Pop Playground
Haters Wanna Hate


hip hop slang comes and goes almost as fast as I can change the channel (remember "bling bling" or "for shizzle"?). So when a term endures and propagates through a wide spectrum of rap styles, it merits a closer examination. The hater has been crucial to rap lyrics for years, a concept used and abused by MCs worldwide. Rappers flaunt their haters more than their car accessories; an acknowledgement of one's haters is more obligatory than a shout-out to Jam Master Jay. What is the function of these vaguely defined enemies? Are they merely rhetorical devices, set up as convenient strawmen for battle rhymes? Or does their Kafkaesque malevolent omnipresence imply a greater significance to the hip hop landscape?

Haters have persisted, in part because of a broad and circular definition. A quick perusal of the Urban Dictionary reveals the concept to be extraordinarily malleable. "A person who feels anger and/or jealousy for someone who has succeeded in something they have worked hard for…. A being who speaks badly,and/or takes negative actions in attempt to create problems for a successful person." Essentially, a hater is one who hates; jealous motives are easily read into any situation. The satirical definitions on the user-driven Urban Dictionary include "Overused word that people like to use just because someone else expresses a dislike for a certain individual." The word's power is derived from its slippery definition.

An examination of common usage yields little specification. "Hater" becomes a catch-all for any and all opposition to the MC. "Haters and fools / Can't eat no food / Holding me down / Don't want dem around / Some acting crazy / For money and cars / And want to see / You go behind bars," Beenie Man summarizes. Field Mob narrows things down a bit, pointing at possible motivation for hatoration: "Hatin' 'cause my 20's be choppin'! choppin'! / Hatin' 'cause these hoes be jockin'! jockin'!" Hating stems from a divide between hater and hated, usually economic, but also social and political. This constructed gap between the MC and the masses gives a rapper a convenient platform for macho posturing and money flossing, a retroactive justification for boasting. In "Fuck Em," Tupac explains, "Now that we made it my adversaries is player hatin' / Got a Mercedes for these tricks / That thought I quit / Then got a drop-top Jag for these bitches that's on my dick." Being hated is symptomatic of success; conversely, its presence confirms the accomplishment of the MC.

Hip hop has always thrived on antagonistic, competitive energy, and haters are easily battled enemies, a sort of antibiotic for a rapper. An MC can gain power and clout by battling these hazily defined foes, threatening shadowy legions with death and dismemberment. Unfortunately, with such a pushover as a foe, haters allow an MC to deliver weak lines with impunity. LL Cool J delivers lines like, "Snatching clips off my hip if your clique's out of context" on "Strictly For The Haters" with snickerworthy menace, but who will respond on behalf of the haters?

Indeed, the anonymity of haters is one of their biggest assets. Often their motives remain mysterious, only to speculated about; frequently the MC questions the validity of such hatred with confusion and disdain. "Lord, why we gotta deal with the haters everyday?" asks Flesh-n-Bone on "Player Haters," and he isn't the only one making apostrophes as a response. "Why you hatin' me? / No reason at all," Al-D intones on DJ Screw's 3 In The Mornin'. "Lied on me, said I was a murderer / Said I used to serve you work but I ain't never heard of you," Trick Daddy says on "Haters." The South seems filled with haters: the issue comes up so often on screwed and chopped tracks that calling it a recurring theme is an understatement. Surveying track titles alone provides ample evidence – "New Friends New Foes," "Why They Wanna See Me Dead," "Nobody Disses Me," "No Love," "Niggas Be Hatin'" – to say nothing of the lyrical content of songs with less hatercentric titles. Dirty South staples like Master P, Three-6-Mafia, and Lil Flip devote an enormous amount of energy to battling haters.

A possible explanation is that the social and economic climate of the South has been personified as haters. The layers of oppression and hardship are difficult to articulate within the confines of a rap song aiming for popular appeal. Rather than enumerate the levels of systematic oppression, MCs instead create a mood of a vague, unjust oppression that seeks nothing more than to limit a black man's success (a similar explanation could be offered for the extreme hatoration endemic to dancehall reggae). So is the white man the ultimate hater? Explicitly acknowledging this is dangerous: rarely will a song with such potent subject matter reach any level of commercial success, a pressing concern with Southern hip hop being as big as it currently is. However, there are occasional allusions: Ludacris tells Bill O'Reilly (perhaps no one is a better hater) to blow it out his ass in the rapper's latest single.

So perhaps the hater is best explained as a sort of totem, a way for MCs to compress abstract and divergent hardship into concrete figures of scorn. Aspiring Southern rappers need the agency that the hater construct gives them. Famous acts ironically forfeit agency by allowing these anonymous, supposedly insignificant enemies to dominate their subject matter – a hater coup. When co-opted by mainstream, successful performers, the device quickly wears thin, revealing a lack of creativity. Blackstar interpolates the hater construct in "Hater-Players": "Reverse psychology got 'em scared to say when shit is wack / Out of fear of being called a hater, imagine that!"


By: Gavin Mueller
Published on: 2004-06-02
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