Hip-Hop Behind Bars



The BET Hip-Hop Awards is an annual award show that is hosted by BET that is a platform to honor several different prominent figures in the hip-hop industry which includes hip-hop artists, producers and executives. The second annual BET Hip-Hop Awards was scheduled to be held in Atlanta on October 13 with the show scheduled to air for the first time on October 17.

However, hip-hop star T.I. was able to get hip-hop fans and the general public alike to start talking well before the show got underway. At about 2:30 p.m. T.I., born Clifford Harris Jr, was arrested in downtown Atlanta in a parking lot of a Walgreen’s drugstore at the corner of North and Piedmont Avenues.

The reason the “King of the South” was apprehended by the law was because he allegedly tried to purchase illegal firearms from a cooperating witness with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The cooperating witness was T.I.’s bodyguard, an individual that has been acting in that capacity since July. The bodyguard in question started working in concert with the ATF on October 10 when he was arrested for trying to purchase firearms from a federal agent.

T.I. is without question one of the biggest stars on the hip-hop stratosphere. In the Spring of 2006 he starred in his first film “ATL” alongside Keith David, Jason Weaver, and Lauren London. The film managed to gross 11.5 million dollars which was good for a third place finish in the United States.

On March 28, 2006 he released his fourth studio album called “King.”  The CD went on to sell 522,000 copies in its first week making the album Atlantic Records best selling CD in about 15 years and the top selling album in 2006. As a result of the albums success he was nominated for two Grammy’s, one for best Solo Rap Performance and Best Rap Album.

In addition to T.I.’s burgeoning presence in the music industry he has also been able to establish himself as an advertising brand. He has appeared in commercials for Chevrolet, and Sean John and his video game  “T.I.’s Streetracing” for T-Mobile and Verizon telephones.

In 2007 T.I. continued to build his momentum when he released the singles “Big Things Poppin'” and “You Know What It Is” to spearhead his fifth solo album “T.I. vs. T.I.P.” His latest release went on to sell 468,000 copies in its first week. T.I is also set to appear in his second motion picture “American Gangster” in the fall. 

Despite the recent portfolio of success, T.I. has done a masterful job of derailing his most recent stream of success with his arrest. He is also the most recent hip-hop star to have a brush with the law. On October 26 he was released from custody when U.S. Magistrate Judge Alan Baverman agreed to free “The King.”

T.I.’s freedom is limited. He cannot consume any alcohol, he must submit to random urinalysis tests, can only have three visitors at his house at a time, and wear an electronic monitoring device among other provisions. 

As mentioned earlier T.I. is the most recent hip-hop star to have a brush with the law but T.I. is not in an exclusive club.

Prodigy is one half of the dynamic duo Mobb Deep. In March 2007 he released “Return of the Mac” a mix tape that was supposed to be the prequel to his KOCH distributed album H.N.I.C. 2.  However, the future of the upcoming album from Prodigy is in question. On October 9 Prodigy (nee’ Albert Johnson) was sentenced to fifteen years in prison when he pled guilty to unlawful gun possession charges. After negotiating a plea deal he was given a shortened jail sentence of three and a half years.

T.I.’s legal situation is well documented, Prodigy’s legal woes are unfortunate, but Foxy Brown’s situation is unbelievable.  Foxy Brown has a rap sheet long enough to shame her male counterparts. On February 15 she got into an altercation with a cop in Florida when she refused to leave a beauty store. On March 1 Brown pled guilty to a probation violation for leaving New York without permission. She turned herself in on August 14 after she assaulted a neighbor with a Blackberry.

With good behavior Brown can be eligible for parole in May 2008 at the earliest and even that is in question after she was given solitary confinement for 76 days on October 23 for fighting an inmate on October 3.

What is ridiculous is that Foxy Brown’s charges that are mentioned are only her most recent. She has been getting in trouble with the law for quite some time as early as a decade ago when she spat on hotel workers in North Carolina because they did not have an available iron.

It seems like instead of taking the train to Madison Square Garden, the bus to Rikers Island may be more appropriate. It seems like every rapper is trying to pledge unwavering loyalty to a no snitching ethos, and instead of embracing celebrity as a platform to sell music on a mass level, going to jail seems to be the in thing to do. Maybe the Free (insert famous rapper here) campaign is the marketing strategy of the future. One thing is for sure, it is disturbing that these individuals have a voice powerful enough to be a catalyst for social change, but instead of trying to change the system they would rather be a victim of it.

Hip-Hop artists should take their responsibility as agents for change more seriously.  And while it is true that not every rap artist is a role model and that we as the general public should have some semblance of responsibility for our own actions it is part of the job. As an entertainer, particularly musicians who have a voice, you inherit a responsibility to the general public and it is your job to be more responsible all the time, whether if it is convenient or not.

With slumping album sales and the overall quality of music down it is about time that a hip-hop artist worked on meaningful bars in a song instead of just living behind them   

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