Published on February 8th, 20131
Travis L. Gosa: Gangster Rappers Are Not Role Models
Last Wednesday, rapper Gucci Mane was a Career Day speaker at Crawford Long Middle School in Atlanta, Ga.
A quick primer on Mr. Gucci: his last album is entitled “Trap God,” referring to his talent for selling drugs out of abandon ghetto dwellings. Songs include “Head Shots,” “Get Money N*gga,” “F*ck The World,” and 17 other tracks that celebrate nihilism, gun violence, drugs, and sex.
In the last decade, Gucci Mane’s “art” has coincided with real life legal troubles, including at least ten arrests for drugs, parole violations, weapons, and attempted murder. In 2011, he pleaded guilty to throwing a woman out of a moving vehicle after she refused to have sex with him. After undergoing psychiatric treatment, Gucci Mane emerged from the mental hospital sporting a bizarre, three-scoop ice-cream cone tattoo on his face.
Inviting Gucci Mane to Career Day was irresponsible, and will likely turn into a public relations nightmare for the Atlanta Public School district. More, the belief that only rappers or athletes can be role models for Black youth is an anarchistic and racist idea that should have been abandoned long ago.
Believe it or not, it has been 25 years since Ice Cube, then of N.W.A. made it clear that gangster rappers are not role models for youth: “Do I look like a mutha f*ckin’ role model?/ To a kid lookin’ up ta me/ Life ain’t nothin’ but b*tches and money” (“Gangsta, Gangsta,” Straight Outta Compton). The same rings true today.
“Trap rappers,” a new generation of gangster rappers without the political rhetoric, are making good music. I can appreciate the rachetness of Trinidad James’ All Gold Everything. And Sly Glizzy’s video with four-year olds mouthing along to lyrics about shooting your mother and “busta, f*ggot, muthaf*ckas” is refreshingly offensive when so much rap is about shopping sprees in Paris. Yes, they are crunk poet laureates, hustlers, savvy businessmen, and/or just modern-day minstrels. But they are not role models for tweens.
For those confused about the subtle difference between youth mentor and entertainer, please revisit Wacka Flocka Flame’s failed attempt to advocate the importance of education and civic participation. The high-school dropout said he aspires to attend college one day, and major in geometry.
When rappers like Rick Ross visit schools as motivational speakers, they are usually asked to say something positive to the kids: stay away from crime and stay in school. Whatever positive, abstract message delivered during school visits should be weighed against the role modeling found in the streets-to-rap game life story created by publicists, and the real life violence and crime surrounding these artists.
There is something intuitive, yet sadly ironic about these guest appearances. For some disadvantage youth, the neighborhood rapper who “made it” out the ‘hood is an accessible image of success, besides drug dealers and the one guy who went pro in NBA or NFL.
However, in 2013, there are also Black astronauts and even a Black president. And cities like Atlanta, GA are filled with upper class, successful black lawyers, writers, doctors, and scientists who might serve as better career day speakers for a middle school.
As a society, we sometimes expect too much from our schools. Teaching is a no- thanks-job with little financial reward. Still, entertainers like Gucci Mane have no place in the classroom. Teachers: keep imaginary and real life gangsters out of the school building. Oh, and if there is time left in the school day, please teach something that might help our children dream beyond the block and the recording booth.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Travis L. Gosa is Assistant Professor of Africana Studies at Cornell University. Since 2008, he has served on the advisory board of Cornell’s Kugelberg Hip Hop Collection, the largest archive on early hip hop culture in the United States. He teaches courses on hip hop, education, and Black families. He can be reached at email@example.com.