It's perhaps no coincidence that "Got It Twisted," the new Mobb Deep single, arrived in the mail the same day as the infamous Ghettopoly board game. Both speak to the proliferation of 'hood stereotypes in hip-hop culture: The game spoofs the venerable Monopoly with cheap crack cocaine jokes, while Mobb rappers Havoc and Prodigy have a penchant for thugged-out subject matter and a reputation for making the same record over and over -- even the title of their upcoming album, Amerikaz Nightmare, is unoriginal. Spice One used it first, ten years ago.
Similarly, Ghettopoly revels in the sort of clichés typically associated with gangsta rap: crack houses, pimps, hos, unlicensed gun sellers, strip clubs, and liquor stores. Chance and Community Chest become Hustle and Ghetto Stash, Marvin Gardens is now Smitty's XXX Peep Show, a 40-ounce bottle replaces the top hat token, and players purchase projects instead of hotels.
The game is the brainchild of David Chang, an Asian-American entrepreneur who has been criticized by the NAACP, among others, for exploiting racial stereotypes (banned from the Urban Outfitters chain, the game is currently only available online at Ghettopoly.com). Still, it's easy to pooh-pooh any protest from an organization that still uses the term "colored people" in its name and recently nominated accused pedophile R. Kelly for an Image Award.
True, Ghettopoly is mo' gully than Snoop Dogg's outfits in Starsky and Hutch, but the game doesn't make fun of just African Americans. Ling Ling's Massage Parlor, Trailer Trash Court, and Hernando's Chop Shop are all present, suggesting that Mr. Chang is, in all fairness, an equal-opportunity bigot.
So is Ghettopoly the board game equivalent of Birth of a Nation, or does it offer relevant social commentary on contemporary urban America, like Chappelle's Show?
There's only one way to find out: Invite some friends over and play the damn thing.
That's just what C2tE did, assisted by a team of expert ghetto commentators: rappers Marc Stretch (Foreign Legion, the Vinyl Brothers) and Azeem (Mayhem Mystics, A to Z); DJ and A's fan Gunnar Hissim (Slow Gin, Om Records); and freelance writer Rachel Swan (Bitch, Kitchen Sink, XLR8R, and the Express).
To properly set the scene, C2tE first went to the corner liquor store and purchased selections from the two ghetto food groups: alcohol and fast food. This entailed premixed gin and juice, 40s of St. Ides, pork cracklins, salted pistachios, mini-doughnuts, cognac, and beef sticks. Gunnar brought a twelver of Red Hook. Marc popped for a tall bottle of Hennessy. Rachel supplied the Ice Cube CDs. Azeem arrived empty-handed (which was okay, because he doesn't drink). We were all cold chillin' in an Oakland neighborhood that didn't seem hella ghetto -- or was it?
Not even two minutes after walking in the door, Marc's car alarm beeper goes off. Just like in the song "Boyz 'N the Hood," someone apparently tried to gaffle his stereo -- the culprit evidently fled when the alarm rang out, so no harm done. Marc seems a little unnerved by the incident, but not quite shook: He simply parks his car closer to the house.
The game hasn't even started yet, and we've already had our Perfect Ghettopoly Moment.
After cracking the seal on the St. Ides, it's time to choose our gamepieces. C2tE goes with the innocuous-looking basketball. Azeem picks the pimp. Gunnar wields the gat. Marc decides on the 40 bottle. And Rachel selects the game's only female token, the ho. "The humor's really tired," she sighs.
Our game is off with a bang when Gunnar robs a tourist and scores $200. (As they say: Have heart, have money.) Soon after that, Rachel buys a crack house -- it's her first real-estate purchase. Azeem, meanwhile, expands his entrepreneurial holdings by acquiring a chop shop.
Unfortunately, it's all bad for C2tE, who winds up in the emergency room (for reasons unclear) and has to wait three turns while they verify a health plan. (Visa, in case you're wondering.) In the meantime, the action picks up. Gunnar buys Northside Liquors, even though he isn't of Arabic descent. Marc, meanwhile, lands on Compton and immediately lays his money down. "That's a no-brainer," he announces, forking over $150 for the turf made famous by NWA.
On C2tE's next turn, the dice come up seven, sending us to the still-unclaimed Ling Ling's. Hmmm. We could use a rub-down, especially after the stint in ER. And besides, it takes ownership to come up in this game.
More properties are bought and sold. Marc picks up Ray Ray's Chicken and Ribs. Gunnar, not to be outdone, purchases Tyron's Gun Shop. Meanwhile, Rachel draws a Ghetto Stash card and gets her "whole neighborhood addicted to crack," so everyone has to pay her $50.
The game is a trip. In less than an hour, everyone has gotten noticeably more low-minded, even conscious rapper Azeem. In his best "Pretty Tony" drawl, he tells Rachel she's not "handling her money right" and offers to help her manage her finances. It's a tempting offer, but she declines.
The game takes a momentous turn when Azeem (amicably) leaves, bequeathing his properties to Marc. After a side-deal with Gunnar gives him the game's first ghettopoly, Marc buys eight crack houses. A minute later, Rachel lands on Chico's Bodega, with three crack houses on it. That should be $700, but Marc lets her slide on some of the debt -- with a wink and a nudge.
By now, Marc owns several "million-dollar spots" and is raking in the dough like Jay-Z in '88. One by one, the other players land on his estates and have to come out the pocket. The game is effectively over when he upgrades his crack houses to projects -- the other players are at a severe economic disadvantage, with no way to close the gap. We're assed-out, so we crown him Nino Brown and call it a night. At least, that's probably what happened -- apparently, the St. Ides and Henny cocktails have done a number on C2tE's note-taking skills.
In the hungover aftermath, some sobering thoughts surface. Pork cracklins notwithstanding, the ghetto is no joke. Its reality is complex, and to reduce it to a two-dimensional perspective means you have to omit quite a bit. There are no churches, schools, community centers, chemical plants, or naval shipyards in Ghettopoly, which would have presented a more balanced view of 'hood life. If you don't take the game too seriously, it can be fun to play, but it's more ironic than funny, which is precisely its problem.
Mobb Deep has a similar problem. The duo has become a gangsta rap parody, except they don't know it yet. "Got It Twisted" steals a page from the P. Diddy formula, jacking the beat from an '80s new wave hit ("She Blinded Me with Science") in a contrived attempt to craft a club anthem. Yet the violence-fixated lyrics are hardly poetry in motion: I pump pump the shotty, put you in the trunk then dump dump the body/Nigga, you don't know, you better ask somebody. This from a crew clowned on wax by Tupac, Jay-Z, and Nas? Although it wants desperately to be hardcore, "Got It Twisted" is no "Shook Ones Pt. 2" -- it's not even "Feel My Gatt Blow."
More to the point, it's just as trite as Ghettopoly -- but without the irony. And while it may be fashionable to call Chang racist, it would be hypocritical not to call out the Mobb Deeps of the world for their equally complicit role in promoting ignorance.
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