Tangent: shmoney politics

Gangsta rap sells, Vine trends sell, idiot-proof dances sell, and when all else fails, glorifying gun violence, misogyny, drug dealing, and ignorance sells when thrown together with a hot beat. Anyone can call Bobby Shmurda, Chief Keef, O.T. Genasis, and Migos all the hurtful names they want, but it should be known that their success is not predicated on a fluke, but rather on one of the only profitable formulas in the music industry today.

But just because music is profitable, does that mean it’s beneficial for society? We’ve been having the “is gangsta rap dangerous?” discussion for over twenty years now, and it hasn’t progressed further than the proliferation of the parental advisory sticker. It’s unclear whether violent rap begets violence (though its probably unlikely considering the heightened police state of the 1980s and 90s through today), but it undoubtedly glorifies violence and for that, some of the blame needs to go to N.W.A., Death Row Records, G-Unit, heck, even Grandmaster Flash for introducing the concept of rap reflecting reality. But what often gets lost in the conversation is where most of the blame should go: to record executives who fund hurtful music.

In his editorial for AllHipHop.com, Dr. Boyce Watkins takes issue with mostly white record execs that do more to glorify gangsta rap with their investments than the rappers do with their lyrics, writing: “…Epic (Records) didn’t cause all the murders occurring in black neighborhoods, but they are certainly seeking to profit from them.  They may not approve of the death and decay occurring in the lives of young black men, but they are happy to glorify it.” Gangsta rap is an inevitable byproduct of poverty and the prison industrial complex in the 21st century, but just like the shady suits at the DEA and for-profit prisons, record execs have consistently shown they have no problem profiting off the misery of impoverished black people.

Gangsta rap is not the juggernaut it used to be. The four most important figures in rap right now (Kanye West, Drake, Nicki Minaj, Kendrick Lamar) not only ignore the glorification of thuggery, but eschew it altogether. But gangsta rap is still such a presence that a no-talent rookie like Bobby Shmurda can lean into a top-10 hit while conscious rappers like Talib Kweli and Joey Bada$$ (all from the same borough, no less) failed to move the needle with their 2014 releases. It all boils down to funding. As long as poverty and racism exists, so will gangsta rap, but the decision to put it on the radio falls to wealthy people who choose to profit off of urban poverty. “Hot Nigga” is a great song, but as long as it normalizes and even glorifies gun violence, it isn’t a song we shouldn’t be listening to.


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