Dear Big Brother: The Age of Ratchet


Every other Friday in Dear Big Brother, Michael Alexander writes letters to one of the guiding forces in his life: hip-hop.

Dear Big Brother,

I write you this letter to implore you to keep fighting. There are forces that have been created with malicious intent to inflict assault by inauthentic content upon you in the name of entertainment. I’ve come to expect certain rappers going above and beyond to grab headlines or crack the Hot 100, but it’s becoming more and more frequent. Radio singles that promote “the more outrageous the better,” and it seems that more ridiculous means more notoriety. What happened to the flood of artists who did it for the love of music? For the love of you? Why is it more attractive today to put on a mask, put on act that generates more likes or retweets at the expense of your dignity?

This is not my first run-in with these so-called “ratchet” artists. In high school, these undesirables tried to create a lane and break into the mainstream. Ying Yang Twins and Lil Jon immediately come to mind. To refresh your memory, Ying Yang Twins were responsible for “Salt Shaker” and “Wait (The Whisper Song).” Then they slowly faded to black, into the realm of “one-album wonders,” and weren’t to be heard from again. Well, except for maybe random appearances on stand-up comedy specials or Dave Chappelle skits. But these “here then gone” MCs today are overstaying their welcome. I could make an entire list of these guys: Future, Waka Flocka, Chief Keef, Trinidad James. Their “lyrics” make my ears hurt. It’s as if they’re trying to offend me on purpose by trying to mask their music as, well, music.

Over the years I’ve created a radar to detect certain elements of what could be called “ratchet.” It’s actually not a hard formula to pick up. If the music you are listening to consists of lots of yelling, the same phrase repeated at random intervals from beginning to end, or content that leaves you scratching your head, then you might have been a victim of unsavory music. There is, however, a heavy infusion of bass that even makes me double back at times. Sometimes it’s hard to ward off this ever-present subgenre. If you’re in the gym lifting some weights, throwing on some Gucci Mane might get the adrenaline pumping. Need some music to get you hyped for a night out? Maybe 2 Chainz is the way to go.

I can’t help but remember a Jay-Z lyric in relation to this whole “ratchet” movement: “It’s only entertainment.” And I get that, but to what end? Is the attention worth losing your identity over? It’s a fine line that more artists today are choosing to cross, since the opportunity for fame is greater. Social networks play a larger role in which songs or artists are selected for particular audiences. In one respect, it’s actually fascinating to witness how the expansion of technology also impacts musical trends. On the other hand, it’s disheartening to realize that the music I listen to could just be one huge fairy tale. We know it’s entertainment, but nobody enjoys being misled.

So I write you, Big Brother, urging to continue your fight against these perpetrators. I know this is a battle that has been underway for decades, but you’re still here. And I will do my best to help you in your quest. You still haven’t told me what the end goal is here, but I imagine it has to do with maintaining your honesty. I reckon it calls for continuing the construction of your blockade that provides protection from these rapscallions. To be completely honest, there were some battles I thought might break you. The one against Soulja Boy was close. I mean, the guy had an instructional dance video with his hit single. (I must admit, I came close to doing the “superman” at a bar one time, but I managed to fight the urge.) Or remember when that group D4L came with their single “Shake That Laffy Taffy,” or Crime Mob’s “Knuck If You Buck”? Close calls. Creative songs in their own right, but I could picture you rolling your eyes when you came upon those tracks.

I’m still encouraged that I’m not the only one you’ve got wearing your stripes. Nas is still around, and you enlisted him in the early 90s. Jay-Z hasn’t given up either. Some will point to his new union with Justin Timberlake and criticize. This isn’t new territory for Hov; he made Best of Both Worlds with R. Kelly in the early 2000s. But I, Michael Alexander, am here to pledge my allegiance to you, hip-hop. I will continue to defend your kingdom in this New Age of Ratchet with every ounce of energy I can muster. I know it will be a long and treacherous struggle, but just like Juno told Vanessa in Juno, “If you’re still in, I’m still in.” Sage words we all could learn from.

From your little brother,