The Lies Hip Hop Told Me (4): Poverty Pimpin

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Many will say that Hip Hop started from the impoverished parts of the inner-city and it did. Hip Hop began out a sense of exclusion and oppression by the upper class in America. The sense of despair and the ambition that came out of it is credited with being an instrumental factor in the birth of the culture itself. However, that might be over stating the reality just a bit. Was the inner-city really that broke and impoverished? Was the inner-city of America in NYC really that poor?

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Some Hiphoppas, especially in the 90’s began to lean on the excuse that because there were no other role models, people looked to the drug dealers and thugs for guidance. That is sort of ridiculous when you realize that there are always numerous people in the community who help it to exist and grow outside of drug dealers and thugs. Those activities are just the most flashy or intimidating. Drug dealing and robbery were never the only ways to get money in the so-called ghetto. You could argue it being the quickest (not really), or the most lucrative (not really) or the easiest (not really) way to get money in the so-called hood, but definitely not the only way.


Police brutality, poverty and oppression have existed all over the World since the beginning of society. The level of poverty and oppression in America of the 1970’s wasn’t especially harsh or extreme, yet some give it credit for giving birth to Hip Hop. Is that really true though? It’s easy to find poverty and oppression in the World. If you are truly impoverished, you don’t have time to create something like Hip Hop.

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True. Hiphoppas empathized and overstood the plight of the oppressed and spoke clearly to those who needed hope and encouragement to keep striving. Hip Hop latched onto the same streak of ambition that spurred early Americans to go west to what is now California. It’s the same ingenuity that created bootleg liquor and later the internet. Hip Hop came out of the same spirit of uplifting your fellow man as the abolition movement. Hip Hop saw the power in movements like civil rights and the 1960’s Hippie counter-culture. Hip Hop wasn’t created in a vacuum-sealed chamber filled only with poverty and oppression.

Yes in the beginning, Hiphoppas had to steal power from street lamps and perform among the rats, roaches and broken glass, but it was never really that poor; not like starving in the street poor, or no clean water poor. Hip Hop owes part of its existence to a level of luxury that afforded the first generation with time to create. There was time to relax and enjoy life, unlike some truly impoverished and oppressed parts of the World. There was time to enjoy peace, love, unity and safely having fun. To say otherwise is to indulge in a bit of poverty-pimpin, or exploiting the sense oppression to evoke empathy.


Still, Hip Hop at least used to acknowledge it’s solidarity with those from the lower class, which is why so many in similar circumstances around the World embraced it. Lately, it seems like rappers have forgotten their roots and gone in the opposite direction, embracing wealth and excess like Hollywood house wives with an unlimited credit card. Maybe we should keep it real, for real and stop lying to ourselves about our true history. Having less is not the same as being impoverished but overstanding the poverty mentality helped make Hip Hop a cultural institution felt around the World. We just have to keep it real about the poverty-pimpin aspect though, because it is there. Somewhere along the line, Hip Hop was contaminated with that preacher-pimp gene in its DNA.

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Kurt Nice

Kurt Nice aka Kurtiss Jackson is a behind the scenes pioneer in the Hip Hop Kulture, creating the first nationally distributed video mix tape series, Shades of Hip Hop, in the late 1990s. Since touring the country with the Stop the Violence Movement and the Temple of Hip Hop as KRS-ONE’s National Marketing Director, Kurt Nice has been a constant commentator on conscious Hip Hop and its relevance to the new rap music of today, through radio and cable appearances. contact Kurt at

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