Of all the examples of timeless duality in the universe (e.g. good/evil; male/female; Kobe Bryant/LeBron James…) one archetype has dominated Hip Hop more profoundly than all of the others.
An archetype is an elemental theme recognizable by all of humanity regardless of religion, culture or societal influence. Many thinkers think that these themes are “hardwired” into our psyches, resulting in what the great European psychologist Carl Jung termed the collective unconscious. These imprints were projected outward by ancient artists onto images of gods and goddesses, nature, stars and celestial bodies…basically the entire universe. It has been suggested that throughout history love is the single most represented archetype in literature. From the Griot to Garvey, Shakespeare to Slick Rick, no other topic has garnered as much attention as L-O-V-E.
Unfortunately, for many, the opposite of love = hate. (If you’ve ever loved someone only to end up hating them, you know that there are more similarities than differences between these two.) In this piece I argue that like all of the inherent duality in the universe, love and hate are not different concepts, only psychologically interpreted differently based on the subjective experiences of the people involved. Hip Hop provides boatloads of evidence of this vis-à-vis its lop-sided preoccupation with the ever-present hater.
The term “Hater” is interesting on many levels. According to Urbandictionary.com, “hater” is used to refer to someone who simply cannot be happy for another person’s success. More than simple jealousy, hater conjures images of anger, bitterness and spite (or all three). Originally used mainly in the context of courting women (i.e. player hater), Hip Hop has appropriated hater to label those that wish ill will on someone else. For example, on Lord Tariq and Peter Gunz’ one-hit-wonder “Déjà Vu” [click to read], Gunz spits: “Peter got a nine millimeter / Playa haters can feel the flame from my heater / I never really liked to play a fool like that / But I love to succeed and see foes fall flat…“
This, of course, is interesting in that Gunz simultaneously expresses hostility towards haters (i.e. feel the flame) and reciprocates the hate tendency himself (i.e. see foes fall flat). Similarly, on Nas’ quintessential hate manifesto “Hate Me Now” [click to read], the artist formerly known as Puffy makes it perfectly clear that he will return any hate thrown his way- tit for tat. Before Nas’ first verse he rants:
“Well you hate me I’m gon’ hate you too
It’s as simple as that
Die motherfucker die motherfucker die
You don’t give a fuck I don’t give a fuck
Go down any way you want it to go down (do it now)
Weak, jealous motherfuckers (do it now, do it now)
More recently, Lil Wayne [click to read] has demonstrated this notion of reciprocal hate. On “Always Strapped,” Wayne explains why he is constantly prepared to execute violence when in public.
“Always strapped when I hit the club niggaz give me daps bitches give me hugs
(and since im paid)
niggaz be muggin’ me; you know I’m muggin’ back
niggaz be muggin’ me you know I’m muggin’ back… “
These versionings of hate reflect a very dark, intense emotional response. Notice for example that in all three above instances the eventual outcome of hate is death. Verses about love, (where they can be found) on the other hand, tend to lead to discussions about prosperity, happiness, and life. Even our language reflects the same-ness of love and hate- (which you know if you’ve ever joked that you loved someone to death). Thus, we are aware, even if only at a subconscious level that the connection present in the love/hate duality is mirrored in the life/death duality.
Get Rich Or What?
In the same way that death is an inevitable part of life; hate is an inevitable part of love. Such duality is expressed repeatedly in religion, government, and nature. Religious systems throughout the world have at their base the connection between good and evil. In the Judeo-Christian faith, Satan is believed to have once been an angel of God, for example. Government and law enforcement as well reflect duality, for they participate in and thrive on war and violence- all under the guise of “homeland security” and “defense.” Nature too, operates on dualistic principles: sunshine and rain; spring and fall; young and old.
Duality, however, does not imply balance. Religion, government, and nature all have potential for imbalance; resulting in the focusing of one side of the duality at the expense of the other. Sexism, for example, is possible only through the artificial imbalance that arises when men are respected, honored, and valued more than women. Likewise, in a society where entire cultural ways of life are bred on the brink of economic and social survival, it is not difficult to see how its music would reflect a disproportionate amount of death/hate teleology. In the hood, lack of access to resources and literal loss of life are inextricably linked- which explains beautifully 50’s promise to get rich or die tryin.
Hate Me Now
Much has been written concerning how contemporary Hip Hop is different than old school Hip Hop. Nowhere is this more true than in these eras’ relative emphasis on hate. At the risk of oversimplifying the olden days, one characteristic aspect of the culture and its corresponding music was its outright rejection of self-imposed negativity. When one listens to Afrika Bambaata, Craig G [click to read], Eric B. & Rakim [click to read], etc. the hate concept is conspicuously absent. In fact, Rakim’s career provides a perfect microcosm for Rap’s transition. On his debut album Paid in Full, (released in 1986) the God emcee doesn’t say the word “hate” one single time. In contrast, on his last studio album, The Master (released 13 years later), Rakim addresses haters directly on two different tracks (“All Night Long” and “How I Get Down”) and in various remix/b-side verses such as the “I’m Back” with M.O.P. [click to read].
So, when did ‘hater’ first make its appearance in the Hip Hop lexicon? One hypothesis is that the hater era in Hip Hop began at the point when the music industry began embracing rap music rather than rejecting it. An important point to consider (albeit outside the scope of this piece) is that mainstream radio and television initially balked at the idea that Hip Hop would thrive. Executives willing to take the risk on early Hip Hop entertainers did so very cautiously, and it wasn’t until networks like MTV (and later BET) and Miami’s The Box began airing Rap videos that Rap became tangible as an industry. It was then that rappers began reaping the commercial rewards tied to corporate success, resulting in a situation where talking about one’s struggle, poverty, humiliation and anger became an avenue to security, wealth, acceptance and happiness.
In The Matrix, Morpheus tells Neo “Fate, it seems, is not without a sense of irony.” This applies to the Rap game as well, because as soon as rappers began making top-dollar; they increasingly began to lash out at “haters,” those (real or perceived) members of their own community who all-of-a-sudden wanted to see them fail. The irony lies in the necessary connection between fan and celebrity: they both need each other to exist. Without the Rap fan, the rapper is just some dude at Wal Mart with talent. Thus, when the rapper acknowledges the rap consumer (friend or foe) he does so strategically, because he knows that unless people pay attention, it won’t be long until he is reduced to irrelevancy and unemployment. Hate leads to longevity. If you don’t believe me, ask yourself when was the last time you heard someone say that they hated (or even didn’t like) artists that we now call “old-school.” Nobody hated on MC Lyte [click to read]. Nobody dissed A Tribe Called Quest [click to read]. Meanwhile, LL Cool J (who came out before both) is still dropping albums. In other words, it wasn’t until Rap success meant commercial success that the hating began.
Funny, I Was Just Like You
If hate in Hip Hop began with the commercial revolution, then the end is nowhere in sight. On Nas’ first verse on “Hate Me Now,” he identifies the reason he is hated (“Don’t hate me, hate the money I see, clothes that I buy, ice that I wear, clothes that I try, close your eyes…“). But it is his second verse on which he not only brilliantly unfolds the paradoxical reality of success predicated on failure but acknowledges the inseverable connection between fan and rapper*.
“You wanna hate me then hate me; what can I do?
but keep gettin money, funny I was just like you
I had to hustle hard never give up, until I made it
Now y’all sayin that’s a clever nigga, nuttin to play with
Hate on me, I blew but I’m the same ol G
People warn me, when you’re on top there’s envy
Took my niggas out the hood, but you doubt on us
Sayin we left the hood but can’t get it out of us
My bad, should I step out my shoes, give ’em to you?
Here’s my cars and my house, you can live in that too
Criticize when I flow for the streets, hate my dress code
Gucci this, Fendi that, what you expect hoe?
Nickname Esco’, took this game to its threshold
Best flow I bet the whole U.S. know
Try to make it like you the realest, but who the illest?
Think we all know the answer to that, cause niggas feel this right…“
This verse reflects Nas’ understanding of the functionality of hate in Rap: (“You wanna hate me then hate me; what can I do but keep getting money…“). Then he engenders jealousy and loathing among the very fanbase that crowned him successful in the first place (“Here’s my cars and my house, you can live in that too…“).
Over the last 10 years or som Hip Hop has been fraught with verses and albums directed almost entirely at haters. Defending oneself against all possible attacks is now the norm in the business… so much so that the amount of hatred one receives is even used as a marker of success. The Game [click to read] has done it (“hated on so much Passion of Christ needs a sequel“); Hurricane Chris [click to read] has done it (“Wipe Me Down remix”); Fat Joe [click to read] has done it (“See, niggaz get tight when you worth some millions / This is why I sport the chinchilla to hurt they feelings“); 50 Cent [click to read] has done it (“I’ma tell you what Banks told me cuz go ‘head switch your style up / And if they hate then let ‘em hate then watch the money pile up“). And it’s not just a guy thing… who can forget Lil Kim’s “Get your own shit…why you ridin mine?” Not to mention Trina [click to read] (“You got too much time on your hands“), Foxy Brown (her entire catalogue) and Eve [click to read], Remy Ma [click to read], Missy Elliot, etc. In fact, if the commercialism hypothesis has any merit we would expect that the most commercially successful rapper(s) would be the most reflective of the “hate me, please” phenomenon.
Sorta Like The Fiends We Accustomed To Serving…
No rapper has spent more time and energy addressing haters than Jay-Z [click to read]. Reasonable Doubt was largely about rebutting haters (e.g. “Can I Live,” “Politics as Usual,” “Ain’t No Nigga”), as was Volume 1…In My Lifetime (e.g. “Imaginary Player,” “Where I’m From”). From there, each subsequent Jay-Z album has been filled with argument after affluent argument as to why he’s nothing short of the best, culminating with his latest installment, The Blueprint 3 [click to read]. While much of the album is business as usual, Jay-Z offers an extremely layered perspective on hate on “Hate” [click to listen] featuring Kanye West.
Eatin’ y’all food leavin’ dishes
Why these niggas always talkin’ Lear talk ‘Ye?
Why I never see ’em at the clear port ‘Ye?
Why I always hear they at the airport?
While I fly daily like I’m in the Air Force
Therefore…please stop my ears off
With millionaire talk you haters
Mad at me cuz your paper
Need to get its muthafuckin’ weight up
Hold up wait up….I ain’t done
Name one thing that I ain’t done
It hurts when you say that I ain’t the one
You haters….How do I gain your FA-VOR
I need to know cuz I CA-RE
I need you to love me I swear look hey-er
See ‘Ye is runnin’ the Chi like Gale Sayers
I’m running New York I got the MA-YOR
On my PA-GER Ya can’t fade us
You hate us, I need you stay the-re
I breathe you like AI-R….Yay-er
Yeah, yeah, yeah Yayer
Yeah, yeah, yeah Yayer
Where are my haters? I love all my haters
Love all my haters, I love all my haters
Where all my haters? Hater….Yayer…“
Before we toss this verse into the bin with all of the other “I fly over your bus” elitisms, let’s consider two characteristic differences between this perspective and all of those that came before because here, Jay-Z is mocking more than the proverbial hater, he’s hating himself. Completely tongue-in-cheek, Jay-Z says he needs the hater’s favor because he cares…standard operating policy so far. But then, notice how Jay-Z does the unthinkable. Supposedly in jest, he says “I need you to love me…I swear.” Then, in equally appalling fashion, he goes on to say that he “love(s) all my haters”…not once, not twice, but three times.
Given the earlier discussion of hate’s dualistic connection with love, we would have to assume that Jay-Z is actually commenting on his own weakness and vulnerability. In other words, if he truly does not care what we think, then why go to such great lengths to make sure that we get the message? As we have seen, the “you’re a hater” rhetoric is usually followed up with some version of “I hate you back;” not a reference to needing love (no matter how sarcastic!). Furthermore, breathing haters like air doesn’t exactly fit with the “I could care less” posture, and confirms the verse’s cleverly hidden but thinly veiled meaning: “I’m glad you love me, because I kinda hate myself. Thank you.”
Coretta Scott King once said, “Hate is too great a burden to bear. It injures the hater more than it injures the hated.” Get Your Mind Right: To hate someone is to intentionally and literally connect oneself with the object of such hate. As archetypes, hate and love (at least in Hip Hop) are more similar than we may think.
*Emphasis added by author