“Sopranos” star James Gandolfini got much love from the hip hop community.
Not because he was a great actor, but because he was a great actor who portrayed a Mafia boss. That’s another heartbreaking reminder of hip hop’s toxic idolization of the streets.
Like his silver screen predecessors in “The Godfather,” “Scarface” and “Goodfellas,” Tony Soprano — the stressed-out criminal Gandolfini brought to life on HBO’s The Sopranos — captivated legions of African-American men and boys whose hip hop culture holds gangsters (both imagined and real) in high esteem.
Putting the actor’s passing into perspective for TheGrio.com, hip hop columnist Cory Townes explained that Gandolfini “was extremely revered in the hip-hop community” because rap artists related to his TV character’s “constant battle of balancing the image of the powerful mob boss…with the quiet family man with a wife and two children.”
Would James Gandolfini have commanded such reverence in hip hop circles if he had become famous portraying a cop, doctor, teacher, a blue collar worker or a devoted family man? Of course not.
And as Gandolfini is laid to rest this week, I worry that a lot of brothers in hip hop are not actually mourning the death of a fine actor and a good man. Instead, their sadness may flow from the perceived loss of an underworld figure whom they had elevated to hero status.
The idolizing of mob bosses, drug dealers, pimps, gangbangers and other criminals within hip hop culture continues to be a tragic trend with lethal consequences for the African-American family. The high rates of homicide and incarceration among young black men testify to the destruction that comes with the celebration of criminal culture.
James Gandolfini was a gifted performer. “The Sopranos” was one of the best dramas ever produced for television. But for the sake of us all, I implore our gifted hip hop brothers to stop emulating Mafia men and their criminal cohorts in real life.
Thanks for listening. I’m Cameron Turner and that’s my two cents.