by Dr. Boyce Watkins, Syracuse University – Scholarship in Action
As a fan of hip-hop, I couldn’t help but appreciate the talent of the rapper Wiz Khalifa out of Pittsburgh. Fresh off the release of his new album, “Rolling Papers,” Wiz appears to be on the top of the hip-hop world. The first thing I thought about when I heard Wiz Khalifa’s style is that he sounded remarkably similar to artists of my generation, namely Snoop Dogg and Too Short.
During a recent appearance on BET’s 106 & Park, Wiz Khalifa went out of his way to mention the influence that artists like Snoop Dogg and Too Short had on his career. He’s made songs with both of them and even has a movie coming out with Snoop in the near future. Like a son talking about the remarkable influence of his dad, Wiz mentioned that he watched these artists to learn what to do and how to be successful.
The concern that I have with young men using brothers like Snoop Dogg and Too Short as role models is that we are hard-pressed to find anything productive about their personal choices. Some have compressed the existence of the black man to be nothing more than a haze of weed smoke, sexual promiscuity, weapons possession and bad financial choices. The notion that black men are meant for something greater is lost by those who lead us off the very same cliff that has killed so many black men before (i.e. the deaths of Tupac, Eazy-E and the Notorious B.I.G. are cases-in-point).
Wiz Khalifa’s album celebrates nearly every dysfunctional habit that a man can embrace: There is hardly any message that promotes the promise and potential of young black males, but we do find a litany of ideas that encourage men to break the law and waste their lives (i.e. the song "On my level," where he jokes about not being able to find his car keys because he’s so high and drunk – should he be behind the wheel anyway?). What’s most interesting and saddest to me is that not only was Wiz Khalifa’s value system instilled in him by artists from my generation, but there are millions of other non-rapping young black male versions of Wiz Khalifa across the country who will surely suffer the consequences of toxic and self-destructive behavior that they are learning from hip-hop culture.
The tone of the BET conversation with Wiz Khalifa centered on the “You made it” message that we are tempted to use for hip-hop artists who may only be popular for a year or two. But what we don’t tell our kids is that the career span of the typical hip-hop artist is very short, and the man that is on top today can be easily buried under a pile of debt, drugs and incarceration just a few years later. By walking away from education and walking toward the very things that kill us, black males are teaching one another to perpetuate our own genocide.
I will admit that I love the beats and lyrical capabilities of Too Short, Snoop Dogg and Wiz Khalifa. But as a black man, I have to encourage all of us to take a closer look at these lyrics and realize how they impact the lifestyles being chosen by our sons. At the age of 24, Wiz Khalifa has a lot of living to do, but it’s unfortunate that his elders have already taught him how to die.