Buppy Rap

Young Chris has always been an astute Hova follower since his first days with the Roc. Despite some of Jay’s claims that the Roc-a-Fella staffers will return to prominence as emcees, the public isn’t ready for Beanie Sigel; Freeway is even more gruff; Peedi Crakk is too. Chris has sensed this and responded by creating a watered-down Jay-Z for Young Guns records and a variety of freestyles in the past five years of his young career. But it brings to the fore another question perhaps larger than the staying power of Roc Boys: why does Jay-Z inspire so many imitators and admirers with his persona?

At one point in his career, Sean Carter exemplified the poetic hustler. Like his namesake Iceberg Slim, he was greasing palms, speaking quietly but convincingly about his life, and he needed no praises. Now there’s a whole museum of Hov’ MCers. Everybody’s duping the flow. When your flow becomes synonymous with “cool,” it’s no surprise that guys like Young Chris will make it a point to recreate it for a new generation.

More than that though, every investment banking black business man who grew up listening to Hov now emulates his lifestyle…and pitifully so. Being privy to the world of buppies makes for some compelling blogger fodder. Jay-Z is probably one of few elite rappers whose audience has graduated both figuratively and actually. The college crowd, much like their Republican ethic, has embraced him for his upward mobility. A black Harvard grad can watch the “Roc Boys” video and see in Mr. Carter all the arriviste beauty of high life. One struggles to reconcile, however, that upper-crust Hov with the aforementioned hustler’s anthemic life.

<!–more–>In one sense, he makes for the perfect rags-to-riches story because he’s retained some parts of his Brooklyn swagger-heavy persona while muscling his way through the boardroom. Then again, he hardly speaks to the conflict of traversing disparate worlds and inspiring even the corny dudes to talk so lovingly about “changing clothes.” Not all that is bourgeois, glitzy, buttoned-up is fun or even original. Case in point: whenever one of my dear buppy friends advertises the latest party on Facebook, it’s ALWAYS accompanied by the latest Jay-Z lyric about his lavish digs. At the risk of being called a hater, that’s lame. Is it really a “Black Bar Mitzvah” because you’re having a party? The hip-hop generation appropriates items like these for better or worse. In the generation just before us, everyone rocked leather Africa pendants and afro picks, regardless of the supposed cause because it was part of the music, the lifestyle. But with that appropriation comes bandwagon-jumpers or dick-riders or biters or copycats. Jay-Z, because of his financial largesse and his eminence as a musician and executive, has his admirers. Doubtless that he’s become iconic unlike many of his peers in the same field. Still, it’s startling (to me at least) the turn that he’s taken from belief system politics to image politics.

On a related but discursive note, Kidz in the Hall recorded some Obama tribute song that signifies the shift from rap being purely young people’s angst poetry to buppy stance. It’s not odd that a rap group whose first album relates to the college-dorm-room listener would choose to capitalize and identify by those markers. What is different here is there proclamation of a candidate (borderline righteous) in the midst of a competitive, completely open 2008 race. Basically, the next-gen groups like Kidz in the Hall want to seize upon the “Grown n’ Sexy” set forth by Jay-Z to be “Grown n’ Cerebral” or “Grown n’ Educated”: both DJ Double-O and Naledge are Ivy League University of Pennsylvania grads. So, Puff and Russell Simmons used generalities of urban struggle to create Vote or Die movements that centered on ideas rather than specific figures to endorse, and then Kidz in the Hall took it a step further. Whether or not that makes for good music, I’m not sure. Here’s their video.

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