In the second part of Malik Crumpler’s extensive exploration of Gangster Rap, he takes a look at the impact of crack and home policies meant to curtail (in part) the crack epidemic. Ironically these very same policies meant to bring order helped (to a degree) to pave a fertile ground for Gangster Rap to succeed.
Through Gangster Rap the impoverished and criminal classes of America were able to voice their traumas, hopes, horrors and sufferings experienced during The War On Drugs. More significantly, Gangster Rap, forced popular media to acknowledge the human suffering caused by the crack epidemic instead of obscuring the racial and social injustice with faceless statistics.
Either way you want to spin it, what remains objectively clear are the soaring sales of rap music after Gangster Rap took over the popular music markets. In fact, only 13 of the top 50 selling rap albums of all time are not Gangster or violent rap. Regardless of any argument made about the harmful or positive effects of Gangster Rap, the buying audience preferred it to other forms of rap music. And whose fault is that, other than the audience, the crowd, the buyer?
Sex, violence and ‘isms have always outsold any other form of entertainment in America. Even cheeseburgers outsell carrots, hands down. So as far as I’m concerned, it’s not the music or the artist or the industry to blame for the current popularity of psychologically harmful, violent, homophobic, racists, materialistic, misogynist rap music, it’s the buying audience.
The Hip Hop audience, since the rise of Gangster Rap is 100% different than it was at the height of The Golden Age. During that period, the only time you heard “dirty raps” was in the deep underground. Dirty rappers were considered shameful servants of white supremacists and thus zombies, devoid of knowledge of self. Rappers like the Furious Five, Slick Rick, Kool Moe D, Schooly D, Kurtis Blow, L.L. Cool J, Ice T and the clean Too Short, had addressed the crack epidemic, poverty and gang violence. These predominately East Coast M.C.s however did so without excessive vulgarity. Many Hip-Hop heads argue that this had a lot to do with the 5 Percenter’s influence on M.C.s during that period. According to urban legend, for the 5s, unless you observed the oaths of the 5% Nation you wouldn’t be allowed to M.C. on a national level. Well, that was strictly an East Coast thing.
In the early eighties on the West Coast, the 5% Nation had very little, if any, influence on M.C.s. Many listeners in the rest of the country felt isolated from the themes and topics in East Coast rap. Furthermore, their regional slang didn’t translate to Southern, Midwestern, Northern or West Coast heads. Underground rappers out West, who rapped with regional slang and celebrated regional landmarks specific to the West Coast distinguished themselves from the East Coast by doing exactly as Ice T so eloquently put it in his classic, Original Gangsta (1991),
I rap for brothers just like myself/ Dazed by the game/ In a quest for extreme wealth… I ain’t no super hero/ I ain’t no Marvel Comic/ But when it comes to game, I’m atomic/ At droppin’ it straight point blank and untwisted/ No imagination needed, cause I lived it/ This ain’t no fuckin’ joke/ This shit is real to me…
For some reason on the West Coast, all that mattered in regionalizing rap was keeping it real and keeping it street. Rappers who rapped about anything other than street life were considered corny or simply East Coast biters. So, West Coast rappers had to have a solid street reputation to be taken seriously as an M.C. That meant gaining support from the gangs, pimps, thugs, hustlers, whores and drug dealers. Those audiences demanded rap music that illustrated their ruthless experience in the streets. Attentive Californian rappers catered specifically to their desires. Too Short even recorded some of the first vulgar rap songs with his, special request tapes individually tailored for his specific street soldier clientele in Oakland, California.
By the mid’ ‘80s, Californian rappers, journalists, scriptwriters and movie directors all focused their pens and lens on the crack epidemic. Movies, music and fashion A&Rs all shifted their attention to the violent yet trendy, reality of inner city life. Gangster Rappers were the only agents of media that had firsthand accounts, access and trust from the ultra-violent street soldiers.
….only 13 of the top 50 selling rap albums of all time are not Gangster or violent rap.
For inner city community organizers during the ‘80s and ‘90s, Gangster Rap was the least of their worries, as the violent crimes statistics soared to heights never seen before or since in America. The statistics proved that President Nixon and Reagan’s war on drug enforcement disproportionately destroyed black and brown families trapped in the war zones. Inner city public schools had some of the highest dropout rates in American history. This due in part to the dangerous pursuit of Juice aka the glamorous life of street cred’ and fast money over public education by shell shocked adolescents.
For the fortunate ones, not killed during the war on drugs, jails became their universities. The prison system profited more than any other industry in America from the legislation President Reagan, George Bush and eventually Bill Clinton passed as tools to win their War On Drugs.
Americans and eventually the world, found Gangster Rap music from this era to be the most irresistible entertainment available. Unscathed by the trauma of the lower classes’ violent street-lives nor it’s narratives, the masses devoured Gangster Rap just like the crack that inspired and often financed its creation. For those of us that supported Gangster Rap’s rise from the local underground to the bestselling form of rap music on earth, it was just like watching crack go from an obscure cheap new drug substitute for cocaine, to the most popular drug in the world.
While slasher movies broke box office records for celebrating fictional monsters that tortured young women, children and parents, in the nightly news drug dealers, pimps, kidnappers and gangbangers were the boogie men of the nation. Due to the code of the streets, it was almost impossible to hear from snitches. Gangster Rap, like the bestselling gangster and serial killer biographies of the time, filled the public’s curiosity. The consuming public devoured these misogynists, homophobic, violent tales of criminal life as a window into exploring the psychology of the deranged criminal class. The popularity of these unhinged individuals inspired politicians such as Vice President Dan Quayle to publically call for 2Pac’s and Ice T’s albums to be banned because their violent music lead deranged people to commit violent crimes.
Vice President Quayle and several other politician’s censorship campaigns eventually lost steam as Gangster Rap aesthetics seeped into every facet of pop culture. These famous practitioners and pioneers of the craft succeeded in becoming non-violent celebrities and audacious business men. Hell, even Mr. Copkiller (1992) himself cloaked up and now plays a senior detective policer officer on Law & Order while Mr. Fuck The Police (1988) played a police detective in Ride Along.
Gangster Rap, now cloaked as pop culture is the most popular form of not only rap music but music in general. You can hear it in the beats, the lyrical delivery, the fashion, the swag of almost every popstar. Although the United States’ violent crime rate significantly decreased since the height of the domestic war on drugs, Gangster Rap is more popular than ever. Ironically the most famous and bestselling rappers of all time are predominately, Gangster Rappers.
Meanwhile the war on drugs is still in full effect pulverizing the inner cities of the western hemisphere from Canada to the heel of Chile, as the prison industrial complex expands. Hence the humiliation and embarrassment caused by Gangster Rap on the shiny veneer of the poorer classes in America, statistically did nothing more than reveal and inspire the media to take a serious look at and acknowledge the awful living conditions of the underclass and more importantly the criminal class. Having seen the horrors and attractiveness of this subclass, the entertainment industry swiftly incorporated the trends of the dangerous and downtrodden into its pop culture.
More than any rapper, producer or record label, the politicians and largest entertainment corporations on earth profited most from Gangster Rap. They used its advertising power to spread American aesthetics and products globally. As usual with American politicians, they have never officially admitted their failure to protect their citizens from the domestic drug threat that led to creating The War On Drugs. Yet drug dealers turned Gangster Rappers like Jay Z and Eazy E have all partied with the presidents in the White House. (Trump once hung out on Shade Radio nodding along with G Unit, while proudly announcing;
Even President Obama carefully enjoys his fair share of Gangster Rap because for listeners who are not easily swayed by hypnotic gangster tales to commit crime, the music is harmless. What was and remains most harmful are the governments and corporations profit from the dangerous characters and miserable living conditions articulated in Gangster Rap. It is therefore in their interests to create and maintain those conditions. In fact, politically, more was done to silence certain Gangster Rappers than prevent actual gangster’s ability to profit from the gangster life. That glaring inaccurate focus speaking volumes of course.