Posted on August 25 2017
In 1956 Elvis Presley signed a talent management deal with ‘Colonel’ Tom Parker. In essence the deal gave The Colonel total control over all facets of Elvis’ life and also gifted him roughly 50% of Elvis’ earnings. This left the famed singer significantly shorter on the wealth and riches that he could have and should have earned had he signed a more standard contract. At the time of the signing, and in consequent years, both fans and critics alike have shared their outrage over such a contract. Many chastised The Colonel himself for taking advantage of a poor country boy who just wanted to make music and really didn’t know any better. Others criticised The King for his ignorance and willingness to essentially sign his life and talent away. What they didn’t realise is that this blazon irrationality when it came to making million dollar deals with young up and coming music acts wasn’t going to be an isolated incident, but instead a blueprint for things to come. Elvis was the first of his kind to highlight what happens when young, uneducated talent get given the keys to a kingdom they don’t know how to run. Where Nero simply burnt his kingdom to the ground, the modern day rapper burns their bills lighting cigars they can’t afford.
All of this begs the simple question. What comes first, the money or the lifestyle?
If you ask someone today what MC Hammer is famous for they will give you one of two answers (three if they are inclined to think about his wardrobe). The first is his fame over the mega-hit single ‘Can’t Touch This.’ It’s a fair answer and one that I’m sure he would rather leave behind as his only legacy. Unfortunately, this hit single is what helped to create his second tier of fame -- that is for blowing his millions, becoming bankrupt in the process and spawning the now popular phrase ‘nigga rich.’
It’s easy to deride and scoff at Hammer for doing what he did. The same can be said of 50 Cent or even the recent misgivings of Kanye West. Unfortunately this tendency for black rappers to blow their cash isn’t so much their fault, but a biproduct of where the average rapper comes from and where he saw his life going.
Rap was born in the mean streets of New York, down the back alleys of the much tougher borough, The Bronx. As such, those who chose rap as a career path were born into a level of poverty that their average white listener can’t even begin to comprehend. As a youth, an aspiring rapper had one of two options; music or drugs. Ask 50 Cent where his life was going before he met Jam Master Jay and you’ll be inclined to see what I mean. This meant that, short of a miracle, the rapper was destined for a short, albeit interesting life. Education was scoffed at and foresight was seen as a luxury for people that had something to look forward too. So when the miracle did happen and that lucrative record deal was spawned from thin air, one can’t blame the rapper for not taking in the full scope of what this meant for their future.
When Ice Cube of N.W.A received his first pay check for the hit album ‘Straight Outta Compton,’ it was a measly $32000. I would be surprised to find out Cube read the contract he was handed before signing. Like so many rappers, he saw a pathway out of the hand he had been dealt as a child, signed a big fat X on the dotted line and was shocked when he learnt that the devil himself was the one who drafted the contract in the first place.
So, is it the money that begets the lifestyle? Are broke rappers a necessary product of too much money and too little education?
‘Lil Dicky,’ preaches the importance of ‘Saving Dat Money.’ Despite the lack of cache that surrounds this concept, it’s a lesson his contemporary rappers should really take heed of.
2 Chainz, Swizz Beatz, Ja Rule. These are more than just names, they’re alter egos. These alter egos are designed to separate them from their humble upbringing and create a legacy around their music that extends further than simple, catchy beats. When a rapper makes it they have a tendency to surround themselves with a posse of their less talented friends. Not only do they do this, but they also shower these friends with wealth and fortune, in an act of generosity and benevolence usually only seen by kings in tales of folklore. They do this because their music commands it. And their music commands it because their alter egos said that it was so.
This is all fun and games at first. That is until their bank roll can’t support the lucrative life they have set up for themselves.
This is again a lesson as to what happens when you give a poor, uneducated man the keys to the castle. There are rules when you give him these keys; laws he has to obey if he wants to keep them. But he doesn’t. His alter ego commands otherwise. And in his defence, why would he? He is the king after all.
A final bi-product of the 'nigga rich' rapper is their unwavering belief in themselves and their desperate need to stay on top. If you can’t make it, fake it. When a rapper makes his first million they buy a house for their mum and a gold chain for their neck. Even if this breaks them financially, at least they have that chain to show off how rich they once were.
The modern day rapper is perhaps more susceptible to bankruptcy now than ever. With Twitter and Instagram, they can reach millions in seconds. And since the rapper has perpetuated an alter ego in which they live like kings, they have to constantly affirm this -- their music demands it. So they buy gold chains and watches they can’t afford, posting photos for likes and props from people they don’t really care about. And then, when the money runs out, they keep buying chains and watches. And when they can’t buy real ones, they buy fakes and hope that no one notices.
But is it all bad? The average rapper, when born, had a pretty short life expectancy in the first place. Many never see retirement. At least this way they’re going down in a blaze of glory rather than bullets. But is there a way out? Is the ending to this tale as inevitable as Xzibit being forced to pay the $130,000 he owes in back taxes?
For every Nas there is a Jay-Z and for every Lil Kim there is a Beyoncé. When a poor black kid from The Bronx suddenly finds himself with a number one hit single and a million dollar record deal, it doesn’t automatically come with a short life expectancy and impending bankruptcy. The moral of this story is that good wealth management and a little foresight goes a long way. Yes, the average rapper is dealt a tough hand. And yes, they are prone to blowing their fortune in pursuit of a lifestyle they have self-created and perpetuated. But this isn’t the only way. Good management and an eye to the future is what holds these rappers back. If they would only look to MC Hammer as a warning, rather than a warrant idol than their legacy might be more than just that ‘nigga rich,’ rapper that flew so close to the sun that he had no choice but to come crashing down.