A few years back, media outlets took note of a disturbing phenomenon: A lot of rap artists were suddenly turning up dead.
Actually, “dead” isn’t the right way to describe their deaths — these young men were murdered, and their murderers, in almost all cases, were other rappers, their friends or the associates of rival rappers. The most celebrated killings were those of rap bigwigs Tupac Shakur and Christopher Wallace, a.k.a. The Notorious B.I.G.
The victims were killed at parties, at nightclubs, in recording studios or sitting in their cars; one was even killed while allegedly trying to knock over a convenience store. Since then, the body count has climbed even higher. The latest casualty figure was rapper Dolla, whose given name was Roderick Anthony Burton II. He was gunned down on May 18 at a shopping center in Los Angeles.
Dolla’s murder again tossed an ugly glare on a problem that has bedeviled the rap business, and a bigger problem that chronically plagues young black males. The personal feuds, jealousies, rivalries and unvarnished gangster-ism displayed by some have implanted in the minds of many the image that the rap industry is rife with gangs, crime and violence. The Dolla killing reportedly was preceded by a gang brawl in a parking lot outside an Atlanta club, an all-too-familiar repeat of mob brawls that came before the murders of other rappers.
The rappers’ murders have done more than batter an image of an industry branded as violent, self-destructive and self-indulgent — it has also reinforced the admittedly vicious and unfair stereotypes of young black males as inherently gang-attracted and violence-prone. They have gotten the bad rap because gun-toting rappers and their hangers-on feed off the negative lifestyle and play hard on the “us vs. them” volcanic rage felt by some young blacks.
But while many rappers exploit, glorify and even celebrate black-on-black violence, especially if there’s a payoff in it, they hardly invented it.
The biggest buyers of rap music, and those who buy hardest into the rapper lifestyle, have been non-blacks. They’re the ones who set the industry’s cash registers to jingling.
But the bitter truth is that they aren’t the face of the violence in the rap world, and they aren’t the ones that the public would identify as responsible for the violence and murders — young blacks are the ones who are fingered.
Tragically, in the last two decades, murder has been at or near the top of the list of the leading causes of death of black males under age 25. And in many cases, their assailants were not racist white cops or Ku Klux Klan nightriders, but other black males. The death toll has soared because far too many Americans still don’t get agitated about black violence, as long as it doesn’t spill over the borders of the ghettos into their suburbs.
But pent-up anger and frustration among some black males is only one element of the dangerous cycle of black-on-black violence. Some black males are engaged in a seemingly eternal desperate search for self-identity. Their tough talk, swagger and mannerisms are defense mechanisms they use to boost their self-esteem. They measure their status or boost their self-worth by demonstrating their proficiency in physical fights, assaults and, sadly, murder.
Some blacks even make a litany of excuses, such as poverty, broken homes and abuse, to excuse the violence. These explanations for the mindless violence that thug-acting rap entrepreneurs engage in are phony and self-serving. Many of the rappers who have landed on a court docket are anything but hardcore, dysfunctional poverty cases. Yet the rage that propels them to commit thuggish acts is still dangerously close to the surface.
Of course, none of this is consolation to Dolla and his family. Rap mogul Sean “Diddy” Combs, who is certainly no stranger to controversy and has had his run-ins with the law, praised Dolla as a good kid. But Combs had a cautionary note in his praiseworthy words about Dolla — a message intended not for Dolla, but for the potential targets and victims of those who exult the gangster violence that many in the rap business make fortunes exploiting.
The message? Don’t take life for granted.
It’s a message that those within the rap world and those outside it should heed.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is a syndicated columnist, author and political analyst. His weekly radio show, “The Hutchinson Report,” can be heard in Los Angeles on KTYM 1460 AM and online at http://www.blogtalkradio.com.