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Intellectual Thug: Oxymoron?

As a Communication Applications (Speech for the layperson) teacher, I am a natural observer of the communication habits of others.  I am always looking for examples of articulate celebrities or athletes that can relate to the student clientele that I am charged with reaching, which is not an easy task.  It is no coincidence nor is it a surprise that the reason our young black people speak the way they do is because of the pop culture icons they look up to.  They do not see the importance of grammar, expanded vocabulary, or diction just to name a few.  And the ones that do see the importance of and utilize it, are seen as “talking white” (which is another issue).  This trend troubles me because the capacity of your communication (verbal and non-verbal) is directly correlated to your employability and success rate.  And if our young black kids don’t grasp the importance of this concept, they will forever find themselves in a position of inferiority as far as I am concerned.  However, I did find a glimmer of hope in this situation.

As I was discussing the relevance of music with my Sunday School class, my sister suggested I go to YouTube and listen to an interview with the rapper, Plies.  Now, I’ve heard some of Plies music and I would venture to say he’s not the most thought-provoking or socially conscious rapper I’ve ever heard.  Consequently, my first thought wasn’t of him being an articulate speaker.  However, my limited thinking (in this matter) proved me wrong.  What I heard was a young man whose intellectual & mental capacity could rival many politicians and corporate giants.  The natural unbalance, in my mind, however was the polarization of his speech versus his music.  Now, while I found this in somewhat of a positive light, I realized others saw it as a negative.  I saw Plies as an example of a rapper my students look up to who can express his thoughts in a clear and articulate manner.  However, from my observations of the various interviews and posted comments, many saw him as the prototypical “fake thug”.  And to further substantiate their claims, they point to evidence that he was the valedictorian of his high school class and homecoming king.  Admittedly, Plies did dance around the valedictorian question so we don’t know whether this is true or not.  But my question for his critics, who question his street credibility is….”So What?”

If he is the “goon” he claims he is, why is it a big deal that he actually has an expanded vocabulary.  Is “thugism” synonymous with ignorance?  Is it impossible for so-called goons to have an education, let alone be first in their class.  I realize this is not a common occurrence, but we should not automatically nullify the hardness of a person based on their educational accomplishments.  Now, I don’t glorify the thug lifestyle because of the harm that it has caused, particularly in our black communities. But if we gave respect to those who claim that lifestyle while proudly displaying their intellectual prowess, maybe many of the young people that look up to these “role-models” would not be so apt to suppress their academic capabilities.

My issue is not whether Plies is a real thug or not.  I really couldn’t care less, because I believe many rappers aren’t what they claim in their songs.  I actually believe that a real thug can’t continue to be a thug and be a successful rapper by commercial standards (i.e. Shyne, Beanie Sigel).  I still won’t listen to Plies music (just because it’s not my cup of tea), but I do applaud the fact that he realizes the business he’s in and utilizes the art of code-switching.  In order to be successful at what you do, one must have the ability to adapt to the environment they’re around (code-switch) while maintaining who they really are.  Just because a person from the hood uses the word “superfluous” in the right context should not negate his street credibility.  We should celebrate the fact that this dude actually can express clear thoughts in complete sentences and rather than disparage him, develop other young black kids to do the same.  I’ll be sure to let my students know that I don’t condone what Plies represents, but at least he represents it with clarity.

What are your thoughts?  Can intellectual and thug go together?


by Jarad Davis of Church Boy Chronicles

Follow him @jaraddavis02


8 thoughts on “Intellectual Thug: Oxymoron?

  1. According to Stringer Bell, yes, you can be both. My problem is with these guys who want to be thugs in college. Unless your motive is to learn some business practices to take over an illegal empire or move drugs to your fellow students, it’s not possible. As far as Plies goes, all rappers are actors in a sense, but it’s kinda sad that dude has to dumb his music down THAT much and make these easily manipulated youths think it’s cool to be a “goon.” But in order for him to actually convey his intelligent thoughts through his music, he’d probably actually have to be a good rapper. Can’t knock his hustle tho

  2. I agree wholeheartedly. My issue, as you mentioned, is these people getting rich off of being actors are doing such a great job that they’re leading a great number into poverty.

  3. its easy to take issue with the artist, but i take issue with the supporters. There was time when being exposed as weak or fraud would mean the end of your career. The fact that Ross and Plies still sell records after being exposed as frauds is amazing!! The fact that Wayne yells blood gang in every other song and was wearing a blue bandana on a Hot Boyz album cover, but still has credibility is my problem.

    there will always be wack rappers, but real used to recognize real but i suppose that those times have changed

    • I don’t necessarily have a problem with these guys being frauds because it’s all entertainment at the end of the day. Therefore, if the music is good, the music is good. But I can listen to a Rauwse or Wayne interview and come to the conclusion that they have very little knowledge to kick on camera and/or on the mic. My main problem with Wayne is that he keeps talking about how he got shot….dude, you shot yourself!

  4. I’m always shocked when people try to clown the same “thugs” they’ve been following around for years. Like when Rick Ross was found out to be “the law”, he lost a few followers, but most kept on loving his music even though “Rozay” is VERY NOT GANGSTA. I can appreciate the artists that realize it’s a business and you have to “give the people what they want”. They know what’s going to put the most commas in their checks, so they go all in with their goonish ways.

    Real thugs rarely make it because the people that sign their checks can’t deal with the outside stresses of having to bail them out all the damn time. Plus real thugs will not know when to quit while their ahead thinking they’re untouchable.

  5. I’m going to have my 15 y/o daughter read this article. In the Black community…it has never been cool to be “so well spoken”. I was called an “Oreo” for the better part of my teen years, simply because I pronounce my Rs and read books all the time.

    I also think part of the issue is that in the media, there are usually 2 extremes of black people. Either you’re hood/ghetto, and REAL or you’re high falutin, ubereducated, baller rich AND detached from the realities of the community. These extremes aren’t all there is to being black and aren’t “real” at the end of the day.

  6. I think Rev. Pac taught us all that “thug life” should be about doing what’s good for the community not destroying it in the pursuit of “money, the cars,the clothes and the h@3$…I suppose”. I’m glad that there are some educated rappers out there but I’m disappointed that they’re using their influence to convince people to buy Gucci and LV. It’s time they start fixing the problem and stop fanning the flames.

  7. Pingback: We a Bunch of Gangsta’s « The Writerz Block

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