Wednesday, June 01, 2005


XXL Magazine presents their first Jail Issue; I pour out some of my forty in sadness.

"Jail is cool, kids!"

In perhaps one of the most irresponsible decisions of all time, XXL Magazine has devoted its current issue to the prisoners affiliated, in any capacity, with hip-hop. Forget rap's mistreatment of women and its unrealistic focus on unaffordable material goods, this cover is the biggest mistake ever made in the history of hip-hop.

The unintentional message of this foolish stab (pun intended) at street cred tells the reader that prison time is the highest level of credibility. Without doing some form of jumpsuit modeling (or if you've at least been shot at), you're not a contender.

This from their website [my comments appear in brackets]:
"The list of incarcerated MCs just keeps getting longer. So XXL goes inside to get an in-depth look at life behind bars.  Real I.D. numbers. Real photos. Real stories. No joke [I love the way you say "in-depth." Sounds like a term your new boyfriend will use once you're alone in the showers. That's hot!
Contrary to the readers of XXL, life behind bars is not a necessary ingredient for the transformation of mere mortal into rapstar. Devoting a whole issue to these "real I.D. numbers" just delivers a message contrary to that.]

To the delight of hip-hop’s opponents, and the consternation of its defenders, rap music has a long history with the penal system. The influence is undeniable: from slang and song content to album covers and the ever-popular cell-block video setting, hip-hop has been tattooed with the markings of prison culture. Beyond the fascination with the outlaw aesthetic that’s long been prominent in many forms of popular entertainment, there’s a troubling truth to be found in the relationship between the artistry and the incarceration. Now, more than ever, rappers are being put behind bars. [Well, that's because of all the attention given to the misplaced glory of a jail sentence. A story and cover like the July 2005 issue will just perpetuate the problems and the stereotypes. This is not a journalistic, objective report seriously pondering over the aforementioned problem of the extended list of African American prisoners; this is a celebration. "Journalistic integrity" and "XXL Magazine" is not a common word association. Whether XXL wants to say it or not (which they essentially do with their use of the credible word, "real"), this is the equivalent of telling adolescents that they give out record contracts in the slammer. I'm pretty sure that the contracts given out are the ones on your life.]

Legal tribulations are so commonplace in the rap world that arrests have become a source of cynicism; we chuckle that well-timed criminal charges are now as vital to album promotion as in-store autograph signings. Videos are frequently stitched together from past footage of artists finishing bids, and “Free ____” T-shirts are as much a part of hip-hop style as Adidas sweat suits. But it’s not all marketing. Careers are interrupted (if not destroyed), families lose breadwinners, and opportunities for artistic expression are needlessly squandered. Rappers lose their freedom, and we lose their music. [Once again, this is not the sort of coverage that stops the cycle. Stupidity and irresponsibilty meet bottom dollar. Nice to meet you, bottom dollar. Make yourself at home in XXL Magazine.
Honestly, my disappointment is mixed with a slight hint of admiration. Granted the cover is a controversial one and a non-commercial subject matter but nevertheless, it will still probably be a very high selling issue.
And while there is a semi-acknowledgement to the downside of being thrown in jail, it comes across as an insincere aside; When you devote a whole entire issue to Tony Yayo (have you even heard any of his "secret" tracks?) and fellons like him, you inevitably lose any noble message hidden within.
Sadness ensues.]

Is this an unavoidable operating cost in an industry that regards street authenticity and a bullet-riddled backstory as the alchemic ingredients for gold and platinum sales? Or do the rappers themselves feel obligated to make good on the threats or boasts so sincerely broadcast in their rhymes? The media casts blame on executives and artists alike, but the startling number of imprisoned rappers is ultimately a product of a nation that funnels a third of its Black males ages 20–29 through jail, the penitentiary, parole or probation. From Bed-Stuy to Bankhead to Compton, the communities most ravaged by poverty, drug addiction and high rates of incarceration are consistently the same ones shouted out on wax. This is not a hip-hop tragedy, but an American one. [Whoa. Justifying the coverage of Lil' Kim's scantily clad court apprearance by making this into an editorial.]

Lil’ Kim recently joined Mystikal, Shyne and Beanie Sigel (who were all unavailable to comment for this article) among the increasingly large ranks of currently convicted rap stars. Over the next few pages, 13 others share firsthand accounts of their experiences in the penal system. From weapons charges to drug dealing to murder, their offenses are no different from those filling many a local police blotter. The difference, though, is that these inmates are men we’ve seen on television and heard on the radio—men who had seemingly beat the system. Their reflections on exchanging fame, fortune and freedom for a prison sentence are both poignant and cautionary. Hold your head. " [As cautionary as these "reflections" may read, the message is clear. It's called the Jail Issue for good reason just as there's a Swimsuit Issue, as there is a New Music Issue, as there is a Humor issue. The feature subject is selectd because it's popular and will inevitably sell issues. Despite XXL's half-assed reprimanding, the ultimate message is clear. Rappers go to jail. Without doing a little time, you're just a poseur.]


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Arye, you cynic. They're just following the pesos. Jail is like a rite of passage, like a Bar Mitzvah. Why not hold a a great big party? The band's already there.

Around here (New Haven), everyone in my hood ('cept the Jews and a few other anomalies) is either in jail, has been to jail, recently avoided jail, or has at least one of their babies' daddies in the house. It's just you and me and a bunch of other uppity whites who see anything wrong with this. But what has to change first, society or culture?

What a shame.

11:13 AM  
Blogger Arye said...

Culture needs to change first, my dear Judi, and own up to its responsibilities. Entertainment, especially hip-hop, brings a certain lifestyle to a mass audience (art imitating life) and then that audience finds glamour in that lifestyle (alot of life imitating art). While the cycle will never end, we, as journalists and reporters, could do something about reducing the casualties in this unfortunate misrepresentation of a gratifying existance. Word!

11:12 AM  

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