Placemaking: how rappers are capitalizing on ghetto imagery

Everyone slightly familiair with American hiphop will know the typical ‘ghetto’ music videos. The ingredients? Gang signs, suburbs, great piles of money, a lot of weapons and a group of African-American men. If you really have no clue (and want do dive into some hiphop) check these videos by A$AP Ferg, SahBabii and/or Bobby Shmurda.

All the images noted above were used in the video for ‘Drill Time’, a song by rapper Slim Jesus. In the video he shows of his money and firearms, while rapping about his gang (among others). A true highlight of culture.

The rapper got heavily critiziced for the way he portrayed himself and his surrounding in the musicvideo. The criticism focused on the fact that Slim Jesus does not come from the ghetto at all, so he is appropriating a place and its imagery for his own benefit.

This is what Vicki Mayer (2016) would probably describe as an example of ‘placemaking’. Slim Jesus chose this particular place, because it is associated with hiphop. ‘The ghetto’ (or ‘the hood’) is not one real place, but it stands for the poor American suburbs. The video should make his claims more authentic, giving him more ‘street credibility’.

The thing is: it is not authentic, since this part of hiphop-culture and imagery, is not his own. It’s a case of ‘placemaking (…) dovetailed with media industry needs’ (Mayer 2016: 716). Slim Jesus (and other rappers) is capitalizing on this placemaking: he uses the stylized ‘hood’ to his producing need, ‘using’ inhabitants as free figurants who receive nothing in exchange.

By Muus Visser

Bibliography

Mayer, V. (2016), ”The Places Where Audience Studies and Production Studies Meet”, Television & New
Media
17.8: 706-718.

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