Beyond Sex and Violence: My Problem with Hip Hop

The Imus debacle poured fuel on long-raging debates within the black community regarding the language of hip hop. I'd like to suggest we add one more topic to the discussion. I can boil it down to one word: bling.

What is bling, you ask? Bling is the adornment that comes when you're super rich and you want to show it off. Diamonds in the ears. Diamonds around the neck. All that sparkles and shines as you cruise your yacht through the Mediterranean blue, or you're back at your mansion, chilling by the pool popping Cristal with all kinds of honeys by your side...

I think many of us who have listened to hip hop over the last years know these clichés better than we know the Ten Commandments. Why? Because day in, day out, hip hop musicians pimp these fantasies of lifestyle porn. On Fergie's latest single "Glamorous," Ludacris sings of "lifestyles so rich and famous Robin Leach'll get jealous." But who is he singing to? Who is eating this up? There are those of us who get that this is a fantasy created to sell sell sell. And then there are the boys and girls in the inner city, small town America and sterile suburbia who watch BET for hours at a stretch and are just learning how to dream. Kids, who even if they go to college and succeed in their profession, may never have the cash to afford Gucci, Versace, or Cartier or any of the other namedropped brands that one must have in they want an ounce of self-worth.

And even if you get that this is a fantasy, it is hard to remain unaffected; I've watched videos and wished I still had a Saks card. Or a millionaire boyfriend who could make all my problems go away. If I may paraphrase from the Bible of hip hop, the Scarface screenplay, first you get the money, then you get the power... a seductive way of thinking, for sure. I just work hard not to be deluded into believing that material things will make me happy, or keep me safe from harm. And as far as the rich boyfriend thing goes, that's just a rescue fantasy of the most insidious kind.

I know; it's no news flash that pop culture conspires to keep me wanting.

So, it's the understatement of the year to say that I can understand the deep desire to attain wealth, especially for those raised in financially unstable households. And for those who get snap-judged every day because of their skin color...I too can understand the impulse to wear designer chain mail. But who among us truly believes that the apex of human success is vast wealth accumulation? The kind of wealth that only a handful of superstars and moguls ever achieve?

The ugly truth is that we are a nation of debtors, of decimated credit ratings, of impeding bankruptcies. Yet with the incessant drumbeat of bling, those who struggle the most to pull themselves out of poverty are told more, more, more.

In the song "All Fall Down," Kanye West sings about black spending, and how self-loathing can lead us to try, as he says, to "buy back our 40 acres." I appreciate how honestly Kanye West talks of this sort of self-medication. I wish that more rappers would do the same.

And if they can't do that, maybe for a CD or two they can lay off these these ridiculous toxic fantasies that cultivate desires we never had and perpetuate the lie that greed is good.

And if they can't do that, at least get original about it. Drink different champagne or build a different model McMansion. Pimp that Prius. Do something to flip this very, very tired script.