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Finances & Money

Is Hip-Hop Teaching Americans Money Lessons?

by The Weakonomist

This is a guest post by The Weakonomist from Weakonomics.com. He’s here today to stretch his legs, and the limits of personal finance content. If you like what you read you can get more at his website or subscribe to his RSS feed.

Word! It’s P-Dub AKA “The Weakonomist” coming at you live straight out of DC with my main man Clever “The Leverager” Dude. OK, so there isn’t really anything “street” about me. Being the son of middle class folks and working a middle class job myself, my days are filled with TPS reports and my evenings blogging about issues of little concern to more urban communities.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy a good bass line and the lyrics of today’s hottest hip-hop artists. At one point in my life, my Camry even served as the home to 24 inches worth of neighborhood disrupting sub woofers.

My questionable street cred excluded, I have been a big fan of the hip-hop and rap scene since I was a teenager. Over the last decade, I’ve watched the quality of lyrics go from real issues in African-American culture to money, cash (apparently there is a difference), and women of questionable self-respect. However, like all great artistic expressions, hip-hop is influenced by current events. There is nothing more current than this recession.

It is perhaps appropriate then that some of the most popular songs of the last year or two seem to address these troubled times. Take my first example: Webbie, in a collaboration with Lil Phat and Lil Boosie, created “Independent” in 2007.

“I-n-d-e-p-e-n-d-e-n-t do you know what that mean mayne?
I-n-d-e-p-e-n-d-e-n-t do you know what that mean?
She got her own house
She got her own car
Two jobs, work hard, you a bad broad”

The song was released just days before the recession officially started in late 2007 and climbed to the top ten in the charts. As the lyrics above suggest, Webbie appreciates a woman that both has her own financial assets and is self-sufficient. This is a great improvement over traditional hip-hop lyrics, in which said broad’s more “tangible” assets were more highly valued.

Webbie is not alone here either. Ne-Yo may have taken fiscal responsibility to a new level with “Miss Independent” released in September of 2008. Ne-Yo’s lyrics tend to suggest he is conscious of the advantages of living debt free.

“‘Cause she work like a boss, play like a boss
Car and a crib, she ’bout to pay ’em both off
And her bills are paid on time.”

You could interpret Ne-Yo’s message a step further and notice that living debt free has it’s advantages but maintaining a good credit rating is also important. This song also was a chart topper. It was so popular that in December of 2008 he revisited the song with a part II titled: “She Got Her Own.”

“I love her ’cause she got her own
She don’t need mine, so she leave mine alone
There ain’t nothing in this world sexy
Than a girl that want but don’t need me.”

At first glance it looks like Ne-Yo might be a little selfish with his possessions. Further analysis suggests though that Ne-Yo’s message is merely an appreciation for a woman that is interested in him, and not what he owns. This quest for a deeper relationship than the merely physical expresses a maturity in hip-hop culture that previously did not exist.

Perhaps the most intriguing lyrics of the last year were spun by a classic hip-hop bad boy, T.I. T.I. is previously known for such creative phrases as “Rubberband man, Wild as the Taliban, 9 in my right, 45 in my other hand.” “Rubberband man” is a reference to his days as a drug dealer and the numbers “9” and “45” are both street terms for two firearms. His lyrics have matured since his initial debut as an artist.

“The hootin’ and the hollerin’
Back and forth with the arguin’
Where you from? Who you know?
What you make? And what kind of car you in?

Seems as though you lost sight
Of what’s important when depositin’
Them checks into your bank account
And you up out of poverty

Your values is a disarray prioritizin’ horribly
Unhappy with the riches ’cause you’re piss poor morally
Ignorin’ all prior advice and forewarnin’
And we mighty full of ourselves
All of a sudden, aren’t we?”

This is taken from his song “Live Your Life” which is has been #1 on the charts and is still circulating on the radio. T.I.’s words here are a direct criticism of other rappers (and possibly his prior self) for their loss of values. But upon further inspection it reveals a parallel to the over consumption problems that caught up to Americans in 2008.

As entertaining as it is to analyze the lyrics of the popular songs of our time, the real message is a much deeper reflection of the current economy: things are so bad hip-hop culture is reflecting the times.

Special thanks to MetroLyrics.com for providing the lyrics for this post.

About the author

Clever Dude

11 Comments

  • What about Timbaland’s “The Way I Are”?

    I ain’t got no money
    I ain’t got no car to take you on a date
    I can’t even buy you flowers
    But together we can be the perfect soul mates
    Talk to me girl

    I ain’t got no Visa
    I ain’t got no Red American Express
    We can’t go nowhere exotic
    It don’t matter ’cause I’m the one that loves you best
    Talk to me girl

    Baby girl, I don’t got a huge ol’ house I rent a room in a house
    Listen baby girl, I ain’t got a motorboat but I can float your boat

    I love that song!

  • Wow, very unique idea. I loved the article! It would be easy to sprout a whole series on this theme.

    Have you thought about doing Country? Blues? Punk?

    It already has me brainstorming a couple lyrics from each genre…

  • “gettin’ it,” by the cool kids and featuring lil wayne, is also a testament to fiscal responsibility, both in the short run and the long run.

    cash management:
    “if i had a hundred grand, well i’ll be g* damned if i throw it in the air, like i didn’t care. and i must say is no way and nowhere is a pocket full of cash to be thrown in the air.”

    529 plans/trust funds/estate planning:
    “and i got a lil money where the safe is for my babies’ babies’ babies.'”

  • This was awesome, I listen to hip hop as well. Now I’m going to start listening closer for references to current events.

  • LOL, you know, I tried to think of some other songs, but most artists are still talking about 7s and 47s. I mostly listen for the beat and not the lyrics because the lyrics aren’t really that interesting to me. But, I do like both of the examples you’ve listed. I wasn’t too keen on Ne-Yo’s version at first because it seemed like a poor rip-off of Webbe’s song…I still think that, actually, but I like it a little better now then when it first came out.

    I think these artists could have a major impact on how society views things like money, but I guess it wouldn’t sell as well if it were clean. Ah well. Great post, though! Love it.

  • Independent Women by Destiny’s Child (2000)

    The shoes on my feet
    I’ve bought it
    The clothes I’m wearing
    I’ve bought it
    The rock I’m rockin’
    I’ve bought it
    ‘Cause I depend on me
    If I wanted the watch you’re wearin’
    I’ll buy it
    The house I live in
    I’ve bought it
    The car I’m driving
    I’ve bought it
    I depend on me
    (I depend on me)

    It would also be interesting to identify the release dates of the songs, see if there is a change in theme over time.

    Some of those first lyrics you posted almost make me think the guys are trying to get a sugar mama!

    Like Beyonce Irreplaceable (2006)

    Everything you own in the box to the left
    In the closet that’s my stuff, yes
    If I bought it please don’t touch

    And keep talking that mess, that’s fine
    But could you walk and talk at the same time?
    And it’s my mine name that is on that tag
    So remove your bags let me call you a cab

    Fun post!

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