Questlove spilled ink on hip-hop’s future in the second installment of his six-part essay series for Vulture. In “Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems: How Hip-Hop Failed Black America, Part II,” he argues that copious amounts of cash continue to widen the gap between rapper and listener, comparing and contrasting Run-DMC’s “My Adidas” to Jay Z’s “Picasso Baby” and Ace Hood’s “Bugatti.”
I don’t know exactly how much a Bugatti costs. Oh, wait: I’ve been told by my business manager that it costs Amused Laughter. Very few people I know, including several best-selling artists in various musical genres, can afford this item, which depreciates as violently as whiplash the minute it’s off the lot. Something about the song, though, creates an environment where I feel a twinge of shame admitting that. And I won’t even get into whether I can spend a hundred K on my wrist.
But what does it mean that hearing the song somehow makes me measure myself against its outsize boasting? For starters, it means that hip-hop has become complicit in the process by which winners are increasingly isolated from the populations they are supposed to inspire and engage — which are also, in theory, the populations that are supposed to furnish the next crop of winners. This isn’t a black thing or even a hip-hop thing exclusively. American politics functions the same way. But it’s a significant turnaround and comedown for a music that was, only a little while back, devoted to reflecting the experience of real people and, through that reflection, challenging the power structure that produces inequality and disenfranchisement.
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