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Rap Economics

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In “Rack City,” a recurrent refrain is “ten, ten, ten, twenties and them fifties bitch,” totaling a minimum amount of $170 dollars in Tyga’s possession — to clarify, he has three ten dollar bills ($30), and cites his twenty and fifty in the plural, meaning he has at least two bills of each denomination ($40 + $100), totaling $170 — though later on in the song he switches “them fifties” with “ya titties,” reducing the amount by at least $100. Perhaps, inadvertently, Tyga is suggesting that love — however crassly abutted in mammalian form — is worth more than money. This all happens in Las Vegas, a place in which happenings stay. In the video, a skilled dancer grinds against the rapper with a detachment that seems less existential than sophisticated.


With Tupac’s “tryin’ to make a dollar out of fifteen cents,” the hopeful missing $0.85 may represent rap’s penchant for economic magical realism, from which emphatic capitalism stems, at its best. The lyric is to rhyme with “rent” in the subsequent line, our rapper expressing the difficulty of remaining “legit” in the honoring of a monthly residential lease. In life, you can either pay the bank (mortgage) or the landlord (rent), but only with the former will you own your home, eventually, supposedly. Mortgage literally means “dead pledge” in French, that is if you don’t get shot first. Tupac’s posthumous hologram at Coachella is the sad apparition of corporate exploitation, too dead to read the diluted royalty contract. Short of deities or ghosts, we settle for advances in optical allusion. Brightness as light as fireworks. At least his abs are still amazing.


A meta-inclined Nicki Minaj tells us she “ain’t coming out for less than a hundred thou,” the “thou” short for thousand, not “though,” as the latter case would reduce the amount from $100,000 to a mere $100. Her glib disclaimer is somewhat antagonistic, directed at her fans with unfair derision, as if entitled to the enormous ticket prices 14-year-olds have to pay. Nicki Minaj’s English accent — which she exaggerates at key moments in her songs — may almost be read as sarcastically indignant, perhaps an oblique indictment of the British colonization of Trinidad, where she was born. Her debut album Pink Friday (2010) is a nod to Black Friday — that insane day which inaugurates the holiday shopping season every year, by which the less agile are trampled — challenging the unfairly pejorative meaning of “black,” while inviting you to buy her album.


Lil Wayne, a permanent tear tattoo marking its descent, “need[s] a Winn-Dixie grocery bag full of money,” and I wonder why he doesn’t just drop it in a CD or IRA account, whose interest rates alone could buy a new grill. Society is separated by those who pay interest and those who receive it, the former majority paying the latter minority. Only in economics is being a minority the easier thing. But Lil Wayne — whose contraction of the diminutive “little” (as with Lil Kim, Lil Bow Wow, and Lil B) I’ve always found odd — likely has a financial manager, and this ghetto grocery bag image is simply a conceit, unlike old Chinese ladies carrying still-flapping fish inside them. When this country brought Africans over in chains, it conceded to a kind of violent psychotic pathos so inherent we still kill each other today. That these symbolic chains are now called “bling” may be a kind of unwitting happiness in slavery.


Wu-Tang Clan famously flaunts “dollar, dollar, bill y’all,” which is odd when one considers the total amount: $2.00 dollars. Not even enough for a large Slurpee. Of course, George Washington is a metaphor here, a poster child for a more specific and implied Benjamin Franklin — to whom Puff Daddy and Jay-Z have referred in their lyrics — who in turn is a stand-in for men like J.P. Morgan, Charles Schwab, Merrill & Lynch, and Goldman & Sachs, our real presidents and intrinsic law makers. The “American dream,” as political ethos, is of Free-market capitalism and a so-called democracy under which such an entropic thing can exist. In short, Mo’ money, mo’ money, etc. Rap, as subversive as it proposes to be, seems complicit or even obsequious in its bow to money. Short of equity, style will do. Mansions get rented for the weekend, escorts get hired to act like girlfriends, and Champagne that isn’t from Champagne blow their loads in a hot tubs owned by richer, more formidable, and far less forgiving men. TC Mark

Rap Economics

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