Ye, Takeoff & YSL: The Realities of Industrialized Gangster Rap
Updated: Nov 18, 2022
“Money, hoes & clothes, blunt smoke coming out the nose is all a nigga knows” This line was uttered by Biggie Smalls in 1993, in a now infamous freestyle next to Rapper Tupac Shakur, 4 years before both rappers would be murdered.
At the core of hip hop, that’s what we’re all trying to do. It started with a bunch of broke young people, specifically broke young black men, that needed some money and recreational activities, and once they got the money they were spending it on girls, clothes, and weed. So if we all want the same thing, and this culture provides the avenue for us to do exactly what we wanna do, how we wanna do it, while making us money, so we can wear what we wanna wear, express ourselves, enjoy our culture, say what we wanna say, dance how we wanna dance, and be the ultimate expression of ourselves, why are so many rappers murdered? Why are so many rappers murdered by other black men, the main demographic of people who love rap music? We love rappers! Governments hate rap, even in the modern day where hip hop is the biggest genre in the world, society at large hates rap music. Black men are the most devout consumers of rap, but in every city in every hood in the world, the most dangerous place for a rapper is in their own hometown around their own people.
Kirshnik Khari Ball, known professionally as Takeoff, one of my favourite rappers from my favourite rap group The Migos was murdered in cold blood, he is the 7th rapper to be murdered this year, and the second in the last two months. Takeoff changed the entire flow of rap, created multiple timeless hits, set fashion trends, set lingo trends, set dance trends and was involved in, and the best part of multiple classic projects. He was truly a legend. The Migos will always be my favourite rap group. My condolences to his family, friends, fans and anyone else who was affected, because I was definitely affected. So why was this international icon who everyone wanted to imitate and be like, killed by the same people he influenced the most?
I saw the incident moments after it took place because someone photographed the body and posted it online. Soon after footage of the incident that led to the shooting was posted online. The argument was about basketball, Takeoff had nothing to do with it, and then shots started ringing out.
This is a feeling I’ve grown used to as a 23 year old. Many of my favourite rappers have died since I was a kid, I’ve grown up seeing dead bodies of my superheroes posted online, usually over petty confrontations. I go through the same grieving process every time. One of the more vivid ones was the passing of XXXTentacion, first you start listening to the artists music, you think about what the artist meant to you, what they meant for your relationships, your social life, how you dressed, how you spoke, where you were when you first heard their music, who you were, who you were around, the people that you loved because of your connection through this music, this human being who has definitively made a mark on your life, yet you’ve never met them, you’ve never spoken to them, you know everything about them, you’ve watched them grow, you watched them go from poverty, traverse the greatest odds to achieve success, and you’ve even literally watched them be murdered. I can’t articulate this relationship to someone that didn’t grow up in this era of digital media.
What is a rapper? Who is a rapper? Who is a rapper to society? What is a day in the life of a rapper? What is the average life expectancy of a rapper? How different is it being a rapper to being any other vocation? What are the socio economic ramifications of being a rapper? What are the sociological impacts of it? How does it affect an individual and those around them?
There’s a place where race, culture, poverty, wealth, fame, crime, corporate interest, & white supremacy all collide, which is the existence of the black person, but more directly the rapper. Rappers are worshiped by some, feared by some, there’s a stigma on the term, there’s a social expectation, a look that comes to mind, a certain uniform, and even if that’s not what rap is, that perception still exists.
The entire city of Atlanta is in flames at the moment. All of my favourite artists, influencers and any of their associates are either dead, in jail, or at the very least they’re suspects in racketeering charges. People like YSL are facing centuries in jail for RICO charges because they allegedly operated as a gang in the city of Atlanta. Kanye West changed his name to Ye, just like Prince changed his name, & came out to speak up against what he deemed an oppressive system of elites, and he was instantly cancelled, JP Morgan Chase closed his bank account, and every company on Earth cut ties with him, which cost him over 2 billion in one day, and took him out of billionaire status. At the same time, a cargo ship owned by JPMorgan Chase was seized by the US with over 20 tons of cocaine. That’s the same drug game that all the YSL artists are promoting and getting a RICO for, that Ye is speaking out against, that everyone from the banks, to the labels, to the media, to the artists are profiting from, that all the artists are being arrested for, but nobody from chase is catching a RICO. I don't want no smoke with Chase by the way, this was in CNN, this is just an obervation!
Who owns the jails that the people end up in? Both the influencers and the influenced end up in the private prisons owned by the same people shipping the drugs, & own the artists who market it. It’s the most gangster shit, I would respect it if I wasn’t disgusted by it. But I can’t even be mad at them because at the end of the day, they’re just capitalizing on our willingness to do this stuff to ourselves.
I love gangster rap so I disagree with Lakeith Stanfield when he says that you can't love gangster rap and be for the progress of black people, I love Westside Gunn raps in the same way I love Pulp Fiction, its storytelling with music and art, but I’m also not gonna sit here and act like there’s not a problem because it’s as clear as day that there is a problem in this community that I am a part of.
Making music is one of the purest things a human being could do. Putting sounds together, then writing poetry to match the rhythms, these are ancient ways of being that are way bigger than any industry, so why is it that the parameters of human expression have become so confined? Why is it just ultra violence, nonsense, and harmful information being widespread, how much of it is being propagated by forces that want our destruction and how much of it are we doing to ourselves?
This is an important conversation that we are forced to have on a global scale, Jamaica is currently outlawing music that glorifies crimes and drugs.
What I'm realizing is that both things are happening simultaneously. There is an agenda hell bent on the oppression of the poor and disenfranchised, and it’s so powerful that it has infiltrated the minds of other poor & disenfranchised people, and like a virus in the matrix, they use our own against us to destroy us. The idea of a “they” is just the institution as it exists, it is ingrained into the fabrics of capitalism because industry started with the idea of humans as products and machines. There are people who perceive groups of humans as demographics to be herded for political, social and economic gain. For their manipulation to work, we need to perpetuate it, and we all perpetuate it in our own ways.
"They" enslaved black people, freed them without reparations, flooded the black community in America with drugs & guns, promoted the artists who would talk about selling drugs and shooting other black people, own the record labels, & also own the private prisons. So there are the people who create the conditions that have you suffering, and also try to sell you the cure, and ultimately the whole thing’s a set-up, but there's also that role of personal accountability. This refers to the Ye quote where he said "Slavery's A Choice"
Ultimately we have a choice, we are in charge of our own decisions, we are just manipulated by people who understand our incentives and provide us with options that end up being detrimental to ourselves & our own communities, & beneficial for a small group of elites. Just because governments, banks and corporations conspired to place drugs in your hood doesn't mean you had to sell it to your own people, you just wanted the money. Just because they drafted you into the military doesn't mean you had to kill people, you were just doing your job. It's all an individual choice at the end of the day.
All these kids in Atlanta really just wanted a better life. Every rapper just wants a better life. Every black kid just wants a better life. Every human just wants a better life. What are you willing to do to get to that better life? How bad is your current life for you to want to change it? What are you willing to do to get out of the situation you are in to get to a better one?
Rap lyrics promote a lifestyle of unrealistic excess, that breeds envy around the people around you still going through the oppression you claim to have escaped, who end up killing you out of spite. To achieve this life of unrealistic excess you couldn’t work a 9 to 5, because that’s slavery and you'll never achieve wealth doing it, and you’re not wrong. Maybe you can make it out of the terrible conditions you're in by making music, but making music requires money. So instead you start selling drugs because its highly profitable, rich people create pharmacy companies, and poor people create organizations known as gangs, they institutionalize it, and create ways to protect their assets through arms. Gangs act exactly like any other institution but because they're not protected by police they protect themselves. The state has just deemed this industry to be criminal which creates prisoners, who end up working for the same corporations you were trying to avoid working a 9 to 5 for in the first place, and now you don’t even get paid minimum wage, you get paid a few cents. And once you’re out of prison, the same company that had you working in jail won’t hire you, which sends you back into a life of crime, which sends you back into jail, and this entire cycle is being promoted by the same media that is owned by the same people who own the jails.
All that is true. But Takeoff wasn't killed by the police, Takeoff wasn't killed by the KKK, there are stories claiming Takeoff wasn't even killed by a rival gang, there are stories that it was allegedly someone on his own camp that was firing wildly and accidentally hit him while trying to kill anyone else. Moments after I heard about the killing of Takeoff, I turned on the news to hear that an 18 year old black boy was shot and killed across the street from my home in a similar frivolous manner.
Who can we blame? Who can we point the finger at? People point at rappers, rappers point at the media, the media point at the rappers, the fans point at the labels, the labels point at the fans, black people point at white people, white people point at black people, Ye points at the Jews, jews point at black people, women point at men, poor people point at rich people, rich people point at the government, the government points at corporations, and everyone is right. It’s all our fault, all of it, the never ending wars, the pedophilia rings, the drug trafficking, the human enslavement, climate change, we are all responsible in perpetuating it everyday in some way.
At a base level, the drip, the status, the whips, the chains, the mansions, the food, the women, the lifestyle, rap is just a microcosm of what we’re all chasing. This materialistic machine man who is cold in appearance, demeanor, attitude, and how he interacts with the world, that is who we are becoming. The culture is becoming unsociable, disagreeable, selfish, and murderous. That is the true modern culture, and it is reflected in mainstream rap, film & media because it is how the heads of state operate. The things some politicians and businessmen have done for money & power in real life will put any of your favourite rappers' most devious verses to shame. Jefferey Epsteins list beats any King Von verse in terms of being sadistic. The military industrial complex is way more of a hustle than any drug deal Jay Z has ever talked about. They literally get millions of people to go to wars for centuries over an abstract idea of land they can’t even entirely occupy, and they cash out from it every year. “They” is everyone that is invested in human suffering, from the arms manufacturers, to the politicians, to the corporations.
Everywhere I look, it’s the same problem. I keep having the same problem, my friends & family keep having the same problem, the city, the province, the school system, the country, other countries, celebrities & society at large, we are all facing the exact same problem. It’s about money & everything money represents, everything money can achieve & everything that is achieved for money, or the idea of money. I don’t believe Life is about money, but I do believe the human system that we have created and occupy operates on the concept of money, humans are incentivized by the concept of money. To live a life of dignity, love & happiness, we have been conditioned to believe that acquiring money is how we attain that. There’s nothing inherently wrong with exchanging goods and services through a system with a bill that represents a future exchange of goods and services, it’s actually a brilliant idea. I believe everything negative in the system stems from humanity’s internal malevolence. Food grows out of the ground, virtually everything else is a man made issue. Our capacity for greed, power, fear, war & domination, if you want to call it the devil I wouldn’t argue with you. Because everywhere I look, all I see is the same avoidable problem, perpetuated by everyone having the problem, for a pyrrhic victory.
We can't bring Takeoff back, we can't bring back anyone we've lost in senseless wars, we can't go backwards in time, but we can make a decision in the current moment. We can attempt to become civil as a civilization, Joe Biden, Putin & other heads of state can stop escalating problems due to their own greed & putting poor people at risk, and instead feed, clothe & educate the poor of the world many times over. We can actually improve the state of the world, and try to pursue a life of peace and amicable disagreements, on a personal level amongst each other. How are we with our loved ones? What is our impact on our friends, family, & community? That is a choice we can all individually choose to make that can have an affect on the future so that all of the dismay we've seen can stop & all of the death wouldn't have been in vain. Cause ultimately this many people dying over this concept of fake money & status is ridiculous, and will be viewed as one of the biggest tragedies in the history of this species.
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