Hate It or Love It Essay
In 1972 the Cross Bronx Expressway was completed; this marked the separation of the southern Bronx and was followed by the “Bronx is burning” which began the downward spiral for this urban, African American neighborhood. Around the same time hip-hop was founded and became an outlet for the frustrations of the poor, suffering people of this region. The result was the culture of hip-hop that glorifies violence, drugs, money, and a gangster persona. This has become the image of the Hip Hop artist, and is used by musicians to gain the approval or “street cred” of their fans/peers. With this proof of authenticity, however, many rap/hip-hop artists have sent messages of criticism and condemnation of the life in the “hood” and the failures of the Civil Rights Movement. In the song “Hate it or Love it,” these themes of hip-hop are portrayed throughout the song. Rappers The Game and 50 Cent both use signification and realism to gain credibility and critique the failures of the Civil Rights generation. As defined by Imani Perry, a processor of African American studies at Princeton University, realism “encourages a critique of the media and reflects the significant realities of social inequality” and signifying “[is] a metaphor for the revision of previous texts and figures (Perry, 61, 101).”
Credibility is an idea that is very important in hip-hop. It is often referred to as “keeping it real” and calls attention to the authenticity of the rap artist (Perry, 87). According to Imani Perry, this entails maintaining “allegiance to black youth populations or subgroups within [their] community.” Most enthusiasts believe that hip-hop artists should stay true to their roots and stick with the style of their home-region. The Game stays “real” by recording “Hate it or Love it” as West Coast style hip-hop and visually signifying N.W.A. (a hip-hop group also from the same city of Compton, CA) in the music video. The song also allows featured artist 50 Cent the chance to stay authentic when he signifies Tupac and Rakim, both of which were also from New York. The Game and 50 Cent though not directly sampling from these artist do cover the identity their predecessors created; as a result, they cover and maintain allegiance to the image of men from black American urban communities.
In addition to signifying, “Hate it or Love it” uses realism throughout its lyrics to build credibility with the audience. Rappers/ Hip-Hop artists are expected to “witness” and “live out” the narratives that they tell. 50 Cent starts the song saying, “let’s take’em back” signifying the transition to story of a “real” time before he or The Game were known rappers. Both artist reference this reality by disclosing details of ghetto/gangster life in lines like “Brenda is still throwing babies in the garbage,” “niggas had stole my bike,” and “one phone call’ll have your body dumped in marshes.” These phrases all refer to personal or witnessed events that describe the problems like teenage pregnancy, theft, and gang violence in black American urban communities. This “reality” regardless of truth authenticates the rapper because it shows he has experienced the pains of racism, and poverty.
It gives the listener a reason to believe the artist can sympathize with his/her own struggles and authenticates the words in the song. Imani Perry also says that, “[Realism is a] testimony to the emotional state resulting from the experience of poverty, blackness, and the crisis of urbanity (Perry, 87).” After proving oneself as “real” and establishing their ability to relate to black America, rap artist can further their credibility by targeting the emotional hardships of urban poverty. 50 Cent conveys these emotions when he raps, “Different day, same shit, ain’t nothing good in the hood. I’d run away from this bitch and never come back if I could.” Here he expresses a genuine hate for the “hood” and shows his vulnerability as a child, a sentiment not often admitted to in rap. It is this type of realism and openness with emotions that gives musicians the chance to connect and gain trust from the audience. With trust, support, and belief in the lyrics, credibility is established. The artist becomes “real.”
Establishing a sense of being “real” is not restricted to the lyrics. In the music video for “Hate it or Love it,” The Game employs several images that create both emotion and establish his “witnessing” of gangster life. For example, both 50 Cent and The Game are represented as children in the music video. They are shown alone in an empty house, standing next to a dead body, and being arrested (as a child and adult). These pictures create feelings of pity and sorrow for the young rappers who appear to have nobody looking out for them, a truth often seen in poor urban communities. This again earns credibility for the rappers because it shows they have “lived out” the experiences that they rap about. (Perry, 90) With this evidence of living as a “real” African American, The Game and 50 Cent progress toward a manifestation of respect by contrasting the hood with their new “reality.” This new life is what Nelson George would describe as, “the black man crave[ing] a context for that style, one that often comes as part of a male-dominated collective (George, 52).”
In other words, 50 Cent and The Game must cover a glorified version of “that style” ascribed to the black, male demographic to earn respect from their peers. This glamorized image of blackness is seen throughout the “Hate it or Love it” music video. The Game is shown standing on top of a building in suburban Los Angles, cruzing down the Boulevard in a red convertible, and wearing two Jacob watches. These images are all a “signifying call-response trope” between rapper to rapper and rapper to audience (Perry, 62). These images of wealth, and power are a cover of African American male’s desired collective style, a style formed by the previous generation of rappers, and a style African American public continually tries to mimic. It is with the success of achieving this “style” that 50 Cent and The Game earn respect, and it is with this respect that they gain that final amount of credibility that makes them “real” rap artists.
Realism is not restricted to the construction of credibility for an artist, it also has the ability to inform listeners about life in the “hood.” Imani Perry describes this type of realism as a “telling narrative.” She says, “[a telling narrative] is to inform and enlighten rather than simply depict (Perry, 91).” The Game accomplished this throughout the lyrics in his song. He raps, “Thinking how they spent 30 million dollars on airplanes when there’s kids starving,” and “No schoolbooks, they used that wood to build coffins.” These two lines are extremely powerful and a harsh criticism of society as a whole. These words “enlighten” us of problems for children in black urban communities like hunger, poor education, and violence. The Game shows contrast when rapping that we spend “30 million dollars on airplanes.” He is clearly condemning society for its failure to take responsibility for African American children despite the availability of resources.
A telling narrative does not only express disapproval for society in general, but also “provides an internal critique of sociological conditions and the prospects of social control through planned communities (Perry, 91).” The possibility of “social control” or an improvement of life style is implicitly suggested in The Game’s lyrics. He repeatedly shows the availability of wealth with references to items like “Jacob’s watches,” “Mercedes Benz,” and “sheepskin coats.” 50 Cent however provides a true internal critique of the African American community, not just society as a whole. Within the first stanza 50 Cent recounts the poor/lack of parenting he received from his mother and father.
He says, ”Coming up I was confused, my mom kissing a girl/Confusion occurs coming up in the cold world/Daddy ain’t around, probably out committing felonies.” These three lines are a direct criticism of 50 Cent’s parents and other ghetto parents of the same generation, the children from the Civil Rights Movement. It is commenting on their collective failure to use the momentum of the civil rights movement as a medium for change. Instead, many, like 50 Cent’s parents, went the opposite route. They fell into illegal activities and abandoned their children. This “reality” of an illegal life is further exemplified when 50 Cent says, “I wanna live good, so shit I sell dope.” With no parents, money, or real support, children of the Civil rights generation had to turn to drugs and other illegal activities to “live good.” Through these types of lyrics, 50 Cent and The Game “inform” and “critique” life in urban black neighborhoods.
Criticism of ghetto life and the disappointment of the Civil Right’s generation are also accomplished with the use of signification. According to Imani Perry, “Signifyin(g) is a way of saying one thing and meaning another (Perry, 61).” The Game successfully does this with both images and lyrics. For example, he raps “ ‘Pac is gone and Brenda still throwing babies in the garbage/I wanna know ‘What’s Going On’ like I hear Marvin.” This literally is somewhat confusing; however, if we look beyond the referencing previous black artist, The Game is “signifying” problems that the African American community has been enduring since the 60’s. Brenda, for instance, is not literally “throwing babies in the garbage.” Rather, The Game is addressing the continued issue of teen pregnancy in black urban communities and criticizing the lack of change in these problems.
He is looking at a similar underlying “meaning” when he references Marvin Gaye’s song “What’s Going On.” An artist from the era of the Civil Right’s Movement, Gaye was concerned with issue of drug addiction, poverty, and the Vietnam War. It is clear that the Game is concerned with the lack of change that has occurred since the 1960’s and is calling out the failures of society. The Game continues this use of signifying as social commentator by sampling the background music from The Trammps’ song “Rubberband.” It is this “imitation”, as Glenn Gould calls it, that “[gives] art importance.” (Gould, 58) Gould argues that imitation “upsets the idea of progress.” This is exactly what The Game and 50 Cent are indicating. Since the Civil Rights Movement, the generation of the Trammps, there has been limited progress. The Game is thus “imitating” and covering a lack of change. He is criticizing the black people’s ability to make change happen.
Progress for African Americans has been limited since the Civil Rights Movement. Despite the lack of change, many people have tried to help, improve, challenge, and change the urban black American’s way of life. Rappers, like The Game and 50 Cent, release music that alludes to the gangster life and its hardships. This signification often is criticized as an “affirmation of stereotypes;” however, on a deeper level the music is “challeng[ing] the assumptions” of what a black man is (Perry, 61). When The Game ends his music video, he stands looking at the camera holding, kissing, and loving his baby. Looking directly at the camera he is staring into every African American home in America saying I will be different, I will be a good father, I will make a change. The Game understands the power he has as a rapper, and though this may not be a revolution like the Civil Rights Movement, it sends a message that change is possible even if it is one person at a time.
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