Rappers, ‘Bling,’ and the Economy

From today’s Wall Street Journal comes this story of the recession/depression and its reflection in the everyday world of rap music.

In “Culture of Bling Clangs to Earth as the Recession Melts Rappers’ Ice” reporter Migue Bustillo tells us:

The recession is cramping the style of hip-hop artists and wannabes — many of whom are finding it difficult to afford the diamond-encrusted pendants and heavy gold chains they have long used to project an aura of outsized wealth.

In an attempt to keep up appearances, celebrity jewelers say rappers are asking them to make medallions with less-precious stones and metals. Some even whisper that the artists have begun requesting cubic zirconia, the synthetic diamond stand-in and QVC staple.

Hip-hop luminaries with the cash to keep it real are appalled. Bling aficionados fret that the art of “ice” is being watered down.

The article quotes 50 cent who, reflective of the culture equating flashy jewelry and wealth with power, essentially “outed” a rival rapper for his fake image (and talent). Real jewelry, in this instance, became shorthand for authentic rap.

You can read the whole story here, but the WSJ will probably make you pay for it by the end of the week.

This is an interesting story, but a strange one to find in the WSJ.  I was a bit hesitant to read it, expecting to find  something akin to the attitude expressed in one of the comments: “Nice, they actually look more foolish now than they did before.”  But, after reading the piece, I foud another reason why a bsiness-mined news daily would run such a story: rappers are a lot like everyone else actively participating in a fantasy capitalist motivated world.

So much of the mainstream (non-rap) culture is tied up in apperances and image.  Uncertain economic times means, first, people can’t often pretend to be more wealthy than they are with the same amount of ease as they could before.  Not being able to afford real flashy jewelry–or the newest BMW, or piece of technology, or whatever–is tantamount to advertising your non-exceptionalness.  And who wants to be regular?

The commodified and commercialized version of hip-hop culture is trapped in a masculinist contest that says alot about both how people value wealth and power as well as how frighteningly impotent they feel (or fear feeling).

Bustillo reports: “You gotta understand, it is every rapper’s fear to be exposed as a fraud,” said Gregory Lewis of Brooklyn, who posts conversations with artists on the Internet under the alias “Doggie Diamonds, the interview king.” “If you admit you wear fake jewelry, it is over for you. It’s like bragging you drive a Lamborghini when you really drive a Toyota.”

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