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Cerebral Cypher

Rap and the American Dream

Nov 20, 2006

A Treatise: Rap and the American Dream by Angela Kariotis

It has been easy to denounce the harrowing state of Hip Hop, or more accurately, rap music. Hip Hop is experiencing a strenuous time while developing into adult-hood. Hip Hop is constantly referred to as a culture. I believe it is part of my culture, and I participate in my culture actively. However, I also recognize that every successful culture adopts or creates a mission statement, a philosophy, a code. Because Hip Hop was made in America, I can only now contextualize it in our present framework. In terms of thesis statements there are two philosophical implications in Hip Hop that I have written about in my work. I haven’t written about these in an expositional sense, but they are the underlying themes behind my character’s motive power, the impetus of the story. These themes are making due with what you’ve got, and getting each other’s back. Loyalty and ingenuity are cornerstones in Hip Hop as a culture. I’m bringing it back to the neighborhood and the home, amongst relationships, these things all cultures depend on.

Right now though for our purposes I’d like to expound upon the relentless bashing of Hip Hop’s popular rap music, not only from those outside the culture but those in the know. Hip Hoppers trashing Hip Hop. It’s easy to call for more conscious Hip Hop. It’s very easy to trash acts like 50 cent. We hear hollers against the misogyny, materialism, and violence. We hear people calling for rappers to make music that is more positive, and community based. I used to believe it too. I used to think: how dare these rappers create music about fancy cars, traveling around the world, and inordinate amounts of money? What does that do to the state of mind of those who cannot access this life? What does it do to one’s psyche in constant desire? Desperately wanting to live up to a manufactured standard? I was wrong because I missed a valid point.

We live in a free society. I have no right to tell another artist what they are free to create. Unless I want someone one day to knock on my door and give me a prescription for what my art should be. Christians follow the golden rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” I invoke Confucius here as he asserts, “Do not do unto others what you would not want them to do unto you.” I find it’s a better focus of energy.

In actuality, these rappers exemplify the American Dream. The American dream has been the cover story now more than ever. “You have to be asleep to believe it”, says George Carlin. The July 17, 2006 issue of The Economist ran a feature about inequality and the American Dream, how it’s harder now to get ahead than ever before. But the American Dream exists. We just have to look for it someplace else. We don’t live in a caste system. We live in a society based on a meritocracy, we recognize value for value. That’s what capitalism is all about. I was resentful of these rappers rapping so much about money. That was my own issue. I used to work pro bono, doing art projects for a minimum fee. I did nothing to extinguish the romanticism of the starving artist. I didn’t manage myself well. But that is in the past. Now, it’s strictly value for value as a professional. This is not my hobby. Actors and other artists constantly do work for free. Why? What imagined benefit will one receive? Why not do the same work for a fee? No matter how nominal. Value for value. Otherwise we are living in a communist state. And I will not live in a communist state. I want to earn what I make and keep what I earn. These rappers are entrepreneurs. They are their own small business identities. Most importantly, they are self-sufficient. They didn’t wait for grants or defend their worth in an application paragraph. They don’t wait for anyone to give them anything. They actively create their opportunities. People like to invest in others like this. Ludacris produced his own album himself with money he saved. 50 cent sold his albums out of the trunk of his car. These artists believed in themselves before anyone else did. These kinds of people are easy to support and invest in. They are bonifide and in it for the long run. These are amicable partnerships. No one wants to invest in the unsure thing. Ludacris and 50 cent deserve everything they have. It’s not about just getting money, but making money. They have a good product. It’s not enough to want something. You have to have a good product, a good idea, a good service. Value for value. What do you have to offer?

These bastardized rappers are met with a complete lack of understanding. The role of art and the artist is to re-create their perception of reality. Their perception. What right does the public have to edit or censor that perception? How can I edit someone’s autobiography? And about materialism: these artists made something from nothing. That is the American Dream. They created work about their experiences. These songs about materialism are actually hopeful. It boasts that success is attainable. If you don’t have money, you can make money, so long as you have a good idea. It’s not the diamonds or yachts that are important; it’s the fact that they can have it that is. These rappers demystify being rich and successful. They are not guilty for being rich. There is a correlation between success and making money. There are other ways to be successful, but in this sense money offers financial freedom and further investment opportunities. In Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, she writes about the biggest mistake you can make, thinking that the business man is devoid of creativity. The biggest fool, she writes, is the artist who thinks the businessman is his enemy.

It’s easy to be a critic. But anyone who says “this should be this and that should be that,” should do it themselves. Don’t tell people what music they should make or records to play; you make the music you want to hear. You make those songs instead of asking others to edit themselves. Toni Morrison says she started writing because she wanted to write the book she wanted to read. Ghandi says, be the change you want to see in the world. Too often we wait for others to provide for us. This is not self-sufficient. There are conscious rappers out there, Mos Def, Common, and Talib Kweli. There is room for all kinds of styles. Listeners must be proactive in seeking out what they want to listen to. Radio stations are privately owned. They have no responsibility to anyone except running their business and making a profit. If you are not hearing what you want on the radio, go buy a CD, read alternative magazines to find out about new acts, ask your friends what they’re listening too, crack open a magazine and see who’s playing around town, invest in satellite radio, use the internet. Do not be a passive listener. George Bernard Shaw asserts, if you don’t go get what you want you’ll have to settle for what you get.

Bling is a word used to demonize rap content. “All you hear are songs about bling bling,” quote passive critics. But they miss a brilliant point. Cash Money Millionaires’ Lil Wayne coined an entirely new term. He created a new word. Bling is a word now in the New Webster’s Dictionary. That feat is adjacent to the new verb google. “Can you go google the word bling?” Brilliant. We have new words in our language.

Rappers are rappers. They did not necessarily agree to be role models. They are not the parents of our children. They do not bear the responsibility of raising our kids. Refer to Eminem’s hit, I am whatever you say I am. Parents and other adults are worse then ever. Parents blame movies, TV, video games, and music, for all the harm that they themselves inflict. Parents are debilitated, they are out of touch, they do not know the technology their kids know how to use, kids are better at abstract thinking, multi-tasking, and non-linear narratives. These are talents that are equipping them to live and contribute to the future world. These are skills learned from the mediums parents scream against. Parents are becoming outdated. And listeners need to know a song is a song. The set in a video is rented. No one has any responsibility to anyone. Artists are only supposed to reach their potential, not be conducive to someone else’s. The public is like a mob. A crazed mob. Masses of people frighten me. They want to own everything, except their own accountability. They want others, the creators, to work with them in mind, for their benefit. This false sense of ownership is criminal. This mythical collective society does not exist. It’s suffocating individuality. And after all, it is individuals who move the world.

This is why Hip Hop is slowly adopting a philosophy after-all, something Machiavellian. Robert Greene is heralded as Hip Hop’s sage by The New Yorker’s November 12th issue. His book, The 48 Laws of Power is required reading in the rap game. This is rap’s defense against the looters. Ludacris rhymes, I went from ashy to classy. I like Ludacris because I know who he really is, like I know 50 cent is also Curtis Jackson. What I mean is, I recognize the duality between Diddy and Sean Combs. Their stories are inspiring. They have the audacity of self-sufficiency, of hope. They made a plan. And those who hate their music can’t relate to it, because they don’t have a similar hope for themselves.
Birthdays was the worst days/ Now we sip champagne when we thirsty/ The Notorious B.I.G.’s song Juicy might be the new American Dream testimonial.