“F*ck talking about the recession, the sh*t’s depressing.”
-Jay-Z, Jocking Jay-Z
In the mid-90s, rap took an interesting turn. Artists stopped dropping knowledge and screaming, “Fuck the police” to talk about their designer threads, beautiful women and expensive libations. Many would say it was Biggie who made it possible for rap to evolve from rugged to stuntastic. Donning tailored suits, he made it okay for rhymers to live the good life with no apologies. Later, in 1996, Jay-Z released the video for “Can’t Knock the Hustle,” which I consider the ultimate in stunting. His persona then, a cross between an Italian gangster and Big Daddy Kane (an apparent mentor), again set the standard for men to drop the Tims and pick up three-pieces while enjoying the best of the best.
Since then, rap has been consumed with…consumerism. The majority of rappers’ songs composed of talks of clothes, Italian designers some people still can’t pronounce, elaborate homes and private jets. For years I couldn’t put my finger on what to call it until Mr. West labeled it a “luxury rap,” on “Otis,” the second single from his collaboration project with Jay-Z, Watch the Throne. If those two know about anything, it’s definitely luxury. Carter and West made Forbes’ 2011 Cash Kings list coming in at #1 ($37 million) and #3 ($16 million) respectively.
Amid the buzz on social media networks and media outlets about the iconic album, there was a heavy debate over why fans pay their hard-earned money to hear rappers tell them they have more money and possibly live better lives. Billboard.com reports that the Watch the Throne will sell 500,000 units its first week of release. Rappers like these will always share their lives of great fortune, and we’ll always listen. Here’s why:
Fans need an escape.
Chances are if you’re struggling, living paycheck to paycheck, the closest you’re going to get to million dollar vacations is listening to Jay-Z tell you about it—atleast for a little while. If I’m broke, no way I’m paying to hear someone tell me about a struggle I know firsthand. I live that daily for free. When I press play, I can imagine and dream (as long as I don’t do it too much), and just maybe those lyrics can inspire to have things too.
What else are they gonna talk about?
Hold your horses. There is a myriad of issues to rap about other than Ace of Spades and platinum watches, like the stock market fiasco or the London Riots. You’ve just got to find a rapper who does that. My point is, every rapper, if they are established, has a niche or a subject matter that they rarely deviate from (unless a natural disaster happens). In “Jocking Jay-Z,” he says, “Haters like, ’Hov why you still talking money shit?’/Cuz I like money, bitch!” Clearly, they rap about what they like.
Sure, they can reflect on the times past before the money, and they do. In fact, West’s career was fueled by raps about his struggle before he made it big as a producer. He shared his experiences as only he could in his Bonnie & Clyde freestyle, “I mean my credit was so pathetic, I couldn’t get a debit/I’d fill out for a car, but shit, they’d always debt it/My girl come over tryna help me shine/how you gon’ help me get a car/your credit’s worser than mine…..Matter of fact, we broke as fuck. Those lyrics are sweet because there’s always someone who can relate, but that’s also why telling stories of fame and fortune are even sweeter. The struggle is why they have to talk about the come-up.
If I want conscious rap, I listen to Talib Kweli or Lupe Fiasco; If I want emotional rap, I go to Drake; If I want to be screamed at and lectured on the hood, I listen to DJ Khaled, and so on. Thus, if I want to hear about leer jets and such, I turn on Ye, Jay or Ross. Who gon’ stop me?
In rap, stunting is nothing new.
Listen to any freestyle rap from the 80s, and there’s cockiness. There’s talk about who got what, from the flyest girls to the best clothes and the hottest rhymes. Consider luxury rap that on steroids. After nearly 20 years of bragging and shutting opponents down, I doubt it stops anytime soon. By now, we may be a bit bored by it, but we can’t say we aren’t used to it.