I remember the days when the big beefs were settled in a crazy violent and bloody way. The days when 2Pac and Biggie’s insults actually got people killed. In those days, rappers were going to jail for serious crimes, crazy drug charges and all kinds of assaults. Everyone was doing time, and everyone’s albums were selling like hotcakes.
I mean think about it. Snoop Dogg, now one of the mellowest and most commercial dudes you’ll meet was a member of the Crips, was charged (and acquitted) as an accessory in someone’s murder. Pac had been shot before he was murdered. Biggie used to sling rock.
But my how things have changed. With rappers today, the level of animosity is lower, and thankfully so is the level of violence. I mean, 50 Cent grew up with some grit, and is the closest thing to a gangster in the game today. But even he is now more into reality TV and vitamin water than in any sort of revenge. And yes, I am happy about that.
The news is still full of rappers getting in trouble for all kinds of things. Only now it’s just as often for tax evasion as it is for dope possession. It’s an interesting new world we live in. Take these two recent stories for example. Lil’ Wayne and Kanye West, two of the biggest names in the game today have been getting up to no good.
Pitchfork, the venerable mainstay of indy music culture has run a few stories lately on the legal trouble of these wunderkinds. We’ll start with Lil’ Wayne.
Kanye, on the other hand, has again shown his badassness by breaking the cameras of some paparazzi at the LA airport back in September. Ooooh. And yes, he’s doing time. Hard time. Community Service time. Honestly, I wouldn’t dare beef with this kid anymore. Not if he’s going to break my camera or my iPod generic mp3 player. Though really, how scared can you be of a guy who routinely posts about fashion he finds cool? Now, I’m not entirely hating on him, I have mad respect for anyone who isn’t afraid to embrace what the love. It’s just hard to compare a guy like that to classic rappers. I mean just take a look:
At least Lil’ Wayne manned up a bit. This kid just got arrested on charges of gun possession. That’s a throwback to old days, but Wayne never intended to use it. He just got caught with it after the cops raided his bus because it smelled like weed. That has to be a little bit of a burn.
Even worse, he’s just gotten sued for not having paid a guy for providing what Pitchfork has called “generic mafioso interlude dialogue”. Basically, Wayne hired a guy to make random mafia-like statements in an Italian accent, then hasn’t paid him yet. Gangsta.
In all seriousness, despite how much I like to rag on these guys, I’m kind of glad to see the game change in this way. It’s good to see the lighter side of hip hop and that these people don’t always have to take themselves so seriously. And I abhor violence at all costs. It’s just fascinating to me to see how much the power structure of the game has changed. It used to be that guys like Pac and Biggie would run the streets and make decisions.
Now it’s the suits and the bling and the fashion. It’s duets with Lady Gaga and interruptions on MTV. This for sure is not one of those “hip hop is dead” posts, because as 4080 has repeatedly shown, it’s alive and thriving in a million unexpected places. There’s tons of dope music being put out, some even by the very same corporate rappers that I’ve been hating on. But one thing that is true, the very nature of the struggle is different. It’s not to be heard, it’s to get paid. Your street cred comes from the endorsement deals and fashion you inspire, not from getting down and dirty in the streets.
[Update: Apparently NPR had this same idea for a story, but came to a different conclusion. This is what they say:
If you listen to Lil Waynes music, you believe he was campaigning for a prison conviction, and he got elected. What do fans say? MTV says fans think Lil Waynes time behind bars wont hurt his career. Of course, not. Its the fans themselves that encouraged these federally-funded vacations. It seems rappers who ram about the streets in criminal activity feel the need to have prison sentences on their rap resume. Think 50 Cents to T.I., Beanie Siegel to Gucci Mane, its as though rappers are interviewing for the possession of reenlisting rap, and fans make the choice. And theyre less impressed by a rappers ability to simply recite provocative rants. Oh, it says here you spent three years at San Quentin Correctional Facility for a weapons possession. Welcome aboard.
Quite frankly, that’s bullshit. I think that most fans these days, especially of rappers like Lil Wayne, don’t expect him to be gangster or to have that traditional rep. Maybe someone like 50 in his early days, who was building his credibility on a gritty life story, but not Lil Wayne.
Its time to remove these mandatory requirements from a rappers resume. We need to stop encouraging and validating the lawlessness. Stop buying the albums. And as far as rappers excusing themselves as musical actors of sorts, just playing characters, Im calling cut.
Again, people are buying Wayne’s albums regardless of if he’s in jail or not. Why? I’m not sure. But they are. Perhaps I’m just being jaded, but I simply don’t see this as boosting his career in the same way that a duet with Lady Gaga does. That just shows how far the game has hanged.]