How Conspiracy Theories Invaded Internet Rap

In the fall of 2020, while quarantined and bored, Gavin Ruta and Carlos Juico started a podcast. Friends since St. Mary’s Catholic High School in Pickering, outside of Toronto, the two thought they would mostly talk about streetwear. Then, while taping the first episode, Juico casually mentioned a conspiracy theory he had heard before. Just this madness about how Christmas was born out of an old Siberian holiday run by shamans and fueled by hallucinogens.

And when they posted the clip on TikTok – “Boom,” Ruta says. Since then, Ruta, 21, and Juico, 22, have built a loyal following on social media thanks to an endless source of theories. On YouTube, where they post full episodes of their podcast, Jumpers Jump, they have just under half a million followers. On TikTok, where they post quick one-minute theories, they have over 6 million.

They’ll touch on anything: how Fidel Castro is Justin Trudeau’s father; how Nickelodeon’s head of programming has a foot fetish. But one of their biggest hits was a theory about Drake’s verse on “Sicko Mode.” The theory suggests the lyrics are a coded confession that he and Kim Kardashian had been having an affair. And the two hosts have a number of other theories about rap music. DONDA was a session. DONDA features secret binaural beats. An obscure rapper predicted the pandemic in 2013. 6ix9ine was an FBI agent the whole time. Tupac is Playboy Carti. Tupac is alive.

Of course, hip-hop has been intertwined with conspiracy culture since the late ’90s, when fans started saying Tupac was alive. But the past few years have seen hitherto unimaginable events in rapid succession, from the pandemic to the Capitol Riot. You don’t have to be a conspirator to believe the world isn’t quite what it seems. Add to that TikTok, and you quickly get lost.

For example, it only took fans hours to come up with wild theories surrounding last year’s Astroworld Festival tragedy. Before the details of what happened were clear, thoughts of satanic rituals and “needle sticks” abounded. The language of conspiracy theories has become so mainstream that artists themselves have begun to tap into it. In recent weeks, Kanye has used Instagram as a sounding board for a number of vague messages about Pete Davidson (who is now reportedly dating Kim Kardashian), Billie Eilish, and even Hillary Clinton. Now it’s a staple of wider pop culture. The myriad of fan-generated theories intertwine with long-held suspicions about the rich and powerful, creating a reality that always seems stranger than fiction.

In 2011, a Cornell University professor named Travis L. Gosa published an article – “Counterknowledge, Racial Paranoia, and the Cultic Milieu: Decoding Hip-Hop Conspiracy Theory” – claiming that hip-hop is adopting a ” eccentric fusion of stigmatized knowledge”. which includes conspiracy theories alongside “doomsday prophecy” and “numerology” and “helps preserve hip-hop’s deviant status.”

While widespread conspiracy theories are “empirically inaccurate,” Gosa writes, they are nonetheless valuable because they are “rooted in an attempt to articulate inequality” and hold “government accountable for the well-being of all its citizens. “.

Gosa points to the tendency of conspirators to traffic in paranoid homophobia and argues that the conspiracy theory’s “discursive strategy” rightly raises alarm bells before ultimately defeating its adherents. “Rather than looking for systemic solutions”, theorists “look for individual conspirators”.

Gosa was largely looking at the pre-digital era of independently published books being sold on street corner card tables before TikTok picked up the pace of creation and exposure.

Juico and Ruta say they get a lot of their theories from 3 a.m. on Reddit, or fan contributions on the Jumpers Jump Discord. And Juico admits he’s been watching conspiracy videos, from YouTubers like Matthew Santoro and Shane Dawson, since second grade. Conspiracy theory has become an integral part of his way of thinking. “Sometimes it’s just me in the shower,” Juico says of the theories discussed on Jumpers Jump. “Yo, honestly, sometimes it just comes to me.”

AD Carson, professor of hip-hop at the University of Virginia, has a simple answer to why conspiracy theories are so prevalent in hip-hop. “We understand that hip-hop isn’t a one-size-fits-all place you go for sexism or misogyny or any of the phobias,” he says. And just as the world is sexist and misogynistic, there’s this: “The world loves conspiracy theories!”

Hip-hop embraces a culture of mass conspiracy and, in its own unique way, makes it stand out stronger and weirder. “The Overton window moves slowly, but sometimes it moves sharply,” Carson says, citing just one recent example: a QAnon theory that JFK Jr. is coming back from the dead to become Trump’s vice president. in 2024. “Overton’s window into hip-hop has always been pretty wide open. Who’s gonna tell you you can’t write a rap song based on “alternate histories like”The invisible hand Where The papers of Isis?”

In the 90s, you could trace the outlines of the proliferation of conspiracies in hip-hop. Prodigy, for example, is almost certainly the first person to rap about the Illuminati. He warned us against the shadow elites who “I want my mind, my soul and my body.”

Prodigy undoubtedly discovered the Illuminati while reading William Cooper’s underground classic Here is a pale horsehimself a staple of hip-hop conspirators. Many other conspiratorial rappers of the era were influenced by the ideology of the Five Percenters, who believe the world is divided into the 85% who know nothing, the 10% who control the 85%, and the 5% who know. the truth.

I confess to Carson that while I find foreign texts full of crazy bullshit like Here is a pale horse endearing for their sincerity, I find it difficult to see TikTok as serious. On social media, it feels like all that crazy stuff is just reduced to shareable content. He dismisses my concern: “Books are also a technology. TikTok’s technology is democratizing. It’s no different. It just happens in a different context.

“Sometimes,” Carson continues, “these conversations establish a false binary. Like legitimate history and illegitimate history, or history versus conspiracy theories. But we have to come to terms with the fact that much of what is given to us as a story is conspiratorial information that a lot of people agreed on.

@jumpersjump

Drake mentioned our theory on CLB😱 #fyp #conspiracy #toronto #jumpersjump

♬ original sound – Jumpers Jump Podcast

You might remember this one: Chingy, the one-hit wonder, telling us ISIS wasn’t real. In 2014, he wrote on Instagram: “I want everyone to beware that #ISIS is another invented terrorist group created by #USandIsrael to create a major problem that triggers a major solution which is #WAR. Don’t be fooled by your TV programs showing you severed heads and things; they stage things to create wars so that they (the Illuminati, you can call them) can control population and natural resources while depopulating world civilization. It was an easy punch line, a quickly forgotten piece of Internet ephemera. Chingy doesn’t believe in ISIS!

But since then, foreign policy commentators have argued persuasively that the dangers of ISIS have been deliberately or unwittingly exaggerated. Like That of the Atlantic Simon Cottee wrote in 2019, “Western media have consistently overhyped the group”, and in the process created a public image of ISIS as a “Terminator-like” entity capable of “coming back from the dead to terrorize and destroy all who stand”. on his way. Dianne Feinstein, the former chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, once said that “the threat posed by ISIS cannot be overstated.”

OK, so: No, the Illuminati did not create ISIS. But, yes, American institutions have inflated the threat of ISIS and terrified their own population for professional gain. Yes, the world is so ugly, so crazy, so screwed up. What Chingy said wasn’t factually true, but maybe, emotionally, it was.

Carson’s most important point about ahistorical sources like hip-hop conspiracies is that while “proliferation is problematic as shit,” they help teach you to “scrutinize everything.” In their most idealized form, what conspiracy theories do is teach you to think critically.

There is a pervasive sense that we have entered a dark, unknown world full of lies. This suggests another false binomial: that a world of ultimate truth once existed, a past reality where there was mass media we could all trust all the time. “We have to ask ourselves, in our culture, what is the use of mythology? said Carson. “I don’t know if people argue about the accuracy of the historical narrative as much as they argue about what myths we’re going to abide by.”

@jumpersjump

Tupac still alive Theory 😱 #fyp #rap #conspiracy #jumpersjump

♬ original sound – Jumpers Jump Podcast

When I ask Juico and Ruta if they feel tired of trafficking TikTok conspiracies, they say yes. But not because they’re worried about influencing their followers unduly, or because they’re worried that healthy young minds will be warped by all that time in the dark. No, they fear irritating the local megastar. “Drake isn’t far away! Juico laughs. “He’ll be here in 15 minutes!”

Is that all you’re worried about? Maybe accidentally annoy a celebrity?

Juico smiles, showing off his suspenders, and admits another thing: “Sometimes I’m scared, like, Illuminati might be at my doorstep or some shit.”

Ruta plays the game, explaining how he will free himself from the clutches of said Illuminati: “Carlos, you are the main conspirator. I am not!”

Cackling, Juico yells back, “They’re coming for you too, bro! They also come for you!

About Harold Hartman

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