Really, there’s no reason to be shocked. Portraying a lifestyle that you don’t really live has been a part of celebrity for years and nobody does it better than hip-hop. In fact, it’s been a part of the culture almost since it began.
It’s documented that Ice Cube, the member of NWA that you didn’t ever want to mess with, grew up in a good home with two loving parents, in a slightly better neighbourhood than other kids, and was bused to a school in a rich neighbourhood. He was also into architecture.
In his book Original Gangstas, Ben Westhoff mentions that although NWA made drinking 40’s, also known as malt liquor, famous, both Ice Cube and Eazy-E didn’t actually drink. In fact, he talks about a time when Eazy-E performed on-stage with a 40 ounce bottle full of apple juice.
Growing up in my teens in the suburbs outside of Toronto, one of our past times was buying pizza and 40’s on a Friday night, either an Olde English or a Colt 45, and hanging out in my friend’s basement watching TV. Why? Because of Ice Cube, Menace to Society, NWA and the rise of West Coast culture. They did it and so did we. I even went into my father’s liquor cabinet once so I could literally sip on gin and juice, “laid back, with my mind on my money and my money on my mind.”
Not “keeping it real” is problematic for both artists and fans. First of all, it’s just lame and wreaks of desperation and insecurity. When you get found out it hurts your brand; the exact opposite of what you were trying to accomplish. Eventually you realize you’re just playing a character and are forced to keep it up. Then you have to be “on” all the time and that catches up to you. It also shows how these artists actually see their fans- gullible and mindless. It’s actually insulting.
This is also harmful to fans who can’t discern between reality and make believe, or who can’t stop at simply appreciating great lyrics and production. They end up drinking 40’s in their friend’s basement, living a lifestyle that their idols aren’t even living.
In the case of portraying wealth that you don’t have, again, it’s always been a part of hip-hop. We all know that the jewellery, cars, boats and girls we see in music videos are rented and hired, but that was always acceptable for some reason. Talking about having done things that you never actually did in real life was common. Johnny Cash sang about killing a man “just to watch him die”, which he never did. So why are these examples seemingly okay, but what Bow Wow did is causing such an uproar? It’s because music videos and songs are about storytelling and fantasy, but with social media the stuntin’ leaves the realm of storytelling and is portrayed as real life.
My hope is that this situation with Bow Wow will make fans, especially the younger ones, think. This is a wake up call to be more discerning as fans and consumers. We also need to ask ourselves some questions. Are we also guilty of creating false perceptions on social media? Who’s life are we living? Are we just being marketed to? Are we being used as pawns to sell records?
We’ve all heard the saying “art imitates life”, but we need to make sure we don’t allow our lives to imitate someone else’s art.