Last week I wrote a long piece on how, due to the current musical climate 50 Cent can no longer achieve the type of mainstream success he enjoyed in his 2003 – 2006 heyday. 50 initially had a big hand in making street credibility an important factor for approval from an audience wider than core Hip-Hop fans, but those mainstream fans eventually grew out of their impressionable kid phase, and losing that section of the market cost him dearly.
After 2006, street credibility, showcasing your real life character on record and authenticity in general started to matter less and less in Hip-Hop music. The most epitomous signifyer of this development took place in 2008, when the rapper Rick Ross was exposed to have worked as a correctional officer in a Florida prison, yet continued to shrug off the undeniable evidence, stating that he was really the Miami drug lord he claimed to be on his songs. Despite the ‘scandal’ being all over the media, Rick Ross never had to pay for his lies with floundering record sales. This would have never flew in the ‘90s, of course. Most grown up Hip-Hop fans at the time knew that a few N.W.A. members weren’t as gangsta as their image suggested them to be, but they were from the streets and not outright lying. But when female gangsta rapper Bo$$ was revealed to come from a middle to upper class family and attended private school, she was practically shoo’ed out of the industry. And until at least 2005, Rick Ross’ (paraphrased) claims of “I was never a prison guard, I’m really a drug kingpin – lock me up feds!” in the face of evidence suggesting otherwise would have seen him exiting the stage as well.
So why did we once expect rappers to truly portray who they are in the content of their songs? Fans of other music genres never did that; nobody thought Nick Cave actually killed all those women he sung about in his songs. And nobody objected when Alice Cooper dressed all dapper in his private time on the golf courts instead of wearing make-up and organising real-life guillotine executions. You know, I gladly defend Hip-Hop and its artists against the often badly informed, ignorant, preconceived notions of those who care very little for it, but I’ll have to admit here that more often than not, it’s rappers’ own fault. Sometimes, other fans excuse those faking the funk with the actor argument, but DeNiro and Pacino never claimed in promotional interviews that they’re about that life. Hip-Hop originates from the streets and the gangsta persona fits very nicely in the self-aggrandizing, competitive nature of the music, so rappers very often will keep up their portrayal outside of the music and the videos. One of the few exceptions I can think of is Todd Shaw who has always clearly maintained that his Too $hort pimping persona is just that: a character meant to entertain the listener.
“This ain’t no gangsta rap, how many motherfuckin’ gangstas rap?” – Sean Price off the song P Body
Now why am I, a European who grew up in a safe, middle class environment even hammering on authenticity and why do I insist that it should still matter in Hip-Hop? Other than that I love Hip-Hop music and that I personally find it very hard to listen to artists that lie and never snap out of the role they portray, it would be a great way to weed out the majority of Hip-Hop with forced violent content and keep only the artists that lived – and thus know – what they rhyme about. Veteran artists with a legit street rep like Freddie Foxxx and Cormega don’t even want to rhyme about all that street shit most of the time, anyway. M.O.P.’s Billy Danze is sick of violence in Hip-Hop, and it’s difficult to disagree with him. At the very least, rap songs with violent content aren’t helping to put out the flames in U.S. urban warzones like Chicago.
The majority of gangsta rappers aren’t gangsters. In a now deleted interview on YouTube, uploaded in 2007, Uncle Murda said that you don’t have to be a gangsta to be rapping. He continued, saying that he didn’t want everyone to spit that thug shit and that if you’re a pussy who gets punched in his face all day, you should rap about that, instead. Comically exaggerated, of course (or is it?), but it all stresses the importance of ‘regular guy rap’ as a counterpart to gangsta rap. And that, dear readers, is what one of my future articles will be about.