Originally published by our sister paper, The Stranger.
What millions of us learned when we first heard rap in the late 1970s is that rappers often boast about things they do not have, about glamorous lives they do not live, about credit cards that are not in their wallets. "I got a Lincoln Continental and a sunroof Cadillac / So after school, I take a dip in the pool, which is really on the wall," rapped Big Bank Hank in the second verse of Sugarhill Gang's monumental 1979 hit "Rapper's Delight." He had "checkbooks, credit cards, [and] more money than a sucker could ever spend." This excessive bravado was justified and even encouraged because everyone knew the rapper was poor, mostly likely came from the projects, and was often found waiting in the welfare line.
In the beginning, rap was not about keeping it real, but about escaping from what Marvin Gaye called the "inner city blues." Why would you want to hear about real life when a rapper could roll out a magic carpet of rhymes and transport you to regions of unimaginable wealth? "So Larry put me inside his Cadillac / The chauffeur drove off and we never came back," rapped Joseph "Run" Simmons of Run-DMC on radio's first major modern hip-hop track, "Sucker MC's" in 1984.
Fast-forward to 2019, to a memoir by Chicago-born rapper/actor Common (fka Common Sense, born Lonnie Corant Jaman Shuka Rashid Lynn), Let Love Have the Last Word, and you'll find an MC with more money than a sucker could ever spend. In the first chapter, Common, who claims three masterpieces in the hip-hop canon—Can I Borrow a Dollar? (1992), Resurrection (1994), and Like Water for Chocolate (2000)—and whose collaboration with J Dilla, "Heat," is arguably one of the greatest hip-hop tracks ever made, is looking into a mirror in a Los Angeles fashion designer's studio.
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