Nothing is Real: An Opinion on the Ever-Elusive "Realness"

Rothko's photo

11,808

In the history of Hip Hop, and in nearly every GOAT conversation I’ve ever been a part of, the topic of “realness” always comes up, usually as a last resort argument to try and refute the opposing party’s stance on a certain MC. They talk about people like Tupac and his tenure at a private arts academy. Lupe Fiasco’s former inability to skate (he can now, just in case you were wondering). Or, most notorious of all, Rick Ross’s time spent as a corrections officer. They say that the content of their works should reflect their true lives, and that anything an MC says should be able to be proven as fact. This has especially been the case since the “StudioGangster” thread a couple days ago, and I would like to briefly share my opinions on the “realness” debate.

Fuck realness yo.

MCs are musicians, artists, and sometimes role models, yes. But they are writers first.

Writers are allowed to write fiction. Nobody ever fact checked James Joyce’s Araby. The public wasn’t enraged at Dashiell Hammett when they found out there’s no such thing as a Maltese Falcon. J.R.R. Tolkien knows there’s no such thing as Hobbits. To me, these guys are writers, they have free reign.

Now I already see the argument coming, so y’all can save it. You’re gonna say, “But Steelo, they’re passing it off as their own story! They’re using the word ‘I’! They mean what they’re saying!” Oh fuck, I forgot. Nobody’s ever written a book from a first person perspective before.

Wrong.

The opening line of Herman Mellville’s classic, Moby Dick, goes something like, “Call ME Ishmael.” There are very few writers that actually live the lives they write about. If you were to judge the literary community by their “realness”, Ernest Hemingway would be considered the greatest writer of all time. Which I can tell you, for you non-literary people, he is not (still, I fucks with Ernie).

Not to mention the plethora of MCs that live entirely in their incredibly fantastical image, and NEVER get called out. Kool Keith made an album called “Dr. Octagonecologyst,” which for the entire album he parades around as a murderous, time-traveling alien gynecologist. The album received critical acclaim. But then again, Rick Ross gets called out for talking about selling drugs when he was at one time a corrections officer. He worked in a jail! Don’t you all think it’s possible he picked up the inspiration for his music from some of the inmates? Is the Hip Hop community exempt from appreciating a person who writes gritty, Mafioso crime fiction? It’s almost like people have no problem with fiction in rap, they only have a problem with finding out it’s fake later on.

What mildly bugs me is when people lie about their lives off the record, but hey, if they want to embody that persona at all times, so be it. They’re not hurting anybody, and there will always be people that know the truth.

So what do you think? Are MCs any less respected in your mind for lying on their songs? Or do you embrace the many personalities Hip Hop has to offer, regardless of their truthiness?

March 1st, 2012
Conch's photo

16,900

These people for whom “realness” is paramount take music too seriously.

I especially agree with your thoughts regarding the Rick Ross CO debacle.

One of my two favorite novels is Blood Meridian, but I don’t expect Cormac McCarthy to be a revolver-toting frontier bounty hunter who scalps Native Americans for pleasure, or to have had any first-hand experience with men who commit those actions.

A lot of narrative Rap is straight fictional. This fictional aspect doesn’t decrease the songs' ability to showcase that MC’s narrative skill or its ability to provide insight or even hold up to a close reading analysis.

In closing,

It’s only one Rozay!

March 1st, 2012
JCalvin's photo

2,101

meh, I guess. I don’t hate on anyone who isn’t “real” and there have been phenomenal non-“real” albums/songs/artists. But someone who has actually experienced a situation they are rapping about is more likely to make some great music than someone who isn’t. They’re able to capture the emotions better

March 1st, 2012
JCalvin's photo

2,101

than someone who hasn’t*

March 1st, 2012

Good read! I’ve always shared the same ideas as you on this topic of realness.
I never understood why it was so hard for people to digest the fact that rappers image,persona, and lifestyles are fake to a certain degree. That being said I don’t disrespect any artist for the fake image they put out. For example like Nicki Minaj pretending to be schizophrenic. I actually thoroughly enjoy it and encourage more artist to do it. This is because it makes things fun and interesting as an consumer.

March 1st, 2012

Yah, I don’t mind if they’ve never really experienced all the things they rap about, but if you really are fake, and call yourself real; there’s my problem.

March 1st, 2012

Also since were on the topic I thought let’s take a look at some my favorite rappers personas & images.

1. Hopsin

Hopsin appears to be this crazy black dude with eyes that could
Pierce your soul. But in actuality this guy is a pretty chill, nice, and
down to earth guy.

2. Tyler the Creator

Tyler like Nicki has a number of personalities that make up who he is. If i’m correct there are four. The first being Doctor TC who is Tyler’s therapist. The second is Tron Cat who is a creature inside Wolf Haley’s head that influences him to do bad things. Thirdly, we have Wolf Haley which is Tyler’s (ace) demonic personality that is irrational and full of hate. Lastly, we have Thurnis Haley an adult, dad, and professional golfer.

3. Rick Ross (Officer Ricky)

Rick Ross (rapper) stole his name and image from a notorious kingpin Rick Ross from the 90s. Rick Ross(kingpin) reportedly smuggled over $600 million worth of drugs. This is who Rick Ross gets his whole persona from ,and personally I don’t see why the real Rick Ross is upset. To be honest i’d be happy if I was in his situation and more delighted with someone wants to share my story of women, drugs, and food. I felt if the kingpin would shared his stories instead of try to sue him the rapper could have probably had more interesting content to rap about. But I digress…

March 1st, 2012
Psyonik's photo

18,432

Exceptional thread. Thumbz.

March 1st, 2012
JCalvin's photo

2,101

yo, but you gotta admit, when that nigga aubrey threatened to catch a body, you facepalmed

March 1st, 2012

@JCalvin

No. Everyone loves to make a big deal out of Drake threatening to commit any sort of violence because he is a soft rapper from a rich neighborhood in Canada. When in actuality threatening to commit any sort of violence has nothing to do with image but him just being a human being. Shit some people call me the softest dude in the world but that doesn’t keep me from saying “imma fuck you up” from time to time.

March 1st, 2012
Psyonik's photo

18,432

Drake could have taken lessons in lethal martial arts, dawg. Chill

March 1st, 2012
JCalvin's photo

2,101

doesn’t change the fact that it sounds funny coming from him…

March 1st, 2012
Psyonik's photo

18,432

“Hey person I don’t know save for your most probably fictional lyrics…You threatening someone is funny! lolszszsz”

March 1st, 2012

When you say that Drake won’t kill anyone your basically saying that you know him well enough to come up with that conclusion. Which I doubt you do.

March 1st, 2012
Psyonik's photo

18,432

^

March 1st, 2012