By Alex Jenkins
The other day I was watching a rap battle between two of the heavyweights in the game (T-Rex Vs. Cortez), and for the first time I couldn’t help but notice how fat these two dudes had become. I’ve been following the online battle scene for a while, and so I had witnessed their skills, fame, and now their bellies, grow over the years. And it struck me, that it’s not just battle rap. There appears to be an epidemic within the American mainstream hip hop scene that glorifies obesity.
Fat rappers have historically had an oversized presence in the hip hop landscape, and most of those rappers have appeared to relish in flaunting their size. From the Fat Boys and Heavy D to Fat Joe, Big Pun and the Notorious B.I.G, rotund rappers have never shied away from publicizing their girth. But back then there was a certain humility to it. Practitioners and participants in Hip hop culture have a tendency to be very blunt and very adversarial, so acknowledging one’s fatness served as a pre-emptive strike that would blunt the damage caused any similarly-themed attacks from rap rivals. But today’s fat rappers have a wholly different swagger from the fun-loving, happy-go-lucky Biz Markie types.
Today’s trend was at least partially pioneered by Rick Ross, perhaps the fattest and least bashful of today’s obese orators. Ross’s lyrics and persona occupy a sub-genre of gangsta rap sometimes known as “luxury rap”, in which self-proclaimed gangsta rappers brag about the excessive material wealth they’ve amassed through their various criminal enterprises. Ross wields his fat belly as an accessory used to bolster the motif of general excess. The subtext is that, not only does he never miss a meal, but given his role at the top of the criminal food chain, he is absolved of having to do any of the manual labor that would cause him to burn off the fat. Instead he just sits in his thrown and calls the shots like a true bawse! If rappers like 50 Cent got famous by promoting the street life, Ross’ sedentary lifestyle might aptly be referred to as the seat life.
There’s another interesting dynamic operating here. Most rappers come from poor and working-class backgrounds, which are often characterized by the need for manual labor in order to make ends meet. And since many labor-intensive jobs require and promote a certain level of physical fitness, Rick Ross’ physique is in keeping with his desire to embody the antithesis of the poor laborer. This is also consistent with the general tendency of mainstream rappers to distance themselves from their humble beginnings by highlighting their new-found wealth. While most rappers will emphasize how poor they used to be, it is usually only done to further highlight the great distance they’ve come in their economic trajectory. The general aversion to the 9-to-5 lifestyle, is also partially rooted in the racism that African Americans have endured historically. Many see the legal economic system as one in which they are prevented from getting ahead, and where they will always be subservient and dependent upon whites. Therefore, the shunning of legitimate jobs in favor of black-market ones is also an act of resistance.