Commentary: Tuck Your Wealth

Should rappers continue to brag about their riches while many fans face crushing debt and unemployment? 

Posted: 08/02/2011 11:16 AM EDT

Last week, while President Obama was being held hostage by a factious Republican Party (itself partly hijacked by the Tea Party) the economic talk turned personal, cable news was generating charts meant to illustrate family-debt ceilings. Depressing numbers were released reinforcing what most of us understand in reality; few of us have savings (or even access to a few thousand dollars in emergency cash), a lot of us are unemployed and we who are Black and brown have less income and savings and more incarceration and unemployment.

The president was either forced to, or conceded to, (depending on the pundit), extend Bush's tax cuts to the wealthy, yet again. General Electric, who was bailed out by tax payers, will continue to enjoy a loophole where its billions in profits will go completely untaxed. While everyday working class people (who often mistakenly self-identify as middle class) continue to see increases in food, housing and education costs and travel costs fluctuate wildly and mostly north, be it at the gas pump or the airline baggage counter. Yet the hottest song on the streets (*cough* internet) is "Otis" from two of hip hop's richest men, spending a few bars too many bragging about how rich they are. One of last week's biggest social media stories was Souljah Boy throwing himself a $300,000 21st birthday party and getting some publicist to lie to blogs about him purchasing a $50 million private jet. I personally love a few of the lines in "Otis " — "build your fences, we digging tunnels"  as much as I loathe others: "Can’t you see the private jets flyin’ over you? Maybach bumper sticker reading 'What Would Hova Do?"

 

Has hip hop always flaunted its new wealth? Of course. But while Souljah Boy may still be fairly new to big checks (a feeling he shouldn't get to used to), Jay-Z and Kanye should know better. Aspirational affirmations are part and parcel of Black survival; but if we're speaking things into existence, most of us would wish aloud for a few months' mortgage, or the ability to keep a full gas tank.

Many in my generation (and Jay and Kanye's) spent the '80s glued to TV sets watching Dynasty while our family members battled addiction and our neighbors struggled for dignity in urban cities abandoned by Reagan. We shared, even from our bottom of the economic chart (seemingly permanent) position, America's optimism and belief in inexhaustible opportunity. But as this country extends its debt ceiling a few more trillion dollars, the idea that America's economic superpower days are behind her are a fact. Do I believe Americans will respond to ostentatious displays of wealth by the few the way Tunisians did? Absolutely not. Still, I think it best to tuck away G4 talk this summer.'

 

(Photo:AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

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