In the new EJ song “What’s Real (Fake to the Grave)” he raps:
“You’re only real if you’re a thug or locked down in jail
Don’t even try to be some Ivy League from Brown or Yale
You gotta be out to fail, or it’s ‘Oh, you’re too good for us
‘Got a little Hollywood, bruh – forgot where your hood was'”
I’m discovering first hand that this attitude dominates the perception of the majority. I may not be Ivy League, but I’m trying to achieve some great things outside of music. The overwhelming response I’m getting from people is that my Hip Hop “credentials” will suffer as a result. Many have gone so far as to assume that my involvement in other areas amounts to abandoning Hip Hop altogether. This is not the reaction of the Hip Hop community. The Hip Hop community has been supportive of all my endeavors. This is the reaction of mostly well-meaning people who mistakenly believe that Hip Hop only validates underachievers. This misguided belief causes the masses to foster that mentality and only reward modest ambition. Rapping and starting a clothing line is cool. Rapping and selling vodka is cool. Rapping and defending civil liberties? That’s going too far.
A friend of mine suggested that most people only see Hip Hop as music, and therefore don’t appreciate the significance of an MC getting involved with civil rights. But if it was only about music, no one would be hostile towards my ambition. What irks me and what makes this impossible for me to ignore (some would advise to simply fight ignorance with ignorance) is that I believe this is much deeper than music. People often ask me, “Aren’t you worried about your street cred?” and I hear: Shouldn’t you be trying to act more black?
Now, I’m not accusing everyone of being racist. When people say, “I like my rappers black, and if they’re not selling crack they aren’t black enough for me” — and people do say things like that — that’s very obvious and direct racism. But the majority seems to be more subtle. At this point, most people don’t demand that every rapper exclusively promote negativity. I am observing, however, that most people are hesitant to accept too much good will from a rapper. It’s as if they’re conditioned to look down on Hip Hop, and a rapper achieving too much distorts their image of what they believe Hip Hop is supposed to be. So instead of broadening their view, their gut reaction is to convince themselves that person doesn’t fit in. I believe this is the result of corporations deliberately pushing a certain kind of rap music to the masses: the kind that reinforces negative stereotypes. Maybe the decline in rap’s popularity can be partially attributed to blacks no longer being the most hated group in America. Perhaps labels should start marketing Arabic music about making bombs or Spanish music about climbing fences (but only in English, of course).
If I’m approaching this the wrong way, let me know. I just feel that’s the most logical interpretation of the “street cred” question, especially when I’ve simultaneously been complimented on how surprisingly articulate I was. In 2010, what does “street cred” even mean? The reality is that every rapper today uses Twitter and most of them wear women’s jeans. Hip Hop is almost embarrassingly soft nowadays and people still talk about it like NWA is running things. The most popular mainstream rappers are currently a Canadian former child star and the son of an English professor. Do they have more credibility in the streets than me? My father dropped out of school and died broke, and my mother has a high school diploma. I come from nothing, and I’m making something of myself. That’s what the true spirit of Hip Hop is. This is not to discredit the artists I mentioned, or any others. This is simply to illustrate that the whole notion of “street cred” is ridiculous, especially in the way it tends to be invoked by outsiders.
I understand that whenever you do something that isn’t often done, people get uneasy. And maybe it’s about class as much as it’s about race. Either way, the widespread idea that someone who comes from the streets loses credibility for trying to rise too far above that level is not something to take lightly. That’s the exact mentality that suppresses upward mobility in our society and keeps people in the streets. That’s also the very reason I’m getting involved with civil rights and making strides beyond music. I’m going to show the world by example that a rapper from the hood can prosper in all facets of life, and I’m going to help others reach those heights.
And I’ll still have the hottest album out.