The lyrics of rapper Lil Mouse's "Get Smoked” incorporates some of the most common themes present in today’s hip-hop music, which I like to call ‘the troublesome three:’ violence, drugs and promiscuity:
".40 hit his face, BBQ his a*s like a grill / Y'all ni**as ain't real, lame ni**as get killed."
However, Mouse is no is gun-toting adult; he's a 13 year-old kid, rapping about subjects that, for many of us when we were his age, would have resulted in the most extreme of punishments.
Hip-hop's reliance on ‘the troublesome three’ has been an issue since the 1990s. Despite the diversity in rap music, it’s troubling to see that many performers still rely on glamorizing tragedy as a formula for success. Especially when there are underage rappers venturing that path.
Mouse and fellow adolescent Chicago rapper Chief Keef are a problem because of the themes they address, and their young age. Only 13 and 16 respectively, the two could use their influence to empower the young audience that supports them. Instead, they both follow in the footsteps of their rapping elders, dropping rhymes that are dangerous to adolescent minds…and receiving the support of adult fans and label employees who should know better.
Chicago is notorious for youth violence. Last year, nearly 700 children were hit by gunfire and since 2008, a total of 247 young people between the ages of 18 and 20, have been murdered in in the Windy City.
Youth violence continues to be an ongoing issue because of gang affiliation, and easy access to leadership positions in those gangs. "The surge of lower level power with the rise of factions has allowed juveniles, typically between the ages of 15 and 17, to gain authority in their neighborhoods," states the Chicago Crime Commission's 2012 Gang Book.
While Mouse and Keef are products of the culture and community that raised them, that isn’t to say the impact of their influence on other youths isn’t significant. Case in point: When Keef crudely tweeted about the death of rival rapper Lil Jojo, and threatened to smack rapper Lupe Fiasco two days ago, both messages received over 1,000 retweets. Peers may look up to the two and attempt to emulate their success, or use the music and their actions, as an excuse to continue the violence. "Chief Keef is a 'bomb'; he represents the senseless savagery that White people see when the news speaks of Chicago violence," said rapper Rhymefest.
Yet the majority of the blame can’t fall on these young boys. In addition to their parents, the managers involved in promoting their careers must be held accountable. Prior to his signing with Interscope Records, Keef had released a music video for his hit song "I Don't Like." The video was made at his house because he was under house arrest on weapons charges, for allegedly pointing a gun at an officer. The video portrays Keef and his crew toting guns and rapping (poorly, might I add) about things they “don’t like,” over beats similar to that of fellow thug persona-selling rappers Waka Flocka Flame and Rick Ross.
Recently, Keef participated in an interview with Pitchfork Music, where the teen was interviewed at a gun range in New York City. Firing a Ruger 10/22 semiautomatic rifle, Keef and the interviewer aim their weapons at the camera, cuing Keef's other popular song "Bang." The decision to film Keef while under house arrest and at a gun range, was in poor taste and unethical (In light of recent outcry following Lil Jojo's death, the video has now been pulled after nearly two months online.) Keef's management is only furthering the exploitation, while the media blindly ignores the fact that this artist is a kid.
The lack of outcry behind Mouse and Keef's rising success, is almost more alarming than anything they’ve said on wax. Why are we tolerating this? Why are we allowing two adolescents to speak in such horrific ways, and exploit a community that is getting worse and worse each day?
Sure, the argument will be made that both artists' music are a reflection of their environments, and, thus, a voice for the dispositioned youth of Chicago. The former is plausible, but the latter is ridiculous. At least N.W.A. and 2Pac provided insight and commentary with their gangster storytelling, their lyrics and videos reflecting hard times during the 1990s. You don't get that with Mouse or Keef. It's nothing but a party celebrating the pain and destruction that ravages the city both boys call home.
Let's face the facts. We're only interested in Mouse and Keef because of their age. If they were older the two would be competing against the likes of Ross and Waka, and would probably never receive as much attention as they have now. It's their age that has us intrigued, and the artist's management and label will take advantage of that, until it runs dry.
Adolescents glorifying youth violence instead of helping get rid of it, and higher-ups profiting from that? Excuse my French, but that's that sh** I don't like.
"We hustle hard / No sleep." These are words music journalist Elijah Watson lives by. Watson is currently a student at the University of Texas at Austin, majoring in journalism. He also serves as senior entertainment writer for The Daily Texan, the school's student newspaper, and a contributor to the college section of the Huffington Post. When he's not critiquing the next big thing in music, Watson can be found listening to hip-hop, ranting about his desire to be Andre 3000's best friend and making new friends on Twitter.