Hip Hop, Grime and the Power of Money

Hip Hop has become the form of music that most explicitly articulates the power of money. While Rock and Roll and Pop music may celebrate the performance of wealth they do not emphasise the philosophy and power of having cash. 

Since the beginning of the genre, some of the biggest Hip Hop records are explicit descriptions on the philosophy of acquiring money. In 1987 Eric B and Rakim released the song Paid In Full

Thinkin’ of a master plan

‘Cause ain’t nothin’ but sweat inside my hand

So I dig into my pocket, all my money is spent

So I dig deeper but still comin’ up with lint

So I start my mission, leave my residence

Thinkin’ How could I get some dead presidents?

In 1994 Biggie Smalls wrote what might well be the greatest Hip Hop song of all time with Juicy, in which he explicitly describes the journey of using Hip Hop talent to go from poverty to wealth: 

Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis

When I was dead broke, man, I couldn’t picture this

50-inch screen, money-green leather sofa

Got two rides, a limousine with a chauffeur

Phone bill about two G’s flat

No need to worry, my accountant handles that

And my whole crew is loungin’

Celebratin’ every day, no more public housin

Wu Tan Clan offer the most explicit articulation of the influence of social consequence of money with the C.R.E.A.M chorus:

Cash Rules Everything Around Me

C.R.E.A.M get the money

Dollar dollar bills yall

This legendary chorus is perhaps only rivalled by the Kanye West song Can’t Tell Me Nothing where he writes:

La la la la 

Wait till I get my money right

La la la la 

Then you can’t tell me nothing right

The explicit description of making and performing wealth can be found throughout British Grime music. In the 2003 Dizzee Rascal song Brand New Day, from the Mercury Prize winning album Boy in Da Corner, the Grime artist writes:

But its a Brand New Day

New opportunities, wot can I say

I plan to make my pay

But put sum away for an offkey day

In Kano’s 2004 song P’s and Q’s the artist emphasises the relentless strategy of capitalism claiming that:

I’m on my P’s and Q’s 

That’s why I make more P’s than you

Hip Hop started in the Bronx in New York. In America and Britain many of those that have made great Hip Hop and Grime are very often from low socio-economic black communities living around major cities. In the case of Eric B, Rakim, Biggie Smalls and Wu Tang Clan, New York. In the case of Dizzee Rascal and Kano, London. In these neighbourhoods material gain and money can make a huge difference towards living space and the quality of lifestyle where rates of violence, imprisonment, financial comfort and addiction are higher than more affluent areas. The transformative power gained through the acquisition of money is huge. This relentless pursuit of capitalism is therefore evident through the music because, unlike middle class white musicians that may otherwise of become bankers or lawyers, without music, these Hip Hop and Grime stars may be without wealth or status, thus the attainment of wealth through the musical craft has been of much greater significance towards these individuals. People of different races may be ignorant or unsympathetic towards the cultural, political and symbolic violence of the black experience, yet, the pursuit of money is one thing everyone shares and understands, or, if we are to believe neoliberalism, the pursuit of money can alleviate racial difference. Traditionally in white British communities people don’t talk about money. Amplifying the desire to make money may well be seen as exposing poverty, wealth anxiety or greed. Through articulating these experiences, Hip Hop and Grime musicians amplify some of the most foundational problems of our society that have been largely ignored by white musicians.

%d bloggers like this: