One of the qualities of rap that has never failed to strike me is the seemingly "unwritten" requirement for rappers to justify themselves. What exactly do I mean? Sure rappers who managed to make it big are so not far removed from artists in other genres when it comes to living extravagantly and opulently, but they always seemed to be compelled to explain not only how they managed to become so successful. Perhaps there's something about how the talent to rhyme and spit words out quickly fails to grant one as much confidence as a thespian born with outrageously gorgeous features. We certainly don't see someone like Scarlett Jo constantly reminding others of her upbringing in New York City and using it as a means of justifying their existence in the public eye. So why then do characters such as Jay-Z constantly talk about their days in the Marcy Projects or 50 Cent reminiscing about pushing drugs and surviving an obscenely high number of gunshot wounds even when they sell millions?
Perhaps its the genre's origins as a socially conscious counter culture. It's sensible to believe that at some point this music was made for urban youths, and thus without a direct connection to urban culture, there is a disconnect and thus a loss of credibility. Maybe it's a function of American society; after all, the concept of meritocracy runs so deeply and strongly in our social consciousness that it manages to be manifest in many of our rich, our titans of industry, who happen to be self made men and women. Just as the SAT is a rite of passage for high school students, or the sadistic amount of lab time I subject myself to (complaining about being a Chemistry major is one of my chief hobbies, along with musing about rap :) ), the rap "game" microcosm (pun unintended) possesses its own set of requirements and demands, its very own straight and narrow path. In his 2005 single "Hate it or Love it," The Game justifies his standing as "rap's MVP" in part because of this pedigree (Compton) and the fact he's a product of a neighborhood so rough that he had to "sell dope for a Four-Finger ring." This song also hints at the highly self aware and self referential nature of the genre, as The Game traces his lineage all the way to Rakim through his childhood memory of his hero asking others to "check, check out my melody." The Game admits that while he can now get his mother a "red bow on a brand new Benz," he remains true to his roots, recounting his witnessing the murder of his confidantes.
Even though The Game will not be regarded as a legendary rapper, he represents the last of a dying breed. Kanye or Weezy or Trey Songz never mentioned memories of rough childhoods...partly because they weren't (in fact, Kanye's mother was a professor!). Maybe it's because they're more fixated on ensuring that everyone enjoy themselves by going Bottoms Up on the next drink; however, I'd argue that it's because Rap and Hip-Hop seem to have truly assimilated into mainstream culture (honestly, who 20 years ago could've imagined Ice-T on Law and Order SVU?). Maybe I'm just a very nostalgic character, but I find rap has lost much in this transition. As much as I laud the Kanye and others for being production savants, there's just something less compelling in hearing about Louis V, Gucci purses, and Versace sofas as opposed to The Game's recollection of death and sorrow. I want the chance to once again observe some ridiculous antic like 50's demand that he perform at the 2003 MTV Music Awards on a giant "Pimp Goblet" and snicker to myself something something like this: "that's quite alright...anyone who was lucky enough to get shot 9 times should also be given his time in the sun."