The correlation between Hip Hop and violence has been prevalent since the 1980s when gangster rap (a sub-genre of Hip Hop) was birthed. Acts such as NWA and Ice T popularized vulgar, raw, aggressive, lyricism that was expressed in rap. These artists and many others also called out social inequalities in the urban communities such as problematic policing, broken homes and racism and eventually became the voices for those who were affected by these issues. Most rappers grew up in the streets and only spoke about what they know. The music that was created was a reinforcement of the violent realities surrounding their lives.
In addition to pushing social agendas, gangster rap is often a way for gang affiliated artists to rep their sets subtly on wax. The irony is that for many rappers, a career in music is often an alternative to a violent street life that they were once accustomed to. For this reason, rappers have everything to prove and everything to lose. If a rapper raps about killing or robbing, fans and their peers expect that they live up to their lyrics.
The more violent the lyrics, the more popular the song and the artist. New age rappers such as 21 Savage, NBA Youngboy, Kodak Black, and Tay-K have carried the tradition of gangster rap and have proved their stripes on and off wax. After serving several months in jail for attempted murder, NBA Youngboy’s value and credibility skyrocketed. The 17-year-old rapper, Tay-K gained mainstream recognition after being arrested for several murders and is currently fighting for his life. Not only do these rappers rhyme about guns and drugs, they actually show them off in their visuals.
Unfortunately, not all rappers can openly speak about violence and commit crimes and go untouched.
Atlanta rapper, Bankroll Fresh fell victim to gun violence as he was murdered last year at his own studio in his hometown by a longtime friend. Bankroll Fresh was never known to be flashy but members of his Street Money camp pinpointed jealousy as the reason behind his death. Fellow Atlanta rapper, NoPlug proudly admitted to killing Bankroll Fresh but maintains that it wasn’t over jealousy, rather self-defense. Bankroll Fresh was on his way to stardom and his legacy is survived by 2 Chainz, Jeezy, Bankroll PJ, Street Money Boochie & DJ Pretty Boy Tank.
Baton Rouge rapper, Lil Phat was only 19 when he was gunned down in Atlanta, Georgia in front of Grady Hospital awaiting the birth of his daughter. Lil Phat’s music was a reflection of his reality. He often rapped about the principles of kill or be killed and his death was rumored to be a retaliation for a past robbery. When asked about the death of Lil Phat, his label mate, and friend, Webbie stated that’s how life goes when you live in the streets.
Rappers are advised to leave their neighborhoods once they reach a certain level in their career to avoid being targets of robbery or death. Queens, New York rapper, Chinx was a member of French Montana’s Coke Boyz crew known for his relentless work ethic. He previously admitted to using his drug money to fund his music career. Just before premiering his debut album, Welcome to JFK, Chinx was gunned down in his hometown during a drive-by shooting.
Violence surrounding Hip Hop is often used a scapegoat to hide bigger political issues that Hip Hop pioneers once addressed such as gun control, police brutality, and lack of proper education systems in urban communities. The deaths of two of Hip Hop’s most prolific artists, Tupac and Biggie remains unsolved after 20 years. While the rise of rivalries in Hip Hop on the West and East Coast boosted in the early 1990s, it was believed that police caused these deaths pinning both artists against one another silencing their massive influences on the black community.
In addition to being targets of violence, rappers often fall victim to having their violent lyrics used against them. Baton Rouge rapper, Lil Boosie was facing the death penalty for his role in a murder when the alleged hit man claimed he was paid by Boosie to kill the victim. Prosecutors were allowed to use lyrics from Boosie’s and B.G.’s 2011 track, “187” as evidence during the trial. Luckily, Lil Boosie was later found not guilty of first-degree murder.
In closing, rappers get targeted for violence for several reasons such as jealousy, envy, being at the wrong place at the wrong time, and political agendas. Not only does being a rapper mean that you are likely to get tested, it also means that you can be subject to having your art used against you in the criminal system. There is no one solution to end this problem, however, it is up to rappers and listeners to take responsibility for their actions. Just because someone raps about killing people doesn’t make it acceptable nor does it mean they actually did it. At the end of the day, the families are the ones who are affected the most by violence and causes a trickle effect of fatherless children who may have to look to the streets for protection.