Monday, June 25, 2012

Self-Hate and Gangsta Rap Names

By William Richardson

John Gotti aka the "Teflon Don" and the boss of the Gambino Family

Not too long ago, I was in the car listening to some random song on my local hip-hop station when the DJ mentioned Big Sean and Ludacris for some reason. I then had the random thought, "wtf is big about Sean? And, indeed, some of the stuff Ludacris says is indeed ludicrous"
. Don't ask why I initially thought like I did (maybe I was already in a bad mood about something or another), but it did get me thinking about some lingering issues I've always had with hip hop and rap music's stage names. In doing some thinking and some looking around the Internets, I have only reinforced my deep-seated hatred of mainstream rap music based on its narcissism, misogyny, and destructive materialism. The thing that really kills me is that one can figure all that out about rap music just from the names of the people who make the music. One can go into a whole triad about how destructive mainstream, corporate controlled, rap music can be but I will just show you one example of naming trends in rap music and what that says about the genre in general.

Nas (originally named Nasir Escobar after Pablo Escobar), Rick RossIrv Gotti ( named after John Gotti), Childish Gambino and Noriega.

Looking at the above names we see not only the names of popular rappers from the 90's and 00's but also the first, last, or whole names of famous drug dealers, mobsters, and in the case of Noriega, a dictator. There have been many articles and blogs written about why rappers like to choose the names of these kind of people to model their stages names after, but it is obvious really:
Irv Gotti aka Irving Domingo Lorenzo, Jr.

- Wants to look/act/be gangster
-Takes the name of a famous actual gangster
-???
-Profit

My problem with rappers, especially black ones, choosing Italian gangsters for their stage names is three-fold. First; why would you want to associate yourself with hardened criminals involved in several horrendous crimes? On top of the real violence in black and poor communities we then add a music scene which, above all else, values people who added absolutely nothing to the world except their egos. When you combine those, it may not directly create new criminals, but one can be sure it doesn't help the problem.

The second problem I have with the gangster naming schemes in use is that if most of these people were alive today and knew some little black boy from the projects was using their name they would probably lynch them. People tend to forget that most of these gangs especially the Italian and Irish ones were really racist towards black people and other minorities. For us to "honor" their egos and legacies in our stage names is, in my opinion, a very serious case of self-hate.

The last major problem I have with these kinds of names is that they reflect something very sad about black culture, that we can't see ourselves as good enough to be represented. In a lot of area of life there has been a black man or woman who achieved greatness and for the most part our people usually chose to look up to and honor white idols over our own when given the choice. We can talk about where this comes from (some will call it a slave mentality), but the fact is that there are just as many good black criminals for us to look up to as there are white ones. If that sentence sounds pretty whacked out, then you realize the absurdity of the fact that most of our people prefer, when choosing the best criminals, white ones over black ones. There's a severe crisis in a community when they can't even chose to back their own criminals over those of another group!

The issue of names in music is one that has many facets for us to explore but this small space I just opened up has a lot of mess in it. People like to say that music has little effect on how people act and live but I beg to differ. The music of the Last Poets, Nina Simone, The Watts ProphetsGil-Scott Heron and others had immense influence on the Civil Rights and Black Power movements. That music helped keep our people's spirit alive as they struggled to keep their humanity and regain their dignity. With that said, I see the "modern rap music doesn't affect our community, its only a reflection" argument as a cop-out, period. We need to start to critically look at the musics we now call "ours" and see what it really both says about us as a people and how it can affect us as a people. If we refuse to make these critical analyses and in turn calling out bull when we see it our music culture (and everything else along with it) will continue to look like this: 

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