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How Important Is It That Rappers Be "Real"?

Some rappers happen to be thoughtful, intelligent people. Every Monday (that isn't a national holiday) Rocks Off will have some of them hear discussing issues relevant to their culture.

This Week's Panel: Paul Wall, Fat Tony, Sam Sneed and Yung Redd

Not Invited: Plies and Rick Ross

This Week's Prompt: Last week we were at Walmart - ballin' outta control, as they say - and overhead a conversation about, for lack of a better term, "realness." They weren't discussing it in terms of rappers, but it's a natural extension into that talking point. Now, we've asked plenty of people if they feel a rapper needs to be "real" with regards to whatever they're rapping about; e.g., if he raps about dealing drugs he needs to, at one point or another, have dealt drugs.

But what we're curious to know about isn't if you all think a rapper should be real, but whether or not you feel a certain amount of pressure to be? How does that work? Is the threat of being called out on something that you rap about always rolling around in your head? If so, why? If no, why not?

Paul Wall: There's a certain "invisible" standard that artists have to live up to in rap music. As an example, in every other form of music, people often write the songs other than the artist singing them. For example, The-Dream wrote "Single Ladies." But that rarely happens in rap music, other than Dr Dre or Diddy. And if it did happen, people look at it like its the ultimate form of "not being real."

In hip-hop, it seems to be more than just music and entertainment. Rap music is more reflective of the actual artist's life. But far too often we see how "keeping it real goes wrong." People feel like they have to prove to the world how "real" they are. In my opinion, being real just means you be yourself; you be the real you.

Anytime somebody gets criticism from a random cyber-thug halfway across the country, they go on a wild rampage trying to prove to everybody (and sometimes trying to prove to themselves) how "real" they are. You often hear the cliche "I'm not a rapper, I'm a hustler" but I love how actor/comedian/rapper Donald Glover (from Community on NBC) says "I'm just a rapper." He's being himself, and that's real.

Yung Redd: A lot of rappers live other people's lives. Me personally, I grew up in what you called a hostile environment, but it didn't make me wanna broadcast my realness. If it's in you, why campaign [to] prove it?

Fat Tony: I think an artist needs integrity. The fans deserve authenticity. You should speak about yourself or about things you're familiar with.

For example, don't rap about how many bitches you got on your dick [if] you're a virgin. And don't rap about selling drugs if you have never sold drugs, been friends with and/or related to drug dealers or even witnessed a drug deal. When an artist isn't genuine it shows quite clearly, in my opinion.

Rap music and all these other "outlaw" and "alternative" music genres like it such as punk rock and funk were created for people to be even more themselves. We're the alternative of the cookie-cutter normal people lifestyles. Don't let that go to waste.

Personally, I feel no pressure to be "real" because I can only be myself, ultimately. I rap about positivity because I believe in it and have experienced it. I make songs about relationships because I've experienced that. I make songs about hanging out with a group of girls getting our party on because I've experienced that.

Everything I discuss in my music is a reflection of myself, my friends, my family, and my surroundings. As long as I keep things that way there will be no question of my "realness."

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Shea Serrano