Are Egos The Death of Hip-Hop?


You’ve heard them all before. Those songs where a good rap sing­er sings the raps well about how good he is. Hell, if you’re an MC, you’ve most likely done them your­self.

I know I’ve done them. All of our favour­ite rap­pers have done them over and over.

More often than not, that brag­gado­cious demean­our spills out into real life, and then mul­ti­plies in the cav­ernous abyss of social media.

From my own exper­i­ences deal­ing with pro­moters, battle oppon­ents and co-per­formers alike, it some­times feels like hip-hop has become a series of com­pet­ing egos rather than a com­munity.

Whole events get wrecked over egos. Alli­ances break up over egos. Fights start between crews over egos. Heck, admin­is­trat­ive quibbles and angry exchanges on Twit­ter aside, some emcees get killed over egos. It’s real, and if you know a rap com­munity well you’ll have had to have tried very hard not to meet a rap­per who’s full of them­selves.

It’s easy to take issue with the self-serving thump­ing of chests, both on-record and off. But as a beta male (let’s not skirt around the truth here, we’re all adults) who more or less watches from the side­lines and passes com­ment, what do I know about the real place of ego?

Except, of course, the act of draw­ing the atten­tion of a whole room to your per­son is inher­ently egot­ist­ic­al. Whatever cre­at­ive field you toil in, you’re doing it because you sin­cerely believe you have some­thing unique and beau­ti­ful to offer that cul­ture.

Even if you’re young, shy and insec­ure, as so many rap­pers star­ted out, your ego is call­ing you to step on that stage and feel bet­ter about your­self.

This ego boost applies to com­munit­ies as well as indi­vidu­als.

In the Bronx, through­out the earli­est days of the move­ment, the MC was a sec­ond­ary fea­ture, there to keep the block party crowds present and cor­rect for the DJ to con­trol.

Once emcee­ing became an art form in its own right, it brought with it the notion of lyr­ic­al iden­tity. Rap­ping became luc­rat­ive and evolved itself almost yearly. Black Amer­ica finally owned some­thing sus­tain­able. Some­thing through which the next gen­er­a­tion could build and con­trol a real iden­tity.

With an iden­tity comes ego. It’s a double-edged sword. You can­not feel true con­fid­ence without con­cretely know­ing, build­ing and express­ing your iden­tity, and you shouldn’t let that ego change your iden­tity at any cost.

Don’t get any­thing import­ant twis­ted: hip-hop has had the liv­ing day­lights appro­pri­ated out of it on a glob­al scale. It was plucked out of its bois­ter­ous adoles­cence and thrust into the clam­our­ing hands of a glob­al audi­ence, so effect­ive is it as a mouth­piece for the dis­af­fected.

Amongst the many ener­gies diver­ted in that trans­ition, the egot­ist­ic­al lyr­i­cism was no longer solely the defi­ant sound of a proud new cul­ture tak­ing root. It became, in many case, simply… ego.

That zest and boast­ful­ness still per­meates lit­er­ally mil­lions of rap songs a year. Both Kendrick Lamar and Joey Bada$$’ most recent records con­tain ster­ling examples of both, bal­anced with a healthy social con­science.

But the spe­cial type of ego, a col­lect­ive ego that comes only from a joint rising up of a group of people, has been diluted bey­ond recog­ni­tion. Its after­birth, how­ever, the nar­ciss­ism and self-absorp­tion that can accom­pany any cre­at­ive suc­cess thrust into the wrong hands… Well, that’s still here. Prob­ably to stay.

Nat­ur­ally, when rap­pers start out, they are slowly build­ing brands based on noth­ing but grow­ing skill and con­tent. Would a com­pany not say they were the best, try to dif­fer­en­ti­ate them­selves from the com­pet­i­tion? If you’re start­ing out by your­self, or even with a small crew, that brand reflects on a smal­ler num­ber of people. Or even just the MC them­selves.

So of course it comes across as ego.

Some get so much suc­cess so quickly that it trans­forms them. Some fall head-first into their stage per­sonae, so absorbed are they in act­ing as per­former, man­ager, pro­moter, sound engin­eer, PR team and social media war­lord.

Some were just dicks in the first place and were attrac­ted to the idea of shout­ing any­thing they want in front of a room­ful of people who appre­ci­ate the sound of people who know they are dicks being dicks.

And hip-hop lets them, because that’s the point of it. It was one of the first chances black cul­ture had to say whatever they want, and post-gentri­fic­a­tion it’s now seen as a chance for any­one to say whatever they want.

That is a nat­ur­al plat­form for egot­ism, and a poten­tial invit­a­tion for dis­aster.

Tie in the pro­voca­tions of social media, where every event has to look like a sel­lout, every battle has to be an all-time clas­sic and every song has to be a stone-cold banger, and it becomes clear that soci­ety pretty much hoovers up hip-hop’s over­flow­ing ego.

Yet some­how, with as many emcees as I know who are flat-out dick­heads, there are even more who are focused, won­der­ful and absurdly tal­en­ted people, often in spite of over­whelm­ing odds, and who have a massive amount of respect for the oth­ers in their field.

They stick their necks out for their teams, put back into their com­munit­ies and nur­ture young tal­ent. They look after their fam­il­ies and friends. They’re engaged in char­it­ies and com­munity work. Many are carers who work with the sick and eld­erly.

And they nev­er lose sight of the big­ger thing of which they know they’re a tiny, tiny part.

There will always be great people, and there will always be Billy Big Bol­locks flap­ping his gums like a cham­pi­on.

That is why the ego will nev­er fully kill hip-hop. Because it hasn’t man­aged to make human­ity fully extinct yet, and as soon as we knew how to make words we were using them to exag­ger­ate the girth and length of our pen­ises.

Rap well and be nice.

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Adam Felman
Adam Fel­man has spent the last dec­ade writ­ing about bat­tling and rap­ping, and rap­ping and bat­tling about writ­ing. He also likes dogs too much. Listen to his debut EP Good Grief at
Adam Felman

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Adam Felman
Adam Felman has spent the last decade writing about battling and rapping, and rapping and battling about writing. He also likes dogs too much. Listen to his debut EP Good Grief at