[Editor’s note: This post is a direct response to Tolu Olorunda’s
editorial entitled, “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.Im writing this because Im so sick of limiting beliefs in rap music. Im sick of the idea that you cant make a significant contribution to the art form because your dad was a hip-hop pioneer (Diggy Simmons) or that you cant be real if youre a half Jewish kid from Canada who was on a teen TV show (Drake).
In his editorial Tolu writes, 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 [of] where your meals coming from.
Well, the upper middle class kid in me wants to know why not? Why not? Where in the hip-hop rulebook does it say that if someone is born into an advantageous situation that their opinion is void? Or to take it further that their contributions are abusive?
I love hip-hop. Ive dedicated my entire professional career to it. I used to subscribe to Vibe magazine when it was oversized. I put up posters on my wall. I laboriously made mixtapes using the radio, scotch tape and cassettes. I went to Hot 97s SummerJam religiously. I transcribed lyrics into composition notebooks for fun. And I did this all from my privileged, upper middle class home. In my opinion, the gates to the almighty kingdom of hip-hop were never closed to the fortunate.
In fact, I know the gates have always opened wide for a rich kid who wanted to support their favorite artist by purchasing an album, shelling out for concert tickets and dropping some change at the merch stand as well. I guess money gets past the gatekeepers but thought provoking poetry gets turned away.
Hip-hop is not about exclusion. At this point, Id like to turn it over to one of our forefathers, DJ Kool Herc. In the introduction to Jeff Changs book Cant Stop, Wont Stop he wrote:
To me hip-hop says, Come as you are. We are a family. Its about you and me, connecting one to one. Thats why it has universal appeal. It has given people a way to understand their world, whether they are from the suburbs or the city or wherever. I think hip-hop has bridged the culture gap. It brings white kids together with black kids, brown kids with yellow kids. They all have something that they love. It gets past the stereotypes and people hating each other because of those stereotypes.
Working-class kids, Tolu writes, can teach us about nihilism and fatalism while privileged youngsters dont have much to inform about life and hardship, about struggle and pain, about uncertainty and destiny.
Are. you. kidding. me?
Ever hear the Notorious B.I.G. song Mo Money Mo Problems? Anyone who is living knows about life. We ALL know about hardship, struggle, pain, uncertainty and destiny. Its mighty presumptuous to assume that you know what other people are or arent going through internally. Does Tolu know the pressure that comes with having to follow in massive footsteps? People who come from success automatically have a bigger fear of failure because they have more to lose. How about giving the little dudes some credit for putting themselves out there?
Tolu knocks Aubrey Drake Graham because he rolled out the womb into a golden crib, but does he really know Drakes story? Is it remotely possible that he had hardships just like everyone else?
Heres what Drake told me in an interview about how he started rapping.
Actually the way I really started writing was my father was in jail and there was an inmate there that used to share my dads phone time. He had nobody to talk to. He used to spit rhymes to me over the phone I used to listen to him til the phone would cut off. I would listen and I liked it. I liked the whole rap thing so I would start writing and we would start sharing it. Eventually my dad got out and from there I just continued it.
I offer this, not because I want to prove Drakes street cred, but because I want to challenge the assumptions fans and critics have about artists who dont come from the most impoverished backgrounds. Just because Aubrey (as the close minded hardcore hip-hop types like to call him) doesnt constantly rhyme about his father being behind bars that doesnt mean that it didnt affect him during his developmental years. It may have shaped his whole perspective on life. It may drive everything he does, every bar that he spits.
Why are people are so quick to dismiss others before they actually know where they are coming from?
Tolu likes Nas for the wisdom sprawled liberally from his lips to our ears.
So do I. But I dont think that we should limit your wisdom providers to the people who come from the inner city. To quote Jay-Z, that sounds stupid to me. As someone who came from a privileged upbringing I felt the Ghostface Killah lyrics that he cited at the beginning of his editorial to my core (All That I Got Is You). No, I never had to survive winters, snotty nosed with no coats but that doesnt mean that I didnt know cousins and aunts who were there with roaches everywhere. It doesnt mean I cant comprehend or appreciate those words.
Likewise, someone who knows real struggle might be able to relate to Diggys desire to do something on his own, or Drakes admission that he sometimes makes the wrong decisions or Kanye Wests passion for fighting what he believes in.
I, for one, would rather take my rappers rich and impassioned over poor and complacent any day. Just because someone comes from poverty doesnt mean that they have more value to give than the guy who appears to be rapping with a silver spoon in his mouth.
I think that its this train of thought that gives us rappers like Rick Ross, whos embarrassed to admit that he held down a respectable job before making it big, and Plies, who hems and haws when asked if he was the valedictorian of his class. Were scaring off great wordsmiths. Were encouraging our stars to lie to us and in the end were only shortchanging ourselves.
I think that we should support, with our dollars, any artist that is living and rapping authentically, regardless of his current financial situation. In turn, well get more artists that will make meaningful and purposeful contributions to our lives. Besides, after one successful album that wise street soldier that you love so much suddenly has way more in common with the rich kid than he does with you.
Instead of questioning, who let the gates open why dont we just celebrate the fact that they are open and that everyone from the projects to the penthouse has an equal chance to make a difference.