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DJ Akademiks vs Meek Mill: Ethics & Morality in Hip Hops Hyperreality

Recently DJ Akademiks has been under fire by rappers like Meek Mill, Freddie Gibbs and many vocal fans, for how he has run his media platform. Akademiks runs a Hip Hop media page with millions of followers and he's one of the main independent voices in Hip Hop media. In the last year Ak has been in various disputes with rappers that have stated that his page is destructive and leads to real life altercations between people, and even called for his collective cancellation. His disputes led him to parting ways with Complex from his longstanding show Everyday Struggle because they felt he didn't represent their brand.

I want to preface this by saying I've been a DJ Akademiks supporter since I was a kid. At one point in 2014-2017 his YouTube channel was the only source of Hip Hop news we cared about, and we watched him religiously. We were in high school and this guy provided some of the funniest Hip Hop takes and compiled news about some of my favourite new artists, that the rest of Hip Hop media wasn’t documenting. Artists like Lil Uzi and XXXTentacion were only covered on Akademiks channel, and he has put me on to countless great artists that I would have otherwise not heard about. Ak got his show on Complex and I felt a personal stake in his success.

Everyday Struggle was an overnight hit, I was not a Joe Budden Podcast fan before this, and now I'm in the cult. The show legitimized Complex as a voice in Hip Hop. Joes dynamic with DJ Akademiks created the best show in modern Hip Hop. I had never seen people give it up so candidly about the inner workings of the music & entertainment industry in that way before. They would argue as passionately as me and my friends and discuss sides of Hip Hop that would otherwise never intermingle. The show instantly connected and solidified Ak as a force in Hip Hop media.

Akademiks was a major inspiration in the creation of this brand. Aside from certain things like his infamous “War in Chiraq” channel, seeing a black man create his own lane in that way was inspiring. Ak wasn’t a rapper, he was not hired by some media company, he was just a guy in his moms basement that was actively affecting the state of Hip Hop, and making millions from it. He would beef with artists like Shy Glizzy and Soulja Boy from the comfort of his room, exclusively by sharing the opinions me and my friends share in our group chats. It was inspiring to see and led me to starting a platform where I share my opinions.

A few months after I made the decision, in a case of serendipity, DJ Akademiks had a live podcast taping in my city. I attended, we met after the show and we spoke for over an hour about Hip Hop, the entertainment industry, the agendas being pushed by Hip Hop media. From my personal experience Ak is a genuine guy, who is actually passionate about Hip Hop, he gave us game, the conversation was filled with laughter and levity, and he came off as a nice guy. As a kid running a small media page with his little brother, I asked Ak to give us a shoutout, and he did, and it meant a lot to me.

Recently multiple rappers have been attacking Ak for the content he posts. This isn’t a new grievance, Ak has notoriously had altercations with the late Nipsey Hussle, Vic Mensa, Meek Mill, Freddie Gibbs, Chrissy Teigen and more because of the content that he creates. The problem people seem to have with Ak is that he promotes and reposts many criminal aspects of Hip Hop on the internet, that could incite violence between real people or land people in jail.

I understand some of the grievances. Channels like the War In Chiraq never sat right with me, where he would discuss the street beef of various Chicago artists and report their deaths by clowning them through satirical videos that broke down the various real issues these people faced due to their socioeconomic situation. He has since went on to apologize for the channel and admit it was wrong.

The moral dichotomy in this situation lies in the hyperreality of Hip Hop itself. Hip Hop never claimed to be a monastery of saints, but its an art form so it gets a pass, the problem is that with the advent of media and social media, the art bleeds into reality creating an infusion of reality called hyperreality. In French philosopher Jean Baudrillard's 1981 book Simulacra and Simulation, he discusses the idea of images and signs, and how they relate to our contemporary society, wherein we have replaced reality and meaning with symbols and signs; he states that what we know as reality is actually a simulation of reality. The simulacra that Baudrillard refers to are the signs of culture and media that create the reality we perceive: a world saturated with imagery, infused with communications media, sound, and commercial advertising.

Baudrillard labeled this new world a hyperreality, in which entertainment, information, and communication technologies provide experiences more intense and involving than the scenes of mundane everyday life, as well as the codes and models that structure everyday life. The realm of the hyperreal (e.g., media simulations of reality, Disneyland and amusement parks, malls and consumer fantasylands, TV sports, virtual reality games, social networking sites, and other excursions into ideal worlds) is more real than real, whereby the models, images, and codes of the hyperreal come to control thought and behavior.

A lot of my favourite rappers have cases about things they discuss in their music. Hip Hop is still an entertainment medium so there are many people that are playing characters. Its like WWE where everyone has a gimmick, and like WWE, its impossible to distinguish which part of the storyline is fake and what is real. The hyperreality connects reality and fiction, which could be dismissed if there wasn't a visible problem in the community. Many rappers, in the past few weeks, have been murdered and arrested for real life situations, during a global pandemic.

The problem with reporting on the culture is trying to find the fine line between discussing a powerful culture we love and inciting violence, snitching on criminal activities that can send people to jail, and promoting destructive propaganda to the masses. I am a fan of Hip Hop music, I love trap, I love drill, I love boom bap, I love melodic rap, I love bars, I watch battle rap, at the same time, many of my favourite artists talk about killing people, robbing people, selling drugs, and I still love the music despite it. We understand the worlds people come from, the socioeconomic situations that land them there, the character this rapper might be playing and the diversity in a culture that we all love and participate in. I love a good murder bar, Tay Roc telling Hollow Da Don that he’ll mutilate his face multiple times with a razorblade in a motion that would make him look like he was trying to fasten a broken seatbelt, is one of the best bars I have heard in my life. I don't like the actual violence that occurs due to the music and I hope it would stop, but we're all fans of this highly popular music. We all love King Vons music. Rest In Peace to King Von, one of the best storytellers in the last few years. Von exclusively talked about murdering real people, in real and documented situations.

This conversation of morality in Hip Hop among Hip Hop is not a new one and has been going on for decades, going all the way back to NWA. Crime in Hip Hop is given a pass because it is understood that the medium is a reflection of a society, and any problems in the art form need to be addressed to the society that incentivizes the crime aspect due to a systemically induced poverty. A few years ago when Kodak Black appeared on Hot97s Ebro in the morning, the hosts of the show confronted him about the morality of his crimes and stated that they can't interview him if he is convicted of the crimes he was accused of. It was strange from a show that glorifies Jay Z, Pusha T, Freddie Gibbs and various other artists that brag about things that are morally reprehensible. Where do you as a consumer of this culture draw the moral line in the sand? How much of a reflection of your morality is your enjoyment of the music? How much should the artist attempt to satisfy your moral standards? How do you decipher which crimes are okay and which aren't?

The moral dichotomy in this situation lies in understanding what moral code we are following. What content can we discuss and repost? Which aspects are we immoral for reposting? Does the concept of morality exist in a culture that explicitly promotes crime and violence? Is it possible to separate the music from the crime, if the music is discussing the crime? Does posting your own crimes in the first place count as snitching if you are telling on yourself? Is everyone immoral for retweeting it? Meek Mill said Akademiks was responsible for deaths because he reposts and discusses street issues, are we all culpable for someone's death if we repost a song that goes on to get them killed? On the other hand there are kids that make it out of their criminal elements by making music, is ignoring their music in turn stifling their way out of harmful predicaments, that might otherwise help them survive?

Meek Mill is one of the main rappers advocating for the cancellation of DJ Akademiks due to his content. I love Meek’s music. Meek is always talking about and promoting various crimes. Meek Mill is a person from the streets, but he’s also a highly talented musician. Is promoting his music, that people will be listening to anyway, harming him or the broader community? These are all highly nuanced questions because it's a highly nuanced issue. How much moral high ground can Meek hold over Akademiks after things he has admitted to doing? Was he snitching? Are we snitching by discussing his art? If Meek is abiding by some street code, should he demand those street ethics from Akademiks? If he can demand them from Ak does it apply to every media brand like VladTV or Complex? If he does, then does that extend to the fans talking about it on Twitter? How far does the scope of blame go?

I run a Hip Hop media page, our Instagram gains some traction as a Hip Hop and pop culture news source. I am always looking for underground artists with talent because I want to help talent and create a community based around a culture I love. I want to make this brand become the hub for what Hip Hop is to me through various mediums including films, shows, products. Hip Hop to me is creating your own lane, making your life better by any means necessary, opposing the status quo and educating those around you on how to better their life. It's also fun, youth, truth, expression and aspiration. Hip Hop is so much more than just rap music. Rap music is a part of the culture and many rap songs are objectively morally reprehensible, by general societal standards, even if they are dope.

Hip Hop has always let everyone in, including the most hardened criminal, it was a safe space for everyone on the outskirts of society to be able to make money and express themselves. Only in Hip Hop could a 26 year old drug dealer and a college dropout go on to become billionaires. There was always a widely agreed upon understanding that this is part of the culture and it's accepted. Sanctimonious posturing in Hip Hop reeks of gentrification, but its a conversation that needs to be had about a booming and global industry. With the advent of social media, rappers have the ability to gain notoriety by posting their criminal exploits on social media. Rappers like Chief Keef and Bobby Shmurda got hot by talking about, promoting and exposing their real life criminal exploits through social media.

In the past you couldn’t create your own career, you needed a record label. Now you could just rent studio space or buy a microphone, record a song, record a video with your phone and just put it out on the internet for the world to see. Many rappers began catching serious federal cases because all of their criminal exploits are online for the world to see. As fans we rarely question the rappers morals because we understand the nature of the genre. I know what I'm listening to and I'm here to listen to it. Rappers that talk about their crimes aren't trying to win a morality contest, they're trying to make the hardest song.

Record labels began reaching out to these kids in droves because they were undeniably popular. Record labels profit from promoting these artists in the street and their crimes. Now the questions are: are the labels snitching? is it only unethical when Akademiks and media brands profit? Are media brands the main people to blame for rappers going to jail, dying or killing someone?

Rappers post footage on the internet for the world to see, Akademiks, and various other pages including my own, compile and post their posts, are we culpable for what this post causes? Because it's not like TMZ where there are paparazzi harassing you to gain this. The artist himself, or someone around them, is posting this. Is the media brand culpable for the consequences of the post? And if so, how much?

I have definitely made decisions to omit certain posts, especially ones that stray further from any type of music and exclusively focus on street beef, but it's not possible when the song itself is discussing the beef. On 'Laugh Now Cry Later' by Drake, one of the biggest songs of the year, Lil Durk talks about having guns and his beef with 6ix9ine. This song is played on the radio day and night, is Durk snitching? is the radio station unethical for posting it? Are they snitching? What codes and rules are we playing by and who gets to dictate them? Is Meek Mill the authority for what's ethical and moral behaviour?

These are all real people being impacted, with real families and issues, but they also made the decision to live the life they live, be public figures, and promote all of their exploits for fans on the internet to view and share. We are all Akademiks. If you discuss Hip Hop on social media, you are Akademiks. Is it only unethical because he has figured out how to make millions from what we do for free? Do we all have to live under Meeks street code? If you are a fan of Hip Hop, and like Meek Mill and Freddie Gibbs, have come to the conclusion that Akademiks is unethical, then you would have to consider that the genre itself is unethical, and then we have another discussion that needs to be had about every artist, fan and label, ever.

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