The Trouble with the Come-Up
Ever notice Nicki Minaj raps about her inherent royalty, worth, wealth and possessions, a lot? Ever notice all rappers do that? Ever notice really everyone in the entertainment industry does this? Better, everyone who aspires for the top of their lane does it, and feel no shame about it.
Cars. Girls. Boys. Wealth in excess. Progression and success today often takes the shape of fleeting capitalistic gain. It’s not a bad way to look at things: everyone should measure themselves in their own way. Yet, the problem comes when this becomes the overarching expectation for many people. Particularly, when it becomes the expectation for an entire demographic of people hoping for trajectory in life.
Rap is filled with similar narratives. Black Twitter dragged Nicki Minaj for her aims to be the best of the best, constantly celebrating her stats and accomplishments online and in verse, but failed to adequately target her male peers for their glorification of their wealth. To provide a singular example will be to undermine the actual scope of the act: Every. Rapper. Does. It.
Migos, Gucci Mane, Kendrick Lamar, Jay-Z, all rappers paint their success in the image of how their success emulates whiteness. Most of the time, it’s merely in a pursuit of capitalist excess: my diamonds are shiner than yours, my car can move faster than yours, I can afford uglier Balenciaga shoes than you, but it creates a ripple across the Culture. How many people do you know who do not consider themselves successful unless they’re making “money moves only.” Or "chasing a check, never a b*itch*?" When plotting your future, you stake yourself in what you own materially – and while it’s important to be frugal and remember all you do should come with a price, it minimizes the wealth of the soul and satisfaction. Why rate yourself chasing an ideal when merely running at your pace should be the goal?
To get a little Fitzgerald, success becomes West Egg: dastardly extravagant and flamboyant in its showmanship. It turns everything related to your art into an unneccessary competition that breeds unwarranted rivalries that ruin the culture. Worse, it doesn't even make anyone wealthier. Well, anyone actually doing the actual work wealthier.
Why is this like it is, and why is this the problem? Well, capitalism – especially the brand that is rooted in whiteness and imperialism (all of it) – sustains itself by building desire in people and belittling one’s source of happiness until it is imitating its normative culture. And what culture is the normative in capitalism? Take a look in your closest pest nest, and you’ll find capitalism looks a little WASP-y. Black people – particularly artists and those in the entertainment industry, athletes included – become the icons of a newer generation.
They stand on a pedestal and live a certain lifestyle that they are taught to honor and worship; they sing songs and embellish lyrics of a certain idea of positive production in society being one of fast cars and shiny gemstones and as you grow, you aspire to be like them: you aspire to this ideal of success.
Nevermind your own personal adherence to merely creating or performing in the thing you wish to grow in. You have to be the best, so you can capture and ensnare more of those things you are positioned to enjoy. Not because you want them, really – or you didn’t want them before – but because having those things is the only way you are doing well in whatever you do, rapping, or otherwise.
Maybe, it's time to take a new approach to the Come-up. One that's about satisfying growth in whatever you do and pursuing notoriety through craft rather than possession. Ego is never the enemy, it's ego in pursuit of greed or this dream of frugal domination that is. After all, golden kingdoms always end up robbed and rusted, eventually, but utopias stay among dreamers.