Who’s to say what “real” means these days? Is Shyne as real as he proclaims? He did do nine years behind bars for staying true to the code he professes as being real. In the time he was gone, the rap game changed, and he’s returned with several sub-par tracks that have people from the streets to the suburbs hating on him. One might say this is the sacrifice he made for remaining true to his words; others might say he’s a knucklehead. Being real is in the eye of the beholder.
People want to be entertained, first and foremost, and people want the highest quality as well. The guy from your block who really moves weight and really puts in work, may try his hand at rapping and be terrible. He’s authentic, yes, but his rhymes are elementary nonsense. The average consumer isn’t going to buy his album when the new Rick Ross, whose content is most likely fabricated, is sitting next to it, because Ross can spit.
More and more rap is being viewed as entertainment and consumers are looking past what’s real to what’s hot. Rappers are being compared to actors. If that’s the case it becomes a matter of who’s the best actor. If you’re going to lie to me, sell it. Make me believe. I don’t want to watch a no-talent actor on-screen; it takes me out of the moment. Music is no different. The majority of rappers feel the need to constantly reinforce how gangster they are in every available forum. That’s not gangster. It’s like watching an actor who tries too hard to convince the audience.
At the opposite end of the spectrum you have Jay-Z, who rarely, if ever, talks about his past exploits apart from music. Why would he? He’s genuine and he knows that. That confidence translates to the audience who believes every word he says on record. When you see De Niro playing Jimmy “The Gent” in Goodfellas, it’s natural. He’s not acting like a gangster. He is a fucking gangster. There’s no need for him to reinstate that via constant discussion of it. I believe what Hov raps about, and even if it is fake, fuck it, because he’s the lyrical equivalent of De Niro to me.
50 Cent admits he spends most of his free time in his Connecticut mansion; he doesn’t need the potential trouble brought upon by sitting on the stoop in Southside Jamaica, Queens. He’s an intelligent, talented individual and an excellent businessman as well—one who’s paid his dues in the streets prior to his music career. Does him not smoking weed in the ‘hood anymore make him any less real than Lil’ Boosie? Boosie had his entire life and a promising career ahead of him and threw it away in an attempt to remain what is often mistakenly considered “gangster.” He’s facing the death penalty, whereas 50 Cent is raking in millions of dollars via legitimate business ventures. Who’s real?
The realest thing an artist can do is be true to himself. When Rick Ross drops the drug kingpin persona for a moment and speaks about the emotion he feels for his father who died of cancer; when Eminem raps about the hardships he faced being a drug addled White trash kid from Detroit with dreams of becoming a rapper; when Jay says, “My nephew died in the car I bought/So I’m under the belief it’s partly my fault,” they’re rapping from the heart. That’s real. Unfortunately, we don’t see enough of that. —Joey B, aka Pat Bateman