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Untold Truths of the Ghetto

Imagine growing up in a place you’re never destined to leave. For most growing up in the ghetto, this is what happens. As a result, those on the outside don’t get the chance to hear what really goes on in the inside. Instead, the outsider’s perception of life on the inside is made up from what they can see. However, some people, like rapper Lupe Fiasco, manage to escape the ghetto and tell the truths of the inside.
Lupe Fiasco is widely considered to be one of the best rappers when it comes to lyrical content. His subject matter is deeper than most rappers and he is very passionate when it comes to his music. Having escaped the ghetto, he is able to provide a first hand experience of what really goes on in the inside. This results in a unique situation because his music is essentially the meeting ground for two different cultures. Mary Louise Pratt, author of the essay, “Arts of the Contact Zone”, describes this meeting ground as a place where cultures “…meet, clash, and grapple with each other” (Pratt 501) or more simply put, a place she calls the contact zone. The contact zone consists of many elements and is most prominent in certain types of text. One particular text, an autoethnographic text, can be seen in some of Lupe Fiascos music. One specific example of this is a song by Lupe Fiasco titled “Chopper”. This song is such a good example of this particular text because he has both the perspective of the inside of the ghetto and the outside. He sees what other outsiders can see but wants them to know what is really happening on the inside. He is able to blend the two different cultures and wants to give the less dominant culture a voice and does so with this song. “Chopper” is a very unique piece of music. It comes from Lupe Fiascos newest album titled Testuo & Youth and is nine minutes thirty-three seconds long, the longest track on the album. It features six other artists, each with a different story to tell about their experience in the ghetto. Their stories are a response to the more dominant outsiders perception, trying to help show what really goes on. One common outside perception of the ghetto is that the many aren’t really aware of what exactly happens on the inside. A lot people live their whole life in the ghetto, so this leaves people to believe that some might not necessarily want to leave. Lupe’s song challenges this idea. Featured artist Billy Blue says in his verse, “You were born with a silver spoon in your mouth so don’t critique” (Fiasco). This line is telling listeners that you have no right to judge his life as you were not born into his situation and walked in his shoes. You will never truly understand the hardships of the ghetto until you have experienced them first hand. This song also describes the true struggle of the ghetto in a verse by Lupe. He says, “Ramen can’t feed us, Medicare can’t heal us” (Fiasco). This line shows that a food, commonly viewed as an affordable option, simply isn’t enough to fully nourish someone. However, it seems to be their only option sometimes. It also shows that a policy implemented by the US government to help with those struggling, most likely in the ghetto, is not enough. The best solution the government can provide can not overcome the difficulties of living in the ghetto. The ghetto the outsiders see is much different than the ghetto the inside sees. However, if the ghetto is truly that bad, why don’t people try to better themselves and leave? In some cases, they do. As mentioned earlier, Lupe Fiasco did so, as well as others. The difference is that not all who try are successful. This is what those outside of the ghetto are unaware of. They just see the slim number of people who make it out, while the large number of those who try to make it out but fail, go unnoticed by the outside. The reason for this perception is simply because leaving the ghetto is hard. This is addressed in the song multiple times. In the verse by another featured artist, Trouble, he says, “Probable cause, no cracka never really had it/ I was just a n**** in a high price whip” (Fiasco). This line gives a possible reason as to why leaving the ghetto is hard, eluding to the fact that the police use of “probable cause” is more likely to be enforced on an African American. This idea is even more supported when featured artist Trae tha Truth says, “ Law’s out lookin’ for me like Osama” (Fiasco). This is an exaggeration comparing the racial profiling done on African Americans to the search of the man responsible for the attacks on 9/11. Both of these lines convey a struggle dealing with trying to leave the ghetto and are both out of their control, they were born into it. Not only is leaving the ghetto hard, but sometimes it just seems destined to be so. The insiders want to show that their surroundings affect their destiny and the situation they are born into will impact their future. The featured artist Buk Psychodrama says in his verse, “Some people, listen, you could be predisposed or preconditioned/ Or speak with the preacher, been preaching be the person/ To be some process in your progress or be the prevention” (Fiasco). He is essentially saying you have no control and can be predestined in your life but also wants the outside to know that they all have the opportunity to try and alter their destiny, which can be different from the opposing view that the ghetto is not that bad and leaving is common. However, there is a contact zone in this piece in which there is a meeting of the outside and the inside. The hook is perhaps the best instance of a contact zone. Lupe Fiasco goes on to say, “Filet mignon with my food stamps/ Car cosigned by my mama/ Medical card from Obama/ Background check for a chopper” (Fiasco). The hook by Lupe creates a contact zone for those outside of the ghetto with those inside of the ghetto. He takes elements of the outside culture and pairs them with different elements of the inside culture. For example, Lupe is saying that only those inside the ghetto receive benefits, such as Medicare and food stamps, but want to live their life as if they were outside the ghetto with luxuries such as a filet mignon. He creates a connection between the two different cultures he has been exposed to and it creates a better understanding between the two. Pratt’s ideas of contact zones and autoethnographic texts are vital in understanding different cultures. Without them, the dominant culture would only see one side of the story and never be able to truly understand the other. Less dominant cultures would not be able to respond to the perception that was created for them. It’s evident that Lupe Fiasco’s song “Chopper” wants to share the side of the story normally untold or unheard. This song helps bridge the gap between two polar opposite cultures and allows them to interact with each other. It also responds to the perceptions created by the other culture, challenging them to think differently and even changing their perception, allowing for a deeper understanding of the ghetto and those who inhabit it.

Works Cited
Fiasco, Lupe. “Chopper.” Testuo & Youth. Atlantic Recording Corporation, 2015. MP3.
Pratt, Mary Louise. “Arts of the Contact Zone.” Modern Language Association. 1991.

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