Saturday, June 10, 2017


Tishwash:  US rappers more interested in foreign currency

It’s been a humbling year for the almighty US dollar. Investors, concerned about political instability in Washington and signs of an economic slowdown, have driven its value down to pre-election levels.

More dispiriting, however, is the greenback’s deflated reputation among its most historically devoted support group.

Like a lot of hip-hop artists, Remy Banks is more obsessed lately with amassing foreign currencies. In Cold World, Banks raps of “diving in the deep end of a pool full of euros, pounds, and yen”.

That’s not just showboating, he explained. “I’m not going to stop working hard until I get to this point where I can travel around the world, until I can jump into a pool with all these different cur
rencies like Scrooge McDuck,” the Queens, New York-born rapper said.

Rapper Remy Ma made one of the first hip-hop references to the United Arab Emirates currency, the dirham, in her 2016 hit with Fat Joe, All The Way Up.

“I’m talkin’ colour money, purple yen and blue dirham,” she rapped about the aqua-tinged notes.

Money has been a dominant theme in hip-hop since it began in the 1970s. There has been a natural focus on the US dollar, reflecting the genre’s roots in American cities. Puff Daddy famously rapped in 1997 that “It’s all about the Benjamins” in his tribute to the $US100 bill, which bears Benjamin Franklin’s likeness.

Even a decade ago, rappers nodded only a handful of times to any currency other than the US dollar. In 2007, the euro appeared in just one rap song in the database of Rap Genius, a crowdsourced website that annotates rap lyrics. The Japanese yen appeared twice, and the peso a half-dozen times.

But as hip-hop music has become more global, rappers are internationalising their lyrics, too, and references to foreign currencies are multiplying.

Peso appeared in 40 rap songs last year, Rap Genius said, while yen was mentioned in 10 and euro in seven. The Indian rupee, Russian rouble and British pound are also popping up in hip-hop lyrics with increasing frequency.

One of Banks’s favourite currency notes is the Canadian dollar, which a friend told him smelled like maple syrup. “I was like, get the hell out of here,” he recalled. “Then I put it in my hand, and it smelled like maple syrup.”

He hopes next to get his hands on the Ethiopian birr, which he has heard carries the scent of exotic spices.

Foreign currency references are still small change compared with the nearly 700 times that Rap Genius counted mentions of the US dollar in songs released last year.

But name-checking foreign currencies had become a way for hip-hop musicians to show their financial sophistication, said Chris Smith, a professor at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California who has done research on the role of money in rap music.

“Rappers know that the US dollar is not the only game in town any more,” Mr Smith said. “They know that China is rising, they know that there are other economic powers.”

Overseas travel and shopping sprees have also made American rappers well aware of the dollar’s recent slide in the foreign exchange market. Willie Maxwell II, known as Fetty Wap, said he was a bit unnerved to notice that the greenback had fallen 5 per cent this year against major peers.

“If I were making a verse, it would be like, ‘I don’t want dollars, they not worth nothing, we want euros’,” he freestyled during an interview with The Wall Street Journal.

Maxwell, who has also rapped about the peso, says he wishes he could be paid in the euro — the best-performing major currency this year — because it would be worth more than his US dollars.  l,ink

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