I’ve always been a big fan of Hip Hop. It’s long been my favorite genre of music, and I’ve got a lot of brain space dedicated to lyrics from my favorite artists. It’s a uniquely American art, centered in story telling. Born in Black communities in New York City in the late 70’s, Hip Hop was that communities way of talking about their lives and their realities.
And what shapes anyone’s reality more than money? Money can be a stressor, a tool, or a gift. It’s a central theme in the Hip Hop world. Of course a people who have faced financial hardship and discrimination would talk about how that’s shaped their lives. Of course rappers would describe what it felt like to sign a million dollar record deal when they grew up poor.
And that has led to a plethora of hip hop money lessons for anyone to learn from. This article could honestly be 50 songs deep, but for the sake of brevity I’ve chosen four songs and lessons that I’ve really been digging lately.
Hip Hop Money Lesson #1: Invest in Appreciating Assets
In the song ‘The Story of OJ‘ off the album 4:44, Jay-Z drops all sorts of financial lessons. It’s so good. Jay-Z takes on the perception of Black Americans in the US and advises that financial success is the best way to change personal and cultural views.
‘I told ’em/please don’t die over the neighborhood/that ya momma renting. Take your drug money and buy the neighborhood/that’s how you rinse it./I bought every V-12 engine/wish I could take it back to the beginning. I could have bought a place in DUMBO before it was DUMBO/for like $2 million. That same building today is worth $25 million and guess how I’m feeling? DUMBO.’
A former drug dealer himself, Jay-Z advises listeners to not get caught up in the drug dealing lifestyle. Instead, he wants use set our sites on a loftier goal. You don’t want to be the biggest, baddest person in the neighborhood- you want to own the neighborhood.
Why waste your time and money on things that don’t bring you more money? Jay laments wasting his early career earnings on cars, when he could have invested that money into New York real estate.
His lesson is clear: invest your money into things that make more money. Whether that’s real estate, art, or yourself (like, oh hey, becoming a freelancer), put your money in assets that appreciate over time.
Hip Hop Money Lesson #2: Money Talks
One of the all time best Hip Hop groups is the Wu Tang Clan, and this iconic group has a little song called ‘C.R.E.A.M. ‘ What’s that acronynm stand for? It’s a money lesson we all learn at some point.
‘Cash rules everything around me/CREAM/Get the money, dolla, dolla bill y’all.’
Even in our digital age, money is power. Cash is still powerful, but money of any sort is what gets shit done. We respect and admire people who have money, even if they’ve proven to be scumbags for other reasons. For the Wu Tang Clan, the money lesson is plain: money talks in our world, so go get yours. And make sure you hold onto it, and grow it.
Hip Hop Money Lesson #3: Don’t Borrow What You Can’t Pay
RIP Biggie Smalls. Truly one of the greatest rappers to ever be in the game, and the man only produced two albums. Biggie was a big influence on Jay-Z, and one look at the song ‘10 Crack Commandments‘ from the album ‘Life After Death’, shows us why.
‘Number ten: a strong word called consignment/Strictly for live men, not for freshmen/If you ain’t got the clientele say hell no/‘Cause they gon want they money rain sleet hail snow.’
Real talk, how many horror stories have you heard about someone co-signing a loan for someone and then getting burned? Never agree to lend your credit to someone unless you are 100% positive they can pay it back. And further, never lend anyone money that you can’t afford to lose.
As Biggie points out, lenders are out for one thing: getting their money back. Come rain, sleet, hail or snow, lenders want to get paid. When was the last time you heard about a student loan lender or credit card company simply forgiving someone’s debt? That’s right, never. Student loan lenders have been known to collect on debt with a cosigner even after someone’s death, like with this father. This hip hop money lesson is easy to follow; avoid lending your money or credit to anyone if you can.
Hip Hop Money Lesson #4: Don’t Get Blinded By Money
Something we say a lot on Bravely is that money is a tool and nothing more. It doesn’t define you, and it doesn’t speak for you. That same sentiment is at the heart of the song ‘Money‘ by KRS-One, featuring MC Lyte. This song is like socialism and Hip Hop had a baby, and it wants you to be woke when it comes to your finances.
‘You cannot deny, without money you can’t apply/For anything that catches your eye, I wonder why/The root of all evil, let me teach you, now who am I?/The MC, teachin’ my people “Don’t live that lie”/You got to get money, but don’t let money get you, guy.’
Ah, there’s so much good stuff in this song! KRS-One and MC Lyte lay it all bare in this song. They talk about how we need money to live but that unchecked, our desire for money can ruin us. What we spend on shows us our values, says KRS-One in his first verse on the song. What do you choose- to waste it on things like jewelry, or to put it into things like building community?
This song really gets me, because I feel exactly the same way. When we pursue money just for money’s sake, things get twisted real fast. Ideally, money is something that enables us to be safe and happy. That’s why we advocate for values based spending; crafting a budget where you spend on things and systems you support. We don’t want it to become something that causes harm to others or our world.
Do you have a favorite Hip Hop money lesson? Or a money lesson you’ve learned from another genre of music? Let me know!
Image via Music Oomph