Skip to content

Big Pimpin’, Spendin’ Cheese: How Rappers Like Jay-Z Help Keep You in Poverty

    During the beginning of Hip Hop culture,  rappers used lyrics to shed light on the poor socio-economic circumstances of their inner-city “ghettos,” commentating on the extreme poverty and squalor in which they were forced to live — Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s “The Message” for instance. But later, once Hip Hop and rap music became commercialized and turned into a money making commodity, capitalism took over and instead of rap lyrics shedding light on economic inequality and unfair, skewed wealth distribution, it became a means to train the inner city communities to spend money in ways that forced dollars out of their own communities, keeping the poor shackled in poverty, with little control over their own money.

    The new motto became, “Big Pimpin’, Spending Cheese” and “Money, Cash, Hoes,” because, of course, it is now “All About the Benjamins.” Of course, you have to wake up, flawless. With your diamond, flawless.

    How do rappers keep us in poverty, you might ask?

    Today, rap music is filled with messages that tell its consumers what to buy and how much one must spend in order to be cool, hip, accepted, successful, and one of the new popular go-to words, “relevant.” When Jay-Z proclaimed the only way to look cool and get women in a club was to “pop” bottles of $200 bottles of Cristal, people followed suit. When he later dismissed Cristal and donned Ace of Spades as the new status symbol, everyone quickly put down their Cristal bottles and went to the nearest store and upped the ante to fork over $300 a bottle for the new “relevant” brand. When Nikki Minaj dropped Michael Kors’ name in a song, ladies rushed to Nordstrom and everyone flossed their Michael Kors watches and handbags. Lil’ Wayne said Truckfit, and voila, the company gets paid as sales increase, while the consumers go broke.

    While I believe everyone is free to spend their earned money however they choose, we must understand the implications of these economic decisions. Not only do these poor choices have negative affects on individuals, they also have negative affects on the collective.

    Our dollars are votes, and every time we spend one dollar, we send a message of what our values are, what’s important to us and how the economy can best suit our needs and make money in the process.  If everyone stopped buying peanut M&Ms, Mars would discontinue them and make something we want and would be willing to buy. Our dollars have power and Hip Hop has taught us how to relinquish that power and fatten the pockets of the wealthy, while the poor continue to starve.

    We can look at some simple economics to examine how this works and why “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” is a very bad idea. Studies have proven that recycling dollars within a community is essential for economic growth and social progression for that community. If we look at data, we can see that many other ethnic communities do this, while Blacks and Hispanics – the targeted demographic for the brands rap music likes to advertise – are the worst at circulating money within their communities, the Black community at the absolute bottom.

    A Washington, D.C. based research group called the Harvest Institute surveyed how many times income circulates within a community before leaving it. The survey shows that while Whites circulate their income UNLIMITED times in their community, the Jewish community recycles their money at least 12 times, most Asian communities circulate money at least 9 times, and Latinos recycle money six times in their community, in the Black community, income circulates ZERO to one time.

    Ironically, however, according to the Selig Center for Economic Growth at the Terry College of Business, University of Georgia, in 2009, both the African-American market and the Hispanic market were larger than the entire economies of all but thirteen countries in the world. Translation: A LOT of economic power is being given up – enough economic power to maintain a small country.

    But we’ve heard the old adage, “You gotta spend money to make money!” So what was the money spent on? Was it invested or spent in any useful ways? According to Target Market News, African Americans spend a significant amount of their income on depreciable products. In 2002, a year in which the economy took a turn for the worst and people desperately needed to conserve finances, African Americans spent $22.9 billion on clothes, $3.2 billion on electronics and $11.6 billion on furniture to put in homes that, in many cases, were rented. Further, amongst the most popular purchases were cars and alcohol.  There were a lot of attempts toward big pimpin while spending cheese.

    The positive side to some of these statistics: There is so much economic power and influence that. if harnessed and spent wisely, can be fuel that, if not ends, significantly lessens poverty and improves socio-economic situations within inner-city communities. If people stop using their dollars to vote for Ciroc and Gucci, and use those dollars to vote for education, 401Ks, small businesses, and other wealth building initiatives, and keep those dollars circulated within the poor and forgotten economic and ethnic communities, so much progress can begin to happen.

    To quote Lupe Fiasco, “[Fer]raris too expensive and they way too hard to maintain / Get yourself a Camry, “[he] said a Camry?” / Watch [it] depreciate and then you’ll understand me / It’s called being fiscally responsible / Don’t let these lying images up in hip-hop here conquer you.”

    On a day-to-day basis, consumers are tricked in many ways and continue to buy into the new rap culture’s capitalistic, consumer-driven marketing and advertising schemes that are meant to keep the working class impoverished worker bees.  When Grandmaster Flash said, “got no money to move out, I guess I got no choice / Rats in the front room, cockroaches in the back / Junkies in the alley with a baseball bat / I tried to get away, but couldn’t get far / ‘Cause a man with a tow-truck repossessed my car,” this was, in some way, a call to action. A plea that, someway, somehow, a way out must be made. Instead of answering that call to action, unfortunately, this new rap era has encouraged individuals to dig their holes even deeper.  Rap has developed into a bragadocious, capitalistic, money driven, lobster in a barrel, culture that goes against all instincts toward collective progression. But, hey, at least they’re “relevant.”

    Camille H. is a writer, educator, editor, lecturer and public speaker. She can be contacted at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @_CamilleH