For The Culture
Digital Drivebys: When the Streets Go Social
The gangster persona has existed in rap for decades. Often, the most successful MC’s have presented images of shootouts, flocks of beautiful women, near death experiences and drug deals gone bad. On the surface, there’s nothing wrong with this. Despite the content making some uncomfortable (to say the least), many rappers are providing listeners the journal of their personal journeys. Where they started, the path from that point, and how they plan to finish. Many of these rags-to-riches tales are meant to serve as some kind of inspiration for those still in the struggle; to let them know that despite their current circumstances, there are ways to escape the madness; that there are new realities that don’t include death before the age of 21. While one may not appreciate the imagery, they can still appreciate the greater message. But what happens when the greater message gets lost?
Present day, its difficult to make it through a rap playlist without tales of guns, drug abuse and gang activity. Now you might be asking, how is this different from the past? Presently, there is no accountability for the messages delivered. Once upon a time, you had to be about what you rapped about, or at least give the strong appearance of such. And because personality was not as important as skill and content, rarely would fans see their favorites in situations requiring them to prove their gangsta. This is no longer the case. With a smartphone and strong mobile data connection, rappers can serve as their own photographers, videographers and paparazzi. In the past, the world was much larger, therefore making many rappers difficult to reach. You’d be lucky to ever even see your favorite rapper in person, not to mention have a full conversation with them.
With social media, the personality of the rapper has become more important than ever. Long gone are the days when an air of mystery surrounding your favorite mc elevated their status. To not see or hear from them only added to their legend. Now, in many cases the personality is more important than the music. Basically, before we support you we need to like you. One of the more efficient ways to get people to like you is to provide them something they enjoy. This is where the situation gets tricky. Many times, the fans will want the fantasy, but not the reality that comes with. This is obvious by way of the disconnect that seems to exist between lyrics and actions, actions and consequences. What many listeners are failing to realize is that the content of street rap isn’t fantasy to everyone. As you read this, there are men and women whose entire lives have been dictated by real street actions. Families ripped apart, children traumatized, men and women imprisoned for what will equate to the remainder of their lives, and this is just the start. Lest we not forget that many individuals living the street life are stricken by heavy drug use, post traumatic stress and depression amongst other things. All of this and more, often for the sake of a collective gang or crew that may or may not actually care for the individual.
Meanwhile, fans can enjoy, support and even promote their fav’s reckless abandon without consequence. Fans can embrace the fantasy of racks on racks on racks, toting 40 calibers with 30 round extensions and turning opps into packs without the real life dangers associated with such. However, when these artists become the victims of the violence they preach with such conviction, fans are devastated.
Memorials in the streets, the traditional R.I.P posts and confusion as to why someone would take the life of someone with such a bright future flood our timelines. While I sympathize with victims of gun violence, it baffles me that so many don’t understand the role violence plays and its necessity in the street realm. Violence is the foundation upon which gang culture, drug culture, and the underworld in general was built. When someone violates the rules, agreements, etc, they won’t receive summons. If a debt is owed and refuses to be paid, there are no invoices sent. Most likely, kill teams will be sent to collect, whether it be debts or lives. Violence is the regulator. It is the one true consequence. Violence is the glue that holds the underworld together. Without it, it would dissolve and cease to exist.
Of course, because most fans only see street rap as entertainment, rarely do they understand this gruesome truth. In turn, they are surprised, shocked and saddened by these all too common results. Rapper talks about being gangsta, fans are intrigued. Rapper posts videos with automatic assault rifles, fans applaud. Rapper beefs with other rapper and posts threats on social media, fans take sides. Rapper is murdered, fans are confused. This typical timeline is but an example of the lack of understanding many fans have about the music they are listening to.
Please understand, there is nothing wrong with wanting to be entertained. I mean, rap is music, and music is entertainment. If we were solely interested in perspective, rappers would simply be orators giving speeches instead of crafting quality songs. However, even in consumption of content, there is responsibility. Understanding the messages presented is key to separating the art from the artist. It’s fine to listen to a song, find the parts that pertain to your life and struggle, and use those as motivation. The key is to use the music as motivation, versus the actual musician. Messages are many times universal, while people are typically individual. So always beware of the message as well as the validity you give the messenger. Because while the messenger may make a great point, they might not actually be the ones you want to take advice from. Just my thoughts.