“Gangsta Rap” as an institution is on it’s last legs. One listen to today’s urban radio playlists & it’s overly apparent that it’s limelight has all but dimmed in aboveground music.
In the late 80′s-mid 90′s, it was all the rage. Rap cats couldn’t wait to jump on tracks & emulate their favorite action hero/neighborhood super-criminal. In fact, it was such an in-demand style that most of the Hip Hop nation didn’t care how fake you were. All that mattered was how real you are, if that makes any sense. Things like “street cred” & reputation were bonuses to the music, an accompanying piece, so to speak. It wasn’t mandatory that an artist practiced what he preached (though it wasn’t frowned upon, either), & for the most part, as long as you had a hardbody enforcer in view of the watching public, you didn’t need to. His street cred was your street cred. If you had gangsters around you, even if only in videos, you received a pass. & even in that generous scenario, very rarely did passes need to be shown. That was years ago, though.
When the term “Gangsta Rap” began to float around on a user-friendly level (i.e. N.W.A. getting love on Yo! MTV Raps), it mainly reflected a journalistic, third-person point of view that rappers used to report on what they saw. Approaching it from that perspective, it’s hard to argue a valid point for the need of one’s supposed authenticity. Plenty of times in life, people have told me stories about something that happened, & just because they may have exaggerated doesn’t mean the story isn’t true, it just means that I need to perceive accordingly. When I was younger, I’d often hear water cooler talk of how King Tee & Ice Cube weren’t really gangsters or whatever, but that didn’t matter to me. It was, is, & always will be about the music. But, I digress.
As Hip Hop’s acceptance broadened worldwide, slowly but surely, so did Gangsta Rap’s popularity. Even as groups like X-Clan, Public Enemy, Paris, & Poor Righteous Teachers attempted to kick the truth to the young, Black youth, groups like The Geto Boys & N.W.A. were stronger, & their angst & frustration-filled energy was gaining more momentum with each passing year. Just about halfway through the 90′s, however, the tide shifted as Sean Combs “introduced” a more lighthearted vantage point for Hip Hop’s voice. This voice was, literally, about partying & bullshit, & not much else. Dubbed “The Shiny Suit Era,” for about 5 years, Puff Daddy had the world wanting to replace it’s previous grime with shine. Thanks almost entirely to Christopher George Latore Wallace (& an assload of popular song samples), a floodgate opened, allowing fancy cars & spastic dancing to briefly become equally as important to the Hip Hop world as guns, drugs, & bulletproof vests. By societal standards, Hip Hop is a very young culture. But, any fans old enough to remember the “Golden Era” will agree that it was the most fruitful time period because there were so many lanes. Gangsta Rap just happened to be the most aggressive one until then.
Around the time when 50 Cent’s “How To Rob An Industry Nigga” was making it’s bi-coastal rounds (the old fashioned way – actual mixtapes & CD’s), Hip Hop was over the “Shiny Suit Era.” Tupac was dead, Biggie was dead, & Hip Hop was full of a lot of hostility. Hostility that 50 Cent literally harnessed, making the rap game his personal playground for a few years. He had become the ultimate gangsta rapper, with the statistics sheet to prove it. Some may be hesitant to acknowledge it, but 50 Cent changed the gangsta rap landscape. Where it had been previously leveled by a gaggle of street reporters, now there was a proverbial pitcher’s mound. The shit he said wasn’t from a newsperson’s recollection. It wasn’t generated through eyewitness accounts. His songs came directly from a participant’s experience (not that that’s a good thing). 50 Cent’s official success signaled that Gangsta Rap had royally returned to Hip Hop music in a real & dangerous way.
Gangsta Rap in the 90′s was 1 part creativity mixed with 2 parts emulation. Emulation to the extent that – for a moment – every important rapper had an Italian-esque nickname. They used phrases like “fugazi” & “fagetaboutit” in their raps, so on & so forth. Rap music was still fun then, so it was easy for a talented rapper to slip in & out of different themes to showcase their skills. That’s what’s this is all about, no? Fast forward to today, & the term “Gangsta Rap” has taken on an entirely different connotation.
Some could blame Snoop Doggy Dogg, others Mack 10, but no matter the place of origin, today’s gangsta rapper comes complete with a Crip or Blood gang to represent from cities, counties, & parishes all across America. Gone are the days of imaginary gun fights & “stories,” because today’s gangsta rapper is living the life he professes. Possibly even making it harder to live in the process. Take the blood’s current poster
bloodboy Lil Wayne, who clearly has no regard for his, nor his empire of blunt rollers’ safety. He does & says things that would get him killed quickly in plenty parts of my beautiful city, yet he continues to do them, as if gang banging is a fashion or a costume that one removes at bedtime. To a degree, getting a paycheck to be ignorant for a living is a genius move, however, is it still considered a shtick if you get murdered over it?
When I was in the 9th grade, some well-known bloods & crips came together & recorded an album called “Bangin’ On Wax,” in an effort to foster more unity & less violence in south central Los Angeles. During that time, the closest we had to real-time gang bang music was DJ QUIK, & he didn’t fully expose his gang affiliation until later in his career. In a sense, he blazed the trail, but “Bangin On Wax,” which was released 2 years later, set the rest of the forest ablaze. The difference between BOW & today’s gangsta rapper is sincerity. Those crips & bloods risked their lives to go to studios & rap for a greater purpose. (A purpose that they were/are the cause for, but my point remains.) They weren’t rappers who adopted a persona & used it to generate funds. & if I’m not mistaken, 3 of the guys who participated in that album have been killed. Probably more. Gang banging isn’t the rhythmic farce that some of these rappers may have you to believe it is.
Taking into consideration that people really do grow up in gang families (because I know a few), I won’t discount every “new” rapper as a bang-for-dollars package, but it’s not a coincidence that “bloods” & “crips” being mentioned on rap songs is now a normalcy. & the game will get more dangerous once the name-calling sets in (which it will). Once a rapper crosses the line by calling another rapper a crab or a slob, that will remove the Hip Hop entertainment aspect of banging, & take it back to the street, where teenagers get stomped to death because of the color of their shirt. It’s a cold world, & for all the pretty things money can buy you, it can’t buy you another chance.
It’s great to witness Hip Hop refocusing it’s sights on creativity & art these days. Lyrics & good production are definitely making strides to become the centerpieces they once were. In the meantime, though, be careful at these rap shows. Parking lot drive-by’s can’t be too far off in the distance.