Cash. Rules. Everything. Around. Me.

by Ted on October 24, 2003

Speaking of Eminem, I’ve been fascinated for a long time by this: quite a few black and Latino rappers fill their albums and videos with images of ostentatious, even cartoonish wealth. With the possible exception of Vanilla Ice rolling in his 5.0*, I’ve never seen a white rapper portray his success in a remotely similar way.

Quite a few rappers promote the image of great wealth from the very beginning of their career. Just for example, Biggie Smalls’ first solo single off of his first album, “Juicy”, has the lyrics:

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’
Thinkin’ back on my one-room shack
Now my mom pimps a Ac’ with minks on her back

When he recorded that song, Biggie had made a few underground records and signed a major label deal. That ain’t nothing, but he wouldn’t have been a wealthy guy when he wrote it. Snoop could probably afford diamond-studded dog(g) muzzles if he wanted them, but I very much doubt that those are Big Pokey’s real cars, or South Park Mexican’s real money trees.

White rappers, and white musicians in general, generally don’t do anything like this. I can think of one shot in one Eminem video which shows Eminem entering a mansion, but it’s there to set up a shot in which his daughter hardly knows him anymore (sniffle). Eminem occasionally mentions that he’s rich, but I he doesn’t brag about his wealth, his homes, or his cars like Jay-Z does. When he talks about all the women who are attracted to him because of his success, all he can say is how much they make him sick.

I don’t think that the Beastie Boys ever mentioned money at all, or showed a nice car in a video. 3rd Bass didn’t brag about their riches. I’m familiar with a few other white rap artists who have recently released albums, specifically Bubba Sparxxx, Aesop Rock and Atmosphere. They seem to cultivate the same sort of image as Eminem did in Eight Mile– they’re losers, with grimy videos and lyrics about their failure. Bubba Sparxxx repeatedly calls himself a hillbilly, Atmosphere is melancholy and self-denigrating, and Aesop Rock seems to be holding on to sanity with a greased rope.

White kids have been buying the image of white losers for decades. And there’s a tradition of boasting in black music that goes back to the blues. It’s not hard to come up with sociological reasons why white authenticity seems to be tied to being poor, while black authenticity isn’t. But it’s intriguing that while plenty of black artists perform songs about being downtrodden, white musicians who boast about their wealth are much more rare. Commentors will probably be able to think of more examples; I can think of:

– David Lee Roth in his “Diamond Dave” period
– Lynrd Skynrd, with songs like “What’s Your Name”
– Vanilla Ice
– Elvis giving away Cadillacs? (Although I don’t think that Elvis’s songs ever talked about his wealth.)

The large majority of fans of white artists are young white people. The large majority of fans of successful rap artists are also young white people. Why are they willing to buy black musicians who talk about success and failure, while they don’t seem to buy white musicians, especially white rappers, who talk about their success?

There’s a good article to be written about this, as long as we keep Camille Paglia 100 yards from it at all times.

* I never tire of pointing out that Ice, Ice Baby has got to be one of the very few rap songs in which the police are the good guys. “Police on the scene/ You know what I mean/ They passed me by, confronted all the dope fiends.”

** I should mention that as I was writing this, I’ve fallen in love with two videos from rap artists that I’d that I’d never heard of: Diverse’s Explosive and Dizzee Rascal’s Fix Up Look Sharp. So, so def.

*** I like Biggie. I like Jay-Z. Boasting about money is fun; I’m not making a value judgement. I’m just commenting on how it’s almost totally absent among white rappers, even those who constantly boast about other things.



drapetomaniac 10.24.03 at 7:03 pm

There may be a grain of truth in there but it’s ludicrous to be comparing white mc’s across genres and eras with the flossing of Biggie and Jay-Z.

I mean, I really doubt that the black mc’s who occupy a similar underground niche to AesopRock are going on about Moet and Prada.

I do not listen to enough white artists to be able to say who boasts of their wealth, though I’d be surprised that if the sort of rock star who threw tv sets out of hotel rooms and waded waist high in groupies were not boasting about such exploits — which are another, less pleasant manifestation of flossing, surely.


laura 10.24.03 at 7:31 pm

I wonder if this difference is not related to how authenticity tends to get managed differently for white and black musicians. For rock and country and sure as hell for folk, authenticity tends to be defined at least in some small way by anti-commercialism. “I’m not doing this for the money, it’s a representation of my true self.” (Note that I’m not saying this is in any way true, just that it’s kind of the image being presented.) So the mostly white musicians in those genres are all about showing how they’re one of the people, etc. The authenticity of black musicians, on the other hand, tends to be judged by their authentic blackness, which is not measured by remaining one of the people. That said, it does seem like black rappers work to obscure middle-class backgrounds even as they flaunt their current wealth. So Eminem may be in the double bind of a (white) rock and country tradition that sees wealth as destructive of authenticity, and a (black) rap tradition that says it’s ok to be wealthy as long as you’re really really black, blackness being defined by some set of things in one’s background that I don’t begin to understand. For all his skill as a rapper and acceptance among black rappers, Eminem may not be able to attain that status, in which case he does better to stick to other subjects.


ChrisL 10.24.03 at 7:46 pm

The most conspicuous white rock example i can think of:

“Life’s Been Good To Me So Far”

I have a mansion
Forget the price
Ain’t never been there
They tell me it’s nice

I live in hotels
Tear out the walls
I have accountants
Pay for it all


Andrew Northrup 10.24.03 at 8:13 pm

“Middle class” black rappers – Will Smith, De La Soul, etc. – rarely if ever brag about money, either. Maybe idea is that if are “underclass”, racially and economically, you want to make sure people know you are financially well-off, even if you completely aren’t (cruising the cut-out bin for never-was $0.99 ganstah rap albums, where they pose on the cover with prop merchandise they will never be able to afford, unless they win the Showcase Showdown), while if you’re Neil Young, with a white middle class upbringing and a trillion albums sold, you’re supposed to walk around like you’re still saving up for that bottle of Pert Plus. It’s theater, people.

I can’t think of any black (or mixed) rock/other bands that sing about how much money they have/had, or any 80’s rap bands, either. I think it’s just a gangstah thing, and Eminem hang out with Dre all he wants, but he’s never really going to be part of that. Marketing did some research, and they think it won’t sell.


KevinNYC 10.24.03 at 8:32 pm

LL Cool J, commented on this a long time ago. That black kids like to dress up and that white kids like to dress down. Brands names and status are more important to black kids than white kids.
I mean this probably dates back to Duke Ellington, at least. Think of how important the image of sophistication was to him. Obviously, class, status and privilege are all tied up in this. If your status is secure, you don’t need to flaunt it. It would be interesting for someone to do an analysis of black rappers and see how much the ones from poor backgrounds flaunt wealth and how much ones from middle-class ones do. Chuck D graduated from college (I believe) and he is probalby the most outspoken anti-materialist in hip-hop.
I wish we will still in the days of Run DMC when they said
Calvin Klein’s no friend of mine
don’t need nobody’s name on my behind
Lee on my leg. Addidas on my feet.
Run by my side and Jay with the beat.

Ah, for the days of the tasteful, single Dookie gold chain.

I just remembered a story Steve Earle tells about the country-blues great, Lightin’ Hopkins. Hopkins trusted probably no one and certainly no white people. He never had a standing record contract. He would do a single album, take the cash and split. No, 3 album-deal for him, I don’t he cared about the roylaties either. If the up-front money, was good he would take it. He wouldn’t do a second take either. Every time he did an album he bought himself another gold tooth. Finally, all his teeth were gold, so he couldn’t get any more. So he decided to put a diamond in one of his teeth. But he was worried that someone would steal his diamond when he slept, so he it installed on the back of his front tooth. When he wanted to look at it he would take out a dentist’s mirror he carried with him. Lightin’ was a sharecropper before


clew 10.24.03 at 8:49 pm

Some of the Tin Pan Alley songs strut wealth, I think. I wonder if their composers were distinguishable by class or background.


Jeremy Leader 10.24.03 at 10:00 pm

Didn’t someone come up with a theory recently that the higher your socio-economic class, the more subtle your status symbols? That is, if you’re a poor kid on the street, you aspire to wear clothes that are almost all logo; if your family has been running the country for centuries, you wear clothes that only other members of your in-group can recognize as tastefully expensive.


KevinNYC 10.24.03 at 10:17 pm

I just happened to come across this article in the local news round up, if you’ve been wondering whatever happened to Slick Rick.


enthymeme 10.24.03 at 11:01 pm

Kevinnyc, nice one re: Run DMC. I love Biggie too – I think he’s a lyrical genius! So far no one has mentioned metaphysical rappers the Digable Planets. They’re cute, cerebral (ha), and they don’t rap about money.


Charlie Murtaugh 10.24.03 at 11:42 pm

I actually blogged about this same topic back in January. You can read my post for yourself if you like, but here’s the money shot:

So what gives? To quote then-candidate Bush, it’s “the soft bigotry of low expectations.” Behavior [i.e. open boasting about one’s bling] that no fan would tolerate in a white artist — name me a successful white rapper who boasts about his bling-bling; and yes, Vanilla Ice is the exception that proves the rule — is excusable in a black or (to a less extent) Latino artist. Nor is this confined to music: witness how the White House put BET chairmain Robert Johnson front-and-center in the estate tax debate. Do you think Bush could use even a beloved white CEO, like Jack Welch, as a poster child for what amounts to a tax cut for the rich?


Alex 10.25.03 at 12:47 am

The examples given above that I’m familiar with don’t really hold. “What’s Your Name” is more a celebration of the sex/drugs/rock n roll/touring lifestyle than of money per se, in the tradition of Grand Funk’s “American Band”. Elvis had a lavish lifestyle, but didn’t brag about it in songs. Other artists talk about their wealth, but the ones I know of are always in a sardonic tone. This includes the Walsh song listed above, several by Randy Newman, the Kinks’ “Sunny Afternoon”, Dr Hook’s “Cover of the Rolling Stone”, Simon’s “You’re So Vain”, etc.

This is partly a generational thing. The music I know best as a decrepit fart is that of the 60s through early 80s, and celebrating wealth was unfashionable. Black artists of the period didn’t brag about money in their lyrics either. But I’m not totally unfamiliar with more recent rock, and from what I know I can’t think of any counterexamples.


W. Kiernan 10.25.03 at 3:30 am

The incomparable Boots Riley raps, in “Fat Cats, Bigga Fish” off Genocide And Juice:

…I’m wishing that I had an automobile
as I feel the cold wind rush past
but let me state that I’m a hustler for real
so you know I got the stolen bus pass
just as the bus pulls up and I step to the rear
this old lady look like she drank a forty of fear
I see my old school partner said his brother got popped
pay my respects can you ring the bell we came to my stop
the street light reflects off the piss on the ground
which reflects off the hamburger sign that turns round
which reflects off the chrome of the BMW
which reflects off the fact that I am broke now what the fuck is new…

Of course The Coup are hardly typical.


John 10.25.03 at 7:26 am

For white braggarts, what about the Stones? While they don’t exactly brag about their wealth in their songs, the whole stones project over the last twenty years has been pretty explicitly “we continue to do this in order to make even more money.” How about that ridiculous “Love is Strong” video where they’re all giants?


JP 10.25.03 at 7:41 am

Just for the record, I think Will Smith does boast about his wealth and success in some of his songs. (On the other hand, it’s probably more subdued than the kinds of boasting you hear in more “authentic” rap.) For example, there are these lines from Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It:

850IS if you need a lift
Who’s the kid in the drop
Who else Will Smith
Livin’ that life some consider a myth
Rock from South Street to 1-2-5th
Women used to tease me
Give it to me now nice and easy
Since I moved up like George and Wheezy
Cream to the maximum I be askin’ ’em
Would you like to bounce with the brother that’s platinum
Never see Will attackin’ ’em
Rather play ball with Shaq and um,
Flatten ’em…

(Of course, then he goes on to say “Psyche, Kiddin’, Thought I took a spill, But I didn’t,” which I think just refers to the part about Shaq, but could conceivably refer to the whole section.)


infamouse 10.25.03 at 8:56 pm

They’re neoriche. New rich people are all about proving their wealth to others. Think about what happened to MC Hammer. Why’d he buy all that shit? People who’ve been rich for generations generally don’t behave that way.


infamouse 10.25.03 at 8:57 pm

Plus, a white guy bragging about getting rich probably doesn’t sit well with too many people. Let’s face it. There are a lot of rich white guys.


Matt 10.26.03 at 2:19 am

Not a comment on the thread as a whole, just a comment on drapetomaniac’s nickname, which [for people who read 19th century medical journals] is the coolest I’ve seen in a long time. :-)


cafl 10.26.03 at 5:08 am

Randy Newman: “It’s Lonely at the Top”

I’ve been around the world
Had my pick of any girl
You’d think I’d be happy, but I’m not.

Everybody knows my name,
But it’s just a crazy game.
Oh it’s lonely at the top.



andrew 10.26.03 at 7:56 am

There’s that cover by Dynamite Hack, of a song by N.W.A. – the classic Boyz-in-tha-Hood – except, being white college boys, they do it in a whiny-boy acoustic style. The video has four preppie white guys, sweaters around their necks, playing croquet on the lawn of their mansion. They’ve got wooden-shaft golf clubs and girls with tennis outfits. There’s a Rolls Royce on blocks in the front yard. All the while, they’re giving the orignial lyrics, which are pretty hard.

Jockin’ the bitches, clockin’ the dough…

It’s pretty funny.


Karmakin 10.26.03 at 11:57 pm

Money is one thing, Fame is another.

That said, I can name off an awful lot of white artists that jump on the nature of fame and the music industry..and making music itself.

Smashing Pumpkins. (I of the Morning and Bullet with Butterfly Wings was almost prophetic about the current days of Clear Channel)

Incubus:Circles, Drive

U2:Discotheque, Kite

Garbage:Shut Your Mouth.

I’m sure there’s much more, but that comes from my little sphere of music.


seth 10.31.03 at 9:42 pm

Other than Eminem, there really isn’t a white equivalent of Jay-Z, Biggie, Nelly, etc. So you don’t have a big enough sample to compare the stylings of million-selling white hip-hoppers to million-selling black hip-hoppers. When you compare Aesop Rock to his nearest black equivalents, you’ll find a lot of overlap. His labelmate Mr. Lif raps about anti-materialism, the dehumanizing aspect of having a lousy job, etc. much like Aesop Rock does. His labelmates in Cannibal Ox rap about vulnerability, living in lousy conditions, feeling penned-in by life, etc. Del the Funkee Homosapien rhymed about riding the bus and staying out of the way of the tough guys in his neighborhood (when he isn’t rapping on sci-fi themes). Mos Def and Talib Kweli rap abouut the perils associated with rap’s materialism. So bragging about money is less race-related and more genre-related; if you’re attempting to make million-selling albums about all the fun of living the good life, you’re more likely to mention the stuff you own than if you’re trying to make artsy or socially conscious hip-hop.

While I tend to listen to artists in the latter category, I’m not immune to the allure of the former. See “Gimme the Loot,” among the most brilliant Biggie tracks about the acquisition of stuff.

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