“Realness” is overrated. It’s a statement that hip-hop as a community should’ve been saying a long time ago. Rick Ross got busted. So? He wasn’t even the first! What, y’all don’t remember Game in the strip club video? Real skills trumps EVERYTHING. That’s good news. It means we have matured to a level where we no longer have unachievable expectations.
Real Thug = Lyrical Genius
Songwriting Brilliance = Respect My Gangsta
You see the problem with those equations? These are qualities that are as often as not, mutually exclusive. Most real hustlers can’t touch Rick Ross as a lyricist. I’m supposed to buy some monosyllabic lackluster rapper’s CD just because he sold a couple kis? If you suck, being “real” ain’t gonna make you nice. I didn’t buy 50 Cent’s first album ’cause he got shot nine times, but ’cause it had some BANGERS! He could’ve got shot more times than Amadou Diallo and Sean Bell COMBINED and I wouldn’t have bought his album if it was wack. The one has NOTHING to do with the other and pretending it does has never helped us.
Who even remembers when that whole “keep it real” thing started? I’m old school so I can tell you that the first time I heard it, and the term “studio gangsta”, was in regard to Spice-1. I don’t know whether his street credibility was legit or if he was fake as they come, but guess what, if I was a Spice-1 fan I wouldn’t care.
Because music is just music and rap is the only art form I can think of that has ever made this kind of ridiculous demand of its artists. We don’t say that actors need to run around shooting bad guys just because they’ve been in action movies. That would make them crazy.
What’s the difference?
If an artist painted a portrait and it looked exactly like its subject, would we care if they had never seen them? No. So why did we decide that rappers have to act out everything they rap about? We didn’t always think that way either. Who ran around trying to get proof that KRS-One really shot a drug dealer named Peter with his 9mm? Who tried to prove that the Geto Boys’ minds were really playing tricks on them?
The truth is, “real” is a LIMITATION. If you only rapped about what happened to you, you would probably have an unbearably boring songbook. If we stuck to reality, we wouldn’t have some of hip-hop’s greatest classics. Eminem wouldn’t have made “Stan,” Nas wouldn’t have written “Rewind,” and Canibus wouldn’t exist, ’cause he can’t do anything he raps about!
Realness is a way to pigeonhole. Record companies look at rappers and decide how to sell them based on image. He goes in the “player” box, he goes in the “conscious” box (good luck!) and he sold drugs and has a rap sheet to prove it! He’s REAL!
It’s funny how realness is only equated to things that are street-related. There’s never debate about the realness of Mos Def, Common or The Roots. Why? Because, for the most part, the way they entertain us has nothing to do with drugs, money, sex or violence. The fact that realness is a standard held up to so few should be proof that the question itself is FAKE.
The only thing that matters is if you write good songs. Hip-hop had to reach it’s mid-thirties to realize that, but better late than never.