Fri 23 Feb 2018 - 9.00

Act Like a Wasteman, That's Not Me

The beats are low, the diction slurs from one rhyme to the next with nasal voices like a larynx infused with helium. Jeans are tight, the garment labels are European – black and white Margiela and Rick Owens. Naked skin indistinguishable from tattoos up to the chin are de rigueur. I'm up till the morning from the studio to the club, to the VIP strip room, drinking hedonism whilst snorting misogyny and subjugation. 

Declarations: ‘Bitch I’m the Man, Ho, I’m the Man you know I’m the Man’, which are then followed in a similar vein, by countless others that brag about their private jet and garment purchasing power and nymphomaniac proclivities. Rap by nature wields braggadocios intent, through the current young thugs seemingly unaware of their forefather Tupac Shakur who declared an honesty with love for himself and women – maybe that’s why this is now called “Trap”.

The message is clear, the “wasteman”* has evolved, he preaches to popular society via social media about his drugs, clothes, lap dances and “bitches”. He rolls mob-deep, the strength of this hyena is the pack and the strength of the pack is this hyena. Hip hop has always been boastful and the portrayal of positive role models are not always evident. The “Trap” genre promotes empowerment via a degradation of self, the common denominator is low, which matches the sag of the pants. The mantra is clear about what being a young BLACK man is supposed to be. The holistic demeanour is defined by you and your audience, both black and white are supposed to walk with designer swag, talk to your “niggas” (friends) and share your women (hoes or bitches). Contrary to “Trap” (popular) opinions, there are broader cultural values and stances on offer.

A man that knows himself and his biological lineage, who assumes a life within the west, whilst taking inspiration from the east. In the wake of the death of Muhammad Ali, who declared his greatness through his winning agility and a vernacular, which twisted many a naysayer. Ali was a forbearer of rap, his lyrics containing razor sharp wit and intellect stirred in the same cup by 'liquid swords’. Self empowerment through solidarity and harmony, with a preservation order for your people and their rights. No need for the constant presentation of well-oiled and twerked butts, or the validation of your style with Parisian garment tags in order to exist as a black man in this millennium.

I question the current role models and their oratorical prowess, which encourages “a nation of millions to hold us back”. That’s Not Me is the title of a song by the British rapper Skepta whose verse declares an independent stance from his peers’ actions. The images in this story symbolise an alternative visual to the stance of those referred to in the text.

— Harris Elliott

Harris Elliott, visual storyteller, is a London-based multidisciplinary artist, curator, and stylist who conceives and delivers gallery shows, installations, and advertising campaigns for a wide range of global clients. Harris is co-creator of the touring exhibition Return of the Rudeboy and curator of Punk in Translation.

*wasteman – waste of space, with little intent