For proverbial and non-proverbial Hip-Hop heads alike, 2012 was the year of ratchet taking over the airwaves. In its first major appearance on the urban linguistic scene, “ratchet” was used by YouTube viral sensations Emmanuel and Phillip Hudson to describe females who were not only unattractive but without priorities and some sense to boot. Over the course of this year though, the word has effectually become anything that is “glorified ghetto.”
Tuning in to the New York City radio stations that focus on Hip-Hop reveals that sex, money, drugs, strippers and more sex, money, drugs, and strippers rule the airwaves. With the lax censorship on these songs proliferating the earbuds of countless adults and unsupervised teenagers and youth alike, it is easy for any listener to surmise what the curt silences in between certain words might mean. A look at the titles of some of the most popular songs is part and parcel of the evidence that ratchet is winning. On Hot 97’s recently played list the following songs appeared multiple times throughout the course of the day, starting bright and early and going all the way through the evening:
“Pop That” by French Montana featuring Drake, Rick Ross, and Lil Wayne
“F**kin Problems” by A$ap Rocky featuring Drake, 2 Chainz, and Kendrick Lamar
“Amen” by Meek Mill featuring Drake
“Birthday Cake” by Rhianna featuring Chris Brown
“All Gold Everything” by Trinidad James
For argument’s sake, I decided to do a mash-up of some of the lyrics of all these songs to give an idea of the musical messages lambasting our ears on a regular and very repetitive basis:
She love my licorice, I let her lick it/They say money make a n**ga act n**ger-ish/But at least a n**ga n**ga rich/Work, work, work/What you twerkin’ with/Throw it, buss it open/Show me what you twerkin with/A** so fat, need a lap dance/Give me a heart attack and throw it back/Now watch me get it/Cake, cake, cake, cake/Don’t try to hide it/Cuz there’s a lot of bad b**ches in the building (Amen)/ I’m finna kill n**gas in the building (Amen)/Popped a molly I’m sweatin’ (Woo!)/Popped a molly I’m sweatin (Woo!)/ I love bad b**ches that’s my f**kin problem/And yeah I like to f**k I got a f**kin problem/
Hip-Hop is one of the most popular genres of music, and as a genre that is shared amongst both urban and suburban youth, this is what they are hearing and then processing as acceptable. As an educated woman who enjoys Hip-Hop, I would be remiss if I didn’t say that I do dance to this when out at the bar and/or club. However, I can also say that as an educated woman I am not looking to any of these songs as cues and guidance for my life, and aspirations to dole out personal lap dances and be a “bad b**ch” who “pops mollies” are certainly not on my bucket list. Unfortunately though, there are a significant amount of media consumers who do not have the education, guidance, or environment that can counter this influx of, as Jay-Z rhymed about many moons ago, “money, cash, h*es.”
The problem that lies in the inundation of these messages is that that they are compounded with reality television shows like Bad Girls Club and Basketball Wives. It is from this flood of uneducated glorified stupidity that the most impressionable media consumers take cues about what is around them and what is popular. Many urban youth come from environments which already do not bode well, lacking access to economic, educational, cultural and financial mobility. With significant shortages in positive role models and influences for both young men and women, the message that being a “bad b**ch” is desirable to men with money and status communicates that you have to “pop that” and show “what you workin’ with” to get attention and good favor among the guys to get what you want and/or get ahead. For males, the thought that calling every female a b**ch, overdosing, and living the fast life is awesome and cool is unrealistic and disrespectful. For those who doubt the power of these artists and their influence, just ask teachers in urban schools how many young men came to class in skirts and jeans after Kanye West donned the same outfit at the Hurricane Sandy benefit concert.
On the other side of the record, suburban youth do not always come into contact with the environments and people that these songs address. The perpetuation of stereotypes is always something to be concerned with when the transmission of media is concerned, and the images in these songs definitely don’t paint the picture of folks you want to meet – unless of course, you want some sex, drugs, and fast money.
The saturation of one-dimensional messages on the radio is hard to combat because these messages are all over media in general. As ratchet is being monetized throughout various media outlets, the idea of art imitating life has become less defined and the lines have definitely been blurred. Solutions are hard to come by when the environments of urban youth further foster negative images but that does not mean there are not potential buffers to this.
It would be ideal to ask for diversification of the music (and messages) that are played on the radio, but given the profit-generation model used by the music industry, perhaps it is more realistic to aim for decreases in radio intake or at least diversification in the music that teens in particular listen and are exposed to. Supervision always helps in this aspect but the presence of real-life people is another potential solution. Positive, yet honest role models have always helped to counter-act negative images and messages in media – but it is key that role models offer honest accounts of their experiences, especially in relation to the messages being put out there to demonstrate that there is a difference between art and life. Programs such as those created by The LAMP are also a very effective way to use media intake to not only become media literate, but to discuss what all too easily is dismissed as “just a song” by those of us who know better but taken as guides by youth.
Ratchet is winning on the airwaves, but at what cost? In economics every gain comes with a perceived and usually tangible loss. With the overall state of media and the many real issues facing youth today, ratchet winnings certainly don’t impart good news for where our youth are headed. With the end of the year only a few short days past, one can only hope that there is at least a greater semblance of balance that comes through your headphones for the sake of us all.
Anne Desrosiers is the founder and Executive Director of The World is Your Oyster, nonprofit consultant and former Americorps Volunteer in Service to America. As an avid media consumer, Anne enjoys engaging in the critique and debate of improving what we see, hear and eventually become as a result of media and its influence on our lives.