As embarrassing as it is to admit, like many who listened to mostly rap music as a kid, I tried my hand at writing my own rap lyrics as a teen. Even though my experience with drug dealing never went beyond purchasing, my never-to-be-seen verses were scattered with the trap-house clichés of slanging, bagging and weighing that have been dominating commercial rap since the late ‘90s.
So much of rap is about fantasy and storytelling, so some punk writing about a life he would never live isn’t a shock.
What I find perplexing though is that crack dealing is just about the only acceptable subject matter for popular rappers today, so much so that my first impulse when aping my idols was to start crafting tales of baking powder and weigh houses.
The alpha males of rap are paragons of a certain tough-guy image that is particularly enticing to male teens. While any adult with half a brain can see how empty the lifestyle is, for an insecure, uptight and confused high school student the highest ideal is to be a cold-eyed loner that uses up and throws away women two at a time. If you spend half of the day quaking in the presence of beautiful, intimidating women or worrying endlessly about the opinion of your peers, it makes perfect sense to go home and dominate them in your mind.
But for over a decade the language of that particular fantasy has been remarkably homogeneous. Strength and desirability are universal and eternal ideals, and since forever, whatever music was popular among male teens has embodied them. In the mid-’90s rap stood wealth up next to those two, creating a supreme trinity, unsurprising for a genre that rose from the inner cities.
Today, and for a while now, those three criteria can only be realized through drug dealing, usually crack. There are signs that this single-mindedness may be waning, but most rap singles and superstars have crack on the mind, just listen to Nicki Minaj claiming she “beez in the trap” on her recent single for a sign of its ubiquity. Then there is the current top rap single “Ca$hing Out” adorns its childlike hook and sing-songy chorus with verses focused only on crack dealing
Drug dealing has been one of rap’s favorite subjects for a long time. One of the best rap albums ever, released in 1995, Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx was a theme record about drug dealing and cocaine snorting. The album’s producer, RZA, said he wanted the record to feel like a movie, he achieved his aim perfectly and the lyrics match that cinematic sound with a narrative arc. While most of the record is the now familiar glorification of wealth and power derived from dealing, Cuban Linx also features a robbery gone wrong, a shooting of our protagonist, loves lost because of the lifestyle and a general pathos absent from most of the trap rapping done in the past ten years.
Elsewhere in the early 90s Biggie was contemplating suicide and seeing his girlfriend murdered, Mobb Deep was dealing with alcoholism and jail bids and Snoop was facing a murder case and invocations from the devil.
On his new mixtape Vampire Life 2: F.E.A.S.T. The Last Supper the hardest things Jim Jones has to deal with are (easily replaceable) former friends turned “frienemies” and deciding if he should visit his friend in jail. Similarly, Jadakiss, on Consignment, is pretty carefree for someone loaning out so much cocaine. Drug dealing in rap is nothing new, but the thoughtless sloganeering for the crack trade is unique to this millennium. Jim Jones and Jada don’t spend much time telling stories or even sharing anecdotes, rather they spend their time listing various drug dealing clichés in rhyming couplets.
Fuck it is boring. And it’s deranged and pathetic and potentially harmful.
No one can make the “Investigative Reports” claim anymore, everything Jones and Jadakiss say is so bland and generic that if the lyrics are based on real experiences both rappers must have Alzheimer’s. Jimmy and Jada feature no more specificity or ingenuity than my teenage journal.
And if these aren’t true stories about rising up out of poverty then what are they? Mindless advertising for an ongoing epidemic that ruins lives and neighborhoods. It’s cool Capo, we’re all real glad you got your fucking BMW, now maybe you could find something else to talk about.
Mostly it isn’t Jim Jones’ fault; he’s a terrible rapper with no imagination. On each track he matches his mundane subject matter with a mind-numbingly simple rhyming scheme. Most verses he sticks to rhyming the same syllable throughout, once rhyming “frienemies” with enemies. On one entire two-minute track he stays on the same ending sound the whole time! Rather than AB or AABB Jones typically prefers AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA for his rhymes.
But Jones isn’t just a terrible rapper; he’s a terrible person. In an article in the Chicago Reader published on April 25, a former drug dealer says that getting a job at Subway saved his life, and that even though he was making a fraction of what he had as a drug dealer it encouraged him to see “how proud people could be of a man who worked hard.” Well don’t let Jim Jones hear about that, because he fucking hates it when anyone makes money doing something that doesn’t ruin thousands of lives a year.
“It hurt my heart to see my man working nine-to-five/he was the man you got the grams from in ’95,” he raps on Vampire Life, which is the moment when Jones turns from total idiot to evil psychopath. I’m about quaking with anger just retyping that bullshit. The sentiment makes me certain Jimmy has never touched a piece of work in his life. The only way someone could root against a person moving beyond drug dealing is if they think crack dealing is actually how Jones describes it: All Bentleys and ecstasy, the actual drug dealing happening somewhere far away in the abstract.
Jadakiss is not a terrible rapper, he’s usually boring and he is especially so on Consignment, but he should be above this. Jada turns 37 this month, he has been signed to a major label for 11 years, if he has even looked at over an ounce of cocaine in the past decade it can only be because he is a total moron. More likely he is trying to squeeze a few more drops out of the crack rap teat, and he sounds tired of it. So am I, and soon hopefully everyone else will be too.