“How Gangsta Rap Could Usher in a Post-Musical Age: My ‘2pac Toggling List’”

A couple weeks ago, I was sitting around my motel room, eating, listening to music and waiting for the Michigan game to start. I had my “2pac Toggling List” on, which is a bunch of ‘Pac and a bunch of other really violent, uncompromising gangsta rap. We all know the drill on this stuff by now. It’s like a human video game. It’s life as Call of Duty. Let’s just say no one’s calling anyone else a “sociopath” on this playlist. 

Now, some people would say that this music has nothing to do with my life, and so I shouldn’t be listening to it. I am a white dude in Indiana. Well, I connect with it, either way. And it’s a reality all of us live as Americans: the overall paradigm that gives us these dog-eat-dog existences and would allow for a landscape so filled with atrocity as to give birth to gangsta rap, a style that has since caught fire all over the world. 

There were a million, bajillions fans tuned into the national championship game, obviously, and I was one of them. Sports will always be a unifying entity. And football is violent. Obviously that helps its cause and its bottom line, especially in America. The NBA is still pretty popular but devolves almost invariably to mindless Lebron-hating or inane, pointless arguments about who the “GOAT” is. The one-on-one mentality feeds our cravings for spotlighted embarrassment, for the opportunity to troll.

And that playlist seemed the only logical music for me to listen to. Granted, I’d been going through a lot of fu**ed-up sh** prior, part of why I was staying in the Kenrose Motel, where the wi-fi didn’t even work, making my laptop and mobile hotspot quite welcome guests. 

I looked at the sea of blue and purple in the crowd. I heard the incredible din of the people in the stands, before college football’s biggest spectacle. And I parsed the contents of their minds: force, impact, pain and conquest. 

Gangsta rap is all pretty much every man himself, belying the term, in a sense. Big L, my second favorite rapper ever, even has a song about doing a robbery, splitting the dough with his buddy and then killing him and taking his half. 2pac’s got a song called “Me against the World”; a very important piece of rhetoric within his catalogue and one which features the line “I’m seein’ more reasons / For me to proceed with thievin’” (actually that’s in Spice 1’s verse, though, to be precise). It is, generally, you might even say, an overarching endorsement of the idea that the world has failed, that human beings are incapable of living with each other in any sensible way, of cooperating with each other and of building anything sustainable and positive, within society. It’s a unifying force based on the notion of the impossibility of unification, in other words, and seeing how closely it links up, semantically, with some of our favorite things about football, it doesn’t figure to be a flash-in-the-pan musical style. What’s more, the potential for any other musical style to come around and unify everyone seems pretty scant, thanks in part, mind you, to probably certain economic and sociological factors prevalent in our world. 

So there are two possibilities for the future of music as a bona fide cultural force in society, something everyone can look to and say, this makes sense. And they’ll probably both come true. One is that rappers will come out who are even more hardcore, rap faster, discuss more gruesome sh**, and maybe cloak their voices in even more effects. Then, what might happen next is that, simply, the economic capital for this stuff just isn’t there anymore, and the recording industry ceases to exist. I would say government control could take over, but in a way, it already has been informing things like the impetus for promiscuous sex and material things like rings and cars. All of this feeds consumer culture, obviously, just like Hallmark holidays, or any other artificial manifestation in our society. 

Anyway, hopefully rap will continue to always exist, at least in the underground, because it’s definitely a great art form. Maybe the underbelly, in places like Houston, Detroit, Minneapolis and LA will rise up against the powers-that-be, like Spotify. Well, now, that doesn’t make any sense, because Spotify isn’t even a profitable company. We can’t really blame them for anything. There seem to be a lot of hands washing each other, behind closed doors, surrounding this whole thing. Anyway, one thing’s for sure: our avenues for artistic expression with the arts have pretty much dried up and devolved into the antipathetic impetus for violence. And that “2pac Toggling List” just hit different, somehow in 2024, amidst this ever unfolding landscape of increased urgency and intensity and decreased potential for easy, cooperative exchanges with other people. 


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