As attention shifts from the racial divide to class wars, we explore the role rap plays in perpetuating the workings of classism. 

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Revered for narrating the realities of America’s abandoned inner-cities, Hip Hop has long been the triumphant voice of impoverished communities. Conceived on crack-riddled corners where curious kids crowded around ciphers, standing amidst killers, hustlers and honest locals alike – rap rewarded trapped souls with hope. As each hour extended a survivalist existence, it was the talented street storytellers who added clarity and context to their complex condition. Commonly silenced and ignored by high society, a culture was cultivated that empowered poor and disadvantaged people to aspire for more with a belief in attaining it. Emerging from a niche art form into a fascinating global genre, Hip Hop ushered these treacherous truths into the scope of mainstream America in a way that deactivated the dangers, while celebrating its many coveted nuances.

Yet, what amplified the allure of Hip Hop culture also revealed the inescapable facts that keep these communities bound. For every image of shell-toe Adidas, cuban link chains and five-finger rings existed vivid pictures of suffering families void of money, resources and opportunities for advancement. This duality was, and continues to be fueled by the consequences of being at the bottom of a class system which fails to benefit the poor. It’s not being black alone that makes achievement seemingly impossible, but being poor that does. Unfortunately, stemming from times of slavery, people of color were considered second-class citizens undeserving of placement atop this country’s priority list. Over time, the gap in accumulated wealth and assets has grown so wide that even the most prosperous blacks of today fall far beneath the collective net worth of whites. And, for a culture credited for perpetuating lifestyles of excess, this poses both a blessing and a curse.


The rise of rap not only proved the power and profitability of black culture, it exposed the weaknesses as well. For many Hip Hop megastars, their positioning at the forefront of pop culture symbolized first-generational success. From fighting through the projects to selling out arenas, recent generations of superstar MC’s have been granted access to a world once limited to the imagination. Artists like Nas and Jay Z have built illustrious careers staying true to the humble roots that raised them. However, though largely successful, countless others have come and gone, delivering hits that bring riches quick, but lose it all just as fast. Their fortunes dissolve not merely to the decline in album sales or dominance of the digital era, but largely to the excitement of swiftly reaching a foreign status in society that inspires overspending. Thus, the first-generational curse – feeling justified in fulfilling a lifelong fantasy of having at all, while losing sight of a lineage still accented by lack. Taking the first million to buy a mansion instead of investing, failing to expand their brand, or blowing 6-figure checks without saving, the disparities caused by a suffocating class system are in many ways further perpetuated instead of defeated.

To those on the outside looking in, Hip Hop’s signature style of boastful excess, intended to confirm an admirable ascension from poverty, more so expresses an unspoken irresponsibility with wealth and influence. It takes tremendous focus and effort to overcome such adverse conditions, which deserves to be acknowledged and respected. However, that approach does not appear to stand as the most effective solution for closing the class gap.

If you neutralized race, making all colors equal, classism would then determine value and ranking in society according to worth (money), assets and social status. Therefore, the measuring stick would then be the accumulative differences in wealth among communities. Which, due to the established racial dynamics that placed people of color at a disadvantage, would still position whites atop the class system due to amassed wealth and control; resuming top priority for resources, opportunity, service and the like. Today, that system is also what drives racism.

Racism is an idea, not a fact of life. It is an ideology imparted as psychological law, used to set order and impose self-governance according to a fictitious racial hierarchy. This hierarchy was intentionally formed to fuel classism. By controlling the access and allocation of money and resources, people of color remain in the category of second-class by default. Thus, the same communities these artists speak for and derive from are underserved, underprivileged and considered systematic non-priorities. The issues are bigger than race alone, they’re just perpetuated through race. It’s about preserving a power structure by enforcing ideology to sustain control. It’s exhausting to be reminded you’re not valued equally. It’s tough pushing to close a deficit you didn’t choose to have. These things are what upset many black communities. And, while Hip Hop lives on as a forceful movement pushing the progression of black America, the importance of strategically using its gained influence, money and status to shift the system is stronger than ever.

With the uprising following the happenings in Ferguson, Missouri following the killing of unarmed teen Michael Brown, it is also becoming more evident that classism will be the biggest fight for generations to come. So, the question arises: will Hip Hop fuel or fight the system?

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Julian Mitchell has written notable news stories and think-pieces as an Editor for REVOLT TV, he has interviewed artists such as  Nas, T.I., RZA, The Dream, Vic Mensa and many others.  Connect with him on Twitter – @AllThingsMitch