Did Gangsta Rap Make Them Do It?


Rapper Waka Flocka Flame. (Courtesy of Jason Jiron via Flickr(


In 2008, Ice Cube forcefully (though ironically) rapped, “I can say what I want to say ain’t nothing to it, gangsta rap made me do it.” These lyrics, and the rest of the song “Gangsta Rap Made Me Do It,” satirize how gangsta rap, a subgenre of hip-hop, is constantly blamed for America’s problems. This scapegoating began in response to one of the sub-genre’s earliest releases: N.W.A’s 1988 album “Straight Outta Compton.” Many saw the violent and misogynist lyrics of the album as harmful to society, and as a reason for the poor living conditions of cities like Compton, Calif. This rhetoric surrounding gangsta rap has not changed, and MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski’s recent comments regarding the Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) incident at the University of Oklahoma attest to this.

In response to the viral video of SAE members chanting a racist song, rapper Waka Flocka Flame decided to cancel his upcoming concert at the school. Flocka, as he is called by fans, told CNN’s Brianna Kelier in an interview that he was “hurt” and “disgusted” by the video, mainly because he had performed for these same kids before. During the next morning’s broadcast of “Morning Joe,” Brzezinski offered her opinion on Flocka’s comments. According to Brzezinski, Flocka “shouldn’t be disgusted with them.” Instead, he “should be disgusted with himself.” Brzezinski highlighted Flocka’s lyrics, which according to her are “full of n-words” and “full of f-words,” as support for her conclusions. Through these statements, she perpetuated the narrative that has surrounded gangsta rap since 1988. But this same narrative has been, and continues to be, inaccurate.

Brzezinski’s inaccuracy specifically stems from her contradictory logic. Again, she claims that because Flocka’s songs are “full of n-words” and “full of f-words,” he should not be “disgusted” with the SAE members’ racist language, but rather, he “should be disgusted with himself.” However, if she can be disgusted by Flocka’s use of these words, and if Flocka should be disgusted with himself for using these words, then what inhibits him from being disgusted by the SAE members’ racism? This visible conflict calls attention to the crux of Brzezinski’s argument: Flocka’s use of these words influenced how these individuals talked and acted, and for this reason, he should be blamed.

During the broadcast, she used a sample of Flocka’s lyrics as evidence to demonstrate her criticisms of his music. By suddenly implicating herself as an expert on Flocka’s music however, she should have noticed that he never explicitly expresses that individuals should use these words. Moreover, if Brzezinski’s logic is to identify Flocka’s use of these words as the cause of the SAE members’ actions, she then would have to call every media figure who uses these words into question. This would include her “Morning Joe” co-host Joe Scarborough, who back in 2008 dropped the f-bomb on live television. Obviously, this comparison would be illogical, just like her blaming of Flocka.

Equally wrong with Brzezinski’s quotation is how she successfully distracted the panel (and the viewing public) from contending with SAE’s racism. By blaming Flocka’s lyrics for SAE’s actions, she redirected the conversation from one that was focused on the issue at hand, to ridicule of the rapper (a panelist made a comment that the rapper should be addressed as Mr. Flame). Rather than seeking a quick way out via Flocka’s lyrics, Brzezinski would have done well to listen to his thoughts on how he believed the SAE members’ racism was “passed down.” Unpacking this portion of the CNN interview would have led to a more productive conversation on the roots of racism within this fraternity and America at large.

But Brzezinski’s blame of Flocka performed the opposite and implied an even more troublesome notion: that Flocka’s lyrics are the source of the SAE members’ racism. In other words, to her, the SAE members’ racist sentiments were a result of the “n-words” and “f-words” that are within Flocka’s lyrics. As a consequence, Brzezinski effectively ignored, and in fact, concealed, the ideological and structural foundations of America that have caused more harm than any Waka Flocka Flame lyric ever has.

Suggesting that Flocka’s lyrics are not at times problematic or offensive would be as imprecise as Brzezinski’s remarks. These songs can and do at times impart sexist, homophobic and classist ideals. Nevertheless, Brzezinski’s identification of Flocka as the cause of the SAE members’ actions does not begin to solve the issues discussed above. If Flocka were to clear his lyrics of the foul language that she is crusading so hard against, America would still have to deal with racism, sexism, homophobia and classism. Thus, in order to work to abolish these oppressions, one needs to locate where they come from. Only then can productive conversations occur and true social justice emerge.