John Ford, Gary Cooper and TuPac:
Gangsta Rap and the Wild Wild West

created by Keonna Carter, June 2002

Live by the Gun, Die by the Gun: Death and the Wild Wild West

In his book, The American West: The Invention of a Myth, David Murdoch explains that ultimately, living in the West is a matter of death. The genre of Westerns are essentially about conflict. The plots invariably pit the lone hero against society, (usually represented by a sheriff in the form of "the law"), enemies, or nature itself. Since both the hero and his enemies cannot triumph, death not only becomes a recurrent theme, but a necessary phenomenon in Westerns, by which challengers are eliminated.
Like Westerns, conflict is the thematic underpinning of gangsta raps. In keeping with the Western conventions, the rapper becomes the lone hero who is pit against society, (most often represented by the police department in the form of "the law"); enemies from adjoining neighborhoods, gangs, or sets; or nature itself, in the form of the deplorable living conditions and menacing environment of their "hoods." And because there can only be one victor, death becomes the vehicle by which the rapper's opposition is eliminated.
In Clint Eastwood's 1992 western, The Unforgiven, Ned Logan and The "Schofield Kid" discuss what they believe to be the imminence of Bill Munny's death. The "Schofield Kid" claims to be well acquainted with death and non-emotional about its looming presence. His plans for action following Munny's "death" illustrates how commonplace and central death is to heroes in Westerns.
Similarly, in Tupac Shakur's song, "To Live and Die in L.A." from the album "Makaveli-- The Don Killuminati: The Seven Day Theory," Tupac addresses the ever-presence of death by rapping, "Shed tears as we bury niggaz close to heart; What was a friend now a ghost in the dark." In a more poetical fashion than typically found in Westerns, Tupac describes the death of a close friend. The fact that Tupac only allots two lines for the death of a close friend may seem unfeeling and insensitive, however it is just a reflection of the indifference that accompanies the repeat occurrence of an event. The title of the song, "To Live and Die in L.A." equates life and death in the West (L.A.) and the repetition of those six words immunes the listener to the inevitable deaths that occur in L.A. because it is so often accompanied by living in the song.
watch the The Unforgiven clip and compare it to "To Live and Die in L.A.". clip
Introduction | Howdy West Was Born | History of Rap | Death as a Theme | Violence as a Theme | The Moral Fiber of the West | Rapping It Up | References