Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Hip-Hop and Crack: An Artistic Examination or Irresponsible Glorification? by Amir Shaw

Yesterday the homie Amir Shaw shared a piece he did for Rolling Out over the Twitternets. He was speaking on the relationship between Hip Hop and crack cocaine. I thought it was a pretty good read so I'm sharing it with you....

Crack cocaine and hip-hop changed black America. Both have been dominant forces in black communities across the nation since the 1980s. The style, bravado and expression of hip-hop music has often been influenced by the hardships and underground economy created by crack cocaine.

Public Enemy’s “Night of the Living Baseheads,” N.W.A.’s “Dopeman” and KRS-One’s “Love’s Gonna Get’cha,” were keen examinations of the effects of crack on poor blacks in America. These songs provided listeners with an insider’s view of what it meant to sell, use, and be torn apart from family members due to crack cocaine. The fact that each song lacked a hero or villain gave it credibility and a sense of truthfulness.

Soon, the dope dealer became a protagonist who could gain respect and sympathy from listeners. The Notorious B.I.G, Jay-Z and Scarface offered gritty stories of the highs and inescapable lows of being a part of the drug business. But by the late 1990s, other rap acts followed suit by taking on the persona of dope dealers. Records about crack dealing sold well and the record labels made sure that drug-related music stayed in rotation.

While rap was once used to examine the effects of crack on the inner city, it suddenly became an endorsement of it. The Clipse’ “Keys Open Doors,” Rick Ross’ “Blow,” Gucci Mane’s “Trap House,” and OJ Da Juiceman’s “Make the Trap Say Aay,” all fail to highlight the perils of drug dealing. Instead, the rappers promote the achievement of the American dream through the sale of cocaine.

These rappers also fail to point out the harsh prison sentences that are given to those who are convicted of selling crack cocaine. In a speech recently given at the U.S. Capitol, Attorney General Eric Holder revealed that drug offenders receive a minimum mandatory sentence of five years in prison for dealing five grams of crack and 10 years in prison for dealing 50 grams of crack. Moreover, nearly 82 percent of those jailed for crack offenses are black.

Drug use will never be eradicated. But rappers have the power to voice their views of what crack has done to their communities, so it’s important for these artists to tell the truth about what crack really costs the community. –amir shaw

I remember interviewing Killer Mike at the height of the "coke rap" phase powered by the likes of Clipse and Young Jeezy. Mike had one of the more interesting takes on it...he said "since when has dope not been the shit to rap about?" By that he meant many people, including him, were introduced to Hip Hop the same time they were introduced to drugs, i.e. hearing your first rap song while riding in the car with your dope-dealing uncle. Amir's take on this subject reminded me of that conversation. It also reminded me of how I felt the first time I saw Paid In Full. The scene that stuck out to me the most was the ending, when Ace (Wood Harris) came back to the same block he used to hustle on and saw some young cats shootng a rap music video, emulating what they used to do in real life. Except now, with all the real drug dealers getting locked up and sent away, the new cats have space to slide in and simply rap about it and earn the same "money, power, respect" and attention from women without having to take the same type of risk.

I'm curious as to what you guys think...


Kyva said...

I was born in 1980 and Hip-Hop and I "grew up together." I love all kinds of Hip-Hop- from the Clipse to Slick Rick to Mos Def. I also grew up in the DC Metropolitan area and I remember watching the news and seeing how the crack epidemic led to DC being the murder capital in 1987 and
Music is a means of expression and N.W.A. , Ice-T and the like offered a glimpse into the realities of low-income and impoverised areas. Even on "Hell Have No Fury" The Clipse rap about all aspects of dealing drugs. (Listen to "Nightmares") At the center of it is little to no opportunities for a vast majority of the youth. Most people who live in the middle/upper class may disagree, but when one lives in an environment where survival is a struggle then he or she does what they must.
In the 80's scores of young black men felt that their means to survival and attaining a substantial lifestyle was selling crack. For example, listen to the intro of the Notorious B.I.G.'s "Juicy."
Songs and artists that offer an "artistic examination" into the perils of life in poverty leave me to wonder what can be done in these communities where selling a substance that has robbed our people of so much, is the means of survival?
On the other hand, the artists that glorify selling drugs without offering the dire consequences leave me to wonder where many of our youth are heading. Especially when many of these artists have never experienced poverty or standing on the block just so they can eat. Or when these artists that are promoting anti-education lyrics, have college educations.

Defintely a thought-provoking article!! Thanks Maurice.

Scotty Rock said...

At seventeen years of age, and not to say that I myself witnessed the helm of the crack epidemic in the 80's, did listen to Notorious B.I.G., Ice T, and an extensive soul catalog thanks to my Father. What I do have to say is that in songs such as "Ten Crack Commandments" Notorious does not glorify crack, but keeps it about as real as it gets by laying out the rules and the repercussions of not following these rules. He wrote songs that had stories. (Niggas bleed) tweaked your brain (When they double parked by a hydrant) Gucci Mane talks about cocaine and selling weed and as much as some people love him, he's ignorant. He's a brainwash, these upper and middle class kids find out that the black kids are listening to this particular rapper as a collective, and then the white kids love the same rapper (Lil' Wayne, Yo Gotti, Gucci Mane, OJ Da Juiceman) How does it feel to know that twelve year old kids are listening to songs that literally teach them to cook crack "The Recipe" by E 40. How does true rap feel as a whole that no one's truly a fan of them or their music, but their image. It's ugly. True lyricists aren't appreciated, because people are too stupid to listen to it. But someone that talks like a four year old with teeth missing (OJ Da Juiceman) DOES get hella respect. I think he looks like a fruit bat. But what does my opinion matter? Thanks Garland. For keeping it trill.

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