“Rap snitches/Telling all their business/Sit in the court and be their own star witness” - MF Doom on “Rap Snitch Knishes”
What would you think of someone whom the majority of the time you heard them speak they were discussing/reminiscing on/bragging about murdering people?
What would you think of them if they rhythmically conveyed this over infectious instrumentals?
What if they vehemently proclaimed they were “real”?
If you are a psychiatrist, you would probably diagnose them as a sociopath with psychotic delusions of grandeur. If you are the vast majority of the consumer community in Hip Hop, you would probably buy whatever song/album/mixtape they murder. As long as they are “real”.
Welcome to the “Real” Twilight Zone.
Rap, with its proclivity for braggadocious images dating back to Slick Rick’s all-gold everything attire, has always been a divisive entity usually creating a dichotomy between what constitutes as being “real” and what is reality. By virtue, gangsta rappers traditionally shoot videos brandishing firearms, surround themselves with entourages of criminals and promote violence as a means of keeping it “real”. Chief Keef has videos of him waving guns, threatened to physically harm a peaceful Lupe Fiasco and responded to the death of rival rapper Lil Jo Jo like this:
However, before being sentenced to 60 days in juvenile detention because he wielded a gun at a shooting range during an interview (probation violation),
Chief Keef Keith Cozart teared up and quickly denounced his lyrics as “bull stuff”. He is not the first to claim his lyrics are not real when the veracity of murderous lyrics was incriminating evidence in a trial. Back in 2004, Beanie Sigel’s lyrics were used against him in a gun charge case until the judge claiming Sigel as simply playing a character for the entertainment of his fans. Philadelphia defense attorney Michael Coard expanded on this notion in an interview with USA Today back in 2006:
“It’s about boasting. It’s about exaggerating. … It’s about acting,” he said. “If Robert De Niro, or Al Pacino or Marlon Brando are charged with shooting somebody, are they going to be playing clips from The Godfather in court?”
This volatile Twilight Zone gets further complicated when the “Real” and reality clash. Back in 2008, after photos of Rick Ross(born William Leonard Roberts II) were released he attributed it to haters having fun with Photoshop at his expense. It took him a month and the emergence of payroll documentation from his time as a correctional officer for the Maybach Music Group boss to admit it was true, but not before asserting “I never tried to hide my past”. Yesterday, Ross was the target of a drive-by assassination in his hometown of Miami, FL. If we take his “real” lyrics to be reality then his “lil Hatians shooters” should soon have the men who tried to kill him on TMZ.
Are gangsta rappers ready to admit they are more reality TV stars than actual “gangsters”? Is “being real” an industry construct designed to assist in promotion similar to makeup and inflated Twitter follower numbers? Following Rick Ross’ recent assassination attempt, rival MC 50 Cent claimed the lack of bullet holes suggested it was a staged shooting.
But why would a rapper even consider faking something so vile?
60% of the Top 10 highest selling rap albums of 2012 mentioned violence on multiple occasions and as a result of the boastfulness of hip hop, these mentions are usually in the first person perspective. A week after Chief Keef was sentenced his album (which also features violent lyrics) moved up a spot in the Billboard Hot 100. The buying public in hip hop has had a noticeable fixation with violence since five n*ggas with attitude came storming straight out of Compton onto the national scene. Is there not a way to quench this thirst for violent imagery without incriminating oneself while still being “Real”? Well, the fastest selling rap album of 2012 was Kendrick Lamar’s classic concept album good kid, mAAd city, a collection of gangster tales framed in a cogent narrative. The album did not glorify any part of the visceral experiences and creatively conveyed gang stories similar to most gangsta rappers.
With more rappers signing on to reality TV shows maybe a balance between “real” and reality is being reached Will rappers who claim to simply be speaking for a certain group of people or retelling stories simply stop speaking in the first-person when mentioning what violent acts can occur when rapping in non-storytelling songs?
Only time(and sales) will tell.