FEATURE: Too Hard To Lift

[Editor's Note: This interview appears in the December 2008 issue of XXL Magazine.]

How many deaths did gangster rap suffer in 2008 alone? And which was the least noble?

Was it Rick Ross getting outed as a former corrections officer and continuing to deny it, even in the face of incontrovertible proof? Was it Ice-T showing his age, and his lack of perspective, by losing a YouTube battle to Soulja Boy? Was it Shawty Lo bringing a camera around Bankhead and asking about T.I.’s neighborhood bona fides? Was it the unearthed criminal records that seemed to indicate Plies wasn’t quite the “definition of real” he proclaimed to be? Was it the venerable G-Unit, who, this summer, released their second (and best and hardest) album, T.O.S. to general indifference? Or was it that one of the more hooliganish rapper moments of the year came from Kanye West, of all people, who, along with his manager Don C, attacked a paparazzo at an airport and demolished his camera? Even Suge Knight plays nice with the paparazzi these days. Where have all the thugs gone?

Not long after the late-’80s media began using the term to describe a burgeoning style of brash, street-oriented hip-hop with lyrical focus on criminal behavior, gangster rap became the dominant strain of the genre. Its characteristics (or, at least, its affects) so flooded the form as a whole that, over time, the term lost precision in meaning. Over the past two decades, most of rap’s biggest stars have presented themselves, at least in some ways, as gangsters.

These days, though, the gangster icon is being replaced by that of the player, the bohemian, the seducer, the nerd, the precocious kid. Increasingly, any rap that markets itself as street rap is likely to be a footnote. Just a few years ago, 50 Cent brought about a tidal shift in the tone of the genre, out-thugging the competition to install the ultimate bad guy at the top of the food chain. Now, in 2008, that’s but a fast-fading memory.

Ask Styles P of the Yonkers hardcore trio The Lox how the climate for street rap is these days, and his answer comes quick and blunt: “It’s bad. It’s real bad… The past five years, there hasn’t even been a lot of gangster rap… If I started my career today, I think I’d be in a real fucked-up position.”

Last year, when Kanye West and 50 Cent faced off in a sales battle, Kanye seemed like the obvious underdog. 50 was a juggernaut and a bully; Kanye, by comparison, seemed small and humble. Until the first-week numbers came out, that is, with the fashionista besting the thug by more than 250,000 copies.

It was perhaps the first indicator of a shift that now seems to be in full flower. Suddenly, among the dance-rap teens, the hipsters and the bohemians, street rappers seem fewer and farther between. They’re not totally off the scene. Says Baby, CEO of New Orleans’s Cash Money Records, “Jeezy did it. Ross did it. Plies doin’ it. They came up the same way we did.” But the climate seems less and less forgiving. Even though Young Jeezy landed atop the album chart earlier this year, it was with such a small sales number that it left only the question: Is he the last of a dying breed?

For more of the Too Hard To Lift Interview pick up XXL’s December issue on newsstands now.

Recommended for You

Around the Web

Best of XXL

  • OcK

    where the rap game at? Niggaz gettin soft now…

    • ko

      the problem is either their music sucks or most of them are too fake to buy into what they are saying.

      • MO


    • MO


  • swagger

    first! its a new a day & age, hip hop has changed, f*ck get over it!!!!!!

  • dabeachboi

    It’s not that there not droppin heat. It’s not that the albums are going unheard and not purchased. Album sales mean nothing bcuz you can get anything on the internet for free these days!! So then it leaves the artist doin dope work for free! And they’re sayin they’re fallin off when they’re just gettin ripped off! They just need to make albums cheaper so people wouldn’t be so tempted to steal them when they could purchase them at a cheaper cost. Then they would atleast see some residules!

  • WreckRoom

    About fucking time.

  • Enlightened

    It’s that these niggas are not talented rappers and are not putting out good music. Period. Point Blank. Jeezy? Rick Ross? Plies? That proves your point right there when you see that they are three of the most successful.

    All three of those niggas can make you a good song if you give them a great beat and a good hook. So what? So can the average 10 year old if you hand them a ready made hit. Can they make good music though?

    When Snoop came out- his MUSIC was the best. Period. And it was original. When Mobb Deep The Infamous came out, when DMX came out, go down the list. Niggas who were considered “gangster” or street rappers – were talented artists that happened to make street music.

    Did you see Jeezy on the BET Hip-Hop Awards. How the fuck this nigga an artist when he can’t even get on stage and say every word to his own songs that he wrote? You no-timing, out of breath ass nigga. Lady of Rage, Yo Yo, and MC Lyte spit their verses flawlessly – with INSTRUMENTALS. Not the real CD playing with them. These new niggas get up there with the CD playing along with them. Corny ass niggas.

    That’s the difference. The so-called gangster niggas are not talented. Remember when “Get Rich or Die Tryin’” dropped? That is probably the last “gangsta rapper” to arrive on the scene like that with an undeniable classic that was simply THE BEST MUSIC out at the time.


    Hope 50 drop a hot album for me to download.
    Too much garbage album is being released.
    LOL at Ice-T losing Youtube battle with Souldja boy.

  • …..

    Whoever wrote this is a g-unit dickrider, the album was shit and 50s last two have been awful ! Rick Ross,Plies these are soft rappers who are singin about bein thugs thats why gangster rap is in the state it is, faggets talkin hard but theyre soft as vanilla ice cream on a warm day with chocolate sprinkles on it ! Fuckin faggets, i hate hatin on folks but these are some faggets for real !

    • http://xxl.co.uk SCRAPZ


      u got all dese rappers hu claimin to be thugs but dey aint shit wen cums down to it.

  • gkid12345

    wait till they start cracking down on the internet piraters. Hiphop albums sales will fly up. Its really basically the hood dont buy albums no more cuz we discovered this internet shit. The rich people rather go buy the cd than wait 20 min to download an album

  • EE-Bubble

    dont worry hiphop will come right back ive heard a couple of kanyes new album and its not a good look, i just think it needs to be about hot beats and hot lyrics for a while, wordplay and saying real stuff that goes on everyday and that we the people can relate to.

  • drox

    jus outta curiosity what the fuck happened to TI??? the game??? aint these fools gangsta enough for ya and they def got decent numbers… anyways I c the point of the whole article but i jus dont think we’re at the time where gangsta rap aint relevant yet. We jus need solid production jus like GRODT cause gangsta shit dont need to be lyrical… jus bully-ish enough…. wonder who can do it!

  • Manny78d

    Look at history. A gangsta rapper does not become a legend by staying in that lane, because its impossible to broaden thier fan base. When snoop first started out he was labled a gangsta rapper. Now hes making country rap and songs like “sensual seduction”. There are few rappers these days that are strictly thug. ( Rick Ross, Plies, etc. ) Like Enlightened said above, these niggas suck. Jeezy is ok I guess. If you look at the best “gangsta” rapper, in my opinion Styles , his music is much more than just gangsta rap and I can see him evolving into a NAS type lyricist later on in life. Rap is just changing. Soon, I dont think there will be different genres of rap just the good shit and the bad shit.

  • http://www.rocbattle.com/AndreB Andre

    And who did Jeezy had on he’s singel but Kanye West him self???

  • Macdatruest

    Shit gangstas can’t rap. Thats the problem. People associate gimmicks with being soft, but gangtsa rap is a gimmick. All the real gangstas I know give a flyin’ fuck about making “good music.” Them niggas is in the streets. And why yall got a picture of Fiddy lookin gay as fuck on here? Dude aint a gangsta, and if he is what niggas on the East consider a gangsta, that explain why Jim Jones think he a blood wit his super false flaggin homo ass. Its rules to the life that these rap niggas, especially Fiddy, made careers out of breaking so thats DOA as far as real Gangstas and Mainstream Hip Hop and Commercial Success mixing go. We might as well talk about about the weather haha. But for real what the fuck yall be bloggin’ about? A bully and a juggernaut? Gangstas is Killas. REAL DEAD BODIES. I think yall should open the windows in that office

  • Macdatruest

    Why yall got Fiddy lookin; like Mr. Garrison off SouthPark? MMMMMMKay?? hahaha

  • http://bones_42@hotmail.com Doobie42

    The difference is there have been few or no decent M.C.’s to come out in the last few years! ya people have come on to the scene and done aight sales wise. (rick ross, plies, etc.) but no man that respects himself will listen to that garbage. it used to be M.C.’s that ACTUALLY flow, ACTUALLY made hooks that comprised of more than 4 words, and ACTUALLY had somethin interesting to say. (the lox, dmx, big L, etc. and that’s just from N.Y!)
    There are still G’s that make good music. Z-ro’s, Sheek Louch, and game all had decent albums in the last year.

  • real talk

    right now hip hop is in a bad state no one is selling but everything goes in cycles right now that shit got played out cause everybody started lying about their lives. everybody claimed they were a thug and the people get tired of something when they gettin all the time. man i been listening to this music for a long time and im glad we’re movin on to somethin else cause i can’t take these studio gangstas anymore.

  • http://www.incilin.blogspot.com Incilin

    Great piece thus far, but who wrote it? Don’t tell me it was the prolific XXL Staff. I might actually buy the XXL to read the rest of this.

  • JamPo

    Its alotta gangsta sh!t still popping but not on the mainstream tip……..Scarface’s “Made” was g shit at it finest…Cube and Killer Mike both drop some bonafied street shit.what about that Eightball and Edi collabo?….g-shit…Bun B “2 Trill”?…Z-Ro and Trae’s ABN album?…that shit was gangsta..gangsta shit ain’t just tough talk, packing tools, and serving rocks….that gangsta shit is that street knowledge shit….niggaz ain’t really droppin jewels….everybody ballin….every nigga do numbers….its really no balance in this shit

    ..hell that Nas “Untitled” and Devin’ “Landing Gear” is really classified as gangsta rap ….

    on some mo shit……that hipster type ish cool but some of them niggaz gotta come harder…trill niggaz don’t carry sugar in our nut sacks…big fat balls and a pistol in my backpack

  • 619

    Ross? Plies? That’s not gangster rap. The problem with that hardcore shit is that no albums are dropping from any of those artist. This ringtone rap got all these real artists getting overlooked when it comes time for a release date in favor of more marketable, profitable artists for the labels. Case and point, we’ve been waiting a couple years for albums from: Raekwon, Saigon, Bishop Lamont, Glasses Malone, Papoose, Crooked I, Jadakiss, DJ Quik/Kurupt callabo, and too many more to name. Imagine if all these albums we’re out right now along with Detox. The rap game wouldn’t be flooded with all this Soulja Boy bull shit. These ringtone artists would be taking orders at McDonalds.

  • dark vanilla

    I’ll tell u why gangsta rap is dying. Rappers r more worried about making money and trying not to offend people. That’s why Get Rich or Die Tryin was good. Cuz 50 didn’t give a fuck bout who he was trying to impress. He just rapped his style. Now he’s all bout airplay. If rappers like 50, Game, T.I. just said fuck the world, were gonna do it our way, gangsta rap would be revived. One of these rappers needs to diss Soulja Boy like HARDCORE. Maybe even start a fight. Everything is just too fake these days. It seems like when there is beef, it just for personal album sales. Take the Game and 50 for example. Right before their albums come out, they start dissing each other or someone else. When they have no music, they hide in a box.

  • adrian smith

    first fuck xxlmag fuck you tube fuck that nigga souljah boy i hope he ends up dead sum were ice t did lost no battle he won and gives a fuck about somebody age any way xxlmag put english rappers on cover xxlmag is worldwide magazine

  • Floss

    Simple and plain the reason why gangsta rappa’s is falling off is cuz these niggaz been gettin they cards pulled by real gansta’s who DONT FUCKING RAP. Real niggas is in the streets grinding not in the studio telling on themselves. These niggas is tough behind all that money. They body gaurds got my heart than them.Fuck outta here. Sorry For Cussin !!!!!

  • Marc

    Its cuz people is growin up and shit and is gettin kinda tired of gun metaphor + rim metaphor + bitch metaphor and so on

    On the real most people can’t relate and even though i listen to gangsta rap sometimes like The Game but i rather listen to that Lupe Fiasco

    Most gangster rap isn’t even lyrical or entertaing anymore. How many times can you hear “me and my goons got choppas” shit is wack forreal

    gangsta rap is ok limited to a few artist
    such as Crooked I, Styles P, couple other dudes
    but they kinda fall under Lyrical Rapper aswell


    Anyway Hip Hop >Gun talk

  • balaramesh

    good post.

    i can agree with most of you.

    as a fan, i got tired of buying crappy albums too. now, people are using that as an excuse to not purchase albums. let’s keep it real, most of the people buying bootlegs or downloading were not going to buy stuff anyway. however, i can say that i might download something but i got cop the original cd too. not to say it’s right.

    if you are not reaching the ladies or the crossover audiences you will not sell records.

  • c_realla

    You know gangsta rap is dead when 50 Cent is mentioned in the article, and half of the posters THINK he makes gangsta music. Maybe for some other regions, I don’t know what constitutes gangster in NY, but it sure aint close to what it means west of the Mississipi river. I don’t understand how NY cats claim blood sets or crip sets when most of them fools dont have no connection with Cali. They be following some folk rules and citing literature that aint even accurate.No Knowledge. Biggest problem is that a lot of the real gangsta rappers are dead.



  • Curtis75Black

    Enlightened said it best, especially dealing with the performances on the Hip Hop awards. You had all these “gangster” rappers rapping their lyrics along with the track playing and had all these Old School ladies, Ladies I say again, Rippin’ their shit flawless to a instrumental. That itself was sad for this generation !!

    The real problem is that every “hard talking” emcee is lumped into the same category and that’s not the case for the majority of them. Nggas ain’t hard, they’re just backed by Def Jam, co-signed by Jigga and they get a pass, which is wack ass Hell !! Fans don’t wanna hate because Jay is their favorite and fellow peers are too afraid to pull cards because of the backlash. We didn’t deal with that in the 80′s and 90′s. I guess it was always easy to talk shit about the soft dancin, lady lovin’ rapper than the fake wanna be gangsta.

  • TheRefriedMexican

    When the legend 2Pac died, so did gangsta rap.