Twilight Zone: The Confusing State of What Is Real In Hip Hop

“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:

Twitter - ChiefKeef- Its Sad Cuz Dat Nigga Jojo ...

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?

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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.

48 Responses to “Twilight Zone: The Confusing State of What Is Real In Hip Hop”

  1. Lo

    Another Rick Ross apologist. Face it he’s a fraud and his time would be up if it wasnt for smooching articles from allhiphop, rapradar and the rest conditioning and manipulating the publics perception of him. Rick Ross is literally the rapping spokesperson for the prison industrial complex (HE LOCKED PEOPLE OF COLOR UP DAILY FOR YEARS) and burying your head in the sand for the sake of “good lyrics” will never change that.

  2. トラップの神々TRAP GODS

    Being i was in this since the very beginning and creator of the market of what we know Hip Hop as of today. The violence was in the streets killing youth then and it started to be in the rap songs abruptly. It was a nightmare that never stopped THEN. you witness the evil devour youth and you sing about it. these lyrics are not bull stuff they just not gonna put their integrity on the line. no right fool is going to go in court and say ” yeah i wanna kill everybody” im sure it has happen and they are in jail to this day. in the studio, the freedom of expression, and the energy in it you live it and feel it and lay it down. America feeds off it. Violence is unstoppable you are in the cess pool and Hip Hop is in the middle making money off it. it’s no different than the trumpet player in a war. Artist actions are bringing them into court social media can capture actions and words this violent lifestyle which was a dangerous aspect in life THEN to achieve a better has now become a bigger business other than the courts system and the law.

  3. Phil The Great

    I think a big issue is a lot of people don’t differentiate the difference between “down” and “real”. Down is what you down to do (go fight, shoot, stab, slang) and real is what you go through (bills, family, people dying etc.)… again this is just how I see it and some may see it differently.

    • Bumpy Johnson

      i feel u ..but being “REAL” came from the hoods in the 80s n shit. in Cali or somthing and it ment being a Bout that action, killin, robbin,and thuggin….the word is shortened . being real is actually being a “Real’ Nigga”

      • Phil The Great

        Yeah I understand that shit. That goes to them dudes that are bout “that life” though. Reminds me of that dude Omar from The Wire… how he said he never robbed or shot anybody that wasn’t in the game. Back in the 80’s I’m sure there was a distinct line of who all was in the game. But shiii now-a-days too many clown images are considered by this generation as real, hood, or gangster.

      • Bumpy Johnson

        like i told my buddies…..now days people are who they are just because they say they are………back in the day (not too long ago even early 00’s) even when u walked a certain gangsta way niggas checked u to see if u are how u display yourself or not……people use to call it “G checks” or somthin…now days even in the hood its fukkin wack. its like these rappers got into everybody head. lol ” what happend to the reaaaal niggas” -yo gotti

      • Tim

        real niggas lol…lets be real dude most niggas are not killas, and killing people aint no rite of passage, if you really know killers they are some messed up two-faced people who will rob and kill even they own family. Damn sure ain’t know loyalty their, and yet ironically people still respect and revere some dead drug lords or killers. sounds backwards me!!!

  4. King Rickey

    It’s not the music..it’s the cultue of American society. Until the parents be parents and raise their kids the right way and America finally decides to become more socially conscious and personally responsible..things will never change. The ‘twilight deminsion’ of movies, music and entertainment are all perpetuated by the ignorance and destructive habits(drugs, violence, objective sexuality) that we continue to allow in our own lives and never change. That’s why rappers will always have the excuse, “I’m just rapping about real life…”

      • Keith N.

        Hip Hop is not solely about everything in the hood and even if it all about it for us to believe that these rappers are truly just “speaking on what’s going on in the hood” is to assume that these rappers are actually speaking the truth. Alot of them are pimping the hood experience for some stripes and creditability but then when the “reality” hits(like a few gun shots) then it becomes “it’s just entertainment”.

        Hip Hop will ALWAYS be the voice of the underrepresented people in the hood but it is not solely just that and the “Gangsta” rappers who want to be “entertainers” more than hood representatives have shown that countless times.

      • Tim

        it is interesting you say Hip-hop will always be the voice of the underrepresented people in the hood, but in 2013 do you think that is the case?

  5. dominicancoke

    Are u for real keith nelson jr? Say it aint so you mean to tell me these rappers really aint catching bodies like flies and destributing 100s of cocaine kilograms that they got directly from pablo noriega(who has never existed in the drug world unlesd manuel noriega had a baby with pablo escobar officer ricky made that one up) the real noriega he owes him 100 favors you mean to tell me wayne and game are fake bloods? And that drake dont catch bodies like that? Or that love and hip hop is scripted that gucci mane chief keef wacka flocka and 2 chainz are mentally challenged stop lying Lol

  6. andone

    the main part of this post that i dont like(no pun intended) is that it acts as if this is the only type of rap music there is… while i do see the need to discus it, lets also not forget that some of these rappers do have street cred/ties and have lived the life, others dont… i love my hood tracks jus as much as i love my party and “back pack rap”, but i kno the diff and have gone as far as boycotting(mmg/ymcmb ect.) the acts who i deem detrimental/perpetrating to my values/morals, mostly based off authenticity and their deservingness… to sum it up the blame can go either way but its obvious that the media is force feeding wat u see/hear on a daily basis, dont fall victim to it!

    • Keith N.

      It never made the assumption this is the only rap music there is. The article focuses on gangsta rap because, as stated in the article, 60% of the Top 10 highest selling albums from last year mentioned violence and murder on multiple occassions. It might be the only form but the fans paradoxically are buying it in droves because they think it is real

      • andone

        i take it that ur the author… dont get me wrong, this not a bad read and actually a good topic to bring up also but like i mentioned above, it could have used a lil more balance… imo the only reason this article has been ft. is due to the recent events that have taken place in hip-hop… however id like to remind the readers that this is nothing new to the genre and that in fact history is simply jus repeating itself… so with that being said, it might have helped if u had highlighted the other less aggressive types of “REAL” hip-hop(i give u credit for the gkmc reference) that have a strong hold on the market as well… not to take away from the point but rather to further it by letting it be known that we do have a choice outside of wat we are exposed to by the media!

      • Keith N.

        You make a valid point and I plan on expounding on this point in later articles. I’m glad you got the connection to current events. The main reason I only made the GKMC reference as a indication of conscious Hip Hop and mostly focused on Gangsta rap to highlight the imbalance in the game itself. I felt if I gave conscious rap and other less aggressive forms of “REAL”hip hop equal analysis that it would skew the point of me saying “there’s a VERY noticable preference for volatile Hip Hop that has made a noticable imbalance (represented in sales and in the number of “gangsta rappers”).

        But you make good points.

      • andone

        i can respect that and i do understand wat ur saying… aside from wat i brought up, there is nothing else i would critique… appreciate u acknowledging my rant dude lol, but on a more serious note tho… ill be lookin forward to the next post/thread!

  7. timwest1000

    Real gangsters that rap like to make songs about having fun and living a good life. Things they wish they would have done differently. How tragic life has been since they chose such a terrible path.

  8. crucob

    My only gripe with this article is the use of the word “assassination” in reference to the supposed attempt on Rick Ross’ life. If he had died, it simply would’ve been murder. He isn’t an important enough figure by any means to necessitate the use of the word assassinate and his name in the same sentence… And it was in Ft Lauderdale, not Miami, that the shooting took place.

  9. Opposite Of Everyone

    real includes everything in between being born and dying. However, in ‘rap music (not hip hop), keepin it real never seems to encapsulate the more perfunctory aspects of life such as makin a sandwich or wiping one’s ass which are both entirely real situations everyone goes through.. can ‘keeping it real’ accurately just mean doing immoral things ?

  10. Damien the demon beats

    sensationalism has been used in art for so long, I dont blame gangster Rappers for exaggerating. so if rappers been in 100 fights and shut some guns in the air or at some road sign and never hit anyone …it would be more interesting if they would put some body’s in lyrics instead of dead road signs , missed shuts and black eyes.hhhaahah

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