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Robbie Ettelson - Keep Your Shirt On

It’s been a tough couple of weeks for shirtless rapper dudes. Both Lil Wayne and Rick Ross, who are seemingly allergic to wearing any type of fabric on their upper bodies whenever they perform, have lost lucrative sponsorship deals with Mountain Dew and Reebok, respectively. While the “official line” as to why these business partnerships have ceased blames “offensive lyrical content” from both of them, those of us who have been paying attention understand that it’s simply the latest incident in the storied history of what I like to refer to as The Curse of the Shirtless Rapper.

Dating back to the days Grandmaster Flash’s main microphone marauder, Melle Mel – who was basically the best rapper on the planet before Run-DMC took over the world – we’ve seen a disturbing correlation between MCs refusing to don any garments above the waist and a sharp decline in their career. In Melle’s case, as he saw his reign on the top of the heap slip away, he became more and more obsessed with tearing his t-shirt off on stage in some sort of ‘roid rage. This all came to a head when he challenged 1987 New Music Seminar MC Champion Mikey D to a battle just after D won the title, proceeding to do push ups on stage and storm off with the belt despite the protests of the crowd. Once he traded in those fringed leather jackets for the bare-chested look, it was all over for this rap pioneer.

Big Daddy Kane provides us with another tragic example. This Brooklyn-bred wordsmith was near-unstoppable when he dropped Brag Rap classics like Raw, Ain’t No Half Steppin and Wrath of Kane, but over time his thirst to be the Barry White of Rap saw him appearing with sans shirt on his next two album covers, and he then proceeded down the slippery slope that saw him pose naked for Playgirl magazine and finger-bang Madonna in her Sex book. It was no coincidence that this near-constant toplessness also coincided with a rapid decline in the quality of his music and his popularity amongst rap fans.

Still not convinced? Consider the cases of former pals Ja Rule and DMX. Both of these guys made a career out of shirtless behavior and were able to sell millions upon millions of CDs without even trying at one point – however, this came at a terrible price. Those who sell their mortal souls to the Lord of the Shirtless must pay a heavy price, sooner or later. For Ja, it was to have his career ended by the new breed of shirt-free MC’s – 50 Cent and Eminem – and wound up in the bing. He was finally released earlier this week, hopefully now a reformed shirtless rapper who understand the importance of keeping your top on. Dark Man X’s personal struggles have been well documented, so I won’t go over the details again here. Don’t even get me started on poor old Nas, either…

Sometimes it can a long process for the curse to strike. LL Cool J managed to last nearly 30 years before he finally became unstuck and recorded Accidental Racist, while Treach from Naughty By Nature also had a good run before he fired his main man Vinnie this week on Twitter and things got ugly and embarrassing for everyone involved. Kanye started to dabble with shirt-resistant behavior and now he’s got that Kim broad up the duff and is working with Chief Keef on his new project. Veterans such as Kool G Rap, Common and Jay-Z have never succumbed to the Last Temptation of Toplessness, and as a result are still active and respected in the music game (paparazzi shots on the beach or a yacht don’t count). With Weezy and Rawse both losing valuable income streams as a result of their fear of woven cotton, I can only hope that this serves as a wake-up call to the weed carriers and MCs of tomorrow to keep their shirt on whenever performing and not give in to the temptation of trying to get a few cheap glances from the broads in the front row.

Keep up with Robbie’s weekly ‘No Country for Old (Rap) Men’ here.