset to his brand.  All that down, I would argue that these cases are the exception rather than the norm and, for the most part, even the gangsterist of MC’s wholeheartedly hope to avoid trading in their tight, designer jeans for an ill-fitting orange jumpsuit.  Unfortunately, very few rappers will admit that.

i'll be back

“Sarah Connor doesn’t even write her own rhymes”

The lack of clarity and straightforwardness I’m identifying is due largely to Hip-Hop culture’s inability to be honest with its fan-base and, to be fair, the fan-base’s desire to play along with the insane premise i’m describing.  To go back to the example a few paragraphs above, I would argue that if any of us had ever witnessed John Wayne arriving at a nightclub, we wouldn’t have expected him to tie up his horse at the front door.  If we came across Hulk Hogan enjoying a polite dinner with Rowdy Roddy Piper, it wouldn’t have been a massive surprise.  When Arnold was running for governor of California, none of his political opponents accused him of being a cyborg.  I’m overstating the point to express that, in any other artistic medium, this kind of stuff is fairly obvious but Hip-Hop generally tip-toes on a line between fantasy and reality attempting to maintain lucrative, entertainment business interests without losing its supposed reputation for being ‘real’, which it obviously is not.

In order to accomplish this insane duality, rappers and their PR machines employ various tactics, here are a few:

1. HE USED TO BE REAL
Whether it’s Jay-Z or Ice-T, many Rap artists spend entire careers detailing the exploits of their glorious, checkered criminal pasts.  This approach allows the star to maintain a dangerous, street image as they, at the very same time, pursue mainstream, Pop music audiences with the help of global corporate partners and publicity agencies.  To me, this strategy calls to mind an old euphemism about the memories of aging, former athletes, “The older I get, the better I was”.  An appropriately charismatic rapper can reminisce about his street prominence and criminal prowess without being involved in any current illegal activity which is good for keeping up a touring schedule and working the talk-show circuit.  And even if the former kingpin doesn’t have a documented jail record, this only goes to prove how slick of an underworld mastermind he really was.  Genius.

2. HIS FRIENDS ARE REAL
It would truly be impossible to recount the number of Rap Music videos which focus on a lip-syncing vocalist surrounded by his crew of head-nodding ruffians mad-dogging your screen.  Having a scary entourage by one’s side is a great way to come across as ominous without having to do any of the heavy lifting; a gangster by proxy if you will.  Amidst treacherous company, a rapper can vicariously participate in (and take credit for) the vague, criminal accomplishments of his or her posse while avoiding all the nasty ramifications of the penal system.  I imagine that some of the downsides to this strategy involve payroll costs and various difficulties regarding guest-list spots and VIP passes.

pac

2Pac learning to act at Baltimore School for the Arts

3. NOW HE’S REAL
This is the most absurd and potential hazardous technique for appearing ‘real’ made famous by the late Tupac Shakur.  When being rich and famous isn’t enough, certain Gangsta rappers decide to re-brand themselves as actual gangsters and take drastic steps to validate their new, tough-guy calling card.  This approach consists of, among other things, acquiring an updated wardrobe (tattoos apply), making a whole lot of dangerous friends (see strategy 2) and, most importantly, overcoming your former ‘safe’ image by actually committing violent acts, getting in trouble with the law and, eventually, being shot.  This, of course, is risky business best left to the professional, fake thugs.

One possibly disastrous result of claiming to be any one of the Gangsta archetypes (former, affiliated, newly or actual) is the potential need to prove one’s reputation, especially when its validity is questioned by a contemporary.  Such pressure has resulted in the death or incarceration of more than one Hip-Hop star which is ironic considering that some of those who died (2Pac, Notorious B.I.G.) did so defending or maintaining their ‘realness’ when, in truth, they weren’t associated with any serious street crime.  Other internationally known famous Rap stars (Lil’ Wayne, T.I., Ja Rule) have been locked up for carrying illegal guns to defend themselves against perceived threats from actual criminals while they themselves pursued a career which entailed acting like a criminal.

While all of this seems to some of us, tragically laughable, in all truth, it honestly is.

nwa

MC Ren was a huge hockey fan

Returning to the topic of NWA, the ‘World’s Most Dangerous Group’s’ recent Bio-Pic may have sold the story of Cube, Dre, Ren and Eazy (who cares about Yella) as a historic triumph of young, Black revolutionaries who’s controversial discourse shed light on a disenfranchised community, but anybody with half a brain under their Compton hat knows that, from the get-go, ‘Niggaz With Attitudes’ was all about exploitation. Those of us who grew up in the NWA generation may have justified listening to the group’s incredibly well-produced and creatively written songs about raping prostitutes and shooting random bystanders by quoting an odd social inequality message from their lyrics but, in our hearts, we knew we wanted salaciousness and rebellion, not enlightenment.  At the time, Gangsta Hip-Hop was novel and, for the most part, a guilty pleasure in a generally healthy Rap diet so it didn’t seem so bad to indulge in a little ‘EFIL4ZAGGIN’ now and again.  But as time went on, that dish became the only item on the menu which, in the end, says something about who we are as people.

I’m sad to observe that, when it comes to modern Hip-Hop culture, we’re living in some kind of ‘Bizarro’ world where falseness is ‘real’ and obvious truths are disregarded.  Again, the majority of people who will read this piece are residing in some of the most prosperous societies that have ever existed yet we, somehow, find ourselves celebrating third-worldesque corruption, violence and racketeering delivered in the form of childishly profane Pop songs performed by showbiz personalities with gangster facades.  In the end, we have only ourselves to blame because, as Hip-Hop fans, we facilitated this nonsensical silliness with our purchase power and unhealthy attraction to antisocial dysfunction.  What makes us really bad is the fact that we’ve invested in this musical death-cycle from the comfort of our relatively safe neighborhoods from which we, at the very same time, indifferently view news reports about rising inner-city murder-rates and the disintegration of Black families.  Those of us old enough to remember the early days of Gangsta Rap may fondly recall a time when this style of music was new and artistically interesting thus, arguably, less offensive and, possibly, more compelling but let’s be truthful, we are the ones who really “Started this gangsta shit” and now we’ve got to live with it.

*Details about the statistics sited above appear in the classic ‘Freakanomics’ by Stephen J. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt; a must read for jerks like me

Posted on by andycooper in Uncategorized

5 Responses to DO YOU NEED TO BE REAL TO BE REAL?

  1. Sergio Vasquez aka The Ghost of Guantanamo Bay

    Great read. I like how you mentioned the 2pac and how in reality he got caught up in the hype. I’m from Lynwood and it is sad that kids in the 90’s, at the peak of Gangsta era, followed the trend and ruined their lives. Overall it’s pop culture and it people actually make it an actual lifestyle. Thanks.

  2. Gavin Rewell

    Great piece of writing Andy. Well done.

  3. Nate

    Good piece Andy. Not to nitpick, but Steady-B was an accomplice to the murder. It was Cool-C who pulled the trigger.

  4. Eric Schmidt

    Upsetting that a fake thug like Slim Jesus can stir up 11+ million views on a single video through their stupidity while so many dedicated and talented artists are left out of sight.

    At least we know that the reason these types of artists lean on the gangsta vibe is because they simply have nothing else to offer.

    Excellent read by the way, you are a very good writer. Been a fan of you and UD for years, so I am glad you put your thoughts on these things up!

    Best wishes,
    Eric

  5. P-Money

    Remember when ‘Pac used to be a backing dancer, singing soprano hooks on Digital Underground cuts?

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