Updated: May 12, 2020
The concept of power has always intrigued me. It’s a pretty vague word that means a bunch of different things. Power encompasses physical strength, electrical and mechanical energy, political process, social control and the capacity or ability to do something or act in a particular way. Power is something that has been sought after since the beginning of time in every definition of the word. Books like the 48 Laws of Power and Machiavelli's “The Prince” have been mainstays in western culture because they are dedicated to teaching people about the acquisition of power and influence. The whole world is constantly in a game of power acquisition. We are ruled by imperialist empires that have been hell bent on total world domination for millennia now.
The United States has been the top super power in the world because it has been able to acquire vast amounts of land, resources and capital through slave labour, military expansion and various other forms of neocolonialism. That’s just a macro example of a game that people play in their day to day lives. Living in a capitalistic society incentivizes dominance hierarchies. Your status is determined by a variety of factors such as the amount of money you have, the clothes you wear, the car you drive, down to the food you eat. Many people believe dominance hierarchies are social constructs but not everyone agrees.
Psychology professor Jordan Peterson, of the University of Toronto, uses the example of lobsters, which humans share a common evolutionary ancestor with. Peterson argues that, like humans, lobsters exist in hierarchies and have a nervous system attuned to status which “runs on serotonin” (a brain chemical often associated with feelings of happiness). The higher up a hierarchy a lobster climbs, this brain mechanism helps make more serotonin available. The more defeat it suffers, the more restricted the serotonin supply. Lower serotonin is in turn associated with more negative emotions – perhaps making it harder to climb back up the ladder. According to Peterson, hierarchies in humans work in a similar way, he believes we are wired to live in them. And from the looks of the world we live in, his points make a lot of sense. Power acquisition is built into the fabrics of society. Business students are taught to read books like the 48 Laws of Power and Art Of War that encompass every war tactic of all the greatest military commanders in history.
Power acquisition is how our economy operates. Consumers are incentivized to purchase products that raise their status on their local dominance hierarchy. And it’s been that way ever since we were kids. I remember being in the seventh grade and you couldn’t even come around anyone if you didn’t have a G-Shock and an Aeropostale shirt. And this exists in every aspect of society in all of the tiniest ways. And it’s innocent and harmless some times but a lot of the times it’s not. A lot of the time power is the biggest reason for most atrocities. Power is the reason for murders, torturing, sexual abuse and assault, pedophilia and so much more. Despite its name, sexual abuse is more about power than it is about sex. The motivation always stems from the perpetrator’s need for dominance and control. The me-too movement was the perfect example when powerful, prominent men used their positions and the perks of their power to seduce, coerce, manipulate, and attack. These men have what their victims, who are in less powerful positions, want and need: a job, good grades, a promotion, a recommendation, an audition, a role in a movie, a place close to the center of power. They confuse and control by dangling enticements with one hand and wielding threats, implied or explicit, with the other. These men, like all men, can find a completely consenting woman but they would rather have someone that they can assert power and dominance over. And many of the women consented because they wanted roles in movies so they can raise their own status in the dominance hierarchy.
And that’s the same situation with catholic priests in the Vatican. In 2019 over 1700 priests and other clergy members in the Roman Catholic Church were credibly accused of child sexual abuse. Again these men can find completely consenting adult men or women but instead they prey on kids to exert dominance and power over them. This need to climb up the social hierarchy has infected every single aspect of society, including the art world. Art is inherently about expression and there’s no place for hierarchies but as soon as capitalism is involved the game changes.
Hip Hop is a great microcosm of this Game Of Thrones type of power game that is capitalism. After the rise of Gangster Rap with rappers like NWA, Snoop Dogg and Tupac Shakur becoming the biggest artists in the world, it also brought the background business exploits to the forefront. Hip Hop even had its own war, The East Coast-West Coast rivalry which was a feud in the 1990s between artists and fans of the East Coast hip hop and West Coast hip hop scenes in the United States. The two main parties involved were West Coast-based rapper Tupac Shakur and his Los Angeles-based label Death Row Records, and East Coast-based rapper The Notorious B.I.G. and his New York-based label Bad Boy Records. Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G. were killed by “unknown assailants” in 1996 and 1997, respectively. The East Coast-West Coast rivalry began because major labels began favouring west coast artists over east coast artists which made the west coast artists gain more power, resources and capital than the east coast artists. On 30 November 1994, West Coast rapper Tupac Shakur was shot five times and robbed in the lobby of Quad Recording Studios in Manhattan.
Shakur accused B.I.G., Sean Combs and Andre Harrell of being involved. Shortly after 2Pac's shooting, "Who Shot Ya", a B-side track from B.I.G.'s "Big Poppa" single was released. Although Combs and B.I.G. denied having anything to do with the shooting and stated that "Who Shot Ya?" was recorded before the shooting, 2Pac and the majority of the hip hop community interpreted it as B.I.G.'s way of taunting him. Tensions were further escalated with the release of Tha Dogg Pound's music video for their song "New York, New York", which featured a gigantic Snoop Dogg destroying various New York buildings. It was interpreted by many as a direct insult towards New York and the East Coast, although the song itself does not feature any disses. Tha Dogg Pound was allegedly even shot at while making the video in New York City. After the release of "Who Shot Ya?", 2Pac appeared on numerous tracks aiming threatening and antagonistic insults at Biggie, Bad Boy and anyone affiliated with them from late 1995 to 1996. During this time, the media became heavily involved and dubbed the rivalry a coastal rap war, reporting on it continually. This resulted in fans choosing sides.
On 13 September 1996, Tupac Shakur died after being shot multiple times six days earlier in a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas, Nevada. Six months after Shakur's death, The Notorious B.I.G. was killed in a drive-by shooting by an unknown assailant in Los Angeles, California on 9 March 1997. This was one of the first public examples of the true pitfalls of the power dynamics in the music industry. Music as an art form is not competitive. There’s no place for hierarchy in art and expression, but as soon as money is involved it changes the entire structure of the dynamics involved. Listening to 2pac interviews today makes you understand that he truly thought like a general. He maneuvered around like a war general.
Hip Hop is influenced by American gang culture which is a war like environment structured around power acquisition. Which makes people have to militarize with weaponry and strategy. That culture is packaged and sold to the masses as Hip Hop music which is competitive in its essence. Rap started with kids going out and battling each other and dissing each other. But when one's livelihood depends on their public perception, then he has to handle those disses differently.
Jay Z and Rocafella Records are the perfect example of the power game played almost sociopathically well. Jay Z dropped his debut album “Reasonable Doubt” at 26 years old through his independent record label Rocafella records. The album featured the aforementioned Biggie Smalls. When Biggie Smalls, The King Of New York died, Jay Z was dubbed as the “heir to the throne” by fans and media alike. Jay Z dropped his song “Takeover” on the album “Blueprint” that was a diss track aimed at fellow New York rappers Nas and Prodigy and cemented himself as the king of hip hop. Jay Z would go through many battles, betrayals and feuds on his way to becoming the billionaire mogul we know him as today. Jay Z seemingly betrayed his best friend and business partner Dame Dash on his quest for wealth and he was rewarded for his sacrifice. And that’s because, as a former drug dealer, HOV knows how to play the game better than almost anyone.
50 Cent had a similar way of maneuvering. 50 Cent was shot 9 times, black balled by the entire music industry and still managed to maneuver his way to lots of wealth and power. 50 was so efficient at the game that he released a book titled “The 50th Law”. The book is a semi-autobiographical account detailing 50 Cent's rise as both a young urban hustler and as an up-and-coming musician with lessons and anecdotes from historical figures such as Abraham Lincoln, Sun Tzu, Socrates, Napoleon, Malcolm X, and James Baldwin. The book is about strategy and power acquisition and it went on to become a New York Times best seller. In all of these situations the artists had to use power acquisition strategies to gain wealth as well as curate the fans perception. Because if the fans saw you as weak then you would no longer be able to feed your family. And so these young artists are thrust into politics and power games to be able to live their dreams. And that’s what we do to all kids.
As we grow older the system molds us and forces us into chasing its ideas of success. And so we do everything in our power to be able to acquire those ideas such as luxury clothes or fancy cars, in order to make ourselves rank higher on this social dominance hierarchy. And that’s why situations like Tekashi 6ix9ine don’t really surprise me. Daniel Hernandez was a poor kid in Brooklyn New York, like a lot of residents in Brooklyn. And just like a lot of those kids he decided to make music in order to make it out of his predicament. He figured out that he knew what it took to go viral but like many other artists he realized he needed protection if he was going to be acquiring wealth and resources. He began working with the Nine Trey Gangsta Bloods. The gang was involved in various illegal activities that ended up getting them investigated by the U.S. FBI, DEA, and ATF as well as various other gang task forces in the United States. Tekashi was getting extorted by the gang, he was beat up, kidnapped, threatened, had his daughter and mother threatened and the gang members even allegedly had sex with his baby’s mother. In the search for wealth and power Tekashi made tactical errors because he only wanted the perks of power acquisition.
And the perks are the parts a lot of people are initially attracted by. The perks seemingly include gratification, influence and the ability to do what you want. But the negatives always exist. The negatives include trust issues, betrayal, manipulation, a level of malevolence and the willingness to sacrifice a lot for the ends. In November 2018, 6ix9ine and four members of the Nine Trey Gangsters were arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation Homeland Security Investigations unit along with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and charged with racketeering related to operating a criminal enterprise, conspiracy to murder, robbery, extortion, and drug distribution. 6ix9ine was offered a reduced sentence if he fully cooperated with the government and 6ix9ine sang like a bird. He told on every single person even remotely involved with the gang. And then he came out of jail, doubled down on his actions and gloated to avoid looking weak in front of the audience.
6ix9ine claimed the crown for king of New York and went after all of the other rappers who tried to claim the title. 6ix9ine instantly became the most talked about topic in the world during a global pandemic. Tekashi was willing to sacrifice all of these men and women in the gang for self preservation and more power acquisition and it helped him succeed. But there’s a large community of people that are voicing their displeasure towards how Tekashi handled the situation because they believe there was some code he didn’t uphold. That code, just like every other code in our power hungry structure that is capitalism, is a flimsy system of pseudo or false morality. People are voicing their hate of the way 6ix9ine handled that situation but praising Bobby Shmurda who infamously conspired or was personally involved in the murders of many people. And I’m personally a Bobby Shmurda fan, but murder by any measurement is worse than snitching. And yet we praise a murderer yet condemn a law abiding citizen. And I understand the argument that states that 6ix9ine signed up for that life and folded when things got too real. But the options for 6ix9ine were to come home to millions of dollars or spend 40 years in jail to protect people that had just threatened to murder him. And so he snitched.
And he is now in possession of the clout and wealth and he has openly said “it wasn’t worth it”. And I believe him. In his quest for fame, power and “the crown”, he encountered what all men who embark on that journey must eventually face. Loneliness, fear and consequences. The saying “heavy is the head that wears the crown” is most fitting in this situation. 6ix9ine now has to relocate every time a neighbor spots his rainbow hair and spend the rest of his life ducking and dodging bullets from those who want to harm him because of his power and wealth, and now the enemies he made because of the means he took to acquire that power.
The 6ix9ine situation shines a light on the broader problem of our pseudo moral codes that we abide by. Murder is illegal unless it’s committed by a government entity, stealing is illegal unless it’s done by a billion dollar company. It seems as though the people at the highest levels of the dominance hierarchy are able to invent rules that benefit them. Even the no snitching rule sounds like it benefits the people who benefit the most from illegal activities being committed and have vested interests in keeping their exploits quiet.
And that’s why sociopaths and psychopaths are able to run the world. Antisocial personality disorder, sometimes identified interchangeably as sociopathy or psychopathy, is defined by the Mayo Clinic as: “A mental condition in which a person consistently shows no regard for right and wrong and ignores the rights and feelings of others. People with antisocial personality disorder tend to antagonize, manipulate or treat others harshly or with callous indifference. They show no guilt or remorse for their behavior.” Research suggests that 4 percent of the population are sociopathic, and 5 to 15 percent are “almost psychopathic.” Cultural elements such as materialism, social intolerance, and desensitization to violence influence a society to nurture, facilitate, and embolden sociopathic and/or psychopathic behavior. In the modern age, sociopaths and psychopaths are usually not the mass murderers that are sometimes portrayed in popular media (with exceptions). Instead, contemporary sociopaths and psychopaths may outwardly appear functional and successful. In their professional careers, higher-functioning sociopaths and psychopaths are nakedly ambitious, shrewdly exploitative, and ruthlessly aggressive. They often maneuver their way to positions of power and status in business, finance, politics, media, and other prominent fields. They attain success at the unethical expense of using and abusing others.
Our infrastructure shapes and molds a society of sociopaths where the most uncaring is able to win the most. We give all these kids the strategies of some of the greatest war generals the world has ever known and we send them out into the world to conquer. This is not to say that everyone with power is evil. That’s not true. But power in our current society corrupts. To rise up to the highest points in our current dominance hierarchy you have to on some level be open to the harm and exploitation of other people. And that’s what we all get sucked into. And as a young artist I admit that it’s kind of soul sucking to think about life in terms of power acquisition. The main reason why many of us get into the arts is because we had fun creating. But then the world of capitalist interest is an overly politicized war zone. I want to be able to just create and enjoy my life making money from doing something I love. I want to be financially compensated for freely making art and I don’t want to worry about power. But I completely understand how this world works and how some people are willing to manipulate, use and abuse the vulnerable and defenseless on their quest for power.
What do you think, is it possible to remain uncorrupted by power? Is it possible to not quest for power in capitalism? Is Capitalism inherently about the quest for power?