Tokyo Damage Report

BORING GANGSTAS: when “real” isn’t

I enjoyed gangsta shit back in the more innocent, care-free days of  NWA, Ice-T,  Schooly D, and Kool G. 
I can’t stand most current gangsta rap, but it has nothing to do with it being negative or stereotypes. My problem has nothing to do with ‘gangsta rap is too pop and mainstream’ or ‘too materialistic’. Also – more pertinently – my beef has NOTHING to do with if someone is ‘real’ or not.  You can be real as fuck but still have a fake-ass rap, because. . .
because . . .well, let me put it this way, when was the last time you ever heard a rapper shoot and miss?  When was the last time you heard a rapper try to get revenge and then chicken out?
Most of these guys, their whole song starts with their victim already helpless and at their mercy. What? Not only is that not realistic, it’s not even dramatically interesting. Don’t believe me?  Ask yourself, if SCARFACE started with Tony Montana – close up – shooting a dude in the face, and then ended- just like that, roll credits, the movie is 30 seconds long – would anybody of watched that shit? NO! And yet that is what 99% of gangsta rap is. SCARFACE wasn’t rad because it was violent or glorified drugs, it was rad because it had DRAMA! TENSION! EPIC TALES OF REVENGE and CONFLICTED LOYALTIES! BIG HUGE BUILD-UPS! That’s what it’s all about, Manny!
How can some dude watch that movie like 100 times, and then sit down and write some shit like, “Fuck with me and I’ll peel your cap!” Who? Who’s fucking with you? Specifically how are they fucking with you? They make you wait in line at the DMV? No, that’s the wrong line, you have to wait over there. What? They told you to come over here? Sorry, honey, you have to go back over there if you don’t have your 143-D. Did they laugh at your comically over-embroidered pant-wear? Did they spill a yoo-hoo on your watch? Did they ring your doorbell and run? What?
If your rap is devoid of drama, tension, and ambiguity, it’s boring. Not everything comes down to who is the most real!
No one talks about the actual act of looking for the victim. Do you stake him out? Wait for him? What if Duke’s friend sees you waiting, and YOU become the hunted? OK, so you finally see the guy. But he’s with 3 friends. Is that too many dudes? You wonder. Nobody talks about the guy weighing “Do I want to get revenge bad enough to do life in prison?” That has to be some heavy conversation. . . even guys who honestly don’t give a fuck about prison must be nervous about whether they can pull it off. When was the last time you heard a nervous rapper?
Or when you catch the guy, do you just run up “AAAAHHH I kill you now!”, or do you try to talk to him, make him feel like it’s just another day, put him at ease, then BOOM? No one ever describes the exact moment when the victim realizes that his life is about to be over. . .  What if you shoot and miss? What if you fuck up? What if something goes wrong? What if you wound him but he runs away and you chase but then your unlaced Tims trip you up and you have to take off your ski-mask to tie it because your mask got all out-of-place while you were falling down, then an old lady sees your face, but you’ll deal with her later, first you have to catch up to the guy but he hides in back of a store full of  Somalian immigrants. . .what do you do then? Shit like that. Or how the killer feels when running away, ditching the gun, realizing that nothing can be the same again, even if he’s NOT caught.
All we get is, “fuck with me , and I’ll (insert name of gun) and (insert synonym for murder) / (insert other name of gun that rhymes).”
Biggie had some song – a story-telling thing – where he tracks down the guy who shot his friend, catches dude in front of his project, pulls out his gun, squeezes the trigger, and in that split second the guy turns around and the dude is holding his infant son in his arms. That is some shit!! Dramatic tension AND moral ambiguity!
Or Nas’ song I GAVE YOU POWER, which I love too much to do a spoiler. But that shit also had a lot of dramatic tension and ambiguity.
Or epic, crime-movie narratives like Kool G. Rap’s Great Train Robbery or On The Run!
Or Lench Mob’s “All On My Nut Sac” is a great, thoughtful discussion of drug-selling, pro-and-con,with both sides claiming pro-black and I’m Keeping Shit Real, which ends in gunplay when the dealer accuses Jay Dee of having too many children.
Uncle Murda’s song “(so you want to be a) Murderer?” is on some thoughtful shit. All about, are you really ready to have your family get killed in revenge? Are you ready to get killed and be judged by god? Are you ready to see faces of people you killed in your sleep? I mean, damn! How can you talk about spinnas?
Also, here is another problem I have with rap : dudes like to talk about ‘I’m real because I am from a certain neighborhood.” Well then, represent your whole hood. Not just young dudes. The hood has lots of other people as well (so they say, anyway – I grew up next to a turkey farm) : Old church-going people. Addicts who have to hustle to buy dope. Addict war stories are probably more crazy than gangsta war stories, if you think about it. Families of addicts who are heart-broken when their sons or daughters keep stealing from them. Battered women. People who work 9-5 at crappy jobs, trying to do right but getting punked by the system. Young women who are going to college. People who are barely maintaining, caught in a welfare / unemployment/ Medicaid beuracracy. Small shop-owners who give local homelss free food in exchange for the homeless keeping away mean, psycho homeless. Dudes who fix cars in the middle of the street for lunch money, all stashing their illegal tools in the bathroom of a YMCA.
All that ! And that’s just the tip of the iceberg that a honkey like me knows.
It’s like 10% of the hood is dominating the whole discussion of hoods, so rap is only 10% real.
Dudes are all boasting about their neighborhood, the same hood they ‘re wrecking with crack and murder. That is weird. The same neighborhood that has been trying to kill them since birth, by systematically denying them opportunities, jobs and education. All proud of it. Huh? The same hood where they deliberately don’t represent 90% of the other residents in their raps. Doyyy.
Sudhir Alladi Venkatesh is an Indian-american guy, a college professor, but he tries to represent the whole hood in his books. Why can’t rappers do that for their own hood?
Some do: Kool G Rap (home sweet home), Furious Five of course (The Message), Ghostface Killah (All I Got Is You), even Kool Keith checked in with some realism (Welfare Love).
Finally – people like to point out the absurdity of “real gangstas” who confess “crimes” on a record. Allright, that IS pretty funny, but what is even weirder?
All the big-name bad-ass rappers, your Jay-Zs, your Biggies, your Snoops and Nasses (Nazzes? Na’s???) . . .these guys are rapping because they COULDN’T sell dope. Either they kept getting caught (Biggie) or never made enough money to earn a living at it (Jay-z, Nas) – THAT’S WHY THEY STOPPED DEALING AND STARTED RHYMING.
So the guys who are the biggest advocates of that lifestyle, the ones who spread the coke gospel from coast-to-coast, are total failures at it. And the guys who are real dealers tend to be terrible rappers. And then there’s Rick Ross. I wouldn’t buy a Flinstones vitamin from the man, let alone 4000 billion kilos of coke, but that’s just me. So, it’s like my old Jr. High principal always said, “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.”
4 comments Tags: ,

4 Comments so far

  1. 23 Wolves February 15th, 2010 4:17 pm

    Music theory is a good tag for this. Insightful and shit. I think there would even be an audience for a broadened rap-spectrum, with all the junkies and guys fixing cars and all, due to the popularity of The Wire with white people who buy rap cds.

  2. henry wilcox February 17th, 2010 7:35 pm

    I totally agree. for instance: clipse is an amazing duo; RE-UP GANG! but sometimes its just like, ok dude, you do crazy shit, great. THERES NEVER A PUNCHLINE!!! and too often do they use intermediate skits as an excuse for drama! love the post

  3. Steve February 17th, 2010 10:46 pm

    There are a lot of underground rappers who talk about the ‘other’ hood stuff (people just trying to get a meal, single mothers on welfare, etc.), but they won’t do pop or club beats, and they won’t get signed to a big label.

    Then you have Lupe Fiasco who has some deep rhymes, hides them with pop beats so he can sell records, but never really does the gangster thing.

    Good point about Biggie and Nas. I guess it was ‘you’re either slingin’ crack rock, got a wicked jump-shot, or can rhyme about the previous two’.

  4. AnokPanda February 22nd, 2010 8:49 pm

    I love Ghost Face’s story rhymes, dudes a genius; and then he goes and adds a crazy catchy RnB chorus – ridiculous good. But you forgot the most famous “crime rap with a message” song of all, Slick Rick’s “Children’s Story”.

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