Let us not mince words. Yo Gotti’s “Rake It Up”—despite seemingly being a paean to lazily refusing to pick up your money in a strip club—is a representation of the American dream. Or perhaps, as Gotti implores us to think, the two are not mutually exclusive.
The high intellectual thought, the unencumbered attention to detail, lovingly wrenched from Gotti’s artistic soul and poured into the composition of the song’s visual accompaniment, is nothing short of true inspiration for every ambitious American artist. The video opens innocuously enough—on an average American street, with average identical American homes, average American white fences, average American front lawns, and slightly oversized (read: average) American rakes. However, Gotti is reformulating the average through the careful composition of his scene. Lining the meticulously manicured lawns and modest front lawn trees are hundred-dollar bills—strewn haphazardly, and as the video develops, raked ineffectively.
What is the message here? What is the weight of Gotti’s artistic vision? What Gotti is doing here is subtly ingenious: Juxtaposing images of America—specifically imagery of the American dream—with money that grows on trees and, in a reformulation of that ancient idiom, money that grows from grass, produces a highly specific vision of the way that capital is accumulated in America. First, in Gotti’s formulation, one must have access to the outcome of the American dream (here, represented by homeownership—lawns, fences, homes); second, and only after the achievement of the American dream, one may access easy American capital (the subtle motif of those Benjamins).
Note how free capital is consistently connected to the setting of the home throughout “Rake It Up.” Hundreds line Gotti’s front lawn. They litter what is ostensibly his back yard, float on top of his swimming pool, and hang from his trees. Benjamin Franklin’s smiling face even provides slippery carpeting for Gotti’s throne room and the red, windowless, oddly well-lit rake-room that Gotti seems to have somewhere in his house.
Even more evocatively, especially because the video seems to feature universally black actors, the undisputed connection that Gotti makes between the added accumulation of free capital and homeownership must be situated within its American racial context—a context in which blacks currently have lower homeownership rates than average due to a variety of factors (among them, historical discrimination). Like all great art, Gotti’s “Rake It Up” is implicitly political.
Gotti is implicitly arguing, deep within the fabric of his video, that black Americans are isolated from the accumulation of easy American capital because African-Americans, as a whole, have not been welcomed into the American tradition of homeownership. How does one rectify the financial discrepancies between the black community and America as a whole, Gotti implicitly muses? By acquiring property, as Gotti has. Although, as I am sure Gotti is aware, that is a bit like the ancient and still puzzling problem of the chicken and the egg.
Or perhaps Gotti’s message is even more subtle than I’ve made it out to be. First, it should be noted that Gotti does not indicate that easy capital can be acquired through any mere representation of the American dream. Scenes featuring cars and alcohol—notably untied to Gotti’s specific sense of homeownership—do not prominently feature representations of easy capital. However, perhaps even more subtly, Gotti seems to be implicitly refuting American consumerist culture.
Why does Gotti sound so nonplussed when rapping about his wealth? Why is his rake room red? Why does he refuse to partake in the collection of easy capital? Why does Nicki Minaj, featured on the track, mention China more times than our president on the campaign trail after a quick chat with Paul Manafort? Why does Gotti take on the role of “flag girl”—replacing the titular flags with stacks of cash?
In Gotti’s art, each question is an answer. Gotti senses the inherent philosophical emptiness of mindless capital accumulation—and while he diagnoses part of the root cause of unequal distributions of capital by race in America (disparities in homeownership rates), he acutely understands that money does not equate to spiritual satisfaction. That is why Gotti sounds bored out of his skull in “Rake It Up”: The accumulation of easy capital gives him no philosophical fulfillment. Ignore Gotti when he claims, “Respect ya hustle, get ya money baby” and “I'm the dough boy.” It is his attempt to give an easy reading to his song for simple-minded fools to grasp. (No, not I!) Instead, focus on how bored he sounds when he says it—how morally drained he sounds. It is as if, like Taylor Swift, he is barely trying. Focus on his refusal to pick up those free Benjamins, instead grabbing a newspaper with a potentially political headline.
Thus, as Minaj talks about China, car races, Blac Chyna, places the Benjamins in a garbage bag, and enters a home with the address “1985”—suspiciously one year away from George Orwell’s dystopian novel, “Nineteen Eighty-Four”—she becomes the antonym to Gotti’s apathy towards consumerist culture. Minaj takes that free capital for herself. With that, she becomes the harbinger of the ultimate product of a consumerist culture. She walks into her ominously addressed house, as if walking into a dystopian future based on a variation of the literary past.
As Gotti stands with two stacks of cash in his hands—replacing the flags of a “flag girl” with hundreds—the pessimism of Gotti’s perspective snaps into place. Gotti, ever the sociologist, seems to say that the culture of consumerism has replaced the flag—a particularly patriotic individual may say the American flag. All we can do in the wake of this fate is, as the video comes to a close, read the newspaper and give, as Gotti does, a hearty, neighborly wave to the harbinger of our society’s demise. In a thoughtful, final touch, Minaj does not wave back. The future of capitalism, Gotti seems to say, is cruel.
—Staff writer Aziz B. Yakub can be reached at email@example.com.
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