The Price of Ice
Lyrics of most hip-hop and rap songs dating back to before I can remember are, at their essence, statements of power. When Nelly is explaining his fondness for running “tip drills” he is basically saying he is in control, he holds the power. When “beef” happens, two groups talk trash and try to strip their opponents of their power, by attacking their credibility, by fucking their girlfriends and stealing their chains. A rapper’s chain is the ultimate status symbol; the more expensive the chain, the more diamonds: the more power and credibility it gives its owner.
Discussions of power in society are what used to be called politics, but people sometimes forget that. The source of societal power has been the subject of debate among philosophers for what I assume is a very long time; I assume this because I got a C+ in Intro to Philosophy. Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci speculated about the role of cultural hegemony (every professors favorite word) in ideology in supporting the overwhelming power of capitalism. Or C.R.E.A.M.
The idea of Cash Ruling Everything Around Me was proposed by philosophers Raekwon, Inspectah Deck and Method Man in their collaborative work Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). It makes sense that the idea would come from the infamous Wu; rappers have long been the most boisterous proponents of materialism and the Wu-Tang Clan have long been the most critical of their surroundings and fellow rappers. The Notorious B.I.G explained, “Money, hoes and clothes… is all a nigga knows.” Similar sentiments have been echoed from car stereos and house parties ever since.
A rapper’s chain is the ultimate representation of the money and power and diamonds are the ultimate example of how humans place tremendous amounts of power in the value of material things. Rappers have embraced and supported the power of diamonds since the beginning. Thirty years ago and three years after the Sugarhill Gang released Rappers Delight, Edward Jay Epstein wrote a fantastic article on the intrinsic value of diamonds for the Atlantic that opened, “The diamond invention—the creation of the idea that diamonds are rare and valuable, and are essential signs of esteem—is a relatively recent development in the history of the diamond trade.” He later continues, “The diamond invention is far more than a monopoly for fixing diamond prices; it is a mechanism for converting tiny crystals of carbon into universally recognized tokens of wealth, power, and romance.” The article goes on at length about the history of the diamond, how De Beers controlled every aspect of the industry, and how they essentially were successful in altering mass psychology. Kanye West poorly summarizes the article in his 2005 single, Diamonds from Sierra Leone.
So what gives? Why is there such a close connection between power, diamonds and The Rap Game? Why have we elevated the value of a stone to that of a god? Because in all actuality, diamonds are worthless, but we have created worth out of the worthless, sounds inspiring, but it’s not. I present a new philosophy: the supreme power of human stupidity. Albert Einstein is famously quoted saying, “Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe.” I guess it is unfair to say this is my idea, because people have been idiots for so long it would be ignorant to think no one has noticed. But would this suggest there is more stupidity among rappers than the masses, or at least other musicians? The work of Soulja Boy would tell us yes, and I would have to agree.
To say there is a disproportionate number of stupid people who are rappers compared to the rest of the general population would be false. I heard 2 Chainz got a 4.0 in college, and his name would suggest he is twice as stupid as the average rapper, but his GPA suggests he is smarter than most. Is that true? I don’t know. But I do know there are a lot of very rich… and very stupid… men and women draped in diamonds in gold.
We could try to point fingers. We could blame the poor inner city school systems that harbored many of these artists. We could blame the ghettos, where poverty is perpetuated by the school systems. We could blame De Beers, I mean; it was their fault to begin with, right? Diamonds are only forever because we made them that way. God damn it, humanity. It would be irresponsible to guess at the reason behind the cultural ideals of society, or the rap community, or the black community at large. But if I had to guess, it would probably involve a combination of slavery, crack and big asses.