Rich Kids in Hip-Hop: Who Said the Gates Were Closed?

[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 or its employees.I’m writing this because I’m so sick of limiting beliefs in rap music. I’m sick of the idea […]

[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 or its employees.

I’m writing this because I’m so sick of limiting beliefs in rap music. I’m sick of the idea that you can’t make a significant contribution to the art form because your dad was a hip-hop pioneer (Diggy Simmons) or that you can’t be real if you’re 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 meal’s 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. I’ve 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 97’s 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, I’d like to turn it over to one of our forefathers, DJ Kool Herc. In the introduction to Jeff Chang’s book “Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop” he wrote:

“To me hip-hop says, ‘Come as you are.’ We are a family. It’s about you and me, connecting one to one. That’s 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 don’t 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. It’s mighty presumptuous to assume that you know what other people are or aren’t 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 Drake’s story? Is it remotely possible that he had hardships just like everyone else?

Here’s 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 dad’s 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 Drake’s “street cred,” but because I want to challenge the assumptions fans and critics have about artists who don’t come from the most impoverished backgrounds. Just because Aubrey (as the close minded hardcore hip-hop types like to call him) doesn’t constantly rhyme about his father being behind bars that doesn’t mean that it didn’t 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 don’t 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 doesn’t mean that I didn’t know “cousins and aunts” who were there with “roaches everywhere.” It doesn’t mean I can’t comprehend or appreciate those words.

Likewise, someone who knows “real struggle” might be able to relate to Diggy’s desire to do something on his own, or Drake’s admission that he sometimes makes the wrong decisions or Kanye West’s 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 doesn’t 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 it’s this train of thought that gives us rappers like Rick Ross, who’s 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.  We’re scaring off great wordsmiths.  We’re encouraging our “stars” to lie to us and in the end we’re 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, we’ll 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 don’t 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.