From an obscure Bronx subculture in the 1970s to a major music genre today, Hip-Hop has come a long way, its journey now synonymous with wealth and power. Names like DJ Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Ice-T and Kanye West have marked the evolution of Hip-Hop into the force we know today. Statista’s list of richest artists in 2017 placed Jay Z third with $42 million, substantially behind Drake’s $94 million and Diddy’s $130 million. While many would argue that real Hip-Hop is an embodiment of communal expression rather than money, the fact remains that it is a highly lucrative industry without losing its status as a platform for voices to be heard. 21st-century artists like Young MA embrace this scene and change the world through it, proving the existence of different kinds of wealth, a belief also found in Hip-Hop. The selection of tracks below resonates with various aspects of the monetary theme in Hip-Hop.
The Wu-Tang Clan’s 1994 single is all about the struggle of growing up in New York, where “Cash rules everything around me” as the hook states, performed by Method Man and still echoed decades later. Reaching for riches had already become a trademark interest since the ’80s, alongside the harsh lifestyle that inspired and commercialized gangsta rap. It was not until 2009, however, that ‘C.R.E.A.M.’ was certified Gold by the RIAA, as The Source recalls. This official recognition, of course, was nothing but confirmation of what its fans, famous and starless, had known since its release. It was a diamond of a track that cut a path for the rise of hip-hop.
Ol’ Dirty Bastard, also known as a member of the Wu-Tang Clan, went on to produce his 1994 debut album, ‘Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version.’ Among mixed reviews, Snakes stood out for its chaotic features, including an homage to Jim Croce’s ‘Bad Bad Leroy Brown’, Joe Tex’s ‘I’ll Never Do You Wrong’sped-up vocals, and the themes of power and money being desired above all else. This track builds on ‘C.R.E.A.M.’and the dangers faced by those marginalized. It highlights the mentality of making your own fate, an idea that both contrasts and is enhanced by Dirty’s dice-playing talk. Snake-eyes are a term to refer to both dice coming up with ones, which is largely dependent on luck. The allure of such games can be seen not only in casinos all over the world but also online. Although they’re not as popular as blackjack, roulette and slots, online casinos offer feature games of craps online, whose winning chances are high and the house edge is a meagre 1.41%. So luck, it seems, is valued as much as effort in a rapper’s pursuit of contentment.
Mo Money Mo Problems
A collaboration between Diddy, Mase and Kelly Price, the Life After Death album was released in 1997 and this particular track used clips of the Notorious B.I.G. recorded before his death in 1994, including a home video of the artist discussing the problems that money causes. A different attitude to his colleagues’ above. This did not stop Diddy, however, from using images that promote ambition and prosperity, what we could certainly call “the American dream”. Golf, for example, is a game associated with status and individual competition, whose virtual versions even, like ‘The Golf Club 2‘ for PlayStation, are just as highly regarded as the sport itself. And something as simple as having Diddy win a golf tournament in the music video shows that, despite the dangers of success, it is still coveted.
Last we heard of Lil Wayne, he was collaborating with Nicki Minaj and starring alongside goats in a Bumbu commercial, which is a special Barbados craft rum. Before this, however, came ‘Tha Carter III’, the 2008 album produced by Bangladesh that allowed freedom to experiment with looping vocals and simple beats. Once again, ‘A Milli’ has Wayne freestyling about the power of money, but also about being different and breaking moulds that define aspects of life, including music. Originally intended for an album showcasing young artists’ interpretations of the same track, the project changed along the way and was thrown off even further by ‘A Milli’ being leaked. The two Grammys and widespread critical acclaim that followed soothed the situation. Both producer and artist were hailed for reviving and redefining Hip-Hop.
$ave That Money
Perhaps, the funniest contribution to this list of money-themed songs is this one that actually encourages saving up. Billboard reports on Lil Dicky’s impressive feat of creating a Hip-Hop video in 2015 that ticked all the boxes of what such a production typically included – a mansion, Lamborghini, nightclub and dancers – without spending almost anything, except on food for his two-man crew. He saved $30,000 and garnered a million views on YouTube within 17 hours of posting the video. His established status as a rapper helped, as well as his connections to celebrities like Sarah Silverman, Kevin Durant and Hannibal Burress, who appeared in the track. Lil Dicky even used his cameo in T-Pain’s video to present the production as his own, to the full knowledge of his friend, of course. What does this mean for the profiteering attitude seen in hip-hop so far? That it does not have to be this way. There are artists who challenge the norm in their own, sometimes hilarious, ways.
From the patterns above, the new blood constantly breaking onto the scene and LP favourites like ‘Stunts, Blunts and Hip-Hop’ being reissued, a few things are becoming clear. Wealth is determined to remain a trademark of Hip-Hop, as much as the struggle for survival and success in an often aggressively competitive society and industry. But what we also see is a desire for change. Humour and innovation exist to counteract the powerful yet misleading messages that commercialized Hip-Hop allows. This genre is not just about superiority, but expression – 21st-century poetry.