Hip-Hop is a world where your word is your bond. Anything you say is purported to be factual and “keep it real” becomes more than a slogan, it is law! After a recent conversation I had with my brother about the recent happenings in each others lives and the topic of authenticity came up. How does authenticity manifest itself in today’s Hip-Hop world of digital mix tapes and weekly exposures?
There used to be a time when a rapper made a claim of having street ties, he was tested. It seemed as though Hip-Hop heads and naysayers had no limit to the lengths they would go to prove or disprove the validity of rappers claims. If a certain rap star was proclaiming to be a genuine street dude on records was “found out” to anything to the contrary, he was then branded a “studio thug.” In some cases it seemed this label was just as bad as being called “gay.” It seemed at one point in the 90s everyone was throwing the label around even if there wasn’t a clear target. Rappers would give interviews and say they weren’t studio thugs to distinguish themselves from posers and bolster credibility.
Most of these rappers had no way to prove or disprove their claims other than tough talk and mean stares in pictures. The pre-Twitter and Instagram days allowed rappers more privacy and control over their images so what ever they said was believed with no real way to discredit someone. When Jay-Z clowned Mobb Deep and Nas about their street credibility, no one really doubted the street moves that either of them had. But, when 50 Cent discredited Ja Rule, everyone turned on him and believed 50’s claims of Ja being a “studio gangsta.” So then what is it that allows certain entities in Hip-Hop to be credible in their claims no matter how outlandish and we vilify others who make similar pejoratives?
I have no clue to be honest. I think some people give off an unshakeable aura that gives credence to what they are saying no matter how unlikely their declarations are. Unfortunately for Hip-Hop, many of the most recognizable names and hit makers give off this believable aura as well. There was no way anyone would have doubted Rick Ross when he talks of large shipments of cocaine and Mexican cartel kingpin connections. By and large his criminal rhetoric felt real and was catchy enough to captivate listeners. Fast forward from 2006 to present day, and we see a different image of Rick Ross that has him as a law-abiding citizen who made a living as a Correctional Officer. If these revelations would have come to light in the 90’s and early 2000’s Rick Ross would have been crucified, but because of his prowess as a songwriter along with industry support, Ross is allowed to flourish relatively unscathed by such damning evidence. How can those within Hip-Hop culture place such high demand on participatory authenticity, but allow Ross and others to still collect checks from it? If Hip-Hop is about “keeping it real” then working with and supporting artists the likes of Rick Ross, are in direct contradiction with their alleged convictions. Another person who Hip-Hop has allowed to become something is Iggy Azalea. If she is an Australian born and raised artist who was compelled and influenced by Hip-Hop culture, how is she allowed to become a superstar rapping in an unauthentic distinctly southern American accent? Those support and protect her would easily shoot down, no pun intended, anyone else who tried to smooch off southern American Hip-Hop culture in such a flagrant way. Where does it end?
If Hip-Hop is supposed to be predicated on authentic stories being packaged for the world in hopes of the betterment of the artists and those who can relate, then why are we still making allowances for those who are clearly more storytellers then autobiographers? If the argument is that skill supersedes any factual claim an artist makes because it is just art, then we need to apply that to any and all participants of Hip-Hop. Don’t criticize and investigate Rick Ross’s past, find alarming evidence that is in direct contradiction to the person he claims to be, not condone the behavior Ross exhibits, and then dismiss all the proof that he is not “real” because you like the song. The same goes for Iggy. Don’t overlook the use of her “Blaccent” because she has a catchy song and you think she’s attractive. What is good for the goose is good for the gander. Those of us who claim to be Hip-Hop heads have to be principled in their scruples and treat everyone with same standard of “authenticity” and not give allowances because the beat was hot or the verse was good. Not resting on your laurels is the definition of keeping it real and unfortunately a lot of us in Hip-Hop consistently fail at doing so.