Wednesday, October 11, 2006

It's G-H-O-N-E, but It's Pronounced "John"

At the risk of sounding like whitey, I still feel this needs to be said.

I work in a record store. More like the monsters I derided a few weeks ago, less like the place near your dorm where you can buy devil sticks. I mean, it's a satellite of a publicly traded company. Anyway, I work in an area with a lot of interest in hip-hop, most notably the busy local scene, and every day customers come in with similar hip-hop questions. Is Rapper A's new album good? Is Rapper B's album out yet? A lot of times I can answer the questions, but when I can't, I have to consult the computer.

Here's the rub: searching for rappers in the store's database is impossible. And I don't mean because the inventory is always inaccurate since people never put things back where they go. (But yeah, that's a problem too.) I mean that rappers never spell their names correctly or consistently. For example, some albums by the late Mr. Shakur are listed under 2Pac, some are listed under Tupac, and, maddeningly, some are listed as Shakur, Tupac. The recent Oscar-winning group from Tennessee releases some records under Three Six Mafia, some under Triple Six Mafia, and some under Three-6-Mafia.

With them, it's not a big deal. But if I don't know who a rapper is, I don't know how to search for hip. I end up offending people by being like, "Does he spell it all stupid and hip-hop?"

The examples above might be a marketing issue, but rappers usually spell their names incorrectly--okay, not according to Standard English, you prescriptivist grammarians--on purpose. Spelling your stage name phonetically or inventively connotes realness supposedly. I'm looking at you, ElzeWere, Guerrila Maab, Dyablo, and Tech N9ne. I'm talking to you, Caushun, Fun-Da-Mental, and Gangsta Blac.

No, sir, fuc you.

Here's my point, because I do have one: Whatever effect is created by spelling their names ghetto; i.e., firmly validating their status as "hood," is more important to these rappers than selling records. If I can't search for and find your name in the computer, the customer won't be able to buy your music. A rapper definitely loses business by not using the most logical spelling of his name.

The persistence of these spellings proves one thing: being authentic is more important than making money.

At some point in the past decade, rappers have begun to worry more about starting their own labels, running clothing lines, acting in movies (or in anything that pays them), and pretending to be a politician or C.E.O. than, you know, rapping. It's become distracting. Artistic merit means nothing to someone like 50 Cent--the only way he can measure success is by the criteria listed above, or a certain sales number.

Hey, it's the guy from Streets Is Watching. No, the one on the left.

Yet Yung Joc making the "o" in his name elliptical flies in the face of this trend. Though "life ain't nuthin' but bitches and money," keeping it real is still important to hip-hop. So cheers, misspelling rappers. Though I now respect your decision, you can count me as another person not in on the joke. Just remember that Lloyd Banks, Mike Jones, Method Man, Rick Ross, Will Smith, and DMX have a head start on your ignorant asses.

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