Hip-Hoponomics & Rapitalism
By Professor A.L.I.
The Wu Tang Clan helped popularize the acronym C.R.E.A.M., meaning, “Cash Rules Everything Around Me”, and perhaps a more appropriate phrase summarizing what some would call the “rap game” has never been spoken. Hip-Hop as a ‘kulture’ began in response to the simple fact that the doors to mainstream forms of entertainment were closed and so “the people” sought alternative routes. The barrier before them was socio-economic in nature and the forums that arose, they created to serve those for whom the traditional doors would not open. Those who were weaving this ‘kulture’ together presented a form of communal economic resistance to the norms established by the mainstream. The community center at Sedgewick Avenue, block parties, and gatherings in abandoned lots were an affront to the clubs and established entertainment centers; and as Hip-Hop grew, this new venue/paradigm shift began to transform into an economically viable one in its own right. Cash did indeed rule, and it began to become a growing factor in the dissemination of this ‘kulture’.
As money mixed with the music, it enforced a pimping dynamic upon the progenitors of this ‘kulture’, exacerbated existing social inequities, seeded and exploited division and violence for profit and finally exported real Hip-Hop ‘kulture’ overseas while a minute sliver of original Hip-Hop ‘kulture’ remained alive in independent artistry. Rapitalism is a unit in my Hip-Hop History course, and also describes a quartet of songs on the XFactor album in which Hip-Hop Economics is the central theme (King Solomon’s Mines feat. Kam, Hip-Hoponomics feat. Chino XL, Beef Stew feat. Canibus, and Pimperialism).
Part I: Historic Overview of the Development of Rapitalism
Capitalism is defined as an economic system in which trade and/or industry is operated for profit. Rapitalism is a term that I am using to describe a historical process in which the kultural expressions of Hip-Hop started to be operated solely for predatory profit and as the system took hold, Hip-Hop would cease to exist in its original form, which was founded in opposition to the closed doors of the status quo’s economic structures. Hip-Hop, and specifically the expression of music, in a period from 1971 to 1979, started to become recognized as salient product worthy of monetary exchange. This was the first phase of Rapitalism.
This initial phase inserted a wholly new motive to the lyricism and deejaying that helped produce music and the intention for production began to shift to create something economically viable. In the initial stages it was to produce something for the local community. This was a time that small businesses like Winley Records or Sylvia Robinson’s Sugarhill started to make money and cut or create a new market share in music sales in urban markets. This attracted commercial interests and radio play that went beyond a DJ Hollywood spinning records Uptown or Mr. Magic’s late night/early morning show. This created Mr. Magic’s Rap Attack and it led to the creation of records like Afrika Bambaata’s Soulsonic Force and the Sugarhill Gang’s hit “Rapper’s Delight”.
As the music became commercial and its appeal grew, it was in the economic interests of small businesses, and then larger corporations to market it to larger more economically viable audiences. In the process, it was increasingly important for these corporations to make sure that the content that was produced would have the widest appeal.
Rapitalism is therefore the commodification of an art form, which includes a process to divest it of a localized message in order to make sure it has a wide appeal. The effect of Rapitalism on the community is also one that it provides inurement to local artists that it should then build these communities up, however confronted with the realities of living in economically and socially disenfranchised spaces, these artists leave. Whether this is caused by the threat of living in a space while a hyperbolic illusion of wealth is perpetrated into the media and thereby where one lives, or whether the process of producing this economically viable product lures these artists out of their communities outright, the end result is the same, which is one of divestment.
Finally, the entire process was modeled on the same economic relationship as was prevalent in urban centers in the United States in the 1970’s, that of the pimp. Record companies, who themselves were often subsidiaries of larger corporations, began to pimp artists and their material for profit. Often times these relationships led to the artist being left with very little, not even their own intellectual property, and the record labels became rich. Even the early demise of an artist did not lead to a loss of profit because of the ownership of intellectual property and in some instances even created more profit; furthermore if an artist died, there was so much available in hungry talent in the inner-city that it did not matter.
Part II. The Rise of Pimperialism
Pimperialism is a term coined by me to describe a process that is akin to imperialism, which is the policy of extending a nation-state’s power/influence through diplomacy or military force. The word pimperialism is imagined to mean the process by which an individual or a corporate entity extends their power/influence over other human beings through manipulation or force, for the purpose of economic exploitation. It is no accident that the word contains within it the term ‘pimp’, for a pimp’s ultimate goal is to use their power/influence in order to control other human beings in order to inure economic benefit through their exploitation.
Pimperialism has three parts and the first examines the concept of “pimping” in its most essentially brutal form. This is a historic analysis and does not indulge in the argument that the word has been reclaimed, since it still retains the original definition alongside other vernacular interpretations. So the first verse of the song opens with etymology and history: “the etymology of pimp, origin: Middle French: a scoundrel to be lynched, a wimp, and a snitch; In Swahili in the sixties, its impimpsi: insensitivity to a symphony of sins (see); simply dollar signs, ignore greater signs, the science behind the mind, slaves to life of crime…” The verse goes on to describe the process of dehumanizing another in order to make profit off of their suffering. This is essentially the occupation of a pimp, but it doesn’t describe being a pimp in the context of the global realities that created the position in the first place. The hook, further elaborates on the meaning and begins to foreshadow how the term begins to transition into one used to describe a figure or object to be admired stating “to be pimp is to floss, but its a façade; a definition that was born of pimpin’ Hip-Hop. To pimp, is to signify materialism, but they pimp your material, that’s Pimperialism.”
Pimperialism is ultimately a method of programming, in which the subject begins to relate to the oppressor and the oppression and begins to use language and methods that repeat the same level of oppression in order to achieve perceived social mobility; so to argue that it could be construed as having been produced by a Stockholm-esque Syndrome, is not, in my mind far from the truth. The second verse continues to delve into the historical context and uses Iceberg Slim’s text Pimp for lyrical fuel, analyzing the motivations of the characters as well as the context that Slim so masterfully weaves into his autobiographical tale stating, “So peep this allegory, its Sweet’s (referring to a Master Pimp in the story) rundown: ocelot on his lap, royalty uncrowned. He spits truth to an Iceberg, about pimpin’, in this white man’s world; he claimed to have flipped it. “The black woman’s raped already, since slavery, they oversee: pimpin’ your whole family tree, supposebly free, one step from being hung on a tree, learn they’re methods, get a pimpin’ degree and charge a fee. So we can be, where we ought to be; Slim dreams: he’s rich, beating women, till his momma screams.” This verse traces the arch lessons behind pimping, taught to Slim, and juxtaposes it with the cost it bears on his psyche, but underlying it all is that pimping is a learned occupation in the black community and has antebellum origins.
Pimping, is as old a profession, I imagine as prostitution—however the argument that modern pimping, is derived in its urban application from practices born during chattel slavery finds its roots in the way captives or slaves where broken and how slave masters profited off of their suffering.
This context is crucial in order to understand the third verse and ultimately the core argument of this lyrical essay. Quoting from Ralph Ellison’s Battle Royale, which would later become chapter two of his seminal work Invisible Man in alternating lines of this Pimperialism verse, contrasting with the imagery of Hip-Hop’s relationship with the music industry it becomes abundantly clear that Ellison’s formula for the dehumanization of the black man for the entertainment of whites, describes pimping in its essential form, and this formula is the precise blueprint for how Hip-Hop, like Rock, Blues and Jazz, was pimped by corporations for profit—essentially profiting off of the suffering of black artists, who create art, only for it to be taken from them, so that the pimp can profit. “An invisible man, a man of substance, flesh and bone, Hip-Hop was sub-altern, till that Sugarhill song. A scholarship awaits him, at a white mans club. Hip-Hop got into clubs, based off its buzz. First they objectify a woman, sexualize her form. Hip-Hop video vixens, and pimpin’ verses are born. They make him fight his brothers, physical display. Beef between artists, (the) Labels still get paid. They throw counterfeit currency on a carpet, targets, contracts promise, but leave nothing for the artist. Electrified, they shriek, fried, they ask him to speak, left weak, Hip-Hop, became pop in defeat.” The song ends in the grand irony of the word pimp becoming a term to aspire to within the Hip-Hop genre and in urban communities. Beyond the imagery of Ice-T or Schooly D verses, the term pimp in Hip-Hop slowly became one not of exploitation but of endearment and just like the blackexploitation films of the 1970’s, was so visually hyperbolic, that the pimp became an almost superhero or mythic figure. Imagine that, a superhero whose superpower was his (since the term is essentially paternalistic) ability to exploit his own people economically—see Jay Z’s Big Pimpin’ as an example and search his life and relationship with Def Jam for the irony.
Part III: King Solomon’s Mines: The Wealth of Knowledge of Self
Part IV: Preparing Beef Stew: Low Intensity Exploitation and Economics
Part V: Summarizing Hip-Hoponomics with Chino XL