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Rap, the world’s most dangerous profession

By Shun Smith

Editor’s note: The opinions expressed here are those of the authors. View more opinion on ScoonTV.

When one chooses a profession, rarely is that determination based on the likelihood of dying on the job. An exception is young men and women who choose military service. When I decided to join the military one year before the World Trade Center was attacked and America’s War on Terror began, the question of death never crossed my mind. Most Americans wake up and go to work without the fear of becoming a workplace fatality.

However, for some, the specter of death is ever-present. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has tracked fatal work injury rates for decades. Professions that continually maintain top positions in this area, in no particular order, include fishing and hunting, logging, roofing, the construction trade, aircraft piloting and flight engineering, truck driving, and structural iron and steel work. Over a three-year period, each of those sectors had a fatal injury rate of 23 or more per 100,000 workers. During one of the three years, loggers had a fatal injury rate of 135.9 per 100,000, making them 38 times more likely to have a fatal injury than the average worker. But what if the BLS missed a career field that had a much higher fatality rate? What if that sector was the music industry? 

In 2021, BLS data indicated that over 151,000 people were employed under the occupational title of musician and singer. That same year, Youtuber Hip-Hop Universe reported that there were over 217 fatalities (200 shooting deaths, seven suicides, five stabbings, four drug overdoses, and one intoxication) associated with the music profession, specifically rap.

Many might question the validity of a YouTuber. I did. However, after researching every rapper listed in the YouTube video between January and March of 2021, I had little doubt as to the diligence and hard work that goes into Hip-Hop Universe videos. I have compiled the news article and social media post and made them publicly available here.

Not to my surprise, there was an absence of information regarding the homicide rates of country music and R&B singers. Moving forward by considering the available data, this would put the musician and singer industry sector at just over 143 fatalities per 100,000 from rap alone – higher than logging-related death rates. I am willing to concede that BLS hasn’t entered every local rapper into its employment model. However, it’s highly unlikely that there are over 100,000 active rappers in the United States. The estimated death rate could be significantly higher. 

What makes a profession dangerous, and is the salary from that employment good enough to risk life and limb? In Matthew 4:19, Jesus walked out to the Sea of Galilee and spotted two brothers, Simon (later Peter) and Andrew. They were fishermen, now categorized as one of the most dangerous professions. I don’t remember reading in scripture that, before Jesus made them fishers of men, Simon or Andrew thanked Jesus for getting them off that fishing boat, possibly saving their lives for a time.

Those who work in maritime professions are exposed to a harsh climate and weather, as well as grueling hours that they spend drenched in seawater for low wages (mean salary $31,000). Loggers fare slightly better in salary, at $40,000, but are more likely to die by heavy equipment such as chainsaws and logging trucks or by being crushed by falling trees or having their heads smashed by limbs from above.

A few months ago, a video of steel construction workers on the Chrysler Building in the 1930s got recycled over Twitter. The video displayed the perilous task of constructing steel skyscrapers without harnesses or equipment. Today, for steel workers, with a median salary of nearly $57,000, those same hazards still exist; the most common causes of fatal injury are slips, trips, and falls. In August, a Palo Alto, CA man fell down a shaft in a 15-story suburban skyscraper and died from injuries sustained in the fall.

The art form known as rap hasn’t been legitimately established as long as any of the recognized most dangerous professions. However, rap artists have worked expeditiously to catch up to and surpass those workers in the danger zone. Data sourced from Raptology.com shows that between 1987 and 2010, 27 rhymers were murdered. If we include drug-related overdoses, information provided by rap.fandom.wiki increases the toll to 34.

By the end of the 2010s, hip-hop had proliferated and is now the country’s favorite form of music. The current genre of music has influenced the next generation of artists with half-truths and folktales of how an artist will steal, kill, and destroy.

The art of storytelling has become an everyday occurrence. When I was watching Hip-Hop Universe’s video on the 2021 death tally, which included snippets from the artists’ music videos, I saw that, more often than not, the young upstarts displayed firearms, bundles of Benjamin Franklins, and a smorgasbord of drugs and accouterments. In those moments, I began to realize that this was a causality dilemma. The rap business started as art imitating life; now life imitates art and has exacted the most egregious cost of doing business. 

Regarding the cost of doing business, according to the BLS, the median hourly wage for musicians and singers is a smidgin over $30 an hour. Saying that all performing artists make $58,000 (40-hour weeks) annually is being extremely generous, but we’ll stick with that number. 

Unfortunately, the modern rapper doesn’t live long enough to aspire to the financial heights of an Ice Cube, Jeezy, or even Boosie Badazz. Other dangerous careers have disproportionate fatality rates in the 35-to-44 and 55-to-64 age groups. Estimates based on available data suggest that most rappers on the fatality list don’t make it past 30. Because there isn’t an age barrier for entry, some were younger than 17.

The careers of fishing, logging, and construction trades have been reduced to a responsible level of risk thanks to workers’ unions and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Regrettably, OSHA isn’t working to reduce the risk associated with the rap profession – and don’t expect rappers to form a union.

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Shun Smith

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