Hip-hop: The modern American Dream

“They had grown up to find all Gods dead, all wars fought, all faiths in man shaken…” If you can recognize this quote it means you paid attention during high school English class and I applaud you. If not, no worries I’ll explain.

The American Dream has evolved since the 1920s, morphing from the right to create a better life to the desire to acquire material things. The perspective declared by F. Scott Fitzgerald that the American Dream is dead correlates with the consensus of today’s millennials.

The ingrained American Dream that every citizen holds equal opportunity to upward mobility, success and prosperity through their ambition, hard work and initiative has been shaping the course of America since its conception, however, it has evolved and expanded through time. Today the American Dream is dwindling but still viable in the commercial realm.

Despite a gradual loss of faith in the American Dream, the ethos of the American vision has permeated throughout modern culture, as it is still marketable, most notably in the industry of music and rap. A widespread theme throughout most mainstream rap is a desire for wealth; this wish is the main component of the American Dream, and thus mirroring the aspirations of popular American culture.

Nowadays, there are many millennial Americans who don’t buy into the American Dream, or believe it has never been achievable. A study conducted recently by the life insurance company MassMutual directly sheds light on millennial doubt. Their surveys show that one in three families believe that the American Dream is unattainable and more than half of the respondents admit that financial security for themselves and their family is not within their reach.

Likewise, American hedge fund manager and venture capitalist James Altucher said in one of his blogs that “The American Dream never really existed. It was a marketing scam.” I am persuaded to believe him. For one, he notes money doesn’t buy happiness; only free time, imagination and creativity will give you freedom. Freedom from financial worry is only an illusion; a marketing illusion created by the consumerist society’s crass appeal for materialism and easy gratification.

On the other hand, according to a survey done this year by Pew Research Center, 41 percent of whites are more likely than African Americans (17 percent) or Hispanics (32 percent) to say they have achieved the American Dream. But more African Americans (62 percent) and Hispanics (51 percent) than whites (42 percent) say they are on their way to achieving it. Notably, there are no significant racial or ethnic differences in the percentages who say the American Dream is out of reach for their families.

Bottom line, millennials are wrong about the American Dream. It’s not dead, just scattered throughout updated ideals. Regardless of disheartening statistics, the mindset of the American Dream is still embedded in many social and cultural customs.

Particularly, rap appears to be one of the few outlets that vehemently encourages the American Dream. Rap music speaks to people by honoring the individual sacrifice, hard work, hustle and ambition. It’s undeniable that rap has had an increasingly strong influence on our culture and society since the turn of the century. Rap is not perfect, but it certainly has the potential to do a lot of good.

According to Nielsen Music, R&B and hip hop accounted for a quarter of the music consumed in 2017 in the U.S. To illustrate, take the rapid rise to fame of Tekashi69. At first look, it’s difficult to overlook his extensive criminal controversies, dangerous gang affiliations or an unquenchable thirst for beef with, well, everyone.

Yet, sifting through the cacophony of controversies and opinions, perhaps we can view this transient hip-hop supervillain as an example of someone who cultivated his personal American Dream. Love him or love to hate him, we can’t dismiss Tekashi, who never had more than a few dollars to his name, made millions within months, achieved the fundamental American Dream of success, at least for a brief span of time, owing his success to the fact he was ambitious and determined to succeed.

He hurdled over personal, economic and social struggles such as a traumatic poverty-stricken childhood, loss of two father figures and an inadequate education. Riding the wave of social media sensations, he spun his struggles to market himself in a unique brazen fashion which made him impossible to ignore.

Through the help of social media platforms and sheer determination, the rapper, whose real name is Danny Hernandez, lived a brief success story. He had no real interest in the music industry, but his provocative attitude captured audiences on social media and he leveraged this to build a larger audience. He was not the most technically gifted of musicians, but when it came to trolling, he was Mozart. That is to say, his improbable rise to rap superstardom had little to do with his musical talent, rather his mastery of the vendible fine art of provocative trolling. This type of success could only emerge in the smartphone era. For this reason, Hernandez was able to break free from the chains of poverty by means of rapidly propelling himself into a career in which he lacked natural talent but advanced himself by following the American Dream.

All things considered, the fact that so many human beings in America grow up in such disadvantaged conditions is quite awful, but every once in a while when one or two manage to break out of the cycle of poverty, through a combination of crime and rap music, then it means the American Dream is still alive, right?

The idea of the American Dream is particularly important for low-income communities that a lot of rappers were raised in. By encouraging members of these communities to change their circumstances, rap has the potential to prove an essential facilitator of poverty alleviation. Additionally, because a lot of rappers come from these areas, rap can provide the average American with a much wider perspective. By sharing their stories, rappers can improve the understanding between different socioeconomic classes; and that understanding is the first step to creating widespread reform.

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