On Rappers and Rap Sheets

Making sense of hip-hop's most recent crime wave.

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The recent spate of rap stars making criminal justice news will come as a surprise to no one, especially those of you who equate hip-hop culture with prison culture. Nor will it surprise those of us who have accepted the fact that, in the black public sphere, record sales (or any sales for that matter) are often bolstered by an association with criminality.

Clearly all of hip-hop culture is not about criminality. Most rappers do not have rap sheets. If you consider Akon to be a hip-hop artist, think of the irony inherent in the sensationalism surrounding the recent expose of his criminal career. The fact that he has exaggerated his prison status in order to sell his artistic persona (and millions of records) only begins to hint at the promotional potential of prison sentences in popular culture.

That said, it might be worth revisiting this recent string of cases to understand the issues and what they mean for both the African American community and the Hip-Hop Generation(s).

The rap vocalist known as Nate Dogg recently plead guilty to battery and trespassing in a domestic dispute that actually was not domestic (the sentence: 3 years probation, domestic violence rehab/treatment, and loss of his 2nd Amendment rights).


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Nate Dogg

According to the record, Nate Dogg (nee Nathaniel Hale) forcibly entered his ex-girlfriend's home in Newport Beach, VA. and punched her new boyfriend in the face. This of course occurred before his debilitating stroke (a celestial sentence of sorts) in 2007, but the ironies abound. After all, one of Nate Dogg's most famous hooks is a boast about having "hoes in different area codes." Nate Dogg's rap persona embraces a hypersexualized sense of black masculinity that requires promiscuity and emotionless interaction with women.

The fact that his girlfriend moved to an area code about as far from area code 213 as is possible without leaving the country, and moved on to another paramour is interesting enough. That it incited enough jealousy in him to assault her new boyfriend is a reversal of just about everything Nate Dogg has articulated in the lyrics of his most infectious hooks.

Dogg's plea just doesn't rate in the blogospshere or the public sphere when compared to the coverage of and responses to T.I., Remy Ma, etc. Lost in all of this is that domestic violence is a strikingly under-reported and misunderstood phenomenon in black communities, especially among the younger set of the hip-hop generation.

The music tends to either glorify (consider Biggie's infamous quip: "Kickin the door waving the '44/All you heard was Poppa don't hit me no more") or patently ignore domestic violence. It just doesn't rank high enough on the criminal pantheon largely because crimes against women (rape, assault, and abuse) are generally normalized.

T.I.'s gun trafficking problems, for example, rank higher on the criminality scale and the rapper enjoys the kind of popularity that Nate Dogg knew only briefly in the 90s. Much has been made of T.I.'s intelligence, or lack of it, with respect to his attempt to purchase automatic weapons and silencers (sentence: one year and one day). People wonder how could he be so stupid as to try and buy automatic weapons? Or what in the world does he need an arsenal for? He's a multi-platinum recording artist.