Hip Hop’s Love for a Twisted Reality

February 8th, 2013

(Photos: John Ricard/BET)

By Gee King

Since the mid-2000s, reality TV has provided both dream and nightmare moments for the hip hop community. From the resurrection of Flavor Flav via VH1’s Strange Love, to the Love & Hip Hop craze that’s currently captivating our mainstream and online attention, it’s easy to see why TV execs continue to green light increasingly outrageous representations of our culture. The current season of VH1’s Love & Hip Hop has already turned B level MC’s Joe Budden and Consequence into household names (a feat neither was able to achieve from the booth). But Cons and Joey’s recent run-in during a Hot 97 interview was a true reality check for those believing their newfound stardom is anything more than a fleeting perk of selling their selves and culture to America’s post-millennial circus act.

Confrontations like this were once commonplace at Hot 97’s New York City headquarters. But while those incidents used to lead to violent altercations and gunshots, the only long-term damage of this incident will be to the reputations of the involved MCs. Joe entered and left the situation feeling like a G, the result of personal delusion and a dedication to maintaining the facade of reality they’re both trapped in. But while Budden’s element of surprise and calm demeanor allowed him to alpha-male Cons (who could initially only muster baffled stutters and “nahmean’s”), the trivial nature of the beef quickly turned the behind-the-scenes moment of drama into a pathetic example of how shallow the game’s non-musical well is running.

Since the root cause of the beef — comments that Cons made during a radio interview — was never truly explained or resolved, it was difficult to take their minced words seriously. And with neither party apparently ready or willing to settle the conflict physically, it was difficult to understand the episode as anything more than a balancing act between two men clinging desperately to each other in hopes of extending new national fame.

But why are these two talented, intelligent, conscious extensions of hip hop’s glory days so content with making clowns of themselves for our dramatic amusement? Corporate forces have long been magnetized to the raw energy that fuels hip hop, consistently attempting to commodify it into outbursts of emotional thirst and physical aggression. While the original stance of the culture was to fight these forces at all costs, it has recently become an accepted part of the modern hustle to trade pride for paychecks. No vehicle has executed that process with the reach or effectiveness of reality TV. And few MC’s have stood up against the idea of shows that portray our men as emotional wrecks and our women as physical aggressors.

Mainstream America is already moving beyond reality TV as a guilty pleasure and hopefully mainstream hip hop will be right behind it. But as long as the reality gods have the power and access to exploit hip hop’s fallen stars at their most vulnerable moments, our mainstream sensibilities will continue to be tied to the circus act of gossip sessions and thrown cocktails. It’s hard to say who or what will spark the moment of revelation that moves us past this destructive reality. Whenever the moment comes we’ll be able to look back at this saga as a bad dream on hip hop’s journey through America.

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