Why do we love Arsenio Hall? Both on his original late night show as well as his new one he’s always represented hip hop. Recently he had 2 Chainz and Big Sean on in the same week. Both had great performances but what was interesting was something that both artists revealed. Each professed to being exemplary students when they were in school. This might not sound like a big deal but if you add context it reflects a significant step taken by hip hop as a culture.
Remember when Ja Rule was the biggest star in hip hop? Nobody wants to admit it but for a short while he superceded Jay Z and DMX. Until it was discovered that he grew up going to private school, a fact that he went to great lengths to hide while he was attempting to pass himself as the second coming to Thuglife frontman, Tupac Shakur. Many rappers, like Ja, did like Chris Rock’s MC Gusto in the cult classic CB4 and created an identity for themselves rooted in the streets. It was a reflection of the generation. Ice-T summed it up best when he noted that pioneering MCs were really on the streets and used rap to get off the streets, while newer rappers got into rap THEN tried to get into real street life.
When 2 Chainz told Arsenio how proud he was about having good grades in high school, even telling the veteran host that “with good grades you can do anything,” this was a moment not to go unnoticed. For as long as hip hop has been around there have been scholarly rappers, but for a mainstream, club-friendly rappers it’s a different story. It’s a sign of the times.
For a long time hip hop has produced some amazing entrepreneurs, but a lot of them advocate an indiscriminate mix of positive and negative ventures to attain financial success. In more recently MCs seem to be promoting a more all-inclusive message of encouragement. People like 2 Chainz and Kanye West are really showing that you can use hip hop as a vehicle to access whatever you’re passionate about the same way rappers used to preach that you can use drug dealing as a vessel to success in hop hop. Note Jay-Z’s recent article with Vanity Fair.
Whatever the motivation, it doesn’t matter–it could be the constant blending of genres diversifying hip hop or the age of information in which we live, either it is crucial because hip hop plays a significant part in every aspect of popular culture and in shaping the minds of young people of every age, race and socioeconomic status. Hip hop has always spoken for the underdog the message keeps getting more positive. 2 Chainz and Big Sean are not perfect role models but they are authentic and in this culture that’s one thing that still goes a long way.