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Gang gang: The parallels between hip-hop and The Sopranos

The greatest series of all time fully embraced its hip-hop influences. Both the mafia and hip-hop can be problematic, but truth be told, people love that gangster sh*t!
Thu, Jul 08, 2021

Here's a factual opinion: HBO's The Sopranos is one of greatest TV series ever made.

The drama's first season, which debuted in 1999, ushered in the 'golden age' of TV shows that we're still binging on today. B​reaking Bad​, ​House of Cards​ and even​ Game of Thrones are just some of the shows that took what ​The Sopranos​ built and ran with it.

The game-changing series ​follows mob boss Tony Soprano (the late great James Gandolfini) as he tries to balance his life as the head of his two families, both of which are highly dysfunctional and constantly stress him out.

Although this plot had been explored in classic mafia films like The Godfather trilogy and Goodfellas, The Sopranos ​upped that trope's ante by having tough-guy Tony suffer a series of anxiety attacks that land him in *gasp* therapy!

During the show's six seasons, Tony regularly speaks to his psychiatrist, Dr. Jennifer Melfi (Lorraine Bracco) and so unfolds the story of why Tony Soprano is Tony Soprano.

Apart from its impact on television, ​The Sopranos​ has also had a significant impact on one of the world's most popular music genres – hip-hop. The award-winning series is referenced in countless rap songs and even album covers.

In fact, hip-hop has a presence on the show and the commonalities between the television show and musical genre are evident. In a pivotal season 1 scene Xzibit’s ​Paparazzi​, a song based on the age-old rap belief of 'keeping it real', plays as none-the-wiser wise-guys are getting photographed by the undercover FBI agents posing as waiters.

In the same season, a storyline about a 'gangster' rapper who challenges the mafia world is explored. Later in the series, rapper Lord Jamar, from '90s group Brand Nubian, plays Tony's also-shot hospital roomie, while Treach, from rap duo Naughty By Nature, bonds hilariously with his mafia counterpart, Bobby – the loyal but bungling underling and brother-in-law to Tony.

Ultimately, we as consumers of television and music, love that gangster sh*t!

David Chase, the guy who created the show, knows this as much as '90s 'mafioso rap' dudes like Nas, The Notorious BIG, Jay Z, Wu-Tang and their modern-day descendants do. As consumers of media, we are always drawn to the worst characters.

On The Sopranos, Tony and his gang of made men look to The Godfather for cues on how to handle business as much as rap 'moguls' look to Soprano Inc. for inspiration and fancy themselves mob-style 'bosses' of their respective cliques.

But both sides speak the same language of hyper masculinity, violence and toxicity – a language we as consumers buy into and love to live vicariously through.

Even how the women characters on ​The Sopranos​ are portrayed is not too different from pre-2010s hip-hop. On the show, women are basically props only seen as loyal-but-whiny and spoiled WAGs, annoying elderly mothers and young daughters who can never be sexual beings.

With all of this, though, hip-hop is an art form. As the genre and culture has evolved, we've seen rap styles, trends, characters and voices that were once considered hip-hop taboos become the standard of the culture and the sound.

Similarly, TV was seen as a limited platform for actors and ​The Sopranos​ was among the first shows to whack that untruth.

Hip-hop as a genre itself is like Tony saying and doing the wildest, most evil things, and talking about them from the comfort of his therapist's couch and we, the audience, are Dr. Melfi – we're shocked by what we're witnessing, but we can't look away, because we're so intrigued and we want more.

  • All six seasons of The Sopranos are available to stream on Showmax