Rap By The Gun, Die By The Gun

“I never ever ran from the Ku Klux Klan and I shouldn’t have to run from a Black man ‘cause that’s….”. If you grew up listening to hip-hop then you know the rest. This next lyric though, “Funky fresh dressed to impressed ready to party!” MC Lyte rapped rhetorical, “you not guarding the door so what you got a gun for?” Exactly. That part!

Self-destruction. The hook to this hip-hop classic still waxes prophetic today. It begsthe question and crystallizes my thoughts around the killing of Takeoff, one third of Grammy-award winning multi-platinum rap group Migos. Add Nipsey Hussle, Young Dolph, PNB Rock, Jam Master Jay, Biggie, Tupac, and some I probably missed to the list as well. Sad thing is the list of rap artists killed in nonsensical gun violence is probably as long as the never-ending list of Blacks killed by cops. Tragic how we just can’t name them all. In either category. But I digress, back to Takeoff.

The moment I heard Kirshnik Khari Ball was killed while shooting dice with his uncle,Quavo, at a private birthday party held at a Houston, TX bowling alley, I just shook my head and said, ‘a dayum shame.’ Another black body left for dead. Blood spilt in the streets like roadkill. Here we are months later, and estranged cousin, Offset, is stillmourning according to wifey Cardi B’s recent post. She said she’s ‘hopeless’ trying to console her inconsolable spouse. Was I saddened by Takeoff’s death? Yes, but I found (and still find) it hard to emote because gun violence in hip-hop is so prevalent. Rap by the gun die by the gun.

I shared this exact sentiment a couple weeks later over wine and over-priced bar bites with two girlfriends at a Ruth’s Chris Happy Hour. Shock from one and peppered with lots of questions from the other as I argued not all but most hip-hop is self-destructiveand the reason for Takeoff’s death. I blamed rap music and its videos 1000%. I held itaccountable for another brother — somebody’s son, nephew, uncle, cousin, friend, inspiration, hope – dying over something so stupid. As I swirled my Napa Valley redand adored its legs, I told them you can’t rap about shooting and killing and solving street issues/problems/conflicts with a gun, and not expect that same energy to manifest in your own life. C’mon now, y’all know this. There’s power in words, or scripturally speaking, “life and death in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21).

I stabbed at my tuna tartare and in my best MC Lyte flowed real saucy-like, rap by the gun die by the gun! I told my girls, how you gone rap about it and not be about it?Hip-hop pushes out so much violence these days, and every other negative destructive narrative imaginable, how can artists expect it not to show up at their doorstep? It’s downright foolish ignoring universal law — you reap what you sow. Takeoff reaped what he rapped. I said it.

Don’t think for a minute life does not imitate art. We’ve heard this argument before. I’m not positing anything new. I’m just bold enough to bring it up again…and again…and again and vouch for it. Now here’s the rub: I’m a 52-year-old, well-educated with two degrees, six-figure earning, professional woman of God that LOVES hip-hop! Ican quote scripture as well as lyrics. My fiancé calls it “speaking in songs.” Ha!! Sad but true. I better articulate myself using rap lyrics instead of my well-paid-for boarding school vocabulary and SAT words. For example, you say karma. I say tables turn suckas burn to learn (Chuck D from Public Enemy shut it down with that one!).Saturday mornings when I’m on the air on New York’s #1 for R&B 107.5 WBLS, I frequently use Migos’ “Stir Fry” as a music bed. No lie, I can spit “Bad and Boujee” like I’m the honorary fourth member of Migos!

As I banged at the bang-bang shrimp I opined that the person who pulled the trigger on 28-year-old Takeoff with a point-blank gunshot to the head and torso, probably modeled what he heard and saw in Migos’ music and videos. One of my girls nearly choked on her Chardonnay. Crazy, I know because we rock to their music and love it! 

Yet and still, rap kills. Imho, it’s what took Takeoff’s life. Yep, I said it again.

Flow with me. Most of today’s music normalizes guns, alcoholism, drug-selling, drug use, and condones this whip-out-a-piece-and-pop-off-mentality instead of skillful mature conflict resolution. This is part of the reason why I believe most young men and women today do not know how to deescalate situations that don’t involve aggressive confrontation and/or violence. They react versus respond. I pushed.Furthermore, today’s rap music is not only incredibly violent, but also very rapey andsexist. Now I’m really dragging it with my girls. Cis-gender males and females making non-inclusive, completely tone-deaf lyrical content that breeds ignorance andcontributes to the self-destruction and downfall of our communities. 

One of my girls asked as she nearly spit out her pinot gris, so who gone check us, boo? What to do next? Who is accountable for this culture of violence that is bred in hip-hop? The other one chimed in, and on whose shoulders does the responsibility for cleanup and eradication fall. Bluntly, I do not know. Elementary answer yes, but it’s my truth. I really don’t know. If forced, I suppose I could offer up the low-hanging fruit of an answer, ‘it’s socio-economic, the environment these artists come from…blah blah blah.’ Or I could go all esoteric on you and state what former music-mogul-turned-Yogi, Russell Simmons, recently espoused on IG Live: that rappers need to find God and speak from their hearts-center which bear a natural inclination to do good and seek peace. He’s one to speak! Too easy. Cliché. Too earnest.

Like Sway, I didn’t have the answers either. None of us at the Happy Hour that night offered up any viable remedies for changing the trajectory of a long-standing art form that’s misogynistic, rapey, violent, and systemically branded to be that way. The very problem with hip-hop is that the very problem is inherently interwoven throughout the genre that becomes accepted as culture. 

I dipped my extra crispy fries in some spicy mayonnaise and boldly said, rap music is doing exactly what’s is supposed to do — and lotsa’ money is being made off it too!Most mainstream (especially trill) rappers glorify gratuitous violence as entertainment in exchange for profit. New and established artists alike, even the icons too, normalizegun violence, sexual violence against women, crime, hustling, prison, and drug culture, and make it sexy in the music. This stuff sells and kills. Massive revenue for artists and labels alike. But truth be told this ain’t all on the artists. If we’re being totally honest, we all have some skin in the game and are accountable for this lucrative violent creative energy that self-destructs. Can hip-hop ever rid itself of this stank? Is there anybody to check rap artists and the music they make?

I roll called the folks I thought should be indicted for enjoying, consuming, programming, promoting, selling, and eating the fruit that kills. People who create, write, scout, A&R, sign, produce, engineer, master, promote, air, perform, program,award, emulate, glorify, mimic, follow, acculturate, listen, and rock to rap. Me included. Record labels, streamers, radio, video outlets, TV & film, social media, and consumers all bear some of the responsibility too. Guilty (pleasure).

By now, Happy Hour started to wind down. Drinking my last drop of cab I proclaimed, I may not have pulled the trigger and taken Takeoff’s life that fateful night or been in the circle of onlookers, but (as a lover of hip-hop) I got blood on my hands too. As I passed down the last cocktail napkin, I reiterated my empathy and said Boogie Down Productions and KRS-One were spot on with their Stop the Violence Movement back in ’89 that prophesied we’re headed for self-destruction. 

As I closed my tab, I closed my argument. Our beloved hip-hop is lethal and self-destructive: we’re already there.

Takeoff’s untimely death was both tragic and totally avoidable—and fully blamable on the genre and culture of the music he both participated in and deposited into the landscape. There. I said it one last time.

We dropped the tip and a final time I dropped my take on Takeoff. Rap by the gun die by the gun. Periodt! Clean up the music/lyrics and you’ll clean up the blood in the streets. Roll dice on that.

We all left Ruth’s Chris singing, “self-destruction. You’re headed for….”

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