Is Jail Ever a Good Thing? Street Cred or Incredibly Wrong
I like Shyne. I’m not sure why, but I’ve always respected him. I think it has something to do with him being locked up for over nine years. Getting thrown into jail for drugs and/or guns has this mystifying pull over hip-hop heads. When a rapper goes to jail, it makes them real. It puts meat into their lyrics. It allows the average fan a glimpse into the gangsta lifestyle that said rapper had been purporting. Jail allows rappers to earn their street stripes, whether we acknowledge it or not. These street stripes then entitle the rapper to huge record deals, features, top production, and a ton of hype. Kind of like what Shyne had when he got out of jail.
Not so much.
Depending on the crime, it seems to be that the longer one is in jail, the more respect and hype this rapper will have when he or she gets out. Considering that Shyne went to jail essentially for refusing to snitch, as well as firing a weapon in a crowded nightclub, he was able to garner street cred. That’s why Shyne was able to heist $5 million from Def Jam upon his release. Roughly $2 million per year in the pen. When Max B gets out in 2065, I hope for his sake that he calls L.A. Reid.
Now one year removed from jail, Shyne doesn’t exactly have the same hype from a year ago. I guess that’s what happens when you rekindle lame beefs from six years ago, and rap with a voice/style that sounds as if dude spent an hour guzzling smoke from the back of an M15 bus sitting in traffic on the Lower East Side. But wait, Shyne didn’t do that. He’s not allowed in America.
Remember Remy Ma? She got an eight-year sentence a few years back. I get the feeling that when she gets out of jail in 2015, she won’t get millions from Def Jam or even a bouquet from Papoose. Same goes for Prodigy (not including the bouquet). He got 3.5 years, and is all but forgotten. A lot of the jail-success connection depends on the following one has before going in. Boosie has a following, which is why he could still hustle Incarcerated from inside the pen.
That’s the thing about jail, selling drugs, and getting shot. Whenever a rapper is involved with any of the above, it glorifies his street appeal, and makes him more real and respected, and sometimes has record labels groveling at this particular rapper’s feet with a bag full of money.
Wait, you, the reader, disagree: “What about Ludacris? He hustled his way to the top without any of that and everyone respects him.”
Hmmm… I see your Luda analogy and raise you with Jeezy. Ludacris has sold more albums than Jeezy ever will, has more hit records than Jeezy ever will, and will write better lyrics than Jeezy ever will. But at the end of the day, every single rap fan in this country will tell you that Jeezy is more real than Luda. Why? Because he’s from the streets. It doesn’t matter that Luda is an inspiring rags to riches story. It doesn’t matter that Luda out-rapped both Jay and Nas on “I Do It For Hip-Hop.” And it doesn’t matter that Luda has two classic albums in his palette. The fact is, he didn’t come from the streets, didn’t sling crack, and didn’t tote guns. Jeezy, apparently, did all of those things.
Is that fair?
Why is it that Luda has had so much trouble gaining respect among hip-hop heads? Why hasn’t he entered anyone’s top 10? It’s sad, and most people won’t admit it, but it’s because of all the aforementioned reasons. He doesn’t have that realness about him. I think he does, you may think he does, but the hip-hop collective doesn’t. He never went to jail, and probably never will.
I wonder, though. Is it a problem?
“Now tell me I ain't real, this AR that I'm holdin got a gangsta grill.”
Jeezy raps from the heart, but also from the waist. His lyrics inspire people who can’t hustle the legal way. Not everyone can go from rags to riches without the police on their back. For those still stuck in the ‘hood with no way out, they listen to Jeezy. They find his music real. Shyne has put out very questionable music since his release, but still has respect from every rap fan because of the nine years he did. Luda can always drop a hot 16, but the hardcore Jeezy fan won’t feel it the way he feels a Jeezy verse. And that’s cool.
My only problem with this is that sometimes a rapper like Luda can get shafted in terms of image. The average dude should be inspired by him. Yeah, he came up clean with mixtapes and DJin’, but isn’t that how it should be done? Isn’t that a much better message for kids as well as adults? I know we can’t ban the Snowman, but are we banning the legal hustler? Jeezy’s climb up the ladder was grim, ominous, and sinister, thus making for a great story. But his climb up the ladder will likely land those who attempt it in jail for a very long time. One thing’s for certain: jail isn’t worth it, because more often than not, L.A. Reid will not be standing there with a check when they get out. —Shlomo