On Tuesday, Nov. 1, many of us woke up to the sad news of Takeoff’s death. Takeoff, also known as Kirshnik Khari Ball, was a member of the trio Migos, along with Quavo and Offset, who made the hit song “Bad and Boujee.” Following his death, the internet was instantly flooded with tweets blaming rap music, described as “gangsta rap,” for his death, just like with the deaths of Pop Smoke, Nipsey Hussle, PNB Rock, XXXTentacion and others. These arguments constantly come up whenever any rapper dies — and they are highly problematic, racist and illogical. They negate the artistry of rap music and they obscure the root cause of all these murders: structural violence, gun laws, over-policing and systemic poverty.
Many politicians and celebrities have blamed gangsta rap for causing the violence that rappers experience. Little do they know, gangsta rap is, on the contrary, a response to the crisis and problems that rappers face, rather than the source of those atrocities. These problems include, to name a few, gun violence, police brutality, the over-policing of Black neighborhoods, poverty through discrimination in housing, jobs, loans, gang violence and state policies that work to maintain broken families.
Rap is a form of music created to intervene in these complex systems of oppression. For example, in his song “Casper,” Takeoff critiques the over-policing of neighborhoods. He says, “Police, they look at my license plate. They look at my jewelry, When I hop out, start singin’ “Amazing Grace,” and he continues, “F*ck 12, n*** fast on feet.” Takeoff uses the story to describe the feeling of constantly having the cops on his back, despite never committing any crimes. This shows listeners the fact of over-policing in Black neighborhoods as an exercise of white supremacy.
In Quavo and Takeoff’s collaboration, “Hotel Lobby,” both address their experiences with poverty and the realities of what they had to deal with as a result. Rap as storytelling becomes hopeful to listeners who may be in survival mode or who have to make difficult decisions and compromises to someday enter a safer and more stable workforce. This story of rising out of the cycle of poverty is what gives gangsta rap political presence.
Blaming gun violence problems on rap music distracts from the real issue that Americans have extremely easy access to guns today. Statistics about gun violence show that more than 500 people die every day due to gun violence, most through suicide. Additionally, Black Americans are ten times more likely to be shot than their white counterparts, so it is logical that music made by Black people talks about guns — because they have to encounter near-death gun-related experiences every day. Rap music is not the cause of gun violence, but rather a response to such violence.
It’s a privilege to be able to sing or rap about flowers and butterflies, assuming music is typically an artistic expression of what’s happening in the musicians’ lives. If both sides are singing and rapping about the reality they are living in, it only makes sense that music made by white artists sounds a lot more positive than rap music.
The word “rap” has been given a negative connotation due to racism and prejudicial thoughts. Even the word “rapper” has a bad connotation because of the stereotypes associated with rappers’ lifestyles. For example, when Willie McCoy was shot 55 times within the span of 3.5 seconds by police officers in 2019 while being unarmed, the media emphasized the fact that he was a rapper exponentially more than they mentioned the 55 shots fired at him. His rapper status was centered as a way to discredit his character, reduce empathy for him and implying just actions taken by the police.
Although blame is placed on gangsta rap, it’s evident that the real cause of the death of these rappers is structural violence; it’s simply the myth of biological determinism, spread by the media, that implies that Black culture is conducive to death. XXXtentacion was killed because he was in an impoverished neighborhood where he was robbed for his money and his car. His death had clearly more to do with the fact that the people were impoverished than with the culture of rap music.
Nipsey was shot and killed while he was giving back to his community in an impoverished neighborhood, and someone came to kill him due to jealousy – once again, not related to rap music.
PNB Rock, like XXXtentacion, was murdered during an attempted robbery by a 17-year-old. Can you imagine how terrible things have to be for a 17-year-old to kill someone in cold blood? Takeoff was killed due to an argument that he was having that had nothing to do with his rapper status.
These cases make one thing abundantly clear: there is no evidence of rap music being these peoples’ cause of death. When they died, the media constantly brought up the content of their music and disregarded the fact that the actual common factor in the murders was the impact of poverty caused by rampant structural violence and systemic racism. Next time, analyze the different systemic issues that could have led to an artist’s death before simply categorizing it as gangsta rap-related violence.
Guest writer David De Souza PO ’24 is from Maryland, but was born and raised in a beautiful country in West Africa called “Benin.” He describes himself as a “musical poet” and he makes rap music under the stage name “Deezy B” on all platforms.