I Talk About Envy and Other Things

Photo by Artem Bali from Pexels

This week I wrote about Nipsey Hussle’s murder and dealing with narcissists. Every now and then, I unwittingly stumble into a theme. In hindsight, both pieces were about envy.

Of Nipsey Hussle Derek Womble wrote:

Outside of things my son would play for me over the past year or so, I had very little knowledge of Nipsey. I’m from a different old-school era, and still have a hard time understanding the hip-hop/R&B beefs that seem to flood social media timelines. It would be hard for me to have made sense of Run-DMC and Whodini shooting at each other, or Jodeci and New Edition having a confrontation at an awards show. That aside, after Nipsey’s murder I started reading about his work in the community and saw things that I have seen as missing from much of the younger hip-hop artist. He had a sense of purpose and community that went beyond claiming a gang set or flashing material items. None of this is going to make me a fan of the music, but there’s a lot to be said for any of us trying to improve the economic situation of other Black people legally. I respect that greatly in him.

Nipsey was complicated. I think that’s part of what made his death resonate as much as it did. There is something to contemplate when he’s discussed. There is a real legacy to debate. How much he meant to his community is a testament to it. I’m sorry his death had to precipitate it, but I’m glad people are talking more about the responsibility to give back. It’s changed the conversation. Tyga posted a video bragging about a new $500,000 chain and someone tweeted at him that nobody cared about that stuff anymore and told him to go help some kids. It seemed to be the prevailing sentiment. Nipsey’s life being discussed is shining a light, and it’s exposing and shaming some of his peers. We can only wait to see if the sentiment will hold.

As for the violence in and around the rap scene. It’s undeniable. But those old R&B acts used to get into it. The Joe Tex/James Brown beef was pretty legendary. There were diss tracks and at least one shooting (in which pigs were killed) that I know of. Apparently, the Isley brothers were nearly always strapped and were very much about that life. Some segments of hip hop being closely affiliated with gang culture obviously makes matters more volatile, and the music makes that lifestyle the foundation of the art, so I do take your point. There’s a way it makes the violence almost necessary as opposed to it being a matter of individual personalities.

Marley K. wrote a bit about hip hop culture’s issues.

It’s too long to for me to reproduce and respond to here, but I’ll say this: I’m Jamaican, and hip hop and dancehall are fraternal twins. I grew up on a heavy diet of both. The music and culture didn’t invent the problems they feature, but anyone who thinks all the violence and the casual viciousness of the misogyny and homophobia is benign is divorced from reality. Whole books and dissertations have been written about hip hop and all the socioeconomic and cultural threads that run through it. For example, how mass incarceration (a very real form of apartheid) shapes the communities hip hop comes from. Most thirteen year-olds don’t know any of this, though. Most Scandinavian college students don’t know any of this either. Neither does the average Bangladeshi software engineer. Hip hop is global. The music and culture are being consumed with virtually no context. That’s why I don’t think bringing up the wider context is the slam dunk some people think it is. There also used to be a much wider menu to choose from in terms of the mainstream content. It got narrowed down to the hypercapitalist gangsta ratchetness, because that’s what was programmed. It’s what tested and sold better than everything else. The question is: Why? The same conversation has been stuck on repeat since the 90s, so I’m not sure if any of it will ever genuinely be resolved.

Of Nipsey Hussle, I wrote, “I don’t know if it’s possible for a person with that kind of propulsive mind and energy to understand genuinely how empty and bad minded and small other people can be.” To which, Forrest Wilson III responded:

This point right here! It took me a long time and I’m still recovering from the trauma, frustration, and disappointment that comes from understanding this and still finding ways to pull through. Support the Nipsey in your neighborhood people! Its a cold balance fr fr

It’s such a difficult thing to deal with. It’s one of the things I wish people didn’t B.S. children about. We need to stop telling young people that everyone is a decent person, and that some people are just misunderstood and need to be loved. It’s not true. Obviously, you shouldn’t shatter childhoods, but at some point the bubble needs to be burst. It is traumatic dealing with those kinds of people, and most of us are woefully unprepared for it. Maybe if some of these people had been hugged more as children, they’d be all right. But they weren’t, so they lack self-worth. And they take it out on innocent bystanders. I think some of that played a part in what happened to Nipsey. Trying to maneuver your way through life around these people is a cold balance. You have to harden your heart to some people’s sob stories. They’re damaged, and until they take steps to heal the damage, living around them is like being strapped to a bomb. People need to know it’s all right to save themselves.

And, yes! Support the Nipsey in your neighborhood!

Regarding people who it’s traumatic to be around, I also wrote a bit more about dealing with narcissists. JS Burton responded:

Thank you so much for this articulate and frank explanation of how narcissists target the people they supposedly love. It is helping me right now during an extremely stressful time with a narcissist parent who also has a host of other issues. I’m at a juncture where I’m considering becoming estranged from her after my attempts to help her were consistently met with boundary violations. When I have stood up for myself recently to call her out on this and to enact the consequences for those violations, she has gone “through the entire repertoire” as you describe. I think it is time to get the hell out of the blast zone. Thank you for helping me to see it for what it is.

I was unsure about writing about my run-ins with narcissists and what I’ve learned from them, but now I’m glad I have. An old friend reached out and told me his brother is a narcissist, and we talked about coping with it for a bit. Narcissists have a way of making their targets feel very alone and like they’re losing it — like they’re imagining everything. It’s also incredibly difficult to get your arms around exactly what’s happening unless someone explains it to you clearly, because narcissists’ behavior is so atypical, and they make life so chaotic. Once you understand their motivations, though, they actually become quite predictable, because most of them are pulling from a small bag of tricks. These pieces don’t get much traction, but they seem to be helping some of the people who do manage to find them, so I think I’ll keep sharing going forward.

Narcissists’ unrelenting envy is the thing I think most of us can’t even begin to relate to. It really is the core of what little genuine personality they have. One of the things I don’t like about most popular culture (including hip hop) is how much it stokes the urge to covet. I sometimes wonder if it’s prodding people who are on the fringe of being pathologically narcissistic over the line. Even if it doesn’t, I think it activates something negative inside all of us. But that’s for another essay.

Thanks for reading!



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