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Protecting Rappers From Themselves (and Protecting Rappers from the Guys There to Protect Rappers from Themselves)

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The obvious but worth repeating part first: If you’re a big-time rapper and you make your reputation talking about your weed and your guns, even if you do it really creatively (Wayne or Gucci) or like, render the uglier details of it all particularly well (Wayne, Gucci, or Lil Boosie), you’re going to be a fucking target. Not saying it’s fair, not saying it isn’t just flat-out racist–it’s also rockist–but it’s true.

The less obvious part: These arrests are indeed, a mix of stupidity and misread privilege, but it’s also a kind of nihilism that doesn’t go away just because now a whole bunch of people know who you are and you got songs on the radio. If there’s any “positive” to say, Gucci going to jail or the ridiculous amount of hip-hop deaths every year, it’s that in some roundabout way, it’s but one more way that hip-hop calls attention to a lot of the dirt swept to the side or ignored in this country:

How fucked it still is to be black or poor or poor and black. How “the bootstraps” stuff sounds good and inspiring but ignores all those years it took to pull up those bootstraps and all the scheisty, shitty people it put you into contact with that don’t just go away, or your awful diet, or the doctors you never visited because you didn’t have any dough or health insurance, or the generations of family that didn’t even have the possibility for bootstraps-pulling and you’re literally inheriting their health problems…all that stuff doesn’t go away once your life is Bill O’Reilly approved.

J. Dilla’s death to lupus, Baatin’s battle with mental illness and his recent death, speak to the plight of the black lower-class–and if you got an imagination, the lower class as a whole–as much as say, [INSERT RAPPER HERE] getting shot.

And still, there’s some uncomfortable something else coursing through these arrests. Namely, it’s the very clear way that labels are scooping up these guys, promising them money–because they already have fame–and slightly, over time, shifting their style and approach to rap–in a sense marketing them–to make them more “pop”, while doing none of the stuff to stop them from getting arrested and then, slowly but surely dropping them.

Perhaps you saw, “Lil Wayne’s Sizzurp-Guzzler Blues”, from The Village Voice two weeks ago. It describes the weird way that the Lil Wayne documentary The Carter went from a doc playing at Sundance, to a doc “mysteriously pulled” from Sundance, to one that Wayne’s record label says Wayne himself no longer approves, to a quiet release on iTunes and DVD.

What’s implied in the article and what seems pretty obvious to anyone following the doc’s story since Sundance, is that a verite-style documentary that shows Wayne smoking a lot of weed and drinking a lot of purple, is no longer a good look for the rapper whose face is now slapped across T-shirts in Hot Topic.

That it’s all wrapped-up as if it’s Wayne himself who has an issue with the documentary is where it gets really problematic. It also recalls all that weird internet stuff Noz dealt with in regards to Gucci’s label, which claimed that it was Gucci himself opposed to these leaks. Now, it’s hardly inconceivable that a year or so after Wayne smoked tons of weed on camera he feels kinda strange about it and it’s very possible that Gucci himself doesn’t want his big album to leak, but there’s something more nefarious going on here too. It’s a label no longer speaking for the rapper but speaking as the rapper.

And it also seems to be a label, coming from a place of authority, and providing misinformation to a rapper–telling Wayne this looks bad for him, telling Gucci about the concerns about leaks–that the rapper will no doubt take very seriously. That then gets translated into “Wayne doesn’t approve of this documentary”/”Gucci doesn’t want any leaks”. It reminds me of the many Boosie interviews like this one back when Superbad came out, where Boosie mentioned the album’s “for the ladies” slant–because women buy albums apparently–and it’s solidified by this interview where he basically reveals all the bullshit smuggled onto Superbad.

There’s also the effect on the music itself. Boosie can attest to how Superbad was compromised, and something like Gucci’s “Spotlight” is now just to be expected–though the return of the Plies version of “Wasted” and the relegating the OJ version to an iTunes EP, sounds like a wholesale dumping of Gucci’s weirder, regional aspects–and even Wayne’s No Ceilings sounds like a once-wild rapper tied-down, those limits self-imposed or not, but most certainly rooted in a slightly kinder, less harsh, more palpable version of weirdness than the syrup-sipping “pussy monster” of a few years ago.

These are labels that signed these guys for the very things they’e now being advised to temper or toss out altogether. Now, this is all speculation, but as these rappers go to jail, this image of a label deeply concerned with the whims of their artist–preventing negative documentaries, staving-off leaks–just seems ridiculous.

And you know, it sure would help if these guys would figure their shit out, bizarre, made-to-doom-you, draconian probation violation laws or not.

further reading/viewing:

-”Lil Wayne’s Sizzurp-Guzzler Blues” by Jed Lipinski from Village Voice
-”Music Reviewer’s Blog Suspended for Promoting Music” from Techdirt
-TSS Presents Fifteen Minutes with Lil Boosie
-”Dirty World (Lil Boosie Interview) by Maurice Garland for Ozone Magazine

Written by Brandon

November 23rd, 2009 at 7:12 am

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