One for the money,
Two for the motherfuckin haters keep my name in the game.
I’m screaming, “Fuck the world!”
I keep three bad bitches for all my ni**as,
Wave your fingers if you’re feelin the same.
I’m screaming, “Fuck the world!”
For those of you that are reading this and don’t know me (which I suspect is still a terribly small number of people), I’m a huge fan of rap music. As I’ve gained some clarity into my personal interests and potential life goals over the past couple of years I’ve been forced to the realization of how different what I’m seeking is from what most rappers are after, as well as how different the methods of obtaining each of our particular forms of success are. This might sound like a semi-ridiculous statement, given the tremendously different life circumstances that I face from most of the people that make the music I listen to, but I believe that a lot of what rappers aspire to is a reflection, albeit in a somewhat distorted mirror, of the larger culture of the United States in which it emerged.
In what is perhaps Lil Wayne’s greatest love song (and maybe even one of the greatest of all time), the rapper professes his love for the object of desire by saying, “I love her like pussy, money, weed (PMW).” For Wayne, this seems to be the highest possible expression of his love, placing this girl on the same level as the three great pursuits of his life: pussy, money, and weed. At first glance, this probably seems remarkably crass to most people. However, this trifecta, which should arguably include recognition too (though that doesn’t seem to roll quite off the tongue as smoothly as PMW) , seems not only to be highly desirous among rappers but among the American population at large. Cam’ron seems to capture these aspirations equally well in his call and response chorus of “What Means the World to You”:
What means the world to you? My money, my doe, my hoes, my clothes.
What means the world to you? My money, my doe, my hair, my nails.
What means the world to you? Some sex, some mex, and a little bit of head, rah.
What means the world to you? Sex is sweet wit a cat who eat.
What means the world to you? Lots of cheese, shopping sprees.
What means the world to you? Diamond rings, shinin things.
As Big K.R.I.T. puts it, “A rapper’s only as big as his chain; the flashier the better.”
(I could have picked literally any rap video ever made to get the same point across.)
I have to imagine at least one person reading this cringed at that last paragraph because it seems to be an unimaginably and unnecessarily blunt way of stating the issue, but I believe that some unpacking of the terms might help. Pussy, a.k.a. women, certainly seems to be a goal for most people. While for most women this would obviously apply in the reverse and refer to men, a life aspiration of many people seems to be to find a spouse with whom they can settle down and raise a family. That money would make the list of “things Americans want” should almost go without saying: living in preeminently capitalist society has ensured that we all want more money and more material things than we currently have. As to the final piece of the PMW puzzle, the notion needs to be expanded a bit. If not weed then another vice chosen from the plethora of other external substances, including prescription drugs, alcohol, and even television, supplements the lifestyle of the average American, merely to help one get through each day. Why people indulge in these substances is a deeply complex issue but I think it can be boiled down, along with the rest of PMW, into what people seem to be implicitly assuming, but never actually explicitly stating, each of these things will bring them: genuine and sustainable happiness. By seeking happiness through purely external means, PMW fails to help one achieve a true sense of satisfaction that can be divorced from things beyond oneself.
Breaking the components down should make it pretty clear why none of these things have the capacity to bring happiness in and of themselves. Drugs obviously don’t bring lasting happiness or addiction wouldn’t be such a large concern. All they serve to do is help remove the individual from the reality in which happiness is not yet achieved. Certainly money and material comforts are necessary to a certain extent to have the capacity to achieve genuine happiness, as Maslow points out, but to a far lesser extent than most people of consumption cultures seem to realize. The pursuit of material wealth is endless and a hunger that will never be satiated without the proper internal state. As for women, Darwin clearly demonstrated that it is our biological imperative to reproduce. But that doesn’t mean it is the key to happiness. It can certainly contribute to happiness but, as with money, one’s internal state is crucial and a relationship can’t instantly patch up any and all flaws in ones outlook on life: “The purpose of love should not be to find another to complete oneself but to find another with whom you can share your completeness.” It seems that very few people are concerned with taking direct action to obtain happiness, but rather become preoccupied with means that they believe will ultimately lead to the end goal of happiness. This is symptomatic of buying into the religion of Inevitable Progress with it’s strong belief that perfection is always something to be obtained in the future but never at this very moment. Lasting happiness is constantly kept at arms reach as one is perpetually assured that one more dose of PMW will do the trick.
The ways by which people choose to pursue PMW generally only serve to push one further away from genuine happiness. Due in large part to the Enlightenment thinkers but also an incomprehensible number of other factors that I’m still working to trace back, people have a very particular idea of themselves as being autonomous agents, working relatively independently to achieve one’s goals. It seems that many people take pride in their successes not merely because they were achieved without the help of others, but actually because they were obtained in spite of others that might have acted as hindrances. The lyrics I wrote at the top of this post come from Freddie Gibb’s song “National Anthem (Fuck the World)”, and seem to reflect this all too common idea. It’s fair to say that this mentality may manifest itself more strongly in rap music than other spheres of American culture, given that it emerged in an ethnic and cultural minority that has been oppressed politically, socially, and economically for its entire history in this country, but I believe the point still holds within the larger American consciousness.
All of this seems to point to the larger idea that I brought up when discussing the ways in which we need to redefine success. By holding on to our current ideas of what it means to be successful (i.e. obtaining maximum PMW), we miss out on much of what lies behind these desires. By restricting ourselves to egocentric methods in pursuit of these goals, we only further hinder our progress on the path to happiness. As a culture, we need a massive reevaluation of what it is we really want out of life and hope to accomplish on this earth. However, that can only occur if each individual takes the chance to reflect on those things for themselves. And while there are many resources out there to help aid in this introspection, it is an endeavor on which the individual must choose to embark on for themselves, stirring what lies within on to great things.