“Rob me a nigga/Rob me a, rob me a nigga/Rob me a nigga,” goes the chorus to my favorite 2011 song, “Rob Me A Nigga” by Indiana rapper Freddie Gibbs from his Cold Day In Hell mixtape. This is so much worse than the time I couldn’t get “F-ck The Pain Away” outta my head.
You know how when you get a dope pop hook in your head you just wanna sing it out loud ALL THE TIME? I can’t do that with “Rob Me A Nigga.” It’s offensive, and I’d probably be accused of racism. I also don’t want to promote robbing. Am I promoting robbing by liking this song? Am I saying that people should rob other people? Am I promoting robbing RIGHT NOW? I hope not, because robbing is bad.
But, seriously the hook’s so damn catchy! I catch myself internally singing it ALL THE TIME. When I wake up to poop in the morning, I’m singing the hook. “Rob me a nigga/Rob me a, rob me a nigga.” When I’m walking down the street, it’s always there. “Rob me a nigga/Rob me a, rob me a nigga.” So damn catchy! But sooo problematic. Wittgenstein argued there’s no such thing as a private language. Does the same apply for hooks? Shouldn’t the best hooks be public, and not private? One would think so.
Maybe I like this song so much because I don’t have any money. I am pretty broke. I owe more money in student loans than I will make in 10 to 20 years. I will never rob anyone no matter how broke I am, but I think it’s still okay for me to appreciate raw, extreme, and brutal (artistic) assessments of criminalistic money-making. Maybe this is ultimately just a song about class war, and class war is always ugly. But class war is good, right? The 99%, etc…
“Rob Me A Nigga” picks up on a major theme in rap music. It’s Gibbs’ finest contribution to the history of tunes like “Ain’t With Being Broke” by Geto Boys and “What We Do” by Freeway. On that opening track from his debut, Philadelphia Freeway, Freeway spits, “If a sneak start leanin’ and the heat stop workin’/Then my heat start workin’ I’m-a rob me a person.” Perhaps stealing from someone isn’t the best way to remedy this condition, but the extreme solution at least helps to clearly articulate the claim: He’ll do anything necessary to take care of himself and his family. (Interestingly, on “Anything To Survive,” two tracks after “Rob Me A Nigga” on Cold Day In Hell, Freeway makes a guest appearance where he quotes one of his own lines from “What We Do.” “If my kids hungry, snatch the dishes out ya kitchen,” he spits.)
Gibbs uses a similar logic on “Rob Me A Nigga”: “What you know about kidnapping?/And holding a nigga’s whole family for ransom/When your stomach empty, it’s easy to understand it.” In such situations, traditional ethics are suspended; an exception is made. Hunger opens a legitimizing space for a certain set of actions (violence, war, etc.) that deviate from the established moral code. It’s sorta similar — take a stretch with me — to John Locke’s argument in Two Treatises Of Government, and Thomas Hobbes’ in Leviathan, where individuals have a right to violently revolt against the state if it stops doing what it should be doing. When this agreement breaks down — when the state refuses to provide for its citizens — war and violence are justifiable solutions.
But, in relation to Gibbs’ “Rob Me A Nigga,” what’s most critical is realizing this hostility should be directed toward the state and its agents (whatever/whoever those are), and not one’s fellow citizens who are also suffering at the “hands” of a system that needs to be held accountable (kidnapped and held for ransom?) when it doesn’t deliver the goods required for the well-being of its people.
Is this what “Rob Me A Nigga” is sorta about? Sorta. Is it about how capitalism turns citizens against each other such that they use violence to advance themselves within its twisted game-structure? Yes. Is it okay to like “Rob Me A Nigga” now? Yes, maybe. Can I sing it out loud and in public? No, definitely not.