Dear Big Brother: From Rags to Riches

hot boyz

Every other Friday, in Dear Big Brother, Michael Alexander writes letters to one of the most important influences on his life: hip-hop.

Dear Big Brother,

It’s not really hard to distinguish between rich and poor. The latter is often subjected to the bare necessities of life, and that’s on a good day. Eating nothing but ramen noodles isn’t that cool. Having more than one pair of jeans to wear is a luxury. The point is that when you’re subjected to these conditions for such a long period of your life, you usually seek out a better way. You’ll literally do anything to survive. Special shout out to my 5th grade teacher, who taught me about Social Darwinism. If I had a highlight reel of some of the most important things I learned about back in grade school, the lesson on Charles Darwin is definitely in the top three. The whole “survival of the fittest” mentality, to me, was just oozing out of music videos back in the day.

So when I used to watch these videos, about rappers who came from the slums and “made it,” I finally had a visual representation to match the lyrics. Most notable was the “Bling Bling” video with the Hot Boy$. Remember them? Let’s see how my good my memory is: there was Turk, BG, Mannie Fresh, Baby, Lil Wayne and Juvenile. As I saw all these damn diamonds on chains and expensive cars that I couldn’t even spell, I asked myself “how?” How the hell were these cats from the Nola projects getting it so well now? I mean, Big Bro, we watched Juvenile’s “Ha” video together. The representation of New Orleans looked far from plentiful. To be honest, it was far down on my list of places to ever visit. Compare that to what we saw in the “Bling Bling” video; it seemed like they were on a different planet altogether. They seemed so happy, waving their Rolexes and gold fronts at the camera.

As I’ve matured, I’ve learned that the secret is to maintain success. The ability to lose yourself in instant stardom is a tale we too often hear. The run that Hot Boy$ had didn’t last very long. The last I heard, Turk was recently released from jail, BG is in jail, Mannie Fresh is MIA, Baby has a star tattooed on his head, Lil Wayne has been battling seizures and wears Truckfit (don’t ask) and Juvenile is Juvenile. (Sorry, you won’t ever hear me throw shade at Juve.) It seems like success is a subtle black hole just waiting for the opportunity to swallow you.

But not all initial successes fit that mold. Some learn from their past lives and never want to return to them. Some aren’t satisfied with just being rich, and want to take it to the level of wealth. Being rich and wealthy, as Hov puts it, “it’s just different.” If you’ve been sleeping under a rock for the last few weeks, you would have missed Jay-Z making himself a sports agent. (I know you want to reference Arli$$, the old HBO show, but please fight the urge.) Big Brother, is this the blueprint to “making it”? (See what I did there?) To constantly think bigger, to refuse to be comfortable, to believe in yourself. That’s it. That’s one of the ways you avoid that black hole on the rise to success.

Hot Boy$ came such a long way, in retrospect. You can even look up the word “bling-bling” in the dictionary. But one of the most important things you taught me, Big Bro, is to stay humble. No matter if you have a $1 or $1,000 in your pocket, be humble. Your happiness may be misinterpreted sometimes, but it shouldn’t have to come at the expense of others. And looking back at the Hot Boy$, I don’t feel like they were trying to piss other people off because they were on top. I genuinely think they were living in the moment. And I can’t blame them; if I was struggling to make ends meet, and then all of sudden had access to a ton of money, I’d probably do some foolish things myself. Like buy a mansion and a pet bear named Baloo. Nothing too crazy.

From your little brother,