Last week I was flipping through television channels. Tired of the trite “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives” and “Sports Center,” I stopped on “Notorious,” the story of the rise and dramatic death of “gangsta” rapper Notorious B.I.G.
It brought me back to my high school days. Like many a white suburban frustrated with-my-11 p.m.-curfew teenager, I found release in gangsta rap. I thought I could relate to the sultry street rhymes of Tupac, the deep Brooklyn baritone of Biggie Smalls, and the bitter balladry of Immortal Technique. I thought I could relate to the streets, man. Tupac rapped about guns and corrupt politicians. I had helicopter parents and too much algebra homework.
More than anything, though, I loved the counter-culture aspect of it all; politicians, parents, and the media all hated it, which naturally made me love it even more.
“There is absolutely no reason for a record like this to be published. It has no place in our society,” Vice President Dan Quayle said of Tupac’s first album, 2Pacalypse Now.
What a difference two decades makes.
Now, it has become commonplace for politicians to profess their fandom for rappers of all sorts. Jay-Z is one of the highest profile friends of the First Family. Senator Marco Rubio has avowed his love of Tupac’s music in speeches and interviews.
“In some ways, rappers are like reporters… the ‘90s was a time when this was really pronounced. You had gang wars, racial tension, and they were reporting on that,” Rubio recently said. Likewise, President Obama has praised Jay-Z for telling “American stories.”
Today’s rap is far from the American story, though. It has become a canticle that over glorifies sex, drugs, and $3,000 bottles of champagne. Now, rapping about Jesus pieces and Maybachs is more popular than telling the story of the streets; the tales of single mothers working two jobs to support their family have been replaced by anecdotes of a misanthrope rapper’s latest sexual conquest.
When “2Pacalypse Now” was released in 1991, it was an anthem for the disenfranchised, from Tupac’s Compton to Biggie’s Brooklyn.
“They got money for wars but can’t feed the poor./ Say there ain’t no hope for the youth but the truth is there ain’t no hope for the future,” Tupac rapped on “Keep Ya Head Up.”
Listen, Tupac was no saint. He was arrested for sexual assault, battery, and