Adam Shepard Wants to Live Like Common People

Adam Shepard, this one’s for you:

(Song dedication inspired by Siege, thanks.)

Shepard is the author of Scratch Beginnings: Me, $25, and the Search for the American Dream, a book that’s getting an awful lot of buzz right now. From an article at the CSM:

Alone on a dark gritty street, Adam Shepard searched for a homeless shelter. He had a gym bag, $25, and little else. A former college athlete with a bachelor’s degree, Mr. Shepard had left a comfortable life with supportive parents in Raleigh, N.C. Now he was an outsider on the wrong side of the tracks in Charles­ton, S.C. But Shepard’s descent into poverty in the summer of 2006 was no accident. Shortly after graduating from Merrimack College in North Andover, Mass., he intentionally left his parents’ home to test the vivacity of the American Dream. His goal: to have a furnished apartment, a car, and $2,500 in savings within a year.

To make his quest even more challenging, he decided not to use any of his previous contacts or mention his education. During his first 70 days in Charleston, Shepard lived in a shelter and received food stamps. He also made new friends, finding work as a day laborer, which led to a steady job with a moving company.

Ten months into the experiment, he decided to quit after learning of an illness in his family. But by then he had moved into an apartment, bought a pickup truck, and had saved close to $5,000.

Adam Shepard asks, who is John Galt? No, really… who is he? Why are you laughing? (photo by Nicole Hill)

I’ll preface my opinions by stating that I believe wholeheartedly in the power of self-perpetuating positivity, of elbow grease over idle hope. Self-pity is certainly one of the more corrosive emotions in the human canon, and I have to think that even in the most dire circumstances, one can improve a bad situation by somehow preserving their sense of self-worth. (Easier said than done, of course.) That being stated, Scratch Beginnings is a self-aggrandizing, dishonest account that does not deserve the hype.

A fresh-faced, educated young man in excellent mental and physical health who keeps an emergency credit card tucked into his back pocket isn’t starting from scratch. He’s starting from privilege. Shepard has had a lifetime of parental “you can be anything you want to be, sweetie” hand-holding to bolster him. It shows in every page of his solipsistic account.

Shepard took on his ambitious pet project after reading (and disagreeing with) Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, in which undercover journalist Barbara Ehrenreich investigates how the 1996 welfare reform impacted the working poor in America. I actually share Shepard’s skepticism. (Ehrenreich never fully submerged herself in the conditions faced by her coworkers or deeply bonded with them; she lived in hotels and ate/ordered out while they all went home to a far more harsh and complex reality. Nickel and Dimed focuses in on her own tales of woe while the more profound stories of those she encountered fade into the background.) That doesn’t mean I can stomach the “yep, can-do” simplifications of Scratch Beginnings, either. Despite their concerted efforts at immersion, both the keyed up Marxist and the lobotomized Objectivist fail to convince.

An astounding excerpt from Shepard’s recent ABC news interview:

ABC: Would your project have changed if you’d had child-care payments or been required to report to a probation officer? Wouldn’t that have made it much harder?

Shepard: The question isn’t whether I would have been able to succeed. I think it’s the attitude that I take in: “I’ve got child care. I’ve got a probation officer. I’ve got all these bills. Now what am I going to do? Am I going to continue to go out to eat and put rims on my Cadillac? Or am I going to make some things happen in my life?”

Hang on. You’re telling me the state of South Carolina unknowingly squandered their depleted resources to help feed, clothe, house and employ Shepard for several months while he lied to everyone’s face about his circumstances, ostensibly slumming it for political science? This chucklehead gets notable mainstream media air time? Really? Is his perky “I beat poverty, and so can you!” infomercial tone truly relevant? Edifying? Constructive?

Shepard knew he could escape any time he chose, and in fact, he bowed out early. The minute the reality of a serious family illness lessened the novelty of his little game, he dove into a waiting safety net.* He’s been patting himself on the back ever since. “It’s a grrrrreat book. My mom and dad love it!” Awesome. Glad they enjoyed it. Personally, I’d lost all patience with its condescending tone by page 200 and merely skimmed the rest.

If Shepard had hired a mop handle-wielding professional dom to abuse and belittle him for several years prior to picking a ghetto “randomly out of a hat”, I might’ve found his bootstrapping story more compelling. Had he pulled a few teeth out of that gleaming white smile, been charged with a couple of misdemeanors and undergone voluntary trepanation before embarking on his incredible journey, or habitually dropped acid during it, I’d be impressed! As it is, I’m left with a sour taste in my mouth and an urge to point anyone interested in reading truly constructive, thought-provoking accounts of destitution, hope and struggle towards the following literature:

*From Cynical-C blog: “Interesting that he quit the “experiment” as soon as something bad happened. Everyone else who is living in poverty [isn’t] able to quit being poor just because someone in their family falls ill.”

39 Responses to “Adam Shepard Wants to Live Like Common People”

  1. Milly von Hilly Says:

    “…Still you’ll never get it right, cuz when you’re laying in bed at night watching roaches climb the wall, you can call you dad: he can stop it”


    Awesome post, Mer, well fucking said.

  2. Hellen Says:

    *thank you*
    The whole concept sounded vile to me and you perfectly articulately exactly why this is all bs.

  3. Camilla Taylor Says:

    His experiment failed! He left when there was an emegency. What if he were actually poor, and had to take time off or possibly lose his job because he had to care for an ailing family member? Being poor isn’t an experiment in slumming it that one can just cut short.

    Not mentioning his education does not mean it didn’t help him. Many poor American adults are functionally illiterate, and often are learn few math and verbal skills at public schools.

    All in all, I can only agree with you, Ms. Yayanos. What an utter douche.

  4. ampersandpilcrow Says:

    Excellent post. I knew Shepard’s idea was bunk for about 900 reasons, just one being that he could afford to do the experiment in the first place, because being a rich, research triangle area scion, he didn’t owe sizable monthly chunks of money to pay back college education, like most people who aren’t lucky, rich or Einstein do.

    Shepard was also flat-out lucky in his experiment. He didn’t get robbed or beaten in the homeless shelter (happens plenty). He wasn’t turned away from said shelter (in Asheville at the moment, there’s 700 homeless and 258 shelter beds, it’s not the only city like that). He had no debilitating illnesses or conditions. He didn’t happen to get a cavity, toothache, broken bone or spend five days laid up with the flu. He didn’t get fired for bringing up a safety hazard. All those happen — a lot. But one phone call and he’d be right back with mommy and daddy. Average working poor is simply SOL. I have seen far too many hard-working, determined people flat broke because of simple bad luck — and once the slide starts, it is very, very hard to stop.

    Ehrenreich deserves some flack, but I’ll give her a little more credit because in all her “woe-is-me”ing she actually did highlight some of the nasty conditions faced by the poor in this country. The degree of blindness to that is staggering, and when she came to speak at ASU, a lot of the students wondered why the people in her book couldn’t “just find another job or get some help from their parents.”

    So she deserves some kudos for trying to break those illusions, however imperfectly she carried it off. Class is the biggest dividing line in this country, and by far the most ignored. Any light shone on that is welcome.

  5. shigella Says:

    What a great assessment. His experience is not so special.

    I left home at 22: college-educated, wide-eyed and going to San Francisco with no connections and no cash. I found a fast-food job immediately. I rented a room from a stranger who accepted that I would pay her back as soon as I got a paycheck.

    Of course I did fine. Even as a woman I am white, educated and well-versed in the social graces of how to dress for job interviews. I worked in food service at first, then got temp jobs in an office. I was earning enough to live and even saved money within six months.

    Growing up with supportive parents and a network back home to ‘fall back on’ definitely helped my chances. I had nothing undermining my confidence, no ethnic or cultural barriers. I knew I could go home if things got too awful. My college experience of shaking hands with professors helped immensely, even though my art degree didn’t do much for me in the job market.

    I’m not bragging; I’m just stating this to drive home that it is a common story; it’s what kids do all the time right out of college when they don’t have student loan debt but they desire some freedom. I hardly think that being an “outsider on the wrong side of the tracks” for a few days made much impact on his life. After ten months, he went home to his previous existence.

  6. Zoetica Says:

    Perfect post, Mer! I hope this kind of press takes some wind out of his bag.
    I mean “sails”.

  7. Mer Says:

    Ampers, I don’t think there’s any doubt in either of our minds that Ehrenreich has a decidedly bigger brain than Shepard. She’s far more accomplished and articulate. I have a great deal of respect for her on certain levels and of course, I too am thankful for any light shown on divisive class issues in this country. The “average” college co-ed seems dismissive or just plain unaware of the depth and scope of these problems. But it’s my opinion that by refusing to take advantage of several opportunities made available to the working poor, Ehrenreich basically stacked the deck (no doubt in part to suit her political ideas). She never really explains why she didn’t take these alternate avenues in any convincing way. While I share many of her beliefs, in the end I couldn’t get past that aspect of her argument, or all of the self-congratulation at the end of the book. But yeah, I’d much rather take her out for coffee and a cruller than Shepard. ;)

  8. Mark Says:

    Quite apart from Shepard’s nauseating arrogance – and the queasily condescending ‘jolly hockey sticks’ tone that defined his whole approach – why didn’t anybody take him to one side very early on, and tactfully point out that his whole first-person-investigative-project-slash-misguided-vanity-project was based on the single least original idea in the entire fucking cosmos?

    Come to think of it, they probably did. I bet they were rewarded with a sputum-flecked tsunami of vitriol delivered at gradually decreasing distance from their face, the bewildering climax of which saw Shepard reared up on quivering, tremulous tiptoe – a horribly distended artery nearly fully obscuring his left eye – to breathlessly wring out the final volley of exotically caustic profanities, before crumbling spent to his knees in a blubbering, snot-spattered puddle of insecurity, self-loathing and semi-reluctant arousal. Possibly.

    No sir, I don’t like this man.

  9. ampersandpilcrow Says:

    Yeah, the ending got a roll of the eyes from me. I interviewed her (not that I’m bragging *coughcough* ;-) ) after she spoke at ASU and found her nice, witty and intelligent, but I did get a whiff of that self-satisfaction.

    She’s a talented writer who’s done some good journalism — but she’s so very, very determined to make her point (and be seen doing so) that I think she keeps falling short of being great.

  10. Nadya Says:

    There’s one scene in one movie that completely refutes his entire book. The scene was in the movie Monster. It’s the scene where Aileen Wuornos tries to get a job. She puts on her best outfit and tries her best to look eager, professional and ready to do whatever task she is assigned. She has some vague idea of the kind of work that secretaries do and imagines herself typing up pages all day. And they totally laugh at her and throw her out. There are other scenes in that movie of how the system fails her despite her best efforts to work hard and clean up her act, but that one stays clear in my mind the most.
    But Shepard and his frat buddies would just say that she’s a whore and she deserved it.

  11. the daniel Says:

    Someone once said that for better or worse we tend to define ‘smart people’ as folks who are well-spoken and already agree with us. By that definition, I think you’re smart people :)

    I haven’t read Ehrenreich but I am sympathetic with her premises, and when I heard about this guy, I was annoyed at how he co-opted her message for his bullshit reaganoid story (the implication, of course, is that poor people deserve it because they just aren’t as tenacious as he is). Good work on this piece, a++ would buy again.

  12. the daniel Says:

    Oh, also the John Galt joke in the caption is ACE

  13. sense Says:

    I want to punch him in the face as hard as I can.

  14. ampersandpilcrow Says:

    sense: Tire iron. Right to the jaw. Just seeing his picture made my teeth grit.

    Nadya: But Shepard and his frat buddies would just say that she’s a whore and she deserved it.

    Boy, would they ever. I think this is the damage done by the smug Objectivism personified by Shepard. It’s given a disgusting intellectual veneer to the rich’s belief that they deserve what’s handed to them, topped with an extra heaping of satisfaction when they kick someone who’s down.

  15. Skerror Says:

    @Nadya…”It’s the scene where Aileen Wuornos tries to get a job. She puts on her best outfit and tries her best to look eager, professional and ready to do whatever task she is assigned. She has some vague idea of the kind of work that secretaries do and imagines herself typing up pages all day. And they totally laugh at her and throw her out.”

    That’s going to make for a great dramatic scene when she writes her book though! ;)

    All of this stuff is a (barely) refined argument for infantile selfishness. People like Adam are little kids who have a sociopathic incapacity for empathy. Seriously, it only takes a little penetrative thinking to realize that people aren’t all born and raised into these little “Joe Averages”. Poor science Adam Shephard…

    On an optimistic note. There’s a serious backlash building up against this kind of thinking. These fuckers had their chance and they blew it. We let the neoconservatives grease the system and now people are absolutely disgusted by the results.

    Great post Mer!

    @Mark…I enjoyed that run of dark poetry. I bet his semi-reluctant arousal made a bubble on the tip with a maggot inside:

  16. Alice Says:

    Waitwaitwait…WHOSE fault is it when someone is charged with a misdemeanor that inhibits their ability to “get places” (or…whatever…) in society? I’d say that avoiding such behavior is part of what is necessary to achieve success, and if you can’t do it…well, of COURSE you won’t get anywhere.

  17. Camilla Taylor Says:

    Alice, it is not always your own fault when you get a misdemeanour. A means of transportation, such as riding your bike without a headlight in the still visibly lit evening, could get you a misdemeanour. While it’s not always the case that the cards are just stacked against you and all you can do is sit back and let the trouble wash over you, it is difficult to grow up in a bad neighborhood and enter adulthood with a record blemish free. One’s proximity to events often implicateds you in them.

  18. Elusive Says:

    While the idea that you can “drop” a couple of classes to prove a point is flawed at best I do want to point out something you said.

    “Had he . . . been charged with a couple of misdemeanors . . . or habitually dropped acid during it, I’d be impressed!”

    The fact that the lowest classes do these activities lends some credence to the thought behind his book. The lower classes actively choose to engage, and enjoy, behaviour that puts themselves at a disadvantage.

    This does not mean that Shepard should be praised for this book that is, in fact, a stunt. Nor does it mean that there are not forces at work outside of a person’s control that put the poor at a disadvantage. What it means is that people should take control of themselves where they have the ability and where they don’t, there legal aids should be crafted. You cannot focus on one and disregard the other. Ehrenreich’s opinion is by far the more vocal and has the support of many self-aggrandizing (and sometimes well-meaning) people, but it is just as dangerous (if not more so) to society as Shepard’s cavalier privileged view.
    What it ultimately means is that Shepard has written a flawed book that counters the flawed book of Ehrenreich. They are the extremes, both wrong. You can either trumpet the one and excoriate the other or vice versa, or you can try to look to the deeper truth that is somewhere in between. Until more people follow the third option instead of the shallow, conscience-soothing “easy fix” of the first two, the situation isn’t going to change.


  19. Tanya Says:

    Interesting post, Mer! And great choice of the Pulp song.

    Related, but not quite: Last night I was watching America’s Next Top Model (oh sue me!). On the show Tyra with a tearful but strong voice said that the issue of “homelessness is close to (her) heart” because she had to pretend to be homeless for a day once, for the Tyra show. Aww BOOHOO. A WHOLE DAY!! I nearly spat out my milk (well, water, but milk sounds batter) on the TV screen.

  20. Mer Says:

    Matthew, I’m not sure if you’re directing the comments about Ehrenreich towards me, or towards someone else, but I most certainly am not trumpeting her book’s findings. Also, please keep in mind that my joking remark about dropping acid wasn’t so much an assertion that Shepard needed to willfully commit that particular illegal act to properly emulate “the lowest classes” so much as me trying to point out that many folks on the street have mental impairments of various kinds that make day-to-day life just a weeee bit more difficult for them to navigate. So, if Shepard truly wanted to level the playing field, he’d have played his little game with a handicap or two. ;)

    Alice, last time I checked, it wasn’t just the great unwashed committing lesser crimes! Check this list. I’ll wager that the majority of people you know have committed at least one of these offenses. Whether or not they were caught, charged with a misdemeanor count and punished to the full extent of the law is another issue. Anyway. Glass houses, you know?

  21. Nadya Says:

    Matthew, I have to respectfully disagree with you. Having worked as a teacher in a very poor neighborhood in North Philly, I can see how a certain amount of upbringing just weighs you down so much that it’s sometimes impossible to recover. If you’re a kid growing up and your parents deal drugs, your older brothers deal drugs, everyone on your street does drugs and your school is so poor/understaffed/overcrowded that teachers aren’t able to give you guidance and attention you need to figure out that there are other options in life… what chance to you have of not falling into that lifestyle, the one that your entire environment conspires to push you in, every day? I know, it’s a hard situation to imagine if you haven’t been there, but I’ve seen it and it’s very scary.

    People will be quick to say “learn to read and go to the public library” but when you’re surrounded with as much depression as some people are in this country, that may not even occur to you and there’s no one to tell you. I’ve met kids who were 11 years old and couldn’t read! Not everyone falls into crime because they are bad people who enjoy committing crime… some fall into it because it’s the only thing they know from an early age.

  22. ampersandpilcrow Says:

    Matthew: So the well-heeled never rack up misdemeanors or use drugs? Or do they just have the resources in place to avoid facing the consequences of such “youthful indiscretions”? Personally, I’ve seen far more hard work and resourcefulness among the “lower classes” than amongst the upper.

    Of course personal effort plays a very important role — but the odds that something will screw you over anyway rise exponentially the lower down on the food chain you go. Nadya’s right about how damaging a bad early environment can be, and that’s only the beginning. I’ve seen people who ended up homeless because a relative died suddenly, or because a manager felt like exerting their authority, or because a cop was having a bad day. Maybe they got in a fight, or had a period of depression. Maybe their landlord screwed them over.

    If Shepard or his ilk have that problem they have family, bank accounts, lawyers, counselling and medical care to fall back on. For those he’s looking down his nose at, there’s no cavalry coming. They just take the brunt of it and have to hope they can pick up the pieces later.

    Flawed as Nickel and Dimed was, Ehrenreich at least saw that this is a problem and said that something needs to be done. This is true. More opportunities and better support should be available for the working poor, so there’s less chance of their personal effort counting for nothing. All Shepard’s view seems to offer is a sneering “why can’t you do better?”

  23. bunny Says:

    Alice: I am all for personal responsibility, but I think the point is his starting with such a clean slate to a degree invalidates the experiment. If he started with more of the deck stacked against him, it would seem less disingenuous.

  24. pinkdeviant Says:

    Fantastic. I hate rubbish like this. It sounds like A Million Little Pieces all over again. So fake and just wrong entirely.

  25. Jerem Morrow Says:

    Amper, Mer, Nadya…guys…heh, everything I wanted to say, ye managed it for me. Danke.

  26. nabokovsnose Says:

    We’re reading Shipler’s “The Working Poor” right now for my sociology class. It’s a far better and more honest read than “Nickel and Dimed” (and more affecting, too), it sounds like Shepard could have done with reading it before embarking on this self-serving little crusade.

    Upbringing is everything. I’m going to leave here (college) poor, in debt, and with a relatively-useless degree – but a degree nonetheless! – and I know unless I make a fairly major mistake I am not going to go hungry or find myself on the street. Social skills, confidence, and ambition go a long way. I second Nadya: you can’t emulate what you don’t know. I think this book would make me very, very angry.

  27. James Shearhart Says:

    Well done, Mer!

    And I think Nadya pinned it as far as the societal “just get a job” mindset – there is indeed a subconscious prejudice (in the very letter of the word, “pre-judged” to be unable to perform a given job) in hiring patterns, especially with office-level work. Someone can have all the qualifications in the world and look like a freshly laundered bag lady, and the job will go to another, fresher, individual, simply because there’s a mindset of “well, they won’t quite fit into our particular workplace culture”.

    Mr Clean there obviously would be considered more readily than, say, dozens of folks that I walk by in the Mission in San Francisco….

  28. Flint Says:

    Can we get him to try it again, but this time be black?

  29. Michael Says:

    Didn’t he, by definition, “lose the bet” when he gave up when a family member got ill? Nothing says “I don’t get it” like calling a time out at a crucial point such as that.

  30. ampersandpilcrow Says:

    Flint: An excellent idea, though my vote is to make him do it again, but this time starting from a slum in Thailand.

  31. BFSCR Says:

    Beyond the lists of valid critics given already, another one that I’m sure Mr. Shepard didn’t allow for is how his background & starting conditions much more closely model that of a definite section of the US’ immigrant population (the brain-drain contingent, advantaged backgrounds, etc.) then it does those raised in the context of our domestic poverty.

    How shocking that he thus manages to mimic what we’ve traditionally harnessed for domestic growth.

  32. Nadya Says:

    The scary thing about that “Why Are People Poor?” PDF is that a lot of those statistics are ten years old. They were scary then, and they’ve all only gotten worse.

  33. groonk Says:

    “Are you sure you want to live like common people?
    You want to see whatever common people see? ”

    As you stated with the quote about ditching the experiment the minute the first Bad Thing happened. He wasn’t sure about being a “common person”.

    i’m not saying doing such a thing is impossible. i’m just saying he should try running his experiment after living with 10 years of people telling you you won’t amount to anything. if that’s out of the question, he should have have the chutzpah to follow his “experiment” or even try to take care of the sick family member with the job he had(which certainly did not have health insurance) and his precious savings of $5,000.

    Morgan Spurlock barely managed 30 DAYS of living on minimum wage after he was injured on the job.

    Maybe someone can use Shepard’s book…as kindling. That’s the only use it has, I believe.

    Flint: you’re right as rain on that point as well.

  34. Tequila Says:

    Man I wish I had enough money to play poor.

    “Am I going to continue to go out to eat and put rims on my Cadillac? Or am I going to make some things happen in my life?”

    That pretty much defines what the rich and well off think of those below them. As if being on the low end of the spectrum is a challenge to be overcome by sheer will and self help bullshit. It ignores the well funded institutions, laws, and realities meant to keep the poor…poor. The top 1% are not about to share…they control what…nearly half the wealth in this nation? Keeping people poor is an institution not a lifestyle choice.

    If you’re in extreme situations extreme actions are a natural choice. The well off and upper % get away with crimes that have sent lesser men to their deaths. EVERY major American family of great wealth has had their hand in illegal practices, skirted tax laws, and clawed together with other well off families to make sure they are protected. They more than anyone else need the poor as both a distraction and a charity case to both support and step on to keep their place.

    Palm Beach, Florida is a prime example of these twisted lil networks these scum form…to see any play the pauper to state the obvious that being poor is tough or worse say it’s within only one’s will to overcome is infuriating. We all know you need more than yourself to survive…let along get ahead. Shifting an entire social class is possible thanks to the nature of many wester and 1st world countries but damned if it’s not without major sacrifices and a gamblers spirit.

  35. guesswho9 Says:

    Most people who are born poor, Stay poor as they are born in deprived areas mostly, His experiment is pretty much unreilable as he hasn’t been born in these areas like others, Plus unlike many of these people, He’s always going to have a back-up with his parents if it all goes the wrong way.
    And no I’m not saying its impossible to get out of poverty but whats he’s saying pretty much could be considered fraud and there’s no reliablty or consideration into why poor people continue to actually be poor, And without that, What good is getting out of poverty if you don’t know the causes?

  36. tDIYm Says:

    I heard one of his interviews and he was pretty proud of himself. I couldn’t help but wonder how many more opportunities kind of “fell” on him, not because he was so determined he was going to succeed but because he was a young, healthy GUY. I bet he doesn’t even know what happens if you bounce a check.

  37. Blayne Says:

    Great post! ‘Scratch Beginnings’ reminded me of a similar work I studied at university up here in Ontario called “Down to This: Squalor and Splendour in a Big-city Shantytown”.

    As part of a 2nd year course, Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall drove up to our campus and gave a Q&A session after we read his work.
    He was a writer who went and lived covertly in Toronto’s “Tent City” for a year before Home Depot (the lands owner) evicted the residents with private security guards.

    Shaughnessy’s goal was to learn more about the homeless ‘lifestyle’, rather than prove the miracle of a ‘can-do’ attitude. In reality, the guy lived and scourged money for a year, was beaten up repeatedly, stole a car, and drank himself into oblivion over a failed relationship. The work seemed more like an exercise in the writer working through his demons than real social commentary.

    Unlike Adam Shepard, Shaughnessy did drop acid, among other narcotics – frequently. His writing reflects this, and gets pretty loopy at times.

    However… any book where a middle class, white, post-secondary graduate sets out to learn about the underclass by living among them is doomed to begin with. Either the writer pulls a Mr. Shephard and walks, or they become what they study.

    Shaughnessy lived the life, but as a result his writing gain more of a E.R Borroughs-visits-with-the-morlocks quality than showing any real insights.

  38. Mer Says:

    Fascinating account, Blayne. Thanks for the link.

  39. Chris L Says:

    Guy needs to listen to some Dead Prez. Or Public Enemy. Or Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. Or any hip hop at all, for that matter. Even the bling misogynist gangsta rap says a lot about what it is to be poor (and stuck there). Why else would anyone be so obsessed with showing off how much stuff they can buy? Because they managed to break the cycle that they saw happening every single day, all around them.