OK. So rapper T.I. kind of messed up in 2008. He got busted with a lot of gun charges and spent most of his house arrest writing “Paper Trail,” his current album. This single “Dead and Gone,” a track he did with the eponymous J. Timberlake, leaves the usually scattered ass that litters rap videos in the dust bin for some cold, wind-blown Canadian imagery, a burning piano and Justin Timberlake trying to emote the shit out of black, lower class struggle.
Elvis’ “In the Ghetto,” it is not. But then, “In the Ghetto” also makes me giggle uncontrollably. This song does not. Considering that despite all the desired “street cred” in the world, no one, not even rappers, want to go to prison. So this sudden bout with mortality, sorrow and “pretty please don’t lock me up” is probably a tad self-serving, but has a larger, deeper purpose. I’m supportive of any art form that actually discusses the pointlessness of violence rather than glorifies it. Rapping about dead friends, meaningless squabbles and rap music’s sometimes role as the official endorser of ignorance, is about as close to a mea culpa we’re going to get on the man who wrote “Rubberband Man.”
Most rappers get by in saying that what they are creating is fantasy or entertainment and shouldn’t be taken seriously, while at the same time wearing bullet proof vests and occasionally winding up dead as the result of a robbery or fight gone terribly bad. And usually this is all over some drama that they should have walked away from the minute they left the hood and entered a higher tax bracket.
Unfortunately some of the more impressionable members of our society don’t see rap music as escapism, but black reality. It was odd growing up in the ‘burbs surrounded by black kids who desired for a more “hood” credibility when they’d been raised in the land of shopping malls and soccer fields. Who confused my all-black working class suburb with “the ghetto” by concluding that anything majority black must be “hardcore,” even if the neighborhood was low-crime, everyone was employed and everyone owned their own homes.
How tough can a place with manicured lawns and where kids play in the street be?
Yet many of my fellow county brownines craved to be “down” with the city kids who they also mocked as poor and tacky. And a few of them took their desires to the extremes, losing their lives in the wrong places at the wrong time with the wrong attitude.
There is no glamour in inner city violence, self-hate, drugs, gangs or the exploitation of women, but you wouldn’t know that from the radio. I can separate the record sales from the reality, but many of our children have bought into the very lifestyle their parents worked hard to keep them from. Some of it is harmless escapism, but there is always that one kid who thinks the only true black experience is the ubran, inner city black experience, the poverty-stricken black experience, the hood experience.
But there’s not glamor in dying before you turn 21.
As for Timberlake singing on the track, he does a serviceable job, even though it is humorous to see an ex-Mouseketter channel his best “Across 110th Street” to T.I.’s latest version of “The Message.” He gives the song the seriousness it deserves while only annoying me a little. I give the overall effort a B+ even though T.I. has a high chance of backsliding into “Hurray for gun-totting” once the charges are a thing of the past and the community service is done.
Or maybe he’ll pull a Snoop and become the most commercially viable repellent person in the history of hip hop.
Anything could happen when you’re “King of the South.”