Public Image Limited?

03/28/2008 02:48 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Growing up in the 90s, I loved Sunny Day Real Estate, Pavement and Bikini Kill just as much as I loved Tribe Called Quest, Biggie Smalls and Jay-Z. Like all the other girls my age, we thought people like Method Man and Redman were hot--men who by our current standards would not even register on the cute meter.

So what's happened?

According to recent article, "Jeepers, Rappers, Where Did You Get Those Arms and Torsos?" in the New York Times, news has surfaced that such notables as 50 Cent, Mary J. Blige and Wyclef Jean (to name a few) are being investigated for steroid and human growth hormone use.

As modern rock has been decimated by the idea of that image is more important than substance (hello, I have not purchased a decent album since "OK Computer" and I can't stop singing "I'm not going to write you a love song" by Sara Bareilles. She's cute and it's catchy), is hip hop facing the same image-conscious demise?

I'm obviously not a music critic or the best writer to explore this topic, so I e-mailed a fellow music fan--someone who is also far from an expert, comedian Baron Vaughn (, who took a moment from his college touring to respond to my questions.

Baron's favorite quote in the article....

"But the recent news highlights an issue that has long been whispered about in hip-hop as some performers have leaned ever more heavily on a Schwarzeneggerian body as part of their public image."
---Jeff Chang, author of Can't Stop Won't Stop.

Baron: "Schwarzeneggerian" is such an apropos word. Especially since it has "negger" in it. That's how they get you!!!

What do you think about the idea of a "super-human, athletic" rapper?
What [Jeff]Chang says is absolutely right. Most fans of Hip Hop look to their favorites to set the example for bad-assedness. There's the secret understanding that the top Hip Hop artists got out of the hood and into the spotlight through either their brawn or their brains. They kicked and punched or they tricked and hustled. They already are superheroes to some.

That said, I've always told people that we will one day evolve into a super human race of rappers. We'll be flying around dropping rhymes just to have a simple conversation. Wars will become intercontinental free style battles judged by Flava Flav's brain in a jar with legs. I've seen the future and the future is dope!

If you were a rapper, what would your image and branding be based on?
I believe my name would be "Grammar." I would drop references and deference to Kool G Rap and Oscar Wilde, to Big Daddy Kane and Voodoo Chile, to Aquinas, Sartre, Modern Art and Truffaut, to KRS-One while I wait for Godot.
My branding would be about being well-read so you never miss what I'm saying. And as will all know, every soft drink and shoe corporation strongly supports education in young African-Americans, right?

The marketing of the "images" is so key now to so many different bottom lines--how to you think these allegations will effect record sales and endorsement deals?
The fans themselves don't know that they are deeply involved in branding, image and marketing. BUT, and this is very important, the fans are buying this idea of "realness." That these artists, in everything they do, are keeping it "real". Other crimes are different. When a rapper is arrested on gun charges, shooting, assault or other sorts of deviant behavior, that is seen as authentic. They are hardcore gangstas just being who they are. However, when steroids are involved, the implication is that being "hard" is easy. It means they didn't earn their bodies from hustling on the streets. They didn't earn it from running from cops, other gangstas, or working out to pass the jail time. Steroids is cheating. Their "real" is fake. If anything in this world is earned and not forged, it's the title "gangsta." So if the fans sniff them out as fakes, its over.