Celebrity is a unending debacle — one full of absurd highs and embarrassing lows that some are born into and others obtain for virtually limitless reasons. This discrepancy brings into question how anyone can prepare for it, being that we are all, of course, different inside. How I react to something won’t be the same way that you perceive it, so we will have different outcomes involving it. But being that celebrities typically have more money and influence than their infamous counterparts, the additional level of attention and wealth calls for an additional level of maturity and evolution—hip-hop celebrities especially, now that the genre has officially surpassed rock as the most popular genre in the United States. The public image is extremely important, as is remaining true to the self. Too often, philanthropy is used to skirt around having a conversation about rappers’ maturity, but it shouldn’t serve as an excuse to shy away from the evolution that they need.
Everyone loves a good story about humanitarianism. Giving back to the community, especially one in which you come from, is the dream of many underprivileged youths, so seeing their favorite entertainers do it on the big screen brings a sense of everlasting pride. Chance The Rapper donated $1 million to schools in Chicago in 2017, with his SocialWorks charity giving an additional $10,000 for every $100,000 that was raised. Back in 2015, at the height of the Dab pandemonium, 2 Chainz raised $2 million through sales of “Dabbin’ Santa” Christmas sweaters, turning around and spending the money on needy families to provide some additional holiday cheer. In 2009, Lil Wayne donated $200,000 to assist with the restoration effort of Harrell Park, a playground for skaters that was destroyed by the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Not only do these stories inspire the public and the youth, they also offer a glimpse into the moral structure of the celebrity themselves, enabling the people at home to see just what makes them tick.
But being a serial humanitarian also has a few unintended effects on the public that can be harnessed and manipulated by someone smart enough to do it. First and foremost, it strengthens the hold that the artist has over the public. The person that receives the good nature is the clear winner of the scenario, but the person that views the photo op is now indebted to the celebrity. Over time, this builds a sense of loyalty that will make the public become psychologically devoted to them. Drake harnessed this the best recently, with the video for “God’s Plan” featuring him distributing the video’s million-dollar production budget to indigent people in Miami. The six-minute visual follows Drake’s parade of tears and smiles as he makes the days of many. By the video’s end, if the public wasn’t previously considering it, the conversation of rap’s best had swung to his favor. When Pusha T released his scathing, redolent diss “The Story of Adidon,” he attempted to game Drake’s celebrity, but Drake had bolstered it in preparation. Attempting to discredit a rapper’s upcoming album when that very album’s lead single had altruism running through its veins was borderline impossible. And so as much as it generated conversations about Drake’s demise, come album time, the diss is largely nonexistent. So is the power of giving away.
Nicki Minaj has been a humanitarian for quite some time. It was recently revealed to INSIDER that her pastor Lydia Woodson Sloley has been funneling Minaj’s monetary donations for building infrastructure in Indian villages through the former’s Pearl Foundation charity. In 2017, Nicki sent Twitter into a frenzy when she began randomly selecting students online to pay for some of their college expenses. She then announced that she would be starting her own scholarship program. A couple of days ago, she awarded her “Student of the Game” scholarship to 37 fans, announcing that she would pay their entire tuition or the student loans that they had accumulated. As the world prepares for the release of her fourth studio album Queen, her image is picture perfect. A serial humanitarian that can rap her ass off, but more importantly, her heart is full of gold.
Her ability to give, give, give doesn’t stop at scholarships. She also gave a journalist the scolding of a lifetime on Twitter recently, hopping in her DMs to call her everything except her first name. When Wanna (@WannasWorld) tweeted that she wished for Nicki to show some maturation in her music since she’s growing older, Nicki verbally assaulted her in private, calling her broke, angry, and just about everything else that someone could use to pick under your skin. When the messages were revealed, Nicki’s fanbase attacked Wanna incessantly. But Nicki’s immaturity left a sour impression in the mouths of not just journalists, but people around the globe. It’s too bad that out of the entire scenario, the only thing to arise was more conversation about the journalist instead of Nicki’s livid blitz. Her artistry, undoubtedly, accounts for most of her shielding, but her recent philanthropy does as well.
For Nicki Minaj, shouldn’t her personal and philanthropic personalities be separated or judged as one? She’s undoubtedly changing the lives of her biggest fans, but what about those who aren’t that familiar with her? If she’s practically buying their support and the adoration of the public that can be swayed by the transfer of what’s probably lunch money for her, is she truly giving away? Around album time, at that? It ties into her personal maturity, as well. We should put her questionable donation tactics aside and have a conversation about her actual character and whether she truly is immature. Deeming by what we’ve seen thus far, I dare say she is.
XXXTentacion, before his tragic death in June, was also an artist that understood the importance, and the sway of the public, that comes with giving back. Back in October, he dictated that he would be donating $100,000 to domestic violence prevention programs, likely stemming from his own charges in the past. In December, after being charged with eight felonies for witness tampering, XXX took to Instagram to say that he’d be donating $20,000 to local charities along with various toys and gadgets. DJ Akademiks later showcased XXX pulling boxes of instruments out of a truck, presumably in front of the charity that he would be donating to. Ultimately, there’s no record of the $100,000 being given to any charity, and the $20,000 donation is also suspiciously absent.
While XXX did donate the gadgets, as well as probably other amounts of money to people and institutions that don’t make the news, his announcements of being a patron were enough to clear his name for much of the public on the verge of cancelling him. He understood how celebrity and philanthropy run in tandem. Shortly before his death, he announced that he was putting together a suicide prevention charity event that upcoming weekend. His keenness to consistently announce philanthropic events undoubtedly came from wishing to erase the murky ether surrounding his image in bits and, over time, it would blossom into something wholesome and embraced. But while he was operating in a humanitarian guise, he still allegedly tampered with witnesses, trolled rappers, and caused the kind of anarchy that helped to catapult his career. In the wake of his philanthropy and death, these two personalities have been separated completely. While we were lambasting one side and praising another, we should have amalgamated them together to push for growth that would have made a difference.
That just goes to show that, at its essence, philanthropy helps artists more than it helps people. Donating hundreds of thousands of dollars, when an artist has millions, is usually an investment if a face is attached to it. Whether it’s attention, press, or probable album sales, artists get much more out of it than just seeing happiness abundant. That’s why it’s important to bring their persona into the frame and judge them for everything, not just what they’re putting in your pocket. Doing this will enable us to fully understand them and push for growth instead of turning a guilty eye when they do something that’s morally unacceptable. If we put a foot to their necks, not only look at what they’re giving, but also what they’re doing outside of that, and then hold them accountable, we won’t have so many cringe-worthy iconoclasts embarrassing us.
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