culture music poetry

Rap Wars: Mortality and Media Accountability


I recently saw the biopic “Notorious” which portrays the life of rapper Christopher Wallace (a.k.a. “The Notorious B.I.G.“). I have always been a little indifferent to rap and rap-culture but it was interesting to discover one interpretation of what happened in a famous conflict between rapper Tupac Shakur and “Biggie” the final result of which was that both men died.

A feature of the conflict between these two was that whatever may have been the actual truth of the situation, the subsequent media frenzy around an East Coast vs. West Coast rap rivalry very likely played a significant role in the escalation of events leading to the eventual death-by-shooting of Tupac and then later of Christopher Wallace. As any publicity tends to be good publicity, I imagine that the record labels would have been laughing all the way to the bank. When an exaggeratedly aggressive machismo becomes the basis for a largely manufactured conflict in which the antagonists’ celebrity is built upon their own belligerent posturing and the “gangster” lifestyle celebrated in their lyrics, it is not surprising that the media and PR frenzy would develop into a self-fulfilling prophecy of violent death. It could be argued that these young men “lived by the sword” and were also extinguished by the very same blade that sustained them.

Media complicity in the escalation of this conflict to the point of murder is inescapable. This begs the rhetorical question: if the conflict between East and West coast was almost totally fabricated and proliferated by a majority of media outlets and technologies, then who is actually responsible for this serious rivalry and the deaths it provoked ? That is to say: if everyone is responsible, is no one accountable ?

An interesting aside is that while the street rap battles (where antagonists rap poetic lyrics against one another) portrayed in the film are a fascinating sociological phenomenon in their own right, they are by no means a new human activity. In Antiquity there was a poetic engagement known as an Amoebean. “Amoebean” itself comes from the Greek word “amoibe” which means change. The existence of poetic battles two thousand years ago suggests that as much as things do change, some things stay much the same and emerge again and again across history. It makes me wonder if Sicilian shepherds were once murdering each other over whose spoken poetry was better.



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