Trickle down: Anthem


Today, at the end of both 2012 and the rule of law, has any song so aptly captured the defining characteristic of our time as Kool G. Rap’s “Crime Pays”? The year closed fittingly with banking giant HSBC being handed nothing more than a minor fine (the U.S. Department of Justice called it a “record” but US$1.92 billion is just  five weeks’ income for the bank) for money laundering on behalf of drug lords and accused terrorist states. You can find the laughable details here and here. I give those details only this brief treatment because they aren’t nearly as important as what they say about where and who we are as a society.

Where we are is at the end—we just don’t know it yet. Where else could we be given the effectively complete failure of major governments to prosecute the unprecedented financial crimes committed by large swathes of the financial community? Since the economy and government have themselves been captured by those criminals, it’s really to be expected. They’ve used their power to make the law a sham, now so riddled with hypocrisy, cronyism and naked corruption as to be useless and unworthy of respect. If the message of the HSBC crime is that it will go unpunished, then why shouldn’t everyone—from the clerk embezzling office supply funds to the thug lifers slinging crack on the street in Kool G. Rap’s song—do whatever they can to get what they can as well and take their chances? This is the relentless, subconscious trickle down: everyone’s a cheater so you’d best cheat, too. It slowly infects civil society with a cynical resentment, forcing us inexorably toward a human condition resembling something like Hobbes’ war of all against all.

And who are we? Well, I know who Jamie Dimon is. He’s a nigga. And I know who Tim Geithner is. He’s a nigga, too. Angelo Mozilo? Another nigga. Lloyd Blankfein? A nigga. Those guys at the Institute of International Finance? Niggas all. And you and me? Niggas for life.

So let what follows be an anthem.

(“The umm, security we have here today, not the open security—the ones, that … that really sittin’ there and really think we don’t know who they are …”)

(“Now that’s funky!”)

Crime don’t pay, that’s what they tell us
But that’s because the other motherfucker’s gettin’ jealous
But I’ma tell you this: they neighborhood got the Goodfellas
But they come arrest us for the same shit they sell us

Cause they don’t want to see a young black nigga rollin’
Inside a nice car, nice gear, without the shit bein’ stolen
So they come and lock a nigga up
Meanwhile some corrupt, politician nigga is makin’ bigga bucks

Niggas gettin’ blamed for the crystal
But we don’t grow the motherfuckin’ coke or weed or make the fuckin’ pistols
Niggas ain’t tryna live in poverty
And a black man’s lottery is a motherfuckin’ robbery

So yo you gotta make your best
Make a small investment and then put it to the test (“I know!”)—yes
Cause the other motherfucker’s gettin’ over
Police don’t look at a white man strange drivin’ a Range Rover

Carryin’ shit like it’s minerals
The big dollar, white collar suit-and-tie criminals
Even the government figures
Sellin’ shit to the motherfuckin’ Colombians and rich niggas

Crime isn’t time from the brothers
Hey, you say it don’t pay, it’s payin’ alright, motherfuckers
It all depends on how you do your shit
Cause either learn it quick, intelligent and that’s it (“I beg your pardon?”)—you’re well fit

Fuck workin’ for a bastard
I gotta see that money before my ass sees a casket
Get paid, motherfuck a raise
Cause to all them improper crooked coppers: crime pays

(“Jack you motherfuckers”)

(“Wake up and go for what you know…”)

(“Everyone’s got to make a living”)

(“Boy, I’m tryin’ to make me some money!”)

Stop, nigga! Stop, nigga! Freeze!
But at the same time, some old rich fuck is drivin’ by with 20 keys
Because they came up with a law
To keep the rich motherfuckers rich and the poor motherfuckers poor

We take the cake, you get the crumbs
Stackin’ up a package of cracks to sell to blacks in the slums
Guns are bein’ sold over the counter
And you wonder why your daughter’s head was slaughtered when they found her

Why did he have to shoot the bitch
But the bitch—I mean the witch—just had the switch
To make the nigga Richie Rich
Yeah, so I’m throwin’ you the phrase:

Believe me when I tell you motherfuckin’ crime pays

—Kool G. Rap, “Crime Pays”

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