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Broke-shaming is necessary in (and a cornerstone of) hip-hop

Trey Alston

 // Jun 15, 2018

Nicki Minaj's new record "Rich Sex" shares the same title as Future's ode to chains and private jet romance that released on the awry DS2. But whereas Future explored the benefits and aesthetic of making love to a man of refined tastes (that man being himself), Nicki's mid-aughts-esque record yanks women away from men lacking in the bag department.

"If you know your pussy worth a Benz truck (rich sex) / Don't let homie fuck unless his bands up (rich sex) / Go to DR, get that fat transfer (rich sex) / It ain't such a thing as broke and handsome."

Afterwards, Nicki insinuates that if the woman does let the lowly man into her romantic circle, she'll be made the butt of a joke. Lil Wayne joins in on the next verse, parlaying his typical punchline-driven, reminder-of-my-status raps that confirm his riches to be the ideal type that Nicki raps about as the standard for consideration. The song closes with Nicki's conversation about how her wealth has her landing flights in places that she doesn't even know about. Once the smoke clears, the message stands in the listener's ears: you have money, or you're no one.

Historically, hip-hop has been about a wide variety of things, but two ideas that remain relevant are social defiance and pocket-watching. The general message that comes from listening to hip-hop (especially the flex-heavy nature of new-age rap) is that you need to elevate your pockets. Rappers flash money with wide-eyed grins that exude enough euphoria to remain locked in that expression for weeks. The material possessions that we all strive for can be seen as mere props in the social media profiles of the musicians that we know and behold. These possessions act as motivating factors for everyone else to go get the riches. Blac Youngsta himself says that his serial flexing is more than just gloating—he was inspired by something similar so his antics will hopefully inspire the youth.

One of the defining characteristics of our blissful existence is comfort. It's comprised of feeling accepted and not willing to go above or beyond. Our lives often center around comfort. We grow accustomed in our place of residence. We grow accustomed without school grades. We grow comfortable with our job performances. Breaking out of this comfort usually takes some kind of trauma and resulting opportunity. Like weight loss. The most drastic transformations come from post-breakup glo-ups or a wake-up call from a doctor, inciting change or facing the reality of impending death.

In hip-hop, broke-shaming is the trauma that looks to shock listeners out of their comfortable existence. Yeah, you could be comfortable with a $40,000 salary and live an acceptable existence, buying what you need and avoiding showering yourself with material wealth gaugers. But will you truly be happy? You'll be tied to the dreaded, and increasingly antiquated, work-until-sixty-five-then-retire lifestyle that'll only lead to a life of regret. This is where broke-shaming comes into play. Just as you're easing into a routine, it plants the seeds in your brain that this reality isn't the one that you're supposed to be living in. It lets you know that you can be so much more because what you're experiencing right now is that of the low denominator.

Often times, without knowing it, we come across broke-shaming in some of our favorite songs. In 2 Chainz's endlessly bouncy "4 AM" with Travis Scott, the Hairweave Killa raps "Got my first quarter flippin' fifty-dollar slabs / Your nigga's lookin' at the bills, askin' you for half," piercing the heart of any equal-share household. But instead of being an attack on middle class America, it's a call to action for better. On YG's "Big Bank," with the refrain being about the person with the most money assuming control of a group, Big Sean raps:

"Got my foot in the door and we still here / I'm a first generation millionaire / I broke the curse in my family not having shit / I'm passionate, like girls that's after more than just cash and dick."

Here, he shames both his family, and women that he encounters. He treats being broke as if an affliction cast by a witch, and now he's transcended it, as well as dealing with women without the same stature. He equates being broke to being unpassionate.

TLC's "No Scrubs" became the song to bring broke-shaming to the forefront with its unflinching insults aimed at men with less. But in its ribaldy, it equated being broke with having no goals. While unrelated, being broke can sometimes arise from a lack of passion. And in America, thanks to capitalism, nearly anyone—with a varying degree of hard work due to different ethnic backgrounds and societal limitations —can become someone with money. Chilli's intro best confirms the sentiment that endures even to this day:

"A scrub is a guy that thinks he's fly / And is also known as a busta / Always talkin' about what he wants / And just sits on his broke ass."

This makes looking at Nicki's lines in "Rich $ex" much more identifiable. She's not talking down on being broke per se; she's just telling women to withhold from giving up the goods if he isn't financially set. This could, and should, be a subconscious motivator to act on ambition and improve your livelihood and get the attention that you so covet.

A recent study reported by TIME revealed that 53% of millennials believed that they would become millionaires in their lifetimes. With such a widespread belief as this, work ethic ultimately comes into question. Are there seeds being planted today that will grow into wealth tomorrow? To help spurn this growth, broke-shaming drives home the fact that there's more to life than what's currently being experienced. Those millions are within reach. If you realize that your value to the world depends on the money that you desperately seek, you'll pursue it more.

Being the queen of rap also comes with commanding conversation, so when "Rich Sex" dropped and ruffled feathers, Twitter broke into a flurry of discussions about the parameters of the weight of one's pockets. Men inquired about how much money women believe they should pay when rent's due. Women shot back with a wide variety of answers, the most common being that, while paying any amount isn't ideal, a man should have his finances in order to be considered to have a shot with them. Of course, men took offense to this. Not only had they had to hear Nicki Minaj tell those without millions in the bank that their lives don't matter, now they had to hear it on social media, the nexus of millennial mindwaves.

But getting upset at this forgoes what's been decades in the making for the conversation about being broke. It's not okay, but nothing's stopping you from getting to the money. You have to realize that you're broke to want better. Realize that the lifestyle and the attention that you want will come with changes to the lifestyle that promote wealth increase.

In a world defined by appeasement, the thought of living without broke-shaming is frightening. Artists catering to those without financial freedom, saying that it's okay to be happy with what we have, would make things weird. JAY-Z would preach about his yearn for living back in Marcy. Nicki Minaj would probably have to scrap more than half of her upcoming album QUEEN. People would become comfortable with their livelihood and then get trapped in the corporate cycle. As scary as this sounds, the worst part is that there'd be no push for greater. This kind of equality would ultimately do more harm than good.

But "Rich Sex," "No Scrubs," and similar songs that chastise the poor for lack of ambition and not because of circumstance are absolutely necessary in hip-hop culture. Whereas other genres typically bathe in gravitas to connect with their audiences, hip-hop utilizes wealth to inspire those within the culture to achieve similar, if not greater feats. Say what you want about rappers ridiculing the financially-challenged or counting large stacks of money on social media; it'll push you to pursue the bag, not wait around and let life pass you by.


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