Hip-Hop Smackdown: It's All a Game
With the most important event in music history in our rearview mirrors (that's heavy sarcasm folks), it looks like it's safe to come from under those tables and take a look back at the 50-Cent/Game "Beef". Oh and what a mighty "beef" it was, lasting less than a week, the battle of Interscope was over almost as soon as it started leading many to speculate that it was all a publicity stunt. I'd have to say that in some part I'm in that it was all a "publicity stunt" camp myself, albeit a stunt that quickly started spiraling out of control and lead to at least one real bullet and a at least a little real bad blood (no pun intended). The media covered, and likely record company imposed, truce between 50-Cent and The Game had all the sincerity of two 8-year olds forced to share toys and play together.
Since his gunshot inspired rise to stardom and commercial success 50-Cent has behaved like a egomaniacal madman in relation to other artist but it did come as a surprise to listen to him on the radio attempting to torpedo the career of a rapper who's success he had a financial stake in, especially being that the rapper he was targeting was signed to 50-Cent's own label. Maybe 50-Cent would lose a little money by hurting Game's record sales, but he could likely make even more by manufacturing some more drama and a subplot for his LP the night before his album hit stores - just business, never personal (besides The Games deal with G-Unit was only for one album). Even Jadakiss, who recorded a scathing diss record against 50-Cent in response to shots 50-Cent took at him on the song "Piggybank" from 50-Cent's latest LP, has indicated that he intends to use the "Beef" as a way to boost his own profile and increase his sales.
If today's rap scene had to be compared to anything it's splitting image would have to be wrestling, but not the real wrestling that you get medals for in the Olympics, more like the WWE (WWF) stuff. Yes, the same creative, energies that brought you larger than life personalities like Hulk Hogan, The Rock, Stone Cold, The Undertaker, The Big Show, etc now bring you "Hip-hop". No the WWE's Vince McMahon isn't head of a record label, yet, but watching these rappers and each new "beef" is like an episode of "WWE Smackdown". At least in WWE there a number of characters based on a host of outlandish stereotypes. In rap, that other orchestrated slamfest' of suspect machismo and testosterone, everyone including the females are playing the same Al Pacino, Robert Dinero, and/or Tupac inspired character.
Putting aside, the sheer ridiculousness and ignorance of the caricatures of black 'manhood' put forth by rap music, what if we were to examine these rapper's personas using the standards they promote. What if we really looked at what was behind the "street cred(ibility)" that seems to be a major component of selling any significant amount of records these days? We would probably be pretty surprised and amused at what we found.
Game Recognize Game
You've scene the scowls, heard the gang shout outs and threats of violence on radio and mix-tape, and if you don't know any better you're probably terrified. Let the music industry and Jayceon Taylor, a.k.a. "The Game" tell the story and he has hardly had a good day in his relatively short life of drug-dealing, gang-banging, and other assorted criminal activities. However, if we take a closer look it appears The Game is not quite the character his handler's are selling.
Ironically the first crack in The Game's "Ice Grill" came courtesy of his feud with rapper Joe Budden. In a diss record aimed at The Game, prior to Game's meteoric rise to stardom, Joe Budden's exposed the fact that the man anointed "savior of West Coast rap" and apparent toughest rapper in the universe had been a contestant on the now cancelled dating game show "Change of Heart" (just for your information the way the show works, is a male and female couple are each allowed to go on a date with a person of the opposite sex arranged by the show's producer, to see if they have "a change of heart" and decide to start dating the new person. Also FYI The Game's girlfriend had a change of heart on the episode).
Now "Change of Heart", when it was on the air, did not cast minors meaning Jayceon was on the show as a legal adult and shortly before his rap career began, assuming his reported age of approximately 25 is anywhere near correct. The feud with Joe Budden led to other revelations about America's new favorite "Gangsta' rapper", namely that he had a tongue ring around the time of the show's taping, and in earlier years (allegedly high-school) was a "bleached blond" (wore dyed blond hair). In a radio interview on with NYC radio personality Wendy Williams, Jayceon admitted to the tongue ring and blonde hair, but alleged that such styles were not a big deal and in fact were common on the West Coast at the time. I have my doubts about the truth of that claim, but assuming that was the case, Mr. Jayceon Taylor isn't just any California native, he's a "thug", he's a gangsta', and God-damn-it he's "The Game". Blonde hair and tongue rings on a gangsta'? What is this Demolition Man? All these admissions of course, came just moments after The Game confessed to at least one MURDER on a nationally syndicated radio program. Damn, even the late John Gotti said he was a plumber.
The "Ice Grill" continued to melt after viewing Game's DVD "The Documentary" which is supposed to document Mr. Taylor's life story, but to me made his public persona more suspect. For instance according to the DVD Mr. Taylor graduated high school where he was a pretty solid basketball player and briefly attended college. In fact, he didn't join a gang until 21 years of age! The Game's account of his brush with death where he was shot several times (which nowadays is a prerequisite for getting your album promoted), in a botched drug sale seemed more a comedy of errors than the actions of someone seasoned in the inner workings of an outlaws life. According to Mr. Taylor, he was shot with his own gun when he left his firearm on a table while stepping away to retrieve the marijuana he was about to sell. Presented with the opportunity, the apparent buyers, quickly turned robbers and Taylor was shot in the ensuing struggle for his own weapon. I could be wrong but leaving a loaded firearm on a table in a room with several guys you don't know while alone in an apartment doesn't sound like the actions of a seasoned gangsta'. to me.
After this incident the game apparently decided the drug dealer's life wasn't for him, purchased and studied the albums of some of the biggest names in rap at the time, and set about becoming a rapper. It seems in the case of Jayceon Taylor, the industry apparently understood they would be able to 'juice-up' his story and create a product whether Mr. Taylor actually had the talent to match the hype or not.
Even the tattoos on this guy seem manufactured. For instance if you look closely at the large N.W.A. tattoo on the left side of his chest, you can see it was tattooed over what appears to be a previous tattoo of a sun. In watching his own account, and listening to and reading his interviews, it becomes clear that Mr. Taylor is likely is hardly anything like the angry, volatile, violent, and completely ignorant personality he publicly promotes. In fact if there is any sincerity to the claims of things he's trying to do with his Black Wall Street Company to create legitimate forms of employment for his childhood friends, he's probably a lot more positive, bright, and forward thinking that one would imagine - but alas the industry and Mr. Taylor isn't interested in selling Jayceon Taylor, they're too busy selling Game.
"What-up Blood, What-up Cuz, What-up Wankstaaaaa!?
We can't really begin to talk about The Game or uncertified gangstas' without talking about one of rap's biggest stars and the man who helped spark The Game's career, Curtis Jackson a.k.a. 50-Cent. To keep it simple, in the netherworld known as "the streets", the perpetrators are the "Gangstas". They are the people who are "respected" (pronounced feared). The victims, particularly those that are victimized numerous times are "Vics", "Marks", "Herbs", etc. By this standard 50-Cent is possibly rap's most famous Mark, but he certainly isn't "Gangsta". He's been shot by unidentified assailants, stabbed (superficially) by one of Ja-Rule's entourage, rarely makes unsupervised public appearances, travels in more bulletproof vehicles than the Pope, and makes use of a personal security detail, that is alleged to be filled with police officers, and is likely one of the largest in rap. And for all his talk and scathing attacks against Ja-Rule for being inauthentic and a "pop" rapper these days nobody pens catchy, pop songs more often, and more successfully than Mr. Jackson.
But let me leave the G-Unit and former G-Unit rappers alone before I get accused of writing a hit piece against Interscope records. I am an equal opportunity ridiculer, and since I talked about Curtis Jackson it's only right I at least give a little airtime to his nemesis, Jeffrey Atkins a.k.a. Ja-Rule. While Jeffrey was a long time suspected actor the full extent of his phoniness wasn't exposed until 50-Cent began ruining his career and credibility with fans by attacking him on records, in print, and in any other venue that would listen. Ja-Rule's subsequent decline in sales and popularity was probably a major factor in him agreeing to a sit-down with Nation of Islam head, Minister Louis Farrakhan, that was supposed to help broker a peace between Ja-Rule and 50-Cent, and their respective camps. In his heart-to-heart with Minister Farrakhan Jeffrey Atkins revealed an aspect of his upbringing that in light of all his tough-talk and posturing is simply hilarious, namely that he was raised as a Jehovah's Witness in a fairly strict religious background. I suppose he learned the hard life of the street doing all those drive-by bell-ringings in the hood.
It isn't all Mr. Atkins fault though, he was simply keeping with the image of the label, formerly known as Murder Inc. The label has of course since, dropped the 'Murder' and changed their name to just 'The Inc", though it's not clear if they changed the name of their recording studio from "The "Crackhouse" to maybe just, "The House". I guess with all the heat coming from associations with real life criminals like Queens, New York's Kenneth "Supreme" McGriff (which has lead to a real life money laundering criminal indictment for label head Irv "Gotti" Lorenzo) it was time for a name change. I guess everybody wants to be a gangsta', that is until those real life gangster charges start coming, then they 'cry in their milk' in interviews, on TV, on radio, and anywhere else that will listen, about the unfortunate prospect of their own imprisonment and how hard the legal troubles are for them and their families.
The seemingly endless cycle of self-deprecating
buffoonery that today's commercial rap music finds itself in was far from an
unpredictable situation. It's simply a continuation of the legacy of
manufactured and fake gangsta' rappers that moved to the top of every A&R's
wish list after the early 90's commercial success of the rap group N.W.A.
It's both ironic and fitting that, that group was composed of a group of guys that
for the most part were not from the streets they talked about, affiliated with
gangs, and at least two (below Dr. Dre and Yella) of the group's founding
members were formerly members of a music group called the
World Class Wrecking Crew that apparently preferred sequins and blouses to L.A. Raiders caps and jackets. Who new that in 2005 the rap industry would so closely resemble the 1993 spoof film CB4.
Putting aside the tough talk, posturing, and gangsta' images the industry promotes in the name of pushing their product, even if these assorted jokers we call gangsta' rappers were anything like they state on record it certainly wouldn't be anything to praise. Even if they were "real", at best these rappers and a small portion of the tales of graft they tell on wax could serve as a entertainment and/or a warning to the listeners in line with saying "stay away from this situation because I've been there, lived that, and it's not something you want to go through".
Instead we have these outrageous and offensive caricatures of black manhood, promoted by business executives (most of the most powerful ones being White, male, and middle-aged) and performed by frowning Negroes, beamed into our homes and homes around much of the world each day, ad nausea. This image is terrifying to politicians and Caucasian parents of any class but intoxicating to their teenage and young adult children, who provide an estimated 80% of the funds to a rap industry that is estimated to be more than an billion dollar enterprise, annually. For most of this group, who provide the vast majority of the funds, Hip-hop is part forbidden fruit, with it's low-brow taste and constant use of the N-word, and part twisted voyeurism, because many of them actually believe these songs are accurate presentation of what Black and Brown poor and working class life is like.
Meanwhile, back in the real world, an entire multi-billion dollar industry has been built around the imprisonment of black and brown men often for attempting to live out toned down versions of the drug czar fantasies we often hear recited on wax - and YES, if you own an article of clothing, piece of art, bedspread, earrings, baby bib, etc or you changed your nickname or rap name, based on the movies Scarface, New Jack City, or King of New York or one of it's central characters then you are likely caught up with some part of this fantasy. These frequent and widespread prison trips have succeeded in continuing to cripple and deform black and brown working class and poor communities and households across the United States.
Of course apologist for the music will say it's just entertainment and Hip-hop isn't responsible for fixing problems it didn't create, and that statement is at least partially true. To some degree the music itself is neutral and can be used any number of ways. Currently I would argue it's being used as weapon against those who created it. Hip-Hop, rap, whatever your preferred descriptor, did not create these problems and Hip-hop alone will not correct them, in the same way voting, by itself, will not fix America.
Varied and complex problems often require varied and somewhat complex solutions. However, anyone who at this point is still arguing that the images and ideas being marketed and promoted via commercial hip-hop are only entertainment is either a liar or an idiot, or some combination of the two. While music alone usually isn't going to make you commit a crime or engage in a particular undesirable behavior, music is a large part of the fabric of American pop-culture (truly U.S.A.'s biggest export) which plays a huge role in influencing attitudes and consequently actions.
Hip-hop is being used to hock everything from alcohol, to sneakers, to clothes, to jewelry, to marijuana flavored bubbled gum for a reason. At best it only desensitizes many young people, especially those without numerous positive influences to act as a counterbalance, to ideas and behavior patterns that they should reject. At worst it is shaping the attitudes and influencing the actions of a generation of young people, particularly the poor and pigmented ones, who remain under under siege from American society at large, and now their favorite rapper too.
Released: April 2nd, 2005
The views and opinions expressed herein by the author do not necessarily represent the opinions or position of Playahata.com.