Rich Kids in Hip-Hop: Who Let the Gates Open?

Editor’s note: The

views expressed inside this editorial aren’t necessarily the views of

AllHipHop.com or its employees.We survived

winters, snotty nosed with no coats/

We kept it real,

but the older brother still had jokes/

… Check it,

fifteen of us in a three bedroom apartment/

Roaches

everywhere, cousins and aunts was there/

—Ghostface

Killah, “All That I Got Is You,” Ironman

(1996).

The working-class kid in me wants to

know why Hip-Hop fans would submit their precious time to the abuse of

spoon-fed, pampered, nannied, chauffeur-carried brats who know next to nothing

of growing up with no assurance “where your meal’s coming from.”

Yes, the long-awaited editorial has

arrived on schedule. Put down your shoes, pal! There’ll be no invective-hurling

today. But some frank truths have been piercing my ear for a while now; and I

know better than to disobey those voices once they get cranky.

If you’ve made it this far, there’s good chance we share core values. If not, hear

me out and prepare your profanity-laced, dimwitted e-mails thereafter.

In the last few months, I’ve had to

suppress some impulse to stave off this editorial. I figured over time the

better angels within my nature would allay my increasing worries that many Hip-Hop

fans are losing the battle to reality, but I find the need even greater now to

let out these unflattering observations—and the consequences I think lurk

around the corner if we don’t take heed.

When the young son of Rap legend Rev.

Run, Diggy Simmons, released his first mixtape last December, howls filled the

air. He was celebrated as fresh and unique and lyrical, by some AllHipHop

commenters I’ve depended on in the past for what Ernest Hemingway calls the

“built-in bullsh** detector”—a device he suggested no serious writer lacked.

You see it, feel it, and delete it. Each one dressed up their rave reviews in

contrast to his older brother, Jo Jo Simmons, and in contradiction to the tacit

presuppositions held of anyone with “Run” for a surname.

The mixtape was “an attempt by Diggy to

prove himself as more than just the son of Rev. Run,” wrote

AllHipHop co-founder and co-CEO Greg

Watkins, who filed the story. Diggy’s dad was “pleasantly surprised” to see his

son run swift with the flaming torch he lit some three decades back. Around the

time last year, I heard Diggy’s lead single, “Point to Prove,” and liked what

was coming through the speakers. I wasn’t blown apart or taken aback: I had no expectations. And whoever said

rich kids couldn’t flow? Listen to

enough Canibus or Talib Kweli, and your pattern should structure quite well.

But if hypocrisy were gold, many Hip-Hop

fans could own Vegas tonight. When Jo Jo Simmons first explored the unmapped

terrain of Hip-Hop music-making a few years back (on Run’s House), no one with a shred

of dignity let him rest at night. Blogs and forums lit up, and Armageddon marked

a minute away—all because a rich kid thought he could walk through the

executive doors of major record labels and sign on the dotted line because his

father and uncle could move mountains with a finger-snap.

I don’t know the extent of Jo Jo’s

experiences. Life, in fact, might be more complicated for him than most lacking

such access and ability available since birth. But if Jo Jo had no chance,

Diggy shouldn’t. No one believed Jo Jo had much to inform about life and

hardship, about struggle and pain, about uncertainty and destiny—and they ought

not to be hypocrites. But Diggy can spit;

Jo Jo can’t!, I can hear some yelping. Well, yes and no. Yes: Diggy handles

breath-control better, and can imitate Rakim quite well. But, no: it wasn’t the

flow that got the Hip-Hop aficionados

seething: it was the silver fork hanging from Jo Jo’s lips. It was a firm

commitment to ensure Vanilla Ice would have no reincarnation. (All due respect

to that much-maligned man aside.)

Speaking with AllHipHop right after his mixtape dropped, the “abnormally

well-spoken” 14-year-old Diggy Simmons, now an Atlanta Records recording

artist, recounted

the extent of his Rap career/passion: “I’ve been rapping since I was 5 then

I stopped. I don’t even know why I stopped. Then two years ago I got back into

just recording normal tracks. I recorded a song and posted it on my blog and it

got crazy feed back, it wasn’t even that lyrical it was more for fun. I love

music, I love making it. I’m almost in the studio everyday.” 

Once, Hip-Hop offered loud voice of

political courage to command the attention of society toward moral correction. (Ever

heard “The Message,” “By the Time I Get to Arizona,” “Evil That Men Do,” “Burn

Hollywood Burn,” “Black Korea,” “Mystery Of Iniquity,” “Strange Ways,” or “American

Terrorist”?) Today, Hip-Hop fills vacuums: it’s a hobby; it’s an emotional

alleviator; it’s a social legitimator—it means you’re cool. Once, Hip-Hop offered the only legal means of true financial

liberation for kids trapped into unlivable conditions. Today, Hip-Hop adds an

extra “0”—to the many other 0s lined up from fashion and modeling and TV deals.

Aubrey Graham, better known as “Drake,”

fares no better in my book. And though three years ago (please listen to Room for Improvement), I could vouch for

him, today I hang my head in shame at the caricature Young Money has turned him

into. But the once-Degrassi (some

suburban White middle-class drama) star doesn’t mind: He rolled out the womb

into a golden crib.

For his much-anticipated (sure-to-flop)

debut album, So Far Gone, he’s been studying

Nas (“to understand how he painted those pictures and his bar structure and all

of that”) and Andre 3000. Take a few seconds to award Mr. Graham his ovation.

But a few of us—fans and artists alike—studied Nas for quite different reasons:

for the sense of agency and empowerment he provided our struggle; for the eloquent and extensive definition he gave to

inner-city reality; for the wisdom sprawled liberally from his lips to our

ears. No doubt artists can learn a good deal of poetic structure from Nas; but

when Rap music fails to inspire anymore, when technical mastery is all left to

glean from, something is wrong—either

with the teacher or the student, the speaker or the listener.

I tend to judge the likes of Drake like

Cormega would: “I don’t like when these spoiled rich kids … just get into

rap because it’s something they can

do. … They pops got money and they put ’em in the game and then they start

rapping about something, a life they could never live. Go do something else. … Ni**as

like us rap about sh** because we

lived it. These ni**as use Rap as a hobby.”

If you’ve ever let your eardrums—and

heart—fall victim to a Cormega track, the knee-jerk he’s hatin’ reaction shouldn’t find value following those comments:

he embodies every word. And Hip-Hop fans and artists have always stood close to

that timeless axiom—“no pain: no gain.” Not in a fascistic sense—as I picked up

from Nas and Damian Marley’s “Strong Will Continue”—but meaning, if hardship to you is running late to a

video shoot, or the late arrival of a chauffeur, or a missed opportunity to

clock your closet with a limited-stock-collection-edition sneaker line, you

might as well stay clear of the mic and pick up a more appealing, less

transient hobby—like curling.

And, sure enough, Hip-Hop fans have come

down terribly harsh on rich kids who, with good muscle movement, eventually made

it onto the roster at some major label outfit trying to suck up to their

parents. It’s only right that a keeping

it real-obsessed community should take sharp swords to the ankles of anyone

whose definition of poverty has more in solidarity with Carlton from The French Prince than J.J. from Good Times. (May I take this opportunity

to plunge into Will Smith? Nah, let’s move on.)

The code shouldn’t take much to crack:

we don’t greatly appreciate rich kids

because they can tell us next to nothing of what nihilism means, of what

fatalism means: in short, of what Hip-Hop means. If I ask readers to name one born-wealthy

Hip-Hop artist whose message has poked in their hearts the perseverance to keep

keepin’ on until someday, as Lil Boosie might put it (fall out your chairs,

purists!), “selling out the store/ my money don’t fold now/,” we might be

waiting till the trumpets sound, for an acceptable answer. But I let loose the

name “Tupac Amaru Shakur,” and libations shower the earth.

Listen, folks: I hate to be that guy—you

know, the party-crasher, the stink at the board meeting, the grump at the bar

mitzvah, the atheist at church; but wipe off your lips: you’re drooling. These

folks share nothing in common with the artists by whom our lives have been made

meaningful and purposeful. So, feel free to wash over their albums at your

local store: they don’t need the money. But some do—and if you’ll rather shell out precious coin to enlarge the

coffers of some glitterati scion, please don’t show your face around here any

longer. I don’t mind one less reader.

Tolu

Olorunda is a cultural critic whose work regularly appears on AllHipHop.com,

TheDailyVoice.com, and other online

journals. He can be reached at: Tolu.Olorunda@gmail.com.

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