How Tekashi 69 And Other Artists Highlight America’s Trivialization Of Gang Culture

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If you’ve been paying attention to any hip-hop media in the past month or two, you’d know damn near the whole rap game is going hard after rising New York rapper, Tekashi 69. The Brooklyn MC has been catching heat coast-to-coast for flouting his Blood gang ties and thumbing his nose at the idea of “checking in.” The “check-in” concept “mandates” gangster rappers notify known street figures in a city of their arrival, lest they open themselves up to being accosted or robbed by those very people if they go to certain areas. It sounds like a premise for a Boondocks comeback episode, but it’s very real, and the men in this video, for instance, don’t seem to be joking about it.

But Tekashi doesn’t care. He’s going to keep making songs like “Billy” and “[letting] his nuts hang,” as he said on his Breakfast Club interview, even after pictures have arisen of him wearing blue bandanas and throwing up a “C”, which indicate an affiliation with the Blood’s rivals the Crips. When he was asked about the perceived hypocrisy on the Breakfast Club, he inferred that he was just doing what his friends were doing at the time. That level of naivete is at the heart of why artists like YG and Game are calling him out. But just how mad can anyone really be at Tekashi for his so-called, “false flagging of gang affiliation?

YG and Game are the two biggest artists to be upset with Tekashi for being a “fake ass Blood,” as Game deemed him. Game called out Tekashi for ”[disrespecting] my city & a rag I put in my pocket, lost countless homies, relatives & my own brother over.” YG co-signed him. They’re right, but they’re also hypocrites, too. If they’re going to call him out, will they call out the other artists whose red-flagging feels just as contrived? They’re both cool with Chris Brown, who started wearing red and hanging out with Bloods after his pristine, heir-to-MJ image was tarnished by his violation of Rihanna. The Virginia native went from singing for teenyboppers to bragging, “I took her to Fruit Town to meet my OG” on Tinashe’s “Player.”

Game is so cool with Lil Wayne that he once voluntarily jumped in Wayne’s conflict with Young Thug. But, with all due respect to Wayne’s musical contributions, we can’t deny that he only started wearing copious amounts of red and using Blood lingo in the midst of his music career. It’s worth noting that this was the very juncture at which his career skyrocketed.

There’s also Soulja Boy, who went from playful jingles like “Crank Dat” to fighting gang members in the middle of Compton to defend his alleged gang ties. Perhaps it’s just a consequence of being a young, misguided artist in LA, where gang members want access to the entertainment industry and artists want to look tough by affiliating themselves with them. It’s an unholy alliance, for sure.

That said, the music industry converging with the streets is nothing new. The mob ran the early music industry. Death Row Records co-founder Suge Knight was unabashed about his Blood ties. Jimmy Henchman, one of the biggest music industry figures of the 90s and 2000s, was convicted of money laundering and running a bi-coastal drug operation with drugs mules bringing in product through music equipment packing cases. Jay-Z, arguably the most accomplished rapper ever, rhymed about turning “an eighth to an ounce to a whole ki to the ROC.”

Hip-hop has a symbiotic relationship with the streets, as rapping and breakdancing started as a means for youth to have something positive to do and settle their rivalries in a productive manner. By the late ’80s, those youth began rapping their first-person narratives of survival, often funded by former street figures looking to go legit. The transition created classic music, but as hip-hop evolved and tone deaf people began to control the mechanisms of hip-hop, the gang lifestyle began to appear more like a marketing gimmick than anything substantive. Success in mainstream rap has become less about artists telling authentic stories and more about selling an image.