Get Rich or Die Tryin’: Rappers Pursuing the American Dream

The hip hop movement’s birth at the turn of the ‘80s shed light on the realities of the struggle in African-American ghettos. Over the decades, rappers have been flipping the bird to political correctness and prudes, and the most successful ones have embraced ostentatious materialism in their pursuit of the American Dream.

Get Rich or Die Tryin © Fair use / en.wikipedia.org

May 25, 2023 22:09 EDT

Back in the ’70s, the South Bronx was rife with poverty, societal neglect, and gang warfare. But out of that chaos, a cultural revolution was birthed. DJ Kool Herc, a Jamaican immigrant, introduced the world to the power of the breakbeat, spinning soul, funk, and disco records. This was the spark that ignited the flame of hip hop.

The streets embraced this new sound, and soon MCs started grabbing the mic, spitting rhymes and turning parties into lyrical battlegrounds. The Furious Five, with their charismatic frontman Grandmaster Flash, took this shit to a whole new level. Their track “The Message” dropped in ’82, and it was a raw portrayal of the harsh realities of life in the ghetto. It was all about keepin’ it real, speaking truth to power, and giving a voice to the voiceless.

Then came the legendary golden age of hip hop, with a slew of iconic artists droppin’ bombs that would shape the game forever. Run-DMC, Rakim, Public Enemy, and N.W.A—the names alone command respect. They rhymed with passion, skill, and wit, raising their middle fingers to the system that kept their communities down.

These artists brought the themes of money, power, sex, and drugs to the forefront. They painted vivid pictures of the hustle, the grind, and the pursuit of paper. Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s “White Lines” exposed the dark side of the coke game, while N.W.A’s entire Straight Outta Compton album laid bare the reality of police brutality and systemic racism. 

But rap wasn’t just about the struggle. It celebrated success, the hustle, and the good life. Biggie Smalls, the Notorious B.I.G., showed us the power of the hustle in “Juicy” with lyrics like, “It was all a dream, I used to read Word Up! Magazine, Salt-N-Pepa and Heavy D up in the limousine.” Those words were an anthem for anyone trying to rise up from the bottom.

And let’s not forget the ladies who paved their own way in this male-dominated scene. Salt-N-Pepa, Queen Latifah, and Lil’ Kim took control of their sexuality and gave a powerful voice to women in hip hop. With tracks like “Shoop” and “Ladies First,” they owned their power and commanded respect.

As hip hop spread its wings, it evolved and morphed into new sub-genres and styles, including one of its most notorious and commercially successful; gangsta rap.

Fuck tha Police: The Birth of Gangsta Rap

Gangsta rap emerged in the mid-1980s as a subgenre of hip-hop music. It originated primarily in the African American communities of South Central Los Angeles, California. The term “gangsta” reflects the genre’s focus on depicting the realities of street life, crime, violence, and the experiences of urban youth in marginalized communities.

Several artists and groups played significant roles in the development of gangsta rap. One of the earliest and most influential figures was Schoolly D, who released songs like “P.S.K. What Does It Mean?” in 1985, known for their explicit and gritty portrayals of inner-city life. However, it was N.W.A (Niggaz Wit Attitude), a pioneering group from Compton, California, that brought gangsta rap to the mainstream.

N.W.A, consisting of members such as Eazy-E, Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, MC Ren, and DJ Yella, released their groundbreaking album Straight Outta Compton in 1988. It was characterized by its fearless lyrics that reflected the harsh realities of street violence, police brutality, and gang culture. Songs like “Fuck tha Police” and “Gangsta Gangsta” became anthems of resistance and gave voice to the frustrations and experiences of Black youth.

The success of N.W.A and Ice-T in the late ‘80s paved the way for other gangsta rap artists and crews to emerge, Snoop Dogg, Tupac Shakur, The Notorious B.I.G., and many more.

Perhaps nobody said it better than Tupac, an incredibly gifted rapper, poet and storyteller who became the poster child of Gangsta rap. In the song ‘Starin’ Through my Rear View’, he summed up the pain of his generation:

“Multiple gunshots fill the block, the fun stops/
Niggaz is callin cops, people shot, nobody stop/
I wonder when the world stopped caring last night/
Two kids shot while the whole block staring/
I will never understand this society, first they try
To murder me, then they lie to me/

A few beats later he spits out the hook, warning the world that the end is near.

“They got me starin’ at the world through my rearview/
Go on, baby, scream to God, he can’t hear you/
I can feel your heart beatin’ fast ’cause it’s time to die/
Gettin’ high, watchin’ time fly”

On September 7, 1996, Tupac was gunned down in a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas, Nevada. He was 25 years old.

His songs have become the stuff of legend with their mesmerizing beats and poetic take on the life of an outlaw, including “California Love”, “Till the End of Time”, All Eyez on Me”, “Hail Mary” and “When Thugz Cry”. Twenty-seven years after he died, his music still raises the room temperature and makes those booties jiggle like jello.    

It is important to note that while gangsta rap has been criticized for its explicit content and sometimes glorification of violence, it also provided a platform for artists to voice their frustrations and bring attention to social and political injustices. It remains an influential and impactful subgenre within the broader landscape of hip-hop music.

Demolishing Wokeness

The 2000s introduced us to a new wave of artists who took hip hop to new heights. Jay-Z, Eminem, and Kanye West became cultural icons, dominating charts and shaping the sound of a new era. Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind” captured the ambition and the hustle of a generation, while Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” became an anthem for anyone chasing their dreams.

Hip hop has a reputation for being unapologetically raw and uncensored, often delving into themes that make the prim and proper folks squirm. Money, power, and sex are like the holy trinity of hip hop, and it’s entertaining to observe how they make the self-righteous cringe.

Take Jay-Z’s “Big Pimpin’,” for example. He says, “You know I thug ’em, fuck ’em, love ’em, leave ’em / ‘Cause I don’t fuckin’ need ’em.” Oh, mercy! That line sure doesn’t sit well with the sensitive souls who value emotional connection. But guess what? Jay-Z doesn’t give a damn about your delicate sensibilities.

Then we’ve got 50 Cent with his track “P.I.M.P.” He raps, “I don’t know what you heard about me / But a bitch can’t get a dollar out of me / No Cadillac, no perms, you can’t see / That I’m a motherfuckin’ P.I.M.P.” Oh, the horror! Denizens of the ivory tower can’t fathom why anyone would be so fixated on material possessions when there are deeper existential matters to ponder. It’s just not their cup of tea.

But here’s the thing: hip hop isn’t meant to cater to the refined tastes of the upper crust. It’s a cultural force that reflects the realities of the streets, where money, power, and sex often dominate the narrative. It’s unapologetic, brash, and larger than life. It speaks to a different audience, one that isn’t seeking intellectual enlightenment but rather a raw and authentic expression of life’s grittier side.

Celebrating sexual desire

Rap music has always prided itself on being counter-cultural, subversive, and rebellious. In a society where prudishness often reigns supreme, rap music serves as a bold middle finger to societal norms. It challenges the idea that discussions about sex should be kept behind closed doors and offers a raw, unfiltered portrayal of human desires.

In the realm of rap, hot women are like the Holy Grail. Artists can’t resist showering their lyrics with vivid descriptions of curvaceous figures, luscious lips, and hypnotizing gazes. From Sir Mix-a-Lot’s classic “Baby Got Back” to Cardi B’s unapologetic celebration of female sexuality in “WAP,” rap music revels in the art of celebrating the female form. Critics may scoff and call it superficial or objectifying, but let’s be honest here – it’s all part of the game. 

In the world of rap, it seems like the number of sexual partners you’ve had is directly proportional to your street cred. You’ll often hear rap lyrics filled with accounts of late-night escapades, bedroom acrobatics, and enough innuendos to make your grandmother blush. It’s like a never-ending competition to outdo each other in the realm of sexual prowess, and we’re all here for the wild stories and exaggerated swagger.

Let’s give credit where it’s due – rap music has taken the art of wordplay and metaphors to a whole new level. While some may argue that explicit lyrics about hot women and sex lack depth, true connoisseurs of the genre know that there’s more beneath the surface. Most rappers are skilled wordsmiths, weaving intricate rhymes and clever metaphors that add layers of meaning to their lyrical prowess. So, even if it seems like a straightforward ode to sexual desire, there’s often an undercurrent of social commentary or personal expression lurking within those lascivious verses.

From Projects to Private Jets

Picture this: a struggling artist from the rough streets, surrounded by poverty and adversity, armed with nothing but a dream and a microphone. Fast forward a few years, and that same artist is now dripping in diamonds, cruising in luxury cars, and living in mansions that would make Scrooge McDuck blush. The rags-to-riches stories of iconic rappers not only embody the American Dream but also send up the anti-capitalist rhetoric popular in white liberal circles.

Hip hop’s success stories are nothing short of astonishing. Take Jay-Z, for example. From his humble beginnings in Brooklyn’s notorious Marcy Projects to becoming a billionaire entrepreneur, he’s the embodiment of the rags-to-riches narrative. He didn’t just become one of the most influential rappers of all time; he transformed himself into a business mogul, owning a stake in everything from music streaming platforms to luxury champagne brands. And he’s not alone. Artists like Dr. Dre, Sean Combs, and Rihanna have leveraged their talents and entrepreneurial spirit to build empires that would make Wall Street tremble.  

If there’s one thing successful rappers are unapologetic about, it’s flaunting their wealth. From diamond-encrusted grills to chains that weigh more than a small child, rappers have perfected the art of bling. Critics may decry this ostentatious display of opulence as shallow or materialistic, but let’s be real here – who doesn’t secretly want to rock a gold-plated suit while sipping Cristal from a diamond-studded goblet? Those rappers have turned the celebration of wealth into an art form, and their unapologetic embrace of luxury upends the anti-capitalist narrative, giving a middle finger to those who decry their success.

Materialism as a Middle Finger

Anti-capitalist rhetoric often bemoans the materialistic excesses of the wealthy, viewing them as symbols of greed and inequality. But here’s the thing – rappers have taken that narrative and flipped it on its head. They revel in the materialistic aspects of their success, not just as a personal indulgence but as a defiant act against a society that said they couldn’t make it. For them, the diamonds, the cars, and the lavish lifestyles aren’t just symbols of opulence; they’re a giant middle finger to a system that often keeps the underprivileged down. It’s their way of saying, “Look at me now!”

Beyond the bling and the flashy lifestyles, the most successful hip hop artists are defying anti-capitalist rhetoric through their entrepreneurial endeavors. They’re not just consuming wealth; they’re creating it. They’ve become savvy businesspeople, establishing record labels, fashion lines, and investment portfolios that generate money and opportunities for themselves and their communities. They’ve turned their hustle into a blueprint for success, inspiring generations to chase their dreams and break free from the chains of poverty.

While the haters may turn up their noses at their opulent displays of success, these artists have flipped the script. They’ve transformed materialism into a form of rebellion, entrepreneurship into a tool for empowerment, and their success into an inspiration for others to break free from the limitations imposed by society. So, let the champagne flow, the diamonds shine, and the rappers keep flipping the bird to anyone who says they can’t have it all.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.


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