VIRANI: Fanbases need to stop referring to rappers as ‘gods’
Opinions Column: From Breaks to Bars
Last week, Hollywood Boulevard became the home of a new life-size golden statue of Kanye West depicted to look like a crucified Jesus Christ. The artwork was created by the street artist Plastic Jesus, who stated that the piece was a social commentary on how we idolize celebrities. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, he explained: “(West is) a genius at writing and producing but he’s not a God, and that’s where we put him … Until there’s an issue in his life or a hiccup in his career, then we crucify him.”
This problem does not just stop with West. All music genres have fans that revere their artists like gods, but the main source of this image tends to start from the fanbase. But hip-hop as a genre is different. Their fans do consider rappers gods, but rappers also contribute to this idea by building a reputation of calling themselves gods, something that is unique to the industry. Gucci Mane titled his 2012 mixtape "Trap God," and Nas’ 2002 album is called "God’s Son." Drake is the 6 God, and Jay-Z’s nickname Hov is a play on Jehovah (Jay-Hova). The list goes on and on.
This trend of rappers aligning themselves with divinity is nothing new. It has its roots in the old-school hip-hop culture, one of the most prominent sources being the Five-Percent Nation, a cultural movement that had strong ties with hip-hop in the 1980s and 1990s. A breakaway sect of the Nation of Islam, Five-Percenters believed that 10 percent of the world’s population knew the truths of the world but kept them a secret to assert control over 85 percent of the world. The Five-Percenters represented the remaining 5 percent, those who knew and taught these universal truths to educate and empower those in the 85 percent. One of the most prominent ideologies of the Five-Percent Nation is that God is a black man, and through education and enlightenment, black people can unlock their inner godliness and overcome prejudice and discrimination. And since many old-school rappers subscribed to their philosophies, this idea of aligning oneself with God spread in hip-hop. Famous Five-Percenters include Jay-Z, Nas, Jay Electronica and Busta Rhymes. Rappers calling themselves gods was a way of reclaiming authority in their space, both as MC’s and as people of color.
But that’s not really the case today. The very idea of a rap god has morphed from a form of cultural empowerment into the epitome of vanity. The rap industry’s god complex is now a marketing scheme, a way to build a reputation for rappers by exploiting fans who gravitate toward their music. After people develop their admiration for artists work, rappers try to sell them on the idea that they are gods, worthy of praise outside the scope of their discography and backed by nothing but their personal brands. Eventually, it removes the element of doubt or skepticism when judging their new work, because it’s hard to question or dethrone a rap god. When an artist like Kanye West or Drake establishes themselves as Yeezus or 6-God, it’s a form of pre-emptively selling their future work even before it’s made, or by that logic, before it’s even made well. Once a celebrity has so closely aligned themselves with a god-like persona, it’s psychologically difficult for us as an audience to collectively denounce that claim, even if their newer work isn’t up to par with the older work that lent them that god title to begin with. J Cole touches upon the subject in his song “False Prophets,” in which he discusses Kanye West: “He's fallin' apart, but we deny it / Justifying that half a** sh*t he dropped, we always buy it / When he tell us he a genius but it's clearer lately / It's been hard for him to look into the mirror lately.” When you start looking for this god complex in rap songs, it’s hard to stop. Even J Cole, who dedicated a whole song to the criticism of false prophets in the rap industry, calls himself a god in his song “January 28th.”
More than anything, calling rappers gods creates an unnecessary divide between them and us. It develops this idea that the rappers, whether it’s for their money or talent, are above their fanbase. And in the end, it makes a separation that extracts the musical element of hip-hop and replaces it with a game of public image and branding. Because once we as fans agree that rappers can be and are gods, we undermine the importance of the music and its ability to speak for itself.
Jhanvi Virani is a School of Arts and Sciences first-year majoring in Computer Science and History. Her column, “From Breaks to Bars,” runs on alternate Tuesdays.
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