‘Keeping it Real’ With Gangster Rap

By Rahsaan Thomas
Staff Writer

Why isn’t gangster rap music viewed simply as entertainment? In a discussion about why gangster rap has such a harmful impact on the identities of young men, the Yard Talk panel considered artists’ self-imposed need to “keep it real.”

Eric Curtis: “In the early ‘80s there was positive rap; people spoke with messages about how we can make things better. It just went bad when Mix Master Spade and Master Tee’s Batter Ram came out. It was about drugs and armored vehicles … was it the industry or the rappers that brought about this shift?”

Some argue that rapping about violence is fine for entertainment purposes. However, the danger is when people follow the music literally and buy into the violence.

Antwan Williams: “If you ain’t a gangster, you can’t rap about it.”

John “Yahya” Johnson: “Rappers claim they are getting legal and illegal money…it’s synonymous with the question, Are you really doing this? If so, for what reason? You have clothing lines, why sell drugs?”

Author Michael Eric Dyson talks about the issue of rappers’ self-imposed need to be authentic in an interview with Meta DuEwa Jones. (Hip-Hop Music and Culture)

Dyson said, “The intellectual merit of hip-hop artists is not on par with artists of other fields. Nobody thinks Arnold Schwarzenegger or Bruce Willis or Sylvester Stallone literally engages in the behavior they act on screen.”

Many on the panel agreed that rappers’ self-imposed need to appear authentic translates into fans trying to be just like the artists they adore – carrying guns, selling drugs and driving fancy cars.

Johnson: “Some rappers are giving a voice to people who do live like that and are glorifying them. Look at all the rappers who are gang affiliates.”

Demond Lewis: “Nobody is teaching the kids that what you see in rap videos isn’t real. How come we aren’t holding rappers accountable for the lies they’re telling? They put extras in their videos like rented cars and guns, but that’s not the life they really live or a life that is really worth living. You definitely can’t go around shooting people. That’s a fantasy I got a real 109-years-to-life in prison for.”

Johnson: “During the ‘free love era,’ hippies braided their hair and wore no shoes. The difference is that they were able to say ‘it’s time for a paradigm shift, time to clean ourselves up and get into corporate America.’ We are doing things that are almost irreversible.”

Lewis: “No matter where you go, the ghetto is the ghetto – lights out, tennis shoes hanging from power cords – and we put it out there like we proud of that. If you are proud of being from nowhere, then you won’t strive to go anywhere.”

Johnson: “The ghetto can’t be my role model. The industry is supposed to show Jay-Z helping kids in school instead of glorifying the projects. Racism is being reinforced through entertainment and politics.”

The panel concluded that mainstream rap music motivates a criminal mentality. Gangster rap portrays itself as the only way of life available for inner city youth, and that being a hooligan from the ghetto is something to aspire to. In following gangster rap music’s directions, listeners who take the genre literally end up making permanent mistakes, like catching a felony charge, killing someone or getting tattoos on their face. Why is mainstream radio promoting this negativity?

In part four, the panel will discuss the effect that money has on the direction of rap music.

-Trenise Ferreira contributed to this story

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