Not long after Offset stormed the stage last weekend to beg wife Cardi B to forgive him after rumors of his cheating, it didn’t take long for fans to criticize his behavior. But then they start questioning other aspects of his life:
Like that he grew up in a nice suburb in Gwinnett County, 30 miles northeast of Atlanta, with two parents who are both college educated and members of nationally known black Greek fraternity organizations.
Did this mean his rapper lifestyle, along with his lyrics about dealing in cocaine and shooting automatic weapons, has been a front? Is the Migos member a “Clarence"? (That’s the real name of the guy Eminem’s 8 Mile character outs in the film’s rap battle scene.)
No, no, no, says a Temple professor. While some may not have known that Offset, whose real name is Kiari Kendrell Cephus, grew up in the suburbs, it wasn’t a secret, said Aaron X Smith. More importantly, a suburban existence doesn’t prevent your involvement -- voluntary or otherwise -- with crime, drugs or police.
The assistant professor in the department of Africology and African American Studies known for creating the “Tupac & the Hip Hop Revolution” class said the social media hype is more a reflection of Americans' perceptions of people based on where they live.
“We tend to think that crime only happens in certain kinds of places,” he said. “Or, we follow the conservative narrative around the problems with broken homes that has created a mythology about the impact of a mere presence of a father.”
In reality, Smith said, “There’s more drug abuse going on in the suburbs or in the average college dorm than in the hood."
Offset has been arrested and jailed on charges of marijuana and gun possession, Smith said. And growing up in the suburbs doesn’t mean you won’t have negative encounters with police.
“Having a father isn’t going to stop you from being stopped, stripped and searched, disproportionally sentenced and being shot dead in the streets,” Smith said. “That can happen with two parents and a nice house. You don’t stop being black because you move down the street.”
All rappers exaggerate to some extent, Smith said, because it’s part of their artistic license.
But Offset joins other artists who’ve received similar criticism: Drake had a “rich” upbringing (he grew up in an upper-middle class neighborhood in Toronto, and denies they were rich), and Rick Ross was accused by a convicted gangster who ruled the L.A. drugs trade in the 1980s for appropriating his name and image.
Smith said the focus on thug life is part of the merchandising of rap music.
“From 75 to 80 percent of rap music is consumed by white men,” Smith said. And that audience prefers an image of black men and black life that portrays crime and thug life, he said.
“There are certain rigid kinds of ways black people are shown in entertainment that goes back to the times of minstrels, with the mammies, the jezebels and the bucks,” Smith said.
He said that fans who are criticizing Offset for pretending to be “hood” need to instead “criticize the system that doesn’t allow [creative artists] to express their full humanities.”