Tattooed Teardrops: The Tragedy of The Tattoo Fad in Hip-Hop

African American, Culture, Music & Hip-Hop, Uncategorized

Tattooed Teardrops: The Tragedy of The Tattoo Fad in Hip-Hop

I have worked with young people ages 15 to 21 who are involved in the criminal justice system for the past four years. During this time, I have noticed an alarming and increasingly popular trend not only in the culture of Hip-Hop, professional sports and television but on the skin of the young people I work with, tattoos.

Despite not having any tattoos, I support the idea of individulaity and self-expression. However, my concern is that teenagers are getting these tattoos without considering the long-term implications there ink will have on the way they are perceived in our society.

Some of the tattoos I have seen on the youth I work with in the past four years have included numerous tattooed teardrops, which historically signified that you killed someone, even though the youth typically explain that their teardrops are for ‘lost loved ones.’ I have seen youth tattoo their hands with words like, ‘Certified Goon’, ‘Real Shit’, ‘Not a Goon But a Ghost’, and many other street idioms.

One of the most memorable tattoos was worn by a slender light skinned African-American who was only 16 year old. His most prominent tattoo covered his entire neck and read ‘215 – Killadelphia’ a salute to the city of Philadelphia and its reputation for brotherly slugs. The tattoo was replete with buildings in the background and two small handguns on each end of the tattoo firing bullets towards the lettering. This tattoo was definitely an interesting piece of art but the problem was that I would expect to see this type of art on a 40 year old ex-con or a inmate on MSNBC’s ‘Lockup’. Instead I am seeing this type tattoo on a young men and women who have not even matured through adolescence yet but who will undoubtedly have to bear the burden of their decision to be ‘inked’ for the rest of their lives.

It should not be a mystery to anyone that people with tattoos are discriminated against in our society and typically have a more difficult time finding employment, especially in jobs where they are required to interact with the public. Should employers discriminate against people with tattoos? I would say no, they should not but I also understand that employers have to make good business decisions and hiring someone with tattoos on their face, hands, neck and fingers could cause customers and/or coworkers to be intimidated. These young people don’t have millions of dollars and jobs in entertainment which could ameliorate any discrimination they may indeed face.

I have searched the Internet looking for interesting articles on the rise of the tattoo culture in Hip-Hop and I have not been able to find much out there. I do believe that the Tattoo culture began increasing in popularity in the Hip-Hop generation in the late 1990s with artists like Tupac, DMX, and C-Murder to name a few. I also beleive that Allen Iverson, who entered the NBA in 1996 with only a handful of tattoos but within a couple of years was tatted from head to toe. Allen Iverson started a trend that many other professional athletes would eventually adopt. Nowadays, you cannot watch a college or professional game without seeing tattoos on display including on stars like, LeBron James. In Hip-Hop you have also seen a rise in the tattoo fad with artists like Lil Wayne, the Game, Baby, Wiz Khalifa and Gucci Mane all displaying tattoos in the most visible of places, especially their faces. There art is now being featured in magazines like, Urban Ink, that targets young people of color.

Getting tattoos has also become much easier with tattooing equipment being sold on eBay and other stores online, many young people are forgoing traditional tattoo shops and apprenticeship schools to become amateur tattoo artist, working for a fraction of the cost of licensed tattoo artists . According to the youth I work with, they are regularly invited to ‘tattoo parties’ where the cost of admission is minimal and amateur, possibly unsanitary, and oftentimes shoddyy tattoos are administered. For around $30 or less they can get large and prominent tattoos that immediately bolster their street credibility and self-esteem. These types of ‘tattoo parties’ make it difficult for parents to prevent their children from getting tattoos because no parental consent forms are necessary and the tattoos are seen as something cool and normal because so many of the young people’s idols have them.

This trend has impacted the lives of countless youngsters, who without much critical thought have decided to’ ink’ their hands, arms and faces with tattoos with questionable and antisocial messages. This trend is not isolated to males either because I have also seen a rise in the occurance of young females getting visible tattoos as well. What are the long term implications for these young people? How will they be able to overcome the sterotypes inherent in the tattoos they now adorn? How will they get highly sought after jobs? Have they given up on traditional forms of employment? Do they understand the impact their tattoos will have on their lives? With tattoo removal processes being costly and often times ineffective, these questions have no easy answers and given the permanence of tattoos and their increasing popularity there will undoubtedly be long term repercussions for thousands of young people who are following this trend.

Young African-American and Latino youth have so many challenges facing them in terms of access to quality education, community violence, abuse and neglect, the lure of the drug trade, poverty, single parent households, parental abandonment, disproportionate incarceration rates, high rates of unemployment, teen pregnancy, drug addiction, etc. It seems that a significant segment of these young people have resigned to forgo entry into the professional and academic world to battle for their rights and have opted instead, to wear their dismay at our society in their bold and prominent ink. I believe they are rebelling in a self-destructive and self-limiting way, even though I empathize with them and admire of their creativity and rebelliousness. I believe this form of creativity and rebellion is short sighted and problematic. Young people must begin to think critically about the cultural trend of tattooing and ‘think before they get that ink.’

Below is a YouTube video in which hip-hop entrepreneur, Master P, speaks on on this issue. Above you will also find a gallery of images of individuals who have chosen to wear their ink in bold ways, highlighting the points mentioned in this post. What are your thoughts on this issue? What can be done to protect young people from making costly decisions that will follow them for years to come? Leave a comment or share this article.

Master P Speaks on the Issue of Tattoos in Hip-Hop