I often find myself in conversations centered on the question, “What happened to hip hop?” The best answer that I’ve found came from HBO “Real Time” host Bill Maher in reference to a previous conversation he had with rapper Jay-Z.
Maher had chastised Jay about his lyrics, particularly the over-the-top braggadocio about Maybachs, Ace of Spades and spending Euros (that’s right, plural) that has come to define the Brooklyn-born rapper in the later stages of his career. “Why don’t people hate you?” Maher asked. (I’m paraphrasing.)
“They see themselves living through me,” Jay-Z responded.
What Jay neglected to mention is that not everyone feels this way. It’s information that Jay-Z and his phalanx of bodyguards know and information that rapper 2 Chainz was apparently unaware of.
While some folks do listen to the music with reverence, living their lives through their favorite rapper’s lyrics about jewelry, cars and clothes they will never be able to afford, for many it’s just a reminder of everything they don’t have. Mr. Chainz learned this the hard way.
On a street corner in San Francisco earlier this week, the man born Tauheed Epps was robbed at gunpoint for his jewelry, cell phone and cash. It was a scary scene, but I couldn’t help chuckling. It was a reminder that at some point reality comes for us all. Even rappers.
Today’s reality is that the official Black unemployment rate is over 13 percent. The National Urban League’s “State of Black America 2012″ report finds that “almost all of the economic gains of the last 30 years have been lost” since late 2007, and “the ladders of opportunity for reaching the black middle class are disappearing.”
And while a serious contingent of young Black men suffer through this everyday struggle, the wealthy are harnessing greater and greater amounts of money and it’s become particularly apparent that they have no plan to share with the rest of us.
To wit, earlier this year, Oxfam reported that the fortunes made by the world’s 100 richest people through 2012 – roughly $240 billion – would be enough to lift the world’s poorest people out of poverty four times over. In the Oxfam report, “The Cost of Inequality: How Wealth and Income Extremes Hurt Us All,” the international charity noted that in the past 20 years, the richest 1 percent had increased their incomes by 60 percent.
Poverty in America is as real as it’s ever been and self aggrandizing rappers with two (or more) chains on, walking down the street with their entourage make pretty easy targets when your stomach is empty.
There comes a point when a man who’s down on his luck stops wanting to have jewelry like 2 Chainz and starts wanting to have 2 Chainz’s jewelry. And there comes a point at which he simply takes it by force.