Mill is exactly right. Mainstream hip-hop has become pro wrestling.
More than ever, the game has become more about viral popularity, perceived image and one’s ability to pack shows. While I genuinely think the music coming out of the speakers is as good as ever, the sideshows are reminiscent of the theatrics of World Wrestling Entertainment and threaten to make the rap game more of a modern day minstrel show than it already is. And with the recent deaths of several aspiring rappers, it’s a good time to get a grip on the message.
Now, certain heads will tell you that hip-hop died long ago, in some faraway cipher that exists in their high-school/college-age minds, preventing them from ever liking anything new. I'm not that guy.
But think about how in the WWE, it’s the absurd promos, wacky shtick and backstage drama that clearly are the most interesting part of the story. From a writer's perspective, it's fascinating to see it develop. You don't even have to be a fan of wrestling to enjoy a program.
Meanwhile, what we saw in Atlanta on Saturday is the hip-hop corollary. What I’ve realized as someone who grew up as primarily a hip-hop fan, is that the sideshow has moved from a genuine attempt to grow the culture. The drama has become the only show worth watching for most fans. It feels as if not one person really even cares what anyone’s rapping about these days, which in itself is fine, if the sideshow weren’t so irresponsible.
Rapper Rick Ross is an obvious example. He and Young Jeezy have had latent beef for some time now and decided to exchange vocal taunts at the Atlanta Civic Center on Saturday. Meanwhile add other lingering disagreements such as the one allegedly involving 50 Cent’s entourage, and you’ve got yourself a parking lot skirmish that forced the Atlanta Police Department to show up and calm things down. It might as well have been The Rock and John Cena squaring off before Wrestlemania..
But the problem in the rap game is that the actors on the stage can’t separate art from reality. It’s a familiar issue in hip-hop, but for all the woofing aspiring rappers are still dying and going to jail with too much frequency. And that’s because a lot of them are doing anything they can to emulate what the most successful artists have going on. And what they’re finding out is that there are very real consequences to the buffoonish exaggerations that laud the drug and prison culture lifestyle that many mainstream rappers exploit.
One kid in Chicago was shot over crew/rap beef. Another life was lost after a young artist tweeted "YOLO," — the popular term started by Drake that stands for "You only live once" — while bragging about driving drunk, then died in a fiery car crash minutes later.
Can you blame rap directly for that? No. But can you point to it? Yes. But that's not going to happen anywhere in the game because that might considered a form of dry snitching—another no-no in the clownish rules that determine what's acceptable public behavior in hip-hop culture these days, apparently.
Similarly, pro wrestling had to face an ugly truth when it's former performers starting turning up dead due to the drug and substance abuse problems many of them developed while trying to pursue their dreams of stardom and couldn't shake when those came true or never materialized. Guys were willing to do almost anything to gain an edge that could make them a star.
Now, when any dispute or so-called beef between artists unfolds on my television, I automatically presume it is scripted and both sides are willing participants as entertainers. Maybe BET will start handing out championship belts instead of trophies.
But I feel for the younger generation of fans. Having to watch this current iteration of hip-hop — effectively an all-made for TV product— has to be boring. The thing is, when I learned that wrestling was really fake, I liked it more than ever. It almost seemed like the work to be fake was more impressive than what it took to be real. I really hope I'm not forced to appreciate the same qualities in rappers. But I'm afraid I might be late on that.
I guess this is what America views as black entertainment in 2012.
Clinton Yates is a columnist for The RootDC.
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