Thursday, October 29, 2009


I watched the movie Notorious on DVD. Notorious concerns the life and violent death of the rapper Chris Wallace, a.k.a. "Biggie Smalls", a.k.a. "The Notorious B.I.G." It gives a reasonably accurate account of the East Coast / West Coast hip hop rivalry in the late 1990s, bracketed by the murders of rapper Tupac Shakur in 1996 and Wallace in 1997.

The movie should have been entitled 101 Reasons to Homeshcool Your Children. Although the Wallace and Shakur murders succeeded in penetrating my conscious at the time, I was happily unaware of the backstory; after all, if a couple of violent black men with violent backgrounds, selling albums about violence, come to violent ends, well, everything else was just detail, as far as I was concerned.

Yet these rappers generated vast sums of wealth from their record sales, and that money didn't come from blacks alone. Plenty of white middle class boys (and girls?) spent their parents money on this glamorization of the urban criminal underclass. Whatever one may think of rap and hip hop as a musical genre, the fact is that its penetration into the mainstream brought with it everything we betas mean when we talk about "bad boy alphas".

The course of Wallace's own life perfectly illustrates the female capacity for self-deception. Wallace racked up sexual conquests while persuading at least three women -- all of whom should of known better -- that, really, he would be faithful to them. Sorry girls. If he wasn't chaste before he met you, he's not likely to remain chaste after he's with you, especially when he works in an environment where younger and younger girls are throwing themselves at him.

This is both the source and the purpose of the status, the status conferred by all the adoring male fans looking to these rappers as role models of masculinity. They went on to establish their own hierarchies, which women, in their turn, bought into. And thus the hip-hop ethos penetrated deeply into "mainstream" youth culture. It would be nice to think that living in a "good school district" insulates your children from this, but I wouldn't count on it. My own cousin's children went to public schools in Montgomery County, MD, back in the late '90s, and they were heavily into this kind of music.

One of the movie's vignettes has the young Wallace telling his mother about career day at school. Evidently, Wallace was fairly bright and a good student in his youth. But Wallace thought the tradesmen and low-level professionals his school brought in to speak to the students looked "broke-assed", by which he meant they didn't have the gold chains and other status markers of ghetto drug-dealer chic.

It occurred to me that the kind of people that succeed in middle-class professions are also the kind of people likely to have middle-class values in general, and likely to eschew expensive ghetto status symbols in favor of, for instance, saving towards a down-payment on a house. But these uses of money are less visible, and in any case not easily appreciated by ghetto youth anyway. So I can imagine that they carry little credibility with their intended audience.

The movie shows the perils of religious identification. Wallace's mother imparted to her son some of her own ersatz Christianity, and despite the rampant sex, drugs and violence that characterized his life, Wallace continued to identify as Christian until his death. This very nicely illustrates the importance of SES and racial controls when conducting studies on religion and sociology. I would argue as well that, say, church attendance is an important control as well. (I will write more about this in an upcoming post.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This movie revolves around a man who rose from the streets of Brooklyn and with the help of his raw talent and sheer determination took the world of rap music by storm.This is a real story. I like this movie. i had watched this movie last will also love to watch notorious movie