An original rap verse:
All the bitches in the club do work,
Booty bouncin’ on da pole, dat twerk,
Skies not blue when I’m here it rains green,
’Cause I’m flush with cash and Hennessy.
Put that with a beat by will.i.am, and I could be a first-rate rap artist. Hypothetical critics of my newfound skills would say the verse has all of the ingredients necessary to make a typical record: objectification of women, boasts about wealth, name-dropping of alcohol brands, and attendance at a top-notch “gentlemen’s” venue. I’ve had many conversations with friends about how rap songs and their derivatives share this common theme: They are little more than self-promotion. I don’t think I need to mention Rihanna grinding on many, many stationary objects while singing, “Valet cost a hundred bills/ I still got more money/ Gold all up in my grill/ I still got more money,” or literally any time Nicki Minaj opens her mouth.
Modern top-40 rap might have terrible lyrics, but I don’t deny that it’s ridiculously catchy. That’s why I got off the train of Lana Del Rey and Lorde and instead chugged along with the angry-rap-and-Britney-Spears caboose. So there I was, sitting in Harper, skimming Genesis, and listening to Britney’s new single, “Work Bitch.” I first dismissed it as nothing more than the same old, “look how rich I am” spiel. After all, she does name three luxury cars in the span of four lines. Strangely enough, listening to the song actually motivated me to read Genesis and do well in Hum. I kept thinking, Do I really want a Lamborghini? Sip martinis? And look hot in a bikini? Britney says I better work. Even though reading Genesis probably won’t directly increase my purchasing power, the more I listened to bad music the more I wanted to “work hard like it’s my profession” so I can indeed party in France after graduating with a college degree.
While I realize Britney is by no means a rap artist, it was her song that got me thinking about materialism in rap. “Work Bitch” is the quintessential embodiment of one of rap’s underlying messages: To brag about partying in France or cruising in a Lamborghini, you first either have to have perseverance and a lucky streak or some really generous parents. Unfortunately, a lot of rappers don’t grow up with a silver spoon in their mouths; instead, they have to overcome poverty. Rappers who make music about how they beat the system oftentimes made it out of the slums of Miami or Brooklyn (I’m looking at you, Pitbull and Jay-Z) and worked hard to get where they are. They are also the ones who title songs “Tom Ford” and “F*ckWithMeYouKnowIGotIt.”
So what’s the connection between struggle and materialism? Why do rappers rap about “seeing their Benz on dubs” (courtesy of 50 Cent)? A number of rappers started in poverty with none of the Lamborghinis or martinis and had to overcome considerable obstacles to establish a music career. If you came up from nothing, you’d want to brag about all of the things you have now, too.
That’s why, at its core, if you can ignore the many references to money/cars/booze/women and look at what the artist had to go through to rap about having those things, even the most materialistic of rap is ridiculously inspirational.
So now that you’re inspired, get to work, bitch.
Anya Marchenko is the blogger behind The Anyion. She is a first-year in the College.