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Abstract

Whereas literary and cinematic representations of economy and management have been analyzed for some time (see e.g. Czarniawska and Guillet de Monthoux, 1994; Hassard and Holliday, 1998), precious little inter-est has been directed to similar aspects in popular music. Consequently, this paper analyzes economy as it is portrayed and disseminated in rap music. By discussing how conspicuous consumption and economic discourses are used in rap lyrics to convey the image of success and possibility, the paper attempts a reading of contemporary capitalism in a particular cultural setting through the notion of a minor literature as theorized by Deleuze and Guattari. The multidimensionality and ironical approach held to the 'bling-bling' thus prob-lematizes simplified analyzes of economic language as colonizing (cf. Gibson-Graham, 1996) and instead opens up to a reading of economy as openness. 'I just signed my contract worth $100 million on Friday. I ain't worried about saving. I'm ballin' outta control'.
Culture and Organization, March 2005, Vol. 11(1), pp. 17–31
ISSN 1475-9551 print; ISSN 1477-2760 online © 2005 Taylor & Francis Group Ltd
DOI: 10.1080/14759550500062268
‘I Love The Dough’: Rap Lyrics as a Minor
Economic Literature
ALF REHN
a,
* and DAVID SKÖLD
b,†
a,b
Department of Industrial Economics and Management, Royal Institute of Technology, Lindstedtsvägen
30, S-10044, Stockholm, Sweden
Taylor and Francis LtdGSCO106209.sgm10.1080/14759550500062268Culture & Organization1475-9551 (print)/1477-2760 (online)Original Article2005Taylor & Francis Group Ltd111000000March 2005AlfRehnDepartment of Industrial Economics and ManagementRoyal Institute of TechnologyLindstedtsvagen 30S1-10044StockholmSwedenalf@kth.se
Whereas literary and cinematic representations of economy and management have been analyzed for some
time (see e.g. Czarniawska and Guillet de Monthoux, 1994; Hassard and Holliday, 1998), precious little inter-
est has been directed to similar aspects in popular music. Consequently, this paper analyzes economy as it is
portrayed and disseminated in rap music. By discussing how conspicuous consumption and economic
discourses are used in rap lyrics to convey the image of success and possibility, the paper attempts a reading
of contemporary capitalism in a particular cultural setting through the notion of a minor literature as theorized
by Deleuze and Guattari. The multidimensionality and ironical approach held to the ‘bling-bling’ thus prob-
lematizes simplified analyzes of economic language as colonizing (cf. Gibson-Graham, 1996) and instead
opens up to a reading of economy as openness.
Key words: Economic Language; Hybridity; Popular Culture; Subversion; Rap Lyrics
‘I just signed my contract worth $100 million on Friday. I ain’t worried about saving. I’m ballin’ outta
control’.
Baby, CEO of Cash Money Records,
interviewed in The Source #158 (2002)
INTRODUCTION
In contemporary society, the grand narrative of economy and the market seems to hold fast,
regardless of what Lyotard (1979) claimed. In an age where these notions have become
both iconic and anthropomorphic, there is clearly a need for reflection regarding the ways
in which we narrate the economic, and specifically in the less obvious ways in which this
might be done. As has been shown by various writers on social theory, the notion of econ-
omy as merely one thing is highly suspect (cf. Bataille, 1967/1991; Baudrillard, 1996;
Benedict, 1934; Derrida, 1992; Mauss, 1924/1990, among others), and in order to compre-
hend the complex interrelationships between culture and economy (cf. Callon, 1998; du
Gay and Pryke, 2002) we need more subtle and more complex readings of economic
phenomena. The feminist scholars J.K. Gibson-Graham—two co-authors writing under a
penname—have argued that the common view of an economic order (read: capitalism) as
totalizing is insufficient, and that the image of e.g. capitalism as a force capable of perfectly
colonizing every sphere it enters is insufficiently analytic. In The End of Capitalism (as we
*Tel: +358 45 6768120; Email: alf@kth.se
Tel: +46 8 7907914; Email: david.skold@indek.kth.se
18 ALF REHN AND DAVID SKÖLD
knew it) (Gibson-Graham, 1996) they argue that our readings of economy often stumble due
to our tendency to polarize the issue, where capitalism is seen as a binary issue, either not
there or there as total colonization. They instead exhort us to analyze the ways in which
economic ‘hybrids’ are created, cultural mixtures of capitalism and resistance where the
straw-man of ‘bourgeois capitalism’ is placed in a cultural context and subsequently
mutates. This text aims at analyzing one such hybrid.
In order to do so, this paper will discuss a specific economic language, and do so in an
empirical fashion. More specifically, this paper deals with how narratives regarding economy
and organization materialize within popular music. Whereas literary and cinematic represen-
tations of economy and management have been analyzed for some time (see e.g. Czarniawska
and Guillet de Monthoux, 1994; Hassard and Holliday, 1998), precious little interest has been
directed to similar aspects in popular music. This is interesting particularly as the argument
for analyzing e.g. literary works usually has been that it gives us a perspective as to how
notions of management and economy are translated into more popular depictions, and that one
through this can learn something about such popularization. At the same time, popular music
is far more ‘popular’ than either the novels of e.g. Martin Amis or the movies of e.g. Terry
Gilliam, arguably making it a far more potent ‘mirror of production’. Consequently, we will
analyze specific narratives in popular culture, ones that praise capitalism, that revel in the
market economy, and that exhibit an almost rapturous attitude towards material goods. We
will focus on the bling-bling.
I be that nigga with the ice on me /
If it cost less than twenty it don’t look right on me /
[…]Diamonds worn by everybody that’s in my click /
Man I got the price of a mansion, ‘round my neck and wrist
(B.G., ‘Bling-Bling’)
The term ‘bling-bling’ refers to the gleam that is projected into the eyes of the observer when
rays of light reflect and refract from jewelry and gold. As a term it arises in rap vernacular, and
has now entered the language of popular culture more generally. More specifically, it refers to
a particular fashion of ostentatious displays of wealth, one where oversize jewelry is the norm
(cf. Codere, 1950). As the seminal and eponymous rap-anthem quoted above shows, it has to
do with proving your place in the world through specific displays—such as boasting that the
chains one wears around one’s neck and wrists are worth as much as a major piece of real
estate. What is interesting about it in the perspective of this article is less the fashion statement
it represents, and more how it shows us a narration of life under capitalism that is almost comi-
cally affirmative. In bling-bling one can find a way to perform capitalism, and it is this trope
of re-appropriation that we wish to explore here. Whereas most writing on the use of literature
to understand organization(s) has tended to be in a critical vein, and thus focus on more
pessimistic texts, this article is interested in the ways in which narratives of the economic can
be used in a provocative manner, as a micro-politics unto itself. We will here use some ideas
from Deleuze and Guattari (1986, 1987) to read the ‘capitalist language’ in (some) rap music
as political. This is done specifically to create a counterpoint to the idea that the colonization
of language that capitalism is capable of could not be counteracted. The bling-bling, to us,
thus represents a hybrid language, one where the accouterments of capitalism are used in a
subversive fashion.
THE ART OF STORYTELLING & ROLLIN’ WITH RUSH
Back in the day a nigga used to be asked out /
Now a nigga holding several money-market accounts
(Busta Rhymes, ‘Dangerous’)
‘I LOVE THE DOUGH’: RAP LYRICS AS A MINOR ECONOMIC LITERATURE 19
Rap music is a form of rhymed storytelling accompanied by highly rhythmic, electronically based music
[which] began in the mid-1970s in the South Bronx in New York City as a part of hip-hop, an African-American
and Afro-Caribbean youth culture composed of graffiti, breakdancing, and rap music. (Rose, 1994: 2)
Rap has always dealt with storytelling, and one could well say that rap is storytelling. Often
these stories have featured the hardships and the struggles involved in coping with everyday
life in ‘the ‘hood’: with, and against, drugs, violence, poverty, an oppressive establishment,
of man-woman relationships and the like. And often these stories have told of aspirations and
desires of moving ‘up’ and perhaps ‘out’, socially and spatially—another classic theme in
African-American cultural expressions, e.g. as articulated by Bobby Womack in Across the
110th Street (1972). Since rap music’s first major break in 1979, with Sugar Hill Gang’s hit
Rappers Delight, which brought about an interest in the music by the mainstream music
industry (for more extensive accounts of the evolution of hip-hop culture and its antecedents,
and of hip-hop culture growing into an industry, see e.g. Boyd, 1997; Foreman, 2002;
George, 1998; Potter, 1995; Rose, 1994), and which made hip-hop a plausible way of escap-
ing the harsh conditions of the ‘hood—Cornel West (1989, 2001) argues that the entertain-
ment industry, especially throughout the late 20th century, has been an option of hope for
‘upward’ mobility for African-Americans (sports has of course been another such option)—
the storytelling has often focused on money, on how one is going to get some of that
‘precious green’. In the title cut to their classic debut album Paid in Full, released in 1986,
Eric B. and Rakim fantasize about how their talent for rhyming and scratching (DJing/putting
together beats) along with their contacts at the record company, will bring them pots of gold.
Kool G Rap and DJ Polo further emphasize a Lutheran work ethic as a necessary foundation
for succeeding (economically) in the hip-hop classic Road to the Riches (1989). Furthermore,
songs about money—or cheese, cheddar, chips, dough, cream, cake, scrilla, green, loot,
paper, dead presidents, or Benjamins to name but a few of the terms in circulation—and
different aspects thereof more explicitly, have come by in great numbers. Some examples are
Outsidaz’ Money Money Money (2001), Bone Thugs-n-Harmony’s Money Money (2002),
and Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s Got Your Money (2000)—in which he lisps and slurs, perhaps partly
due to his gold and jewelry capped teeth. And we could go on, and on, and on, for quite some
time.
[Eric B]: Yo Rakim, what’s up?
[Rakim]: Yo, I’m doing the knowledge, E., I’m trying to get paid in full.
[E]: Well, check this out, since Nobry Walters is our agency, right?
[R]: True.
[E]: Kara Lewis is our agent.
[R]: Word up.
[E]: Zakia/4th & Broadway is our record company.
[R]: Indeed.
[E]: Okay, so who we rollin’ with?
[R]: We rollin’ with Rush.
(Eric B. and Rakim, Paid in Full)
Erick Sermon and Parrish Smith, of the legendary group EPMD (acronym for Erick and
Parrish Making Dollars) further accentuated the business aspect of getting into the music
industry in the late eighties, making the notion of business a gimmick imbuing almost all
their work. They released their first record Strictly Business in 1988 and followed it up with
Unfinished Business (1989), Business As Usual (1990), Business Never Personal (1992),
Back In Business (1997) and Out Of Business (1999). Moreover a number of rap classics read
like manuals for the entrepreneurial youngster: The Notorious B.I.G. told of The Ten Crack
Commandments which outline best practice in the drug trade (1997), whereas E-40 released
the album Blueprint of a Self-Made Millionaire (1999).
What is notable, especially in the excerpt from the Eric B. and Rakim lyrics, is that rap
artists in a conscious way use the cachet of being good business men and having business
20 ALF REHN AND DAVID SKÖLD
contacts as a way to enhance their art. Referring to their agent, their business manager and
their record company not as something to be revered (i.e. they are not forced to advertise
their label), but as something that in a way belongs to them, as a part of their network, and
as something they can be proud of ‘having’, implies a strategy of self-actualization through
business. While referring to an agent or ones management team would seem wildly out of
place in the context of a pop song [there are some counter-examples, though; for instance,
Lynyrd Skynyrd recorded the track Working for MCA and AC/DC stated Ain’t No Fun
(Waiting Round To Be A Millionaire)], it is part of the legacy of rap music. Making music
is not only a cultural strategy, it is a form of metaphorical survival—making it in the
world.
ALL ABOUT THE BENJAMINS
Rap lyricists have probably never been more inclined to talk business than they were a couple
of years into the 20th century. Reading hip-hop magazines like The Source in 2003/2004, you
will learn more about rap artists’ financial strategy and career plans, than about their music.
In connection with the release of The Black Album in 2003, the celebrated rapper Shawn
‘Jay-Z’ Carter was featured as a super-entrepreneur in TIME Magazine. At that time Jay-Z
declared that The Black Album was his farewell to the rap game. Instead, he said he wanted to
be able to fully concentrate on the business empire surrounding Roc-A-Fella Records that he,
Damon Dash and Kareem ‘Biggs’ Burke had built off of record sales (Tyrangiel, 2003). In
November 2004, these efforts resulted in Jay-Z being appointed the position as president of
Universal’s Island Def label—part-owner of Roc-A-Fella Records.
Willies wanna rub shoulders, ya money too young /
See me when it gets older, ya bank account grow up /
Mine is one zero zero zero o’ed up…
(Jay-Z, ‘Money Ain’t a Thang’)
Speaking of Jay-Z, it ought to be pointed out that he has not only been a rapper talking and
bragging about his business endeavors in his lyrics. He has also been a full-fledged bling-
bling rapper, which he demonstrates, for instance, in his 1998 lyric quoted above—a flawless
example of what bling-bling might sound like. A year before Sean John Combs—performing
under the name Puff Daddy (today using P. Diddy)—had declared that ‘It’s All About the
Benjamins!’ in the song with the same name. And The Notorious B.I.G. sings an ode to
luxurious consumption habits in I Love the Dough, released posthumously (only about two
weeks after his death) in 1997.
We hit makers with acres /
Roll shakers in Vegas, you can’t break us /
Lost chips on Lakers, gassed off Shaq /
Country house, tennis courts on horseback /
Ridin’, decidin’, cracked crab or lobster? /
Who say mobsters don’t prosper?
(The Notorious B.I.G. (feat. Jay-Z & Angela Winbush), ‘I Love the Dough’)
It could easily be argued, and it has been argued, that the bling-bling attitude—here repre-
sented by Jay-Z, Jermaine Dupri, The Notorious B.I.G. and P. Diddy—in the latter part of
the 1990s and in the beginning of the new century had come to be the dominating attitude in
rap music, and in hip-hop culture. In forums designated to intellectualize hip-hop culture,
such as the Internet site urbanthinktank.org, one can even find references to the bling-bling
as an ‘-ism’, a movement: ‘bling-bling-ism’—a ‘supercilious rampage of material worship
and indulgence’ (Tyson, 2001). We have no interest in proving that that is the case, we
simply state that bling-bling exists.
‘I LOVE THE DOUGH’: RAP LYRICS AS A MINOR ECONOMIC LITERATURE 21
Having said this, it might be worth pointing out that bling-bling rappers do frequently
voice an attitude quite contrary to that of the homage to ‘makin’ it’, namely an attitude
bearing witness of the very harsh life one has experienced/experiences in the ‘hood, and of
telling things how they really are—an attitude of ‘keeping it real’ and of telling ‘the naked
truth’ [unlike an establishment which often is seen as shutting its eyes for the social
problems found in the ‘hood, and which marginalizes, oppresses and enslaves the African-
American population (see George, 1998, and the film Letter to the President)].
These two strategies in rap as a cultural mode of self-expression, the need to ‘keep it real’
and the portrayal of possibilities could be viewed as a dialectics of sorts. Whereas the first, as
a textual strategy, might be seen as a form of ghetto realism, the second is closer in style to
the fairy tale. Such stories, as Vladimir Propp (1968) so famously pointed out, tend to consist
of a fairly simple structure: a young protagonist is given a task and solves this in a way that
brings him fortune and glory (and a girl, as a bonus). As the ‘realist’ tales represented in rap
music tend to describe a fairly dark world, one where poverty, random violence and socio-
pathic behavior is rife, it follows the narrative logic that this is then juxtaposed with tales
about abundance and a kind of Scharlaffenland. When ‘keeping it real’ one may talk about
food stamps, government cheese, dealing drugs and going hungry, but this is countered with
tales where one chooses between ‘cracked crab or lobster’, drinks ‘Cris(tal)’ (a brand of
champagne) and drives a customized Mercedes-Benz. In other words, the task at hand for a
young hero is—as we have seen—to go from one state to the other, to escape poverty. And as
soon as this has been accomplished, to portray this escape by economic ostentation, through
capitalist imagery.
This specific rhetoric regarding the market economy and organized capitalism that prevails
in rap lyricism is important for two reasons. One, it presents us with a case of narrative
knowledge regarding economy/organization that offers us an alternative to ‘high literature’.
Unashamedly part of popular culture, rap lyricism still is a specific brand of literary represen-
tation, and might show us other ways of understanding how economy can be told as a narra-
tive. Whereas the use of literature to teach/understand organization and economy has usually
focused on ‘great books’, the ‘sticking to the rawness’ and ‘keeping it real’-ethos of rap does
not allow for finery, and may give us an empirical counterpoint. Two, it presents us with a
case where economic language is used in a positive, affirming way (regardless what one
thinks of the veracity of such tales) by a subculture that is usually seen as repressed and
downtrodden by the very capitalism it celebrates. This paradox, the marginalized celebrating
that which marginalizes, may give us a case to specifically analyze the functioning of econ-
omy as language. Instead of observing how economy enters into narrations, we can in these
cases see how economy is performed through narration, i.e. how one in a specific cultural
setting can do economy.
BATTLING IT OUT, AND UP
Even though the struggles and the strategies for getting money often have been central to
expression in hip-hop, another form of expression has always been present: the battle. The
role of the rapper has often been to keep the party hyped by yelling out call-and-response party
chants such as: ‘All the ugly people be quiet!’ Other times however, the role of the MC has
been to battle other MCs. Battles such as those starring Eminem as Bunny Rabbit in 8 Mile,
have been one of the main characteristics of hip-hop culture from the very beginning. Entire
sound system crews have battled each other out by sheer volume, DJs have battled each other
out behind the turntables, dancers have battled each other out ‘on the floor’, and graffiti artists
have been battling it out by painting subway trains in ever more difficult locations, with ever
22 ALF REHN AND DAVID SKÖLD
more refined motives. And MCs have battled each other out on stage as well as on records.
Hip-hop, claims Rose (1994: 36), ‘remains a never-ending battle for status, prestige, and
group adoration, always in formation, always contested, and never fully achieved’.
This never-ending battle has often been manifested in MCs ‘dissing’—disrespecting,
dismissing or disparaging—other MCs or entire hip-hop crews. Sometimes it has occurred
live on stage and sometimes recorded—on dedicated ‘diss tracks’ or as short passages
appearing on any regular track. Whatever the forum, oftentimes the disses have lead to
more withstanding disagreements or feuds, beefs. Concentrating on the abundance of feuds
within hip-hop culture, the movies Beef and Beef II line up (and possibly exaggerate) such
disagreements by the dozen. Disregarding the possible magnification these disputes
undergo in the process of becoming entertainment, what is notable for our purposes is an
idea brought forth in the film Beef II, namely that beefs and disses—from the time when
the UFTO song Roxanne Roxanne was released and answered up by Roxanne Shante with
Roxanne’s Revenge in 1985, both of which climbed the charts that same year—have been
recognized and later on exploited as strategic ways of enticing listeners and boosting
record sales in hip-hop culture (For accounts of the emergence of a hip-hop industry,
including the dissemination of hip-hop media, see Foreman, 2002: 106–45, 213–51).
Drawing a lot of (media) attention to particular artists and songs, the film suggests that the
battle and the disses became means deployed strategically to reinforce record sales and
increase profits.
Should this observation be valid (which seems reasonable, although we believe it would be
a gross exaggeration to state that all, or even a majority of the disagreements between rap
artists are strategic business moves), what follows in the wake of the battle in general, and the
disses in particular, is an enhanced music genre fueled by internal controversies—by and
large also entailing a more potent culture industry. The disputes are doing hip-hop media and
films—such as Beef and its sequel—a big favor (if not creating the very conditions for their
existence altogether), providing them with good stories to tell, to boost and to feed off of.
Hence, the battle emerges as a mechanism inherent in hip-hop culture, possessing a force
driving it both artistically and business-wise.
However, in a culture where such a mechanism is present and where ‘art’ and ‘business/
economy’ are so inextricably linked together, the boundaries between these two spheres
become blurred. In the case of the narratives, some strategically shaped (perhaps into down-
right attacks on other rappers’ economic status, as we shall soon see) so as to enhance sales
and profits, they are turned into business endeavors, which may in turn well be the topic of
yet another narrative, turned into business. Over and over again; the two being heavily inter-
twined, making it a futile project to attempt to distinguish the art of storytelling from the
business endeavor. As an analytical tool, and as a meaningful means for making different
aspects of a phenomenon distinct from one another, the two spheres of art and economy/
business collapse into one another, becoming one and the same.
SHOWING OFF THE KITSCH AND THE GLAM—STILL BATTLING
The battle is not always manifested in explicit disses. Returning to the bling-bling, we can see
that the use of supercilious consumption in part exists for bragging purposes the battle has
become one of posing. Assuming that most rap artists come from modest means, or at least
exist in a culture where economic hardship is seen as characteristic for lived experience
(‘keeping it real’), having achieved financial success is not necessarily something one would
keep quiet about. Rap lyrics keep a very high profile in relation to this. Where economic
success in a middle-class culture would be signaled in a fairly modest way, in the rap culture
‘I LOVE THE DOUGH’: RAP LYRICS AS A MINOR ECONOMIC LITERATURE 23
the signaling of poverty and affluence seems to be performed in extremis. If we take the
eponymous track Bling-Bling, it is recorded by a larger group known as the Cash Money
Millionaires (the track is officially credited to B.G. featuring Big Tymers and Hot Boyz), a
group formed in the ‘Dirty South’, i.e. a part of the US that still lags behind the rest of the
country when it comes to economic development, and where abject poverty among the black
population is widespread.
Hit the club and light the bitch up /
Cash Money motto is to drink til’ we throw up /
Nigga point the hoe out, guaranteed I can fuck /
Woady ‘cause I’m tattooed and barred up /
Medallion iced up, Rolex bezelled up /
And my pinky ring is platinum plus /
Earrings be trillion cut /
And my grill be slugged up /
My heart filled with anger, ‘cause nigga I don’t give a fuck /
Stack my cheese up /
Cause one day I’m a give this street life up
(Baby rhyming on ‘Bling-Bling’)
A lil’ nigga seventeen, playin’ with six figures /
Got so much ice you can skate on it, nigga
(Lil’ Turk rhyming on the same track)
This sheer mass of jewelry is obviously a matter of great pride. In Lil’ Turks hyperbole, the
‘ice’/diamonds are portrayed less like adornments and more like a rhetorical weapon—a skat-
ing rink made out of one of the most expensive materials in known existence. A medallion
with diamonds, a Rolex covered in more of the same, lavish earrings, stacks of cash and gold
all over your teeth [your smile is your ‘grill’, and a player will get this ‘slugged up’, i.e. fitted
with caps in precious metals—according to the hip-hop magazine The Source #158 (November
2002), Baby’s current dental embellishments are made out of platinum, since gold teeth were
becoming too common] seem to represent a uniform of sorts. The track further contains refer-
ences to private jets, customized cars and a helicopter with a candy-color paintjob and leather
interior. Brand names are not massively present, as could be the case in the lyrics of the now
deceased Notorious B.I.G., but several allusions to a particular type of ‘rims’ (i.e. custom rims
for car tires) are made. A somewhat more ‘demure’ version of the same ethos can be found in
the lyrics of Lil’ Kim (‘Big Momma Thing’):
I got lands in the Switzerland /
Even got some sands in the Marylands /
Bahamas in the spring /
Baby, it’s a big momma thing
And further, in a display of brand-awareness, The Notorious B.I.G. (‘Hypnotize’) can be
found outlining his own shopping preferences:
I put ho’s in NY onto DKNY /
Miami, D.C. prefer Versace /
All Philly ho’s, dough and Moschino /
Every cutie wit’ a booty bought a Coogi
The list could be made endless: Ludacris professes to ‘smelling like Burberry cologne’,
Snoop Dogg to owning ‘50 dollar socks, a hundred thousand-dollar-shoes’, Tupac referred
to himself as a ‘self-made millionaire’, and Jay-Z boasts that his new house is so opulent
that ‘you’d have to film MTV Cribs (a show that showcases the lifestyles of the newly rich
and famous) for a week’. Foxy spits: ‘Who could talk about that money better than me? /
Who could stay so hood femininely?’ Eminem has even used direct sales-figures to diss
enemies such as when he on a track compared the sales of Everlast’s latest album (claim-
ing this to be a paltry 40,000 copies in its first week) with himself ‘making records break’.
And so on.
24 ALF REHN AND DAVID SKÖLD
Without leaving the notion of the battle (but rather using it as a bridge onto, and a tool for
the next stage of the analysis), we now wish to claim that one way to understand the lyricism
of rap music (keeping in mind that this is just one ‘genre’ of rap music) is to analyze it as an
economic literature, with bling-bling serving as an economic language. In other words, rap
lyrics can be seen as a way to convey narratives of economy within a sub-culture, so that
economic success takes on a political dimension. ‘Making it’ is in such a perspective proof
that the hardships presented by ghetto life can be overcome, and further (which is a more
provocative statement), that one can develop a notion of success that isn’t tethered by the
aesthetic notions of the white plutocracy and through this a culturally specific ‘economy’.
One can, for instance, note the importance put on having and advertising a self-owned record
label/company or a clothing label. To take but a few examples, Jay-Z owns (among other
things) Rocawear, Diddy owns Bad Boy Records and Sean John Clothing, Master P the No
Limit-group of companies, and Snoop Dogg assorted businesses. All of them frequently
name-check these in their lyrics, something portrayed in both music and magazines as ‘ghetto
entrepreneurialism’. Still, our point is not to claim that such an economic movement exists,
nor that rap lyrics and bling-bling:ism would be a solution to the real economic problems in
urban areas. Rather, it is to show how a particular kind of narrative representation can be
understood in context.
Snoop Dogg is a ghetto Martha Stewart. His ultimate commodity is a way of life. Everything he sells and
endorses (the Blunt Wrap tobacco tubes for smoking Buddha, the K-Nine clothing for the pimps, playas, and
ho’s, the ‘Freak Line’ phone sex service, the rap music, the films, and so on) designates, validates, and delin-
eates a specific mode of urban existence. He makes it easier to be ghetto, in the way Martha Stewart makes it
easier to be bourgeois. (Mudede, 2001)
THE BATTLE AND THE DELEUZIAN COMBAT…
The combat-between is the process through which a force enriches itself by seizing hold of other forces and
joining itself to them in a new ensemble: a becoming. (Deleuze, 1995: 132)
What the inherent battle in hip-hop culture (manifested in the bling-bling) reveals is not,
however, an apparent battle against, say, the establishment. Nor is it a battle directed against
the politics pursued by the establishment or against oppressive attitudes in society—although
rap music has been prone to partake in such battles. Instead it is a battle carried out within
hip-hop culture, between MCs or hip-hop crews. To borrow a concept and an expression
from Gilles Deleuze (1995), it is a combat ‘between its own parts’, rather than an external
combat against something exterior. Instead of trying ‘to repel or destroy a force’ repressing,
subjugating or marginalizing African-American culture, the bling-bling seems—partly self-
reflexively it seems, and through the battle that is carried out between Itself—‘to take hold of
a force, and make it [its] own’.
And no doubt the combat appears as a combat against judgment, against its authorities and its personae.
(Deleuze, 1995)
With regards to language the battle-between has (among other things) been fought with
words, but it has not been a battle against an Other economic language (with a plethora of
vernaculars, rules, norms and terminology)—one which one might acquire by attending a
typical business school or reading e.g. the Wall Street Journal. In a sense, it has been minding
its own business. But, whereas the disses and the old school on-stage-battling display a
‘combat-between’ with rappers attempting to subjugate one-another in every thinkable way,
the bling-bling is, as we have seen, to a large extent a battle fought by out-posing one
another; one of showing off and ‘looking past’, rather than one of wiping out and ‘looking
down’ at one’s contestant. And doing so by using economic terminology. So, while this first
type of lyrical battle might well have reinforced hip-hop’s position and status as a music
‘I LOVE THE DOUGH’: RAP LYRICS AS A MINOR ECONOMIC LITERATURE 25
genre and as a culture industry, the internal battle that makes out the bling-bling positions
hip-hop as an economic language, and as a combatant Itself, with a force of its own that is
also exerted externally, working on an Other body of economic languages—hence becoming
a combat against, in every sense political.
…FOUGHT WITH A LACK OF TALENT…
Sticking to the assumption that most bling-bling rappers do come from modest means, or at
least exist in a culture where economic hardship is seen as characteristic for lived experience,
we might further develop the idea of speaking about the economic as something which
cannot be resisted. For many rappers this seems to be the case: lying at the heart of the every-
day struggle, the economic has become a topic impossible not to speak about. At the same
time has the culture in which the rappers exist by tradition been excluded from many a
discourse regarding major economic issues and issues, and is hardly one where e.g. reading
The Wall Street Journal is common or where attending business school is an option even to a
small minority.
The cultural capital of ‘sophisticated’ ways in which to brag and discuss economic
matters is thus less likely to be accumulated in the setting from which rap emerges. To
deploy a dominant mode i.e. mainstream, white, establishment ways of speaking
about the economic is not a plausible option, but rather an impossibility which opens
for innovation. To borrow yet another expression from Deleuze and Guattari, we might
say that talent to speak about the economic is lacking in hip-hop culture. One has to take
what lies at hand, for instance gangster manners, in a gangster slang, picked up on the
street.
Eh-yo, the bottom line is I’m a crook with a deal /
If my record don’t sell I’ma rob and steal…
[…]
I’ll snatch Kim and tell Puff, ‘You wanna see her again?’ /
Get your ass down to the nearest ATM…
(50 Cent, ‘How To Rob’)
Appreciating that bragging about economic achievements is an ubiquitous activity in West-
ern culture, and that this mechanism might well be a major driving force in capitalism, 50
Cent demonstrates how bragging in rap music turns explicit. ‘Fiddy’ brags of his ability to
steal, threatens ‘industry niggas’, and does so as the head of G-Unit Records. In a sense, the
bling-bling rapper speaks about the economic, but without the ‘proper’ knowledge of how to
do so. Hence, in a way bling-bling rap has stolen an element central to capitalism, but instead
of following conventions of how to treat it, expresses it without temperance and breaks every
possible rule of how to speak of such things, ‘stealing the baby from its crib’ (cf. Deleuze and
Guattari, 1986).
What is proposed here is that the forms of expression we’ve outlined in rap lyricism show
similarities to the idea of a ‘minor literature’. Deleuze and Guattari famously draw upon the
works of Franz Kafka to explain what they mean by such a literature: Kafka, who was a
Czech Jew, lived in Prague but wrote in German. His German was a Prague German, with a
withered vocabulary and an incorrect syntax, and it was influenced by Yiddish. This made his
German a rare mutation, and it ‘allowed him the possibility of invention’ (Deleuze and
Guattari, 1986: 20). As all minor authors, according to Deleuze and Guattari, he was a
‘foreigner to [his] own tongue’.
Kafka does not opt for a reterritorialization through the Czech language. Nor toward a hypercultural usage of
German with all sorts of oneiric or symbolic or mythic flights (even Hebrew-ifying ones), as was the case with
26 ALF REHN AND DAVID SKÖLD
the Prague School. Nor toward an oral, popular Yiddish. Instead, using the path that Yiddish opens up to him,
he takes it in such a way as to convert it into a unique and solitary form of writing. […] He will make the
German language take flight on a line of escape. (Deleuze and Guattari, 1986: 25–6)
The Prague German in which Kafka wrote his novels had, according to Deleuze and Guattari,
the power to deterritorialize the ‘high’ German. In a similar manner the bling-bling talks with
one (or several) Black English(es), developed and nurtured on the streets, which makes use of
a particular vocabulary, ignores grammatical rules and conventions (as specified by a Master
language). The influences are numerous and the creativity seems to be flourishing—but prob-
ably moving beyond the limits of what is accepted in the realms of business. As rappers go
from being exploited entertainers, coming from social groupings that usually don’t occupy a
space in the economic discourse, to owning their own companies and showing it off, this
street language enters into ‘larger’ and more ‘serious’ economic realms. And similar to
Kafka’s deterritorialized Prague German it deterritorializes the ways in which business is
being spoken and thought of.
That it is written in a major language, but from the margin, the position of a minority, is the
first outlining characteristic Deleuze and Guattari attributes a minor literature. It thus changes
the rules of the major language, changing it from within and is ‘affected with a high coeffi-
cient of deterritorialization’ (Deleuze and Guattari, 1986: 16). By changing the major
language according to its own positions, it moves the borders of that language, changing the
way in which it occupies a specific ideological/political (economic?) territory.
…AND WHICH CAN’T BE WON
Let us yet again return to the notion of the battle: as Rose (1994) points out, it cannot be
won. There is no border to transgress, and which determines who the winner is. There is no
judge proclaiming a winner. But since hip-hop culture is not one unified culture, there are
many voices and opinions within it. Who wins and who loses is subject to an ongoing
debate, but never quite settled. Media, award juries and fans—all hunger to take part in the
debate, but all also hunger for new debates. The never-ending battle is perhaps best under-
stood not as a consequence of someone’s desire to win or seize power, but a desire for some-
thing else—perhaps escaping the oppression experienced by people in the ‘hood
altogether—and might best be described a ‘continuum of desire’ imbuing the entire culture
(cf. Deleuze and Guattari, 1986). A desire of both ‘makin’ it’ and of staying behind, ‘keep-
ing it real’; a desire for the ‘hood and the people living there to obtain redress. But also a
desire to sell another record, to top another sales list with yet another song, to win another
award, and to engage in another battle, to diss another rapper for his or her fake-ness or
inauthenticity.
Thus, we find ourselves not in front of a structural correspondence between two sorts of forms, forms of
contents and forms of expression, but rather in front of an expression machine capable of disorganizing its
own forms, and of disorganizing its forms of content in order to liberate pure contents that mix with expres-
sions in a single intense matter. A major, or established, literature follows a vector that goes from content to
expression. Since content is presented in a given form of the content, one must find, discover, or see the
form of expression that goes with it. That which conceptualizes well expresses itself. But a minor, or revolu-
tionary, literature begins by expressing itself and doesn’t conceptualize until afterward… (Deleuze and
Guattari, 1986: 28)
Picking up on the remark made earlier on the collapse of art and business as two distinct
spheres meaningful to deploy when analyzing the bling-bling, yet another collapse becomes
evident when dealing with this phenomenon. As has been demonstrated above talk of the
economic often make up the (form of) content of the rap lyrics. Accompanied by beats, melo-
dies and other musical arrangements, this content is of course packeted and sold as music
‘I LOVE THE DOUGH’: RAP LYRICS AS A MINOR ECONOMIC LITERATURE 27
(recorded or performed live), making up one of bling-bling’s form of expression. Due to the
nature of the content—i.e. its often provocative attitude towards other rappers—the music
and its content, and what is going on around it (e.g. beefs involving economic issues), is
constantly cast around, magnified and speculated upon in hip hop media (making out other
forms of expression dealing with bling-bling content), with lyrics being subjected to interpre-
tations, and rappers, fans and experts being interviewed and cross-examined. New songs are
written to answer back, to what by now might be a highly distorted version of the contro-
versy. What in one instance was a form of expression, makes out the content in the next,
although perhaps this time appearing as a heated argument conducted in an unpolished
language between two rappers with the benefit of pushing magazines sales.
Take for instance the beef involving the rappers Eminem (who is one of few white rappers
in the industry) and 50 Cent on one side, and the rapper Benzino and the hip-hop magazine
The Source (proclaiming to have a journalistic mission) on the other: the latter side accusing
Eminem of stealing sales from black rappers has led 50 Cent (who is a protégé of Eminem) to
exclaim: ‘Fuck The Source, I’m on the cover of Rolling Stone’, in the song The Realest
Killaz. Dragging in even more parts of the cultural expressions and their contents in the feud
might well enhance the profits as noted earlier, but it also creates a new situation, with new
conditions—where the borders between content and expression are dissolved, turning bling-
bling into what Deleuze and Guattari would call an ‘expression machine’ which connects
wildly in any direction, and which ‘begins by expressing itself and doesn’t conceptualize
until afterward’ (Deleuze and Guattari, 1986: 28)—which uses its connections as levers to
work on its surroundings, exerting forces on e.g. the industry, using the masses as leverage,
and on attitudes prevailing in the ‘hood. Bragging and retaliating, becoming political in the
process.
I dumb down for my audience and double my dollars /
They criticize me for it, yet they all yell ‘Holla’ /
If skills sold – truth be told /
I’d probably be lyrically Talib Kweli /
Truthfully I wanna rhyme like Common Sense /
But I did five mill’ /
I ain’t been rhymin’ like Common since.
(Jay-Z, ‘Moment of Clarity’)
As Jay-Z implies in the quote above, the topics dealt with in his lyrics are not really those that
he is most concerned with, but those which have proven saleable. Presumably the white
middle class consumers are not as interested in rappers going on about social inconveniences
and political matters that really concern those living in impoverished urban areas. For Jay-Z
the bling-bling has thus become an instrument for doing something else: a way of redrawing
the industry map, of moving borders and upsetting governing orders within the music indus-
try. A means with deterritorializing powers which has enabled him as a rapper and former
crack-dealer from the streets of Brooklyn to succeed in entering the industry, upsetting it
from the inside.
COLLECTIVELY ACTING WITHIN A CRAMPED SPACE
According to the second characteristic Deleuze and Guattari ascribe to the minor, it is, at its
very core, political. With the minor the individual becomes the social, and also thoroughly
political: ‘its cramped space forces each individual intrigue to connect immediately to
politics. The individual concern thus becomes all the more necessary, indispensable, magni-
fied, because a whole other story is vibrating in it’ (Deleuze and Guattari, 1986: 17). Over the
years rap music has been prone to speak explicitly about political matters and to engage in
28 ALF REHN AND DAVID SKÖLD
issues concerning societal inequalities, disenfranchisement and racism, passing/carrying on a
tradition of black activism. Now, what seems to be a common reaction to the bling-bling
attitude, is regarding it as a threatening counter-movement to that hip-hop music which
displays a political awareness; as a sign of black politics declining in America; and as a threat
to African-American culture (see Harris, 2002; Kelley, 2004; Tyson, 2001). Or, brushing it
off—as the rap legend KRS One does in an interview in the film Letter to the President—as
sheer buffoonery. Without explicitly speaking about politics, the bling-bling irritates and
upsets, or is waved aside as something trivial.
Herein lies a clue to a power we posit the bling-bling to possess, namely that it ties directly
to politics. Without getting caught in the criticized notion that ‘all rap is conjoined with
spaces of urban poverty’ (cf. Foreman, 2002), the bling-bling attitude exists in a social
context—the ‘hood—where it is inevitable not to stand out, should you show off some of that
wealth. Jermaine Dupri will not go unnoticed driving down Nostrand Avenue ‘In the Ferrari
or Jaguar, switchin’ four lanes, with the top down, screaming out: Money ain’t a thang’. Even
dwelling in the ‘hood once you’ve ‘made it’—or returning there to visit old friends—seems
to be a complicated matter (see the documentary Black Picket Fence). But so does moving to
more fashionable areas, for the ‘hood stays with you. ‘Now we buy homes in unfamiliar
places / Tito smiles every time he see our faces’, exclaims The Notorious B.I.G., supposedly
referring to the servant of his new neighbors in the fashionable Hamptons. Assumedly the
money is too new, the language too crude and the manners too explicit. Even taken outside its
geographical boundaries, the ‘hood, as a mentality, seems to be acting within a cramped
space. Again bling-ing offends, frightens, and evokes nervous laughter from the vicinity. In
doing so, it is highly political.
Also in relation to the music industry—to a great extent governed by ‘white capital’ both
with regards to the major customers consuming hip-hop music, and to industrial tycoons to a
high degree controlling the American music industry—a rapper’s ability to navigate the
industry seems limited. Recall, for instance the point just made with regards to Jay-Z’s
Moment of Clarity. There seems to be limits to what he, being a black man from the projects,
can express in his lyrics—if he wants to keep up his sales figures. The way in which he, and
other bling-bling rappers who run their own record labels, seem to handle this issue—partly
by exploiting the Industry and the Market on its own terms, and possibly causing a redistribu-
tion and accumulation of mainly white capital into (at least partly) African-American
domains—emerges, however, as a possible inroad to the industry.
In our view the bling-bling thus becomes an economic language and a political movement
which works on the industry, by attaching ever more independent record labels to it (e.g., Lil’
Kim’s Queen Bee Records, Missy Elliott’s Gold Mine, Mos Def and Talib Kweli’s Good
Tree Records), run by a minority which by tradition has been excluded from the decision-
making realms of trade and industry. And even if it would be naïve to believe that the (still)
predominantly white music industry doesn’t also prosper from these businesses and the sales
figures, it seems to us as if the bling-bling contributes to opening up the industry for outside
elements, which might well go about their business in dissimilar styles, with dissimilar
values, and with a dissimilar language than we are used to be seeing—moving the borders for
‘how’ and ‘by whom’ business can be conducted.
This political nature of a minor literature is further inseparable from its collective value.
Deleuze and Guattari (1986: 17) explain this inextricability:
[B]ecause talent isn’t abundant in a minor literature, there are no possibilities for an individuated enunciation
that would belong to this or that ‘master’ and that could be separated from a collective enunciation. Indeed,
scarcity of talent is in fact beneficial and allows the conception of something other than a literature of masters;
what each author says individually already constitutes a common action, and what he or she says or does is
necessarily political, even if others aren’t in agreement. The political domain has contaminated every state-
ment (énoncé). But above all else, because collective or national consciousness is ‘often inactive in external
‘I LOVE THE DOUGH’: RAP LYRICS AS A MINOR ECONOMIC LITERATURE 29
life and always in the process of break-down,’ literature finds itself positively charged with the role and func-
tion of the collective, and even revolutionary, enunciation.
The excerpt above of course ties back to the notion of talent to speak and act the economic
being something which is lacking in hip-hop culture. Supposedly bling-bling rappers do
neither have ‘proper’ training in speaking about the economic, or come from a culture one
would necessarily associate with business life, but rather stem from a culture which by tradi-
tion has been excluded from that which Marx would label ‘the superstructure’ of professional
life. By this, we don’t mean to imply that a knowledge of how to deal with business is an
entirely alien issue in hip-hop culture—as Jay-Z points out in Rap Game/Crack Game, even
dealing in drugs might not be all that different than navigating the music industry and selling
records—but merely suggest that the languages deployed in the two trades, at least on a street
level of the former, are different.
In a later section of Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature, Deleuze and Guattari (1986: 83)
pose the question: ‘in what sense is the statement always collective even when it seems to be
emitted by a solitary singularity like that of the artist?’. The explanation presented is that the
statement ‘doesn’t refer back to an enunciating subject who would be its cause, no more than
to a subject of the statement who would be its effect’ (ibid.: 84). Instead, when an artist
produces a statement ‘it occurs necessarily as a function of a national, political, and social
community’ (ibid.: 84).
So Jay-Z speaks of the economic in the voice of a street hustler, and he speaks out of
Marcy, as a function of his background in the projects. 50 Cent gives voice to ‘Brooklyn’
thieves. In an interview in the film Letter To the President, he claims to be showing off his
neck-chain simply to convey the message ‘I am better than you!’, a desire immanent in a part
of society which has a history of being marginalized and oppressed. Taking what vernaculars,
values and expressions that lie at hand, the bling-bling thus turns into an airing of collective
desires of ‘makin’ it’.
CONCLUDING REMARKS
Economy, which is often read as synonymous with capitalism, is of course a language. It has
its own vernacular, its own particular grammar. What this text has attempted is to highlight a
specific way in which this language has been used, in practice, within a specific cultural
setting. Our claim is not that we, being white outsiders, would have any greater insight into
the thinking and the lived experience of urban black communities, as this claim would be
dubious in any number of ways. What we have tried to do is to show how specific economic
behaviors, here exemplified by ‘bragging’, can be understood as cultural and further as
performances of the economic language—performing capitalism.
Further, what we have attempted to show is that the discussion regarding organization/
economy and literature can be extended out into the popular culture and into song lyrics. As a
scholar in organization theory is still far more likely to go on about the organizational impli-
cations of the at times terminally dull À la recherche du temps perdu than the very real econ-
omies of the at times fabulous Anna Nicole Show, one could make a case for the claim that
the interest in literature within organization studies is mainly about scholars amassing
cultural capital than analytical potential. This text can thus be seen as an extension to this, as
two academics writing about the often crass, coarse and crude ‘literature’ they actually enjoy
rather than the good literature their mothers were pushing. Of course, this invites the question
whether we aren’t just being wiggas (wannabe/white niggas), amassing our own cultural
capital by proving that we are far more hip, cool and with it than those who would still try to
dredge something out of Maurice Blanchot’s poor, mangled corpse. These are difficult and
30 ALF REHN AND DAVID SKÖLD
important questions. We will, though, not make an effort to sort them out here. We will,
however, claim that there exists a bias towards ‘high literature’ within the subfield of organi-
zation/literature, and that this needs to be addressed.
This text should thus be seen as an outline of a project. By using Deleuze and Guattari’s
concept of ‘minor literature’ we have not wished to show that bling-bling is a way out, a
real political alternative, merely that one can read bling-bling in such a manner and that
one can situate the ways in which the economic language is used. Nor do we claim that
bling-bling should be viewed as a major form of bragging in a specific culture, just that it
is an example of a more widespread way to talk the economic. What we do claim,
however, is that rap lyrics can be seen as presenting an alternative way to address
economic issues, and that this can be analyzed. Bling-bling, to us, is a hybrid. It has obvi-
ously bought into the larger capitalist project of amassing wealth, measuring all things in
money, conspicuous consumption. Nevertheless, it has done so whilst retaining specific
cultural markers, and part of its attitude can be seen as defiance against another form of
capitalism, the racialized white capitalism that still works to keep ethnic minorities in a
subjugated position. Word.
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Do we need to study popular culture within organization studies, and exactly what is it we do if we choose to do so? Is it nothing more than organizational scholars co-opting yet another discipline, or is there an independent contribution to be made? I will in this text argue that in order to develop, organization studies must fi nd its own identity in relation to cultural studies, and that the search for this must by necessity include the study of hybrid cultural forms. Such forms, which are neither highbrow nor properly lowbrow, challenge common assumptions about what 'popular' in fact means in the fi eld, and points towards the need for a more complex theory of how images of management and organization are consumed, disseminated and re-created from the world of popular culture into the world of the contemporary organization and back again.
... This has become particularly clear by the blingbling phenomenon-a style that deals in showboating, bragging, and conspicuous consumption-that has emerged in and from the hip-hop culture in the past decade (cf. Rehn & Sköld, 2003, 2005. Rappers-belonging to a culture in which the battle is an institutionalized element, most often manifesting itself in rap artists "dissing" (i.e., disrespecting, discrediting, dishonoring) their combatants while accentuating their own greatness (for a more detailed account of the hip-hop culture and its history and traditions, see Foreman, 2002, andRose, 1994)-do not, however, only brag about the obscene amounts of money they have, how much "ice" (jewelry) they are wearing, how expensive their clothes are, or how ostentatious the lives they are leading are. ...
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