What’s the highest status a rapper can achieve? Perhaps a better question would be “is death the only way to achieve greatness in rap music?” Hold that thought, though.
For whatever reason, death is an automatic gateway to popularity for entertainers. & for the entertainer who has already established their kingdom here on earth, it’s the catalyst that launches them into perpetual sainthood. It’s a very simple, albeit natural process that – in most instances – is as much of a shock to the fans as it
is was to the entertainer. Name a nominally famous star who died before their time (as if such a thing really exists) & surely there is a cult following that won’t allow him or her to rest in peace. This ethos goes double for the Hip Hop & rap community. Why? Because the macho attitude attached to rap music’s surrealism doesn’t allow for death to be perceived as anything but the highest form of nobility. The ultimate way to go out, so to speak.
There’s a scene in ‘Juice’ when Bishop speaks about getting the wind behind one’s back (huh?) & going out in a “blaze,” as if dying in any other fashion is less manly. On so many levels, that’s the attitude you’ll find in many urban areas, generations deep, so I totally understand it’s origins. & not-so-coincidentally, those “urban areas” are the same place(s) that quite a bit of Hip Hop’s talent pool spills from, but we’ll speak to that another day.
In Hip Hop’s younger days, rappers didn’t
get murdered die as often as they do now (as horrible as that sounds). The violence in rap music was just that; in rap music. Here we are now, several decades later, & the once vilified parental advisory sticker applies now more than ever. One can lay whatever blame in whatever direction they see fit, but the point remains that a lot of rap music, speaks to death directly, in a taunting manner. Close brushes with death are victorious testimonies of a champion that lives to fight another day, used as rhythmic fodder to feed the streets. Yet & still, at least once a day (no hypebeast), there’s a story in the virtual news about a(nother) rapper getting killed. & to add insult to injury, these guys are virtually unknown, so any dirt of the premeditated magnitude existed long before the rap game was a factor. Sometimes.
As time & culture marches on, & Hip Hop embeds itself further into the internet’s augmented reality, surely the line between real life & fantasy will continue to blur. Rappers will continue to adopt the personas they portray & the imaginary violence rap music manufactures will continue to permeate the real world. & that brings us back to the first question(s). What’s the highest status a rapper can achieve? Is death the only way for a rapper to achieve greatness?
Take Jay-Z (the rapper, as opposed to the business, man), who has an irrefutable catalog, & set plenty radio & chart records during his stint as a rapper. His success in music manufacturing is proven, however it’s rare to hear him praised as one of the greatest outside of his immediate fan base. Notorious B.I.G. on the other hand, for example, accomplished far less than Jay & is swiftly regarded as one of the best to ever touch a microphone. There’s been a longstanding debate to whether or not that would have remained true had he lived, but any discussion is total speculation. The fact is that Biggie is dead, & unfortunately, it will take something epic before the listening public willingly gives Jay the props he deserves.
Obviously Jay-Z isn’t the only candidate, & Hip Hop’s not the only genre of music to ignore the living legends, but on the same token, a lot of it’s insular influence is geared toward fast money & impending extermination. Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised that we seem to wait on death before we celebrate their life after all.
One of my favorites rap lines ever is Jadakiss’ “Dead rappers get better promotion.” When he said it, I believe it was a taunt geared toward the LOX’ competition at the time, insinuating that he’d lay them down for good. Now, though, I think it’s embedded as a kind of tutorial for what one must be prepared to sacrifice in order to attain popularity & widespread success in rap music’s seedy underworld.
I’ll be the first one to admit how easy it can be to get rap superstar fame these days if you’re willing to work for it. It’s true. & I’ll also acknowledge that it’s never been as easy to reach out & “touch” other MC’s, should the need arise. & apparently, in some cases, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.