Unglamorous gangsta rap | Bleader

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Unglamorous gangsta rap

Posted By on 05.03.12 at 06:40 AM

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Doesn't look very fun, does it?
  • Doesn't look very fun, does it?
People like to criticize rap music for glamorizing illegal and immoral behavior, and honestly it has a long history stretching back to its earliest days of doing exactly that, especially since the concurrent rise of gangsta rap and the crack trade. But despite the rags-to-riches fantasies that Rick Ross and Young Jeezy enjoy weaving, most people who live off selling drugs or other illegal activities will tell you that for most part street-level hustling is a shitty job, where you're on call around the clock and paid far less than any sane person would consider fair for the amount of risk—either from the cops or other criminals—that you're put in. And every once in a while a rapper will step away from his fantastical portrayal of criminal life and give it a verite portrait that makes it look the exact opposite of glamorous.

Six examples after the jump.

The first 50 or so times I heard Biggie's "Ten Crack Commandments" I took it at face value as a how-to guide for aspiring career drug slingers. Eventually, though, I finally heard it for what it is: a list of ways things can go very wrong very fast for someone living on the corner, with the strong suggestion that the complete list is much, much longer.

Pusha-T and Malice are notorious for their single-minded focus on rapping about the cocaine trade, but they never shy away from acknowledging not only the negative effects that it has on innocent bystanders in the community but also the psychic damage that a dealer with even the barest shred of humanity endures.

Anyone can write lyrics about doing dirt, but few performers project the dead-eyed glare of a street-level sociopath the way that Prodigy and Havoc of Mobb Deep did at the beginning of their career. "Cradle to the Grave" portrays criminals driven by a powerful nihilistic urge mixed with an overwhelming fear of the other guys out there who are just like them.

If you walk away from Freddie Gibbs's "Thuggin" video amped to get into a life of crime, you probably felt the same way after watching The Wire, which makes you either a total psycho or a complete idiot.

Ghostface Killah has a million and a half songs about making and selling crack—including "Kilo," which is probably the most cheerful drug-slinging song of all time—but his portrayal of it as an endless series of hassles overlaid with an acute knowledge of how things end for the average dealer makes it less than effective as propaganda.

Everyone I asked for suggestions for this list said "something by O.D.B." Apparently he's as widely known as a symbol for the human cost of the crack epidemic as he is for being one of the most unique rappers of all time, which is just fucking grim.

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