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Love’s gonna get you

Last week CNN aired a one hour special called “Hip-Hop: Art or Poison?” I missed it (did it even air in Canada?), but I happened to come across the transcript the other day, and I was curious to have a look. Good lord, Paula Zahn covered a lot of territory in sixty minutes. Misogyny, homophobia, violence, and materialism? All in one hour? Yikes.

I thought it was particularly interesting that she raised the question of the link between the aspirational nature of hip-hop and criminality among youth:

Hip-hop is a multibillion-dollar-a-year industry rooted in music, clothing, jewelry, a whole lifestyle. It is a cultural of extravagant and expensive consumption. And a lot of critics wonder whether envy of that lifestyle contributes to crime in America.

Singling hip-hop out for “extravagant and expensive consumption” in the land of Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous is a little absurd. Are they asking if envy of Hollywood is driving kids to crime? Does heiress Paris Hilton need to fall back?

Still, I don’t think we should let hip-hop completely off the hook. I don’t think it’s the world’s biggest stretch to imply that there’s some connection between the culture’s get rich or die trying mentality, and world-weary young guns moving a few packs for sneaker money.

On the program, Young Buck jumped in and denied there was any link at all. “Some kids see this [wealth and success], and they get off into their books a little bit stronger to make their education come out for them, to be able to provide and make things like this,” he argued. Riiight. Cause a high school diploma (or even a college degree!) will no doubt enable you to sport designer gear, jet around on G4s, and guzzle bottles of booze that cost more than most folks’ weekly paychecks. In these days and times, it’s more likely to land your ass at The Gap, clock-watching, and folding t-shirts under the nose of some petty, pastel-clad dictator. Kids aren’t dumb, they know this.

Surprisingly, the resident criminologist on the show hit the nail on the head. “If you don’t have legitimate access to that [wealth and success],” Professor Catherine Montsinger from Johnson C. Smith University noted, “it’s only natural that you’re going to do something that makes that accessible to you.”

So, in other words, if you grew up broke (i.e. your parents couldn’t lend you 50 bucks, let alone land you a prestigious internship), and you couldn’t see any point in your life where you’d be able to afford a hoopty, let alone a Benz–you might be open to taking another route. Throw in some family drama, an illness, crippling debt, the inability to fulfill lifelong dreams, or any other number of pressures, and it’s not inconceivable that you’d get caught up. Watching a bunch of dudes throwing handfuls of cash at hot chicks on TV might just be the final straw, though.

But however irritating the making it rain mentality can be, in the end the issue here is poverty, not pop culture. One of my friends is studying to be a criminal defense lawyer, and she said they tell you in law school that there are three predictors of criminal behavior: poverty, mental illness, and addiction. Plain and simple. Society already knows what causes crime. It’s just a heck of a lot easier to point fingers at a few rags-to-riches rappers boasting they have cash to burn than it is to address an entire system that leaves millions without adequate food, housing, education and health care.

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Tangent: Not that it’s likely that she’ll ever read this, but I want to send a huge shout out to the lovely Jennifer Hudson for her well-deserved Oscar. She got me all teary the other night. What a voice!

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