I finally imported all of the old blog posts from edustir dating back to 2007, so…if you were looking for old blog posts of mine, you can now find them here.

Hip-Hop’s awkward embrace of capitalism

I heard Rich Boy’s “Let’s Get This Paper” because my brother would be listening to it while it was on television. Then I actually watched the video once and I thought, “well at least the beat is good.” (Of course…) I downloaded it to my Zune and it was in the random rotation just like anything else and one time, it came on.

I listened to the whole thing and wasn’t sure WHAT to think about it. I mean, I appreciated the anti-drug selling message.

And then we can’t get a job, ridin’ we get them pounds
If it ain’t that coke then we get that ‘dro and break it down
See that ice, the dope man paradise
Boy better think twice, that dope have you doin’ life

But then, he started talking about welfare and I got a little uneasy.

They tore down the projects, so where we gonna move next?
They takin’ them food stamps, they stop government checks

But then I thought about it more critically and I began to think about the people out there who don’t have any hope at all. Their days and nights are confined to thinking about basic necessities of life and who feel as if they are completely disconnected from the rest of society, who not only don’t understand their plight or care about why they are where the are.

That’s not what I wanted to write about, though.

Songs like this aren’t all that surprising in hip-hop and in fact, some are far more candid the further away from the mainstream you get. How one separates the wheat from the chaff in terms of the hyperbole and uncomfortable embrace of socialism or redistributive economics, is really an exercise in selective hearing.

With all of the talk about people losing their homes due to the sub-prime mortgage “crisis”, I’d like to focus on a group that have completely fallen off the radar.

Katrina victims were home owners. These weren’t people who necessarily had a lot of money. But over 60% of them owned their homes. I felt that the post-Katrina circumstances would have been a good opportunity to help those people — and those who were just renting — to be part of a pilot program aimed at community building and home ownership. By using tenets of the ownership society as a something other than a discussion piece, but something actually used in practice would have been a marvel. But I suppose that makes too much sense for politicians, as usual.

The GOP had has a unique opportunity for years now to match their rhetoric of entrepreneurship and urban renewal by developing policies that would actually target many of the afflicted in rural and urban areas.

I say rural because I realize that it’s probably not all that sexy for a party that can barely get more than 10% of the black vote to support policies that benefit them in an era of patronage politics. But there rural communities that are on the decline and that are losing their kids. Not because the kids necessarily want to leave, but simply because there aren’t any incentives for businesses to grow and INNOVATE in these very livable communities.

The whole rural v. urban debate is an entire set of posts for another day, though.

Hey, money my motivator, my mouth, my money maker
Now I don’t see them haters, so let’s go get this paper

And then it hit me. This is the ode to entrepreneurship like none other. It’s a miracle they let him put this song on the album for fear it might cause thousands to do something other than scare the living daylights out of entire neighborhoods.

But then, this was Rich Boy’s debut album and it’s not as if they really thought he’d have a bigger market than his region (the South) and so, bigger places like Chicago and New York were safe from being tainted by this clandestine message of DIY scrappyness.

The fact that exasperation that he sees his entire neighborhood in a shambles, folks close to him dying or going to jail and he realizes through their examples, comes to the conclusion that he has to do something else.

I would hardly conclude that there is therefore any demonstrable evidence that Hip-Hop has indeed beaten the welfare state, but I would suggest that tracks like these indicate an entire generation of young folks coming up with a desire to do what others do, but rather than to ‘dare to dream’ towards suburban lives like many of their parents, their goal is to build it right in their own neighborhoods.

There are lots of other tracks that talk about ‘getting that money’ and in far more crass ways indicate how they’re going to make it hand over fist. But the underlying sentiment is exactly the same in each case. It’s to say “we didn’t have it before. We’ve been shut out and we want our chance. And if you’re concerned that I’m who I was then, look at me now with all of this new stuff I have, so clearly I can’t be that same person you thought me to be then.”

I don’t know if you can concoct a more constructive dialogue out of the entire conversation than that. My difficult with the way rappers talk is that more than any other genre of music in the American mainstream, hip-hop comes from the experiences of actual people who are not mincing many words in articulating to you their frustrations directly and candidly.

I could cite a number of tracks from Jay-Z, Pharrell Williams and Lil’ Wayne, among many others who (off the top of my head) have essentially tried to get you to understand that they are operating in a completely different stratosphere from the ordinary bloke and use this not so much to inspire you to do the same thing, as much as they’re trying to set themselves apart from everyone else. (Though the group Clipse on the track Hello New World do precisely this. I came away impressed with them saying “if we can do it, you can do…”)

I doubt these artists are trying to deliberately focus the attention of their listener base towards a wholesale embrace of capitalism by examples of lamenting lost welfare checks and gentrification of neighborhoods that were ignored, but rediscovered by modern prospectors looking for the Missouri of New Urbania.

The fact that the conversation continues to become more savvy and focused more decisively on building an inroads to the larger economic community, as opposed than the “old way” street capitalism ethos of hustling in one’s own community and entrepreneurship as a buzzword rather than a practical way of life is an interesting turn of events buried into the mainstream rap conversation.