Birdman: Hip-Hop’s Biggest Deviant | Analyzing Birdman Through Sociological Perspectives
Part 1: Introducing Birdman
The typical “deviant (term)” is no murderer. In fact, most deviants are not — in Sociology, the definition of a “deviant” is one who violates social norms of enough weight to warrant disapproval from members of society. While the most prominent examples of deviants may be killers and abusers, deviants need not be so extreme. Most of us partake in deviant behaviors on a minor level of minuscule scale; it is a rather normal occurrence in the daily lives of any normal human. As his moniker implies, “Birdman” is not so human. He is the reason for lost lives, lost fortune, lost innocence, and lost artistry. A deviant among deviants, Bryan “Birdman” Williams has diverged from both norm and law, escaping consequences.
Born in the poorer area of uptown New Orleans, Bryan “Birdman” Williams didn’t come into the best part of the world. In fact, he was raised in the infamous ‘Magnolia Projects’, officially known as the C.J. Peete Projects, which are one of the many housing authorities in the city. But the ‘Magnolia Projects’ are not any other project — containing over 1400 units at its peak, Magnolia has been the birthplace of many prominent figures in the hip-hop scene. But this success was not without hardship — his mother died when he was two, and his father when he was five. He spent his days after in boys homes and foster care, of areas that were known for no other reason than crime and poverty. As he grew older, he began to grow invested into the street life, and took up selling heroin for work, and was no stranger to stick-ups and robberies. He was arrested for the first time at the age of 16, and, after his release, was arrested again and sentenced to serve time at a correctional center. Though it’d be nice to say that this was the end to a bad start, it was not — it was only a beginning of more beginnings.
Cash Money Records came to be in 1991 when he and his brother, Ronald “Slim” Williams, “hoped to get [them] out of the projects and into a more positive life.” With the hard work of himself and producer/DJ partner Mannie Fresh forming the duo “Big Tymers,” and a small loan of $100 thousand from his drug kingpin of a step-brother, they worked this dream into reality. Fast forward almost three decades, Birdman & Mannie Fresh have not only gone platinum countless times, but have signed waves of artists onto the Cash Money (and eventually Young Money) rosters, bringing swarms of sounds all at once with legions of artist signings. But to say this rise was sundered from controversy would be a lie — severed relationships and bodies were merely minor byproducts on their march to success.
The ways in which Birdman could be considered a sociological “deviant” are plentiful, and listing these considerations could fill a chapter’s worth of information. To keep it short, Birdman is this paper’s subject for deviancy for five major categories: deaths and disappearances of associates, drug-related fiascos, accusations/allegations of molestation and rape, tax evasion and money laundering, and general corruption. Birdman is pinned as a murderer not because of evidence that he himself has actually killed someone, but more a murderer from the ‘racketeering’ perspective: Birdman has openly bragged about calling a hit on the deceased sister of the rapper Mystikal, who is now, somehow, signed to Cash Money Records. Other times, however, Birdman has chosen to stay discrete, and looking at Cash Money’s roster history is like looking at a timeline of past Nigerian leadership — members are killed or disappear randomly such that the story of it all is muddled and confusing, and even more-so shady. That many of those who engage in disputes with Birdman end up underground or in prisons & hospitals is nothing to laugh about. Birdman is hip-hop’s living embodiment of an Italian mafioso in the 1940’s.
As stated before, the commencement of business in Cash Money Records was largely due to the help of Birdman & Slim’s step-brother, Terrance “Gangsta” Williams. Not only did Terrance loan them $100 thousand to start up their label, he continued to fund the company through revenue he likely acquired from drug-related ventures. Yet this is not the deviant part — this, on the outside, looks like an attempt to crawl out ‘the gutter,’ and, having a system obstructing you from reaching the ledge, having to result to desperate means of exploiting law. But Birdman slipped from fitting into the ‘determined’ category, and dropped to the ‘downright evil’ one when the child-star rappers he had signed became less youthful and more “dope fiend.” Before regions legends Turk and B.G. were able to break into the spotlight, they got hooked onto opiates, specifically ‘dope’ — and, remind yourself, who was the supplier? No longer a child in the streets, Birdman was arrested again in 2007 for getting caught with a pound of marijuana. Now, while marijuana is not one of the lethal substances that ran through the systems of his label’s artists, it’s not hard to infer that if his people were strung out on opiates, and both he and his step-brother were dealers, one of them was handing the drugs out.
Drug-related services were not the only amenities Birdman possessed. Birdman also provided sexual services, blurring the lines between boss, friend, father-figure, partner, and sex abuser. While what Birdman has actually done is hazy, as well as shushed and shunned, there are many accusations from a plethora of victims/by-standers all pointing fingers at Birdman. Lil Wayne is very open about his past with sexual abuse — he claims to have been molested by Birdman, and not only does Wayne have no shame about it, he seems content and pleased with the idea of being raped by him. Birdman has been reprimanded by the public for ordering strippers to engage in sexual activities with an underage Lil Wayne and Lil Twist, but these are not the worst accusations. Birdman is also known quietly for having ‘suspect’ relationships with a few others — Lil Wayne and B.G. are the two known to have fallen victim to his fetishes and covets, while Lil Chuckee stepped forward years ago detailing his experience with being molested by him. All underage artists on the label — other than Juvenile, who was described as more “mature” by Turk — were kissed, touched, and teased/harassed by Birdman and groups of men who either partook in the harassment or watched/ordered them to expose genitalia and/or engage in sexual activities with prostitutes or other minors.
Birdman is even more famous for his dabbling in corrupt arrangements and fishy/shady business tactics and activities. When thinking of Birdman, most people are reminded of the greedy deals he has made with Cash Money artists, called “360-deals,” with major labels invested in them, essentially allowing the artist only to small portions of revenue from their work. Birdman trapped many of his artists into deceptive contracts and deals, many often vying to escape. Lil Wayne, for example, is an example of an artist who has been artistically/financially limited, as Birdman has rejected the release of Wayne’s long-awaited album “The Carter 5”. Wayne is now unable to release music and stuck under the fine print of cheating documents. Yet, whether artists were captured in shoulder-wide, elbow-bound contracts or not, Birdman found a way to bend what is ‘right’ and ‘wrong,’ most often by refusing to pay what is due. Primary frustrations of artists on the label are invigorated over millions of dollars in unpaid royalties or unrecovered earnings, with payments often ‘lost in the mail.’
But Birdman has also slipped around legal situations other than matters pertaining to his record label: Aside from being sued for copyright infringement after not paying royalties for samples, Birdman and Slim ran a faux, nonexistent company called “Bronald Oil and Gas, LLC.” This company was said to be involved in oil and gas exploration and extraction, yet official regulators of oil and gas permits and oversight claimed to have never heard of the company. In addition, not only was the Bloomberg snapshot of private transactions empty, all other data pertaining to the company was missing or unavailable, while the company website itself provided scant details and little information. Phone numbers listed for contact to the company were functionally unable to reach, and the address listed for Bronald’s sites with Oklahoma’s Corporation Commission was the address of a condominium in Florida, while the Louisiana Secretary of State listed another New Orleans residence as a site of operation. In fact, not only did the sites not exist physically, the company wasn’t even legitimate on paper — neither the Ronald officers nor the company had ever been registered, and not even the major energy suppliers in areas of operation had heard of the company. Birdman confirmed talk of making deals worth $100 million, but the company had no net worth or transaction history. The only evidence that it existed was a makeshift website and a tattoo of the logo on Birdman’s forehead, later covered up when he abandoned the business.
Now, what would he achieve from lying about an oil business? There is no definitive answer. But with years of being a supplier and a brother of a kingpin, it is easy to imagine hired accountants working around the clock to shift around Birdman’s not-so-legal assets. And not only accountants: Birdman seems to have a strong legal team and public relations team, because, coincidence or not, most of the sources that originally reported on Birdman’s fraudulent activities have since withdrawn their statements and deleted their sites, as evinced from any defunct links in the works cited below. This would not be the first time Birdman manipulated a corrupt system to carry out his wants and needs. Birdman was never tied to any murder cases, even those as recent as one month ago, because of Louisiana’s “60 Day murder rule” (banished in 2011), a likely forged certificate of diplomatic immunity, an informant that is his step-brother, shady connections with local officials and gangs, and an authoritarian-like dominance and reign of threats & deterrents that keep him from being reprimanded.
Part 2: Applying Information
Birdman’s parents died when he was very young. His mother, who he called “Ms. Gladys,” died when he was two years old, while his father, a war veteran, followed three years later. The little memories he had of his mother were kept in Glady’s Bar, an outing that was likely named after or owned by his mother — she appears at the bar in the cover art for his single, “Ms. Gladys,” which is set to be apart of a studio album dedicated to his mother with the same name. Because of his parents’ early deaths, it is safe to say he didn’t have the privileges most others had, as well as the punishments. Many take for granted what is learned from our parents, the ‘easy way’ and the ‘hard way.’ Though not always fun, families (idea) are an agent of socialization (term), one of which Birdman missed out on. He had nobody that most others had to teach him the meanings of ‘right’ and ‘wrong.’ Families are also important for guidance and care, something that may have left a void in Birdman and his brothers. Projection (term), reaction formation (term), and displacement (term) are all possible defense mechanisms Birdman may have exhibited as a method of coping or dealing with a loss or emptiness, and were released in the form of the deviant behavior identified now. Birdman became a father figure to Lil Wayne and many other of the children with harsh upbringings that he signed to his label, but may not have been the right one. His lack of knowledge toward how to handle children proved his lack of familial relationships possessed.
As for friendships (idea), it is not hard to speak on this subject, either. Nearly all of Birdman’s public relationships with other artists have turned sour, with the disbandments of several groups (B-32/Hot Boys, Big Tymers, Rich Gang) he’s been apart of, as well as the leaving or firing of many, many other artists on his label. These fallen out relationships led to bodies in the ground. And that is only with the people he had professional ties to. Birdman has beefed with a number of people that were not professional acquaintances, both in and out of the spotlight. Some have been found dead, others have been subjugated to diss tracks or shots fired in public messages. Friends seem to come and go for Birdman, and these are only the bad ones. With fame, power, and money come a lot of fake friends, old friends, and “yes men.” It can be inferred that Birdman has lost the ability to differentiate between ‘real’ friends and seasonal, fair-weather friends. Though it may seem pedantic and childish to talk about the importance of a ‘friend,’ friends are an important aspect of socialization, as well as expression and communication. They have been a social and emotional necessity for as long as human interaction has been existent. With a shortage in this area, Birdman may have felt alone, and tried to make others lonely (ordering hits) or himself less lonely (ordering sex).
It is nearly impossible to talk about Birdman’s behavior in school (idea), as there aren’t any accounts or written history of this time or event. But judging from the fact that he was arrested just at the age of sixteen, and experienced jail as a form of socialization, it is not hard to guess as to where Birdman received his criminal roots from. Drug trafficking, as unlikely as it may sound, may have been a stepping stone to bigger and worse crimes. These deviant actions could also be seen as a foreshadowing of later events in life; a hint to what is to become.
There haven’t been any known repulsive traumatic experiences in Birdman’s life, but the chances of having such a past would not be unlikely for him, considering where he is from. However, as stated before, he did experience a couple losses from the earliest years of his life, beginning with his mother, then father, and then he and his brothers repeatedly being institutionalized. Watching his brother being sentenced to 240 years in prison must have been a horrific experience. Therefore, there are multiple instances of trauma (term) in Birdman’s past. It is also safe to say that he created traumatic experiences for himself. As well as from being able to experience the ‘street’ sides of drug trafficking, that he called for the deaths of other people, or the harm of more, may have accidentally formed traumatic memories on himself. These are not easy things to deal with — so the behavior seen now may be its effects.
The last social institution that will be focused on are peer groups (idea), as these are exceptionally relevant to Birdman. Birdman was apart of one very significant peer group — a gang. Being a Blood member, it is safe to say that he drew much influence from them to form the identity and character he is today. Gang violence and gang activity could have numbed him to other deviant behavior, normalized it, and more importantly motivated or encouraged it to spur. With old role models and friends including gang members of a notorious gang, it is no surprise to see a continued connection with crime. Birdman was nearly born into this lifestyle.
Part 3: (Finally) Tying Everything With Sociological Theories
Structural functionalism (term) is defined as the approach that analyzes “established institutional relationships and their societal functioning.” Emile Durkheim was one sociologist who based his work on the functions of deviance (theory) on this framework. Durkheim argued that deviance is not only normal, but a necessity of any society as it a component of its social order. Four major functions of deviance were identified in his research: its affirmation of cultural values and norms (term), its clarification of moral boundaries, its unification of opposers, and its opposition to the moral boundaries, hence facilitating social change. This theory applies to Birdman in two ways. Birdman grew up with two siblings, and likely many other acquaintances, who were involved in drug trafficking and distribution. According to Durkheim’s first observation, seeing someone punished for an action reinforces what is considered right and wrong. Despite the fact that he served time in prison for drug possession, and that his step-brother was sentenced to 240 years in prison in 1998, it is likely that most of the day-to-day dealers he met with weren’t rebuked for criminal activity. According to Durkheim, one could propose that there was a lack of confirmation of moral boundaries and rules because of minimal and/or negative exposure to punishment. Due to Birdman’s deviant ways, he also inadvertently created a fairly large group of adversaries as time past. This is an example of Durkheim’s third observation, where a serious form of deviancy forces people to come together and dissent from stimuli/antagonists.
The strain theory of deviance (theory) is another theory that falls under the structural functionalism category, developed by sociologist Robert K. Merton. This theory posits that when people are impeded or debarred from reaching social/cultural goals, and thus experience a state of anomie (term) (“social instability resulting from a breakdown of standards and values”), these people can face frustration and strain that leads to deviant acts. This very much applies to Birdman, who, throughout his public life, has shown evident signs of possessing dreams of becoming a successful billionaire living a lavish life, with luxurious but materialistic items (chains, watches, cars, …), and a legacy to his name — so much so that he appears and sounds (in his music) obsessed with the idea. In Merton’s table of deviance typology, Birdman likely fits in the upper-right box, displaying the deviance type innovation (term), by accepting cultural goals (idea) (Birdman remains ever-hungry for money and power) but rejecting the institutionalized means of achieving them (exploitation of others, coercive forces, engaging in criminal schemes). His efforts to try and come off as a successful businessman have been unintentionally salient, as he consistently tries to pass as a member of wealthy elite doing big boy things, like making important (but nonexistent) deals with fuel/energy-related firms. The whey of the milk is, however, that all of his business ventures post-Cash Money (and, arguably, Cash Money included) have been nothing but sediment hastily disguised as megaliths, or, in the hip-hop world, a flop.
Another theory that falls under the structural functionalism category is illegitimate opportunity theory (theory), an elaboration of the strain theory by criminologists Richard Cloward and Lloyd Ohlin. This theory postulated that illegitimate opportunity structures (term) — institutional structures that function as various illegal means to achieve success — are more readily available depending on location, such as those in the urban lower class areas. The theory suggests that those living in the inner city may not only have more access to deviant pathways, but these deviant ways may be one of the few opportunities that those in this situation may be provided with to survive or grow. This is possibly the most applicable theory to Birdman and his family, and it seems to have been confessed through his music and admitted in his quotes. Because of illegitimate opportunity structures readily available in the projects of New Orleans, it is not hard to say that in order for Birdman and his brothers to achieve their dreams of being ‘big tymers,’ they saw a mix of deviant means and legal means as both a pathway and solution. Drug dealing and distribution were inevitable services that needed to be plied to be able to fund the legal side of their activities, and death was merely a sacrificial consequence of creating enemies and dealing with darker business situations. According to this theory, and it is likely that it is part of the truth, deviance was an ineluctable for success to come.
Moving away from structural-functionalism, symbolic interactionism (term) refers to the patterns in which individuals of society communicate and interact, interpret and comprehend to, and adjust and respond/react. Originated from work by Max Weber and formally introduced by philosopher George Herbert Mead, symbolic interactionism puts society under a spotlight and takes it apart by looking at subjective meaning, implicit/implied messages, and reading into expression and indications. The labelling theory (theory) and its many parts are core facets of the symbolic interaction approach. Created by Frank Tannebaum and Howard S. Becker, the theory claims that labelling, judgment, and stereotyping leads those defined by the social classifiers to follow a self-fulfilling prophecy (term) in which predictions affect behavior due to positive feedback between the belief and the resulting behavior. This creates a stigma (term), or a powerfully negative label that alters an individual’s self-concept and their perception, in turn altering their identity. According to this theory, Birdman only became a deviant after he was labelled a deviant. The stints he did in jail, the public censure he received, all of it contributed to making him who he is today. If nobody had boxed him into the corner of being a ‘bad man,’ then we would not know the ‘Five-Star Stunna’ for who he is and a blood-related star tattoo probably wouldn’t cover his forehead. He would instead be Birdman — the former partner of successful hip-hop duo “Big Tymers,” and that’s all.
This also ties into Erving Goffman’s theory of social stigma (theory) which is much like the labelling theory, but instead changes the ‘who’ in the case. Rather than an individual carrying out the ‘self-fulfilling prophecy,’ it is society that holds a complex for an individual for being allegedly “deviant” in the eyes of another. It causes one, such as Birdman, to be classified by a negative stereotype (term), abnormal or unaccepted amongst the members of society. Normal people in society, according to this theory, are those without stigma to their name, and who do not possess attributes that clash with society’s views. Birdman — drug abusing, racketeering, money laundering, royalty-cheating, Birdman — was not exempt from this.
Continuing with symbolic interactionism, the neutralization theory (theory) is the idea that deviant behavior is justified by the delinquent by posing alternate definitions for their actions, ultimately convincing themselves — much like how is done through cognitive dissonance (term) — that they are not guilty for their actions. This is done through the denial of guilt, denial of harm, denial of the victim, the rationalization towards other deviant behaviors, and that some beliefs supersede law. This is not a stretch, for, to public knowledge, Birdman has never pled guilty in the eyes of the court to any accusations. Anything come up against him has been consistently battled, without ever giving him. This theory could explain this behavior. Perhaps Birdman has made himself believe that Lil Wayne deserves the treatment he is getting, or that Wayne is just as unlawful. Perhaps he believes that his actions do not have a target, a consequence, or even an existence.
Another theory included under the symbolic interactionism approach is the different association theory (theory) developed by Edwin Sutherland, who propounded that deviants and criminals learn the behavior they exhibit, taking a nurture approach to behavior, and that deviance is not an inherited trait of an individual. Sutherland also proposed that gang activity in inner cities is a source of criminal activity through peer pressure/influence and mob mentality. All of this could apply to the times Birdman has broken the law in his life, and as Birdman is openly apart of the Bloods gang as well as being involved with his step-brothers drug operations, much of his actions can be attributed to gang membership and learned deviance under this theory. For example, Birdman may have instructed a number of his underage artists to perform sexual activities on other women because other people were around — maybe Birdman wanted clout, attention, a couple laughs, or, even more likely, a feeling of power, mentioned before. Birdman possibly supplying drugs to his label’s own artists may have been a result of pressure faced from his brothers and their cartel. When Lil Wayne’s tour bus was shot up two years ago, and Birdman and Young Thug were connected to the shooting, this theory could also imply that the Blood ties between Thugger and Stunna lead to discharge of ammunition. Above all, however, the main idea is that Birdman’s deviance isn’t natural, and it is not genetic. His deviance comes from observation, experience, and learning.
Similarly, in the late 1950s, a somewhat radical psychiatrist named Thomas Szasz essentially theorized that mental illness was a false concept after claiming that mental issues do not constitute a disease, and that a disease is something people “have,” while behavior is something people “do.” This was met with scorn, outrage, and flat-out rejection from the field of Sociology/Psychology, but nevertheless aspects of his “myth of mental illness” theory (theory) (no apart of symbolic interactionism) continue to be considered today. This cannot really apply to Birdman because Birdman was never accused of being a psychopath, sociopath, or of having any sort of insanity/mental illness by anyone, unlike most of the other chosen deviants by classmates. Yet one could definitely make this proposition based on the disappearances/deaths of associates and/or the molestation accusations. Using this theory, one would respond to this by saying that Birdman is not mentally ill. His ‘disease’ is less of a biological issue and more of problems with living.
The final theory again returns to symbolic interactionism. The control theory (theory) is one developed by various sociologists/theorists — including Travis Hirschi, Michael Gottfredson, and Walter Reckless — that advances the previous theories in symbolic interactionism. Rather than questioning the motives for committing deviant behavior, it investigates the motives for refraining from deviant behavior. In doing so, two forms of normative controls are placed on individuals as restraints: internal controls (term) — such as personal values, individual beliefs, integrity, and morality — and outer controls (term) — such as law, faith, and family. These two types of restraints combine to form one’s self-control (term) that prevents breaking social norms. Deviance results in absence of the controls. This theory helps explain conformity and rebellion; individuals act according to profit and gain, depending on whether conformity or deviance will yield the most positive rewards. The theory also states that deviant acts are an outcome of the medley of self-interest and self-control one has. Birdman, according to this theory, would have low self-control. While outer controls seem to interferingly hinder him from reaching his goals, internal controls seem to plea no objection, allowing all to happen. This explains the (unrestricted) thought processes behind Birdman’s actions, and how he was able to overcome any hesitation or internal incongruity he faced before committing them. Birdman acts less for social gain than personal gain.
The last sociological theory that Birdman will be analyzed under is the conflict theory (theory), which are perspectives that view society and its institutions as an “arena for inequality” in which crisis and conflict create strain and pressure that facilitates social change. In this structure, society is ordered in ways to benefit a few at the expense of the majority, or the elite are empowered while the rest are marginalized as a result of social cleavages and inequality. According to this theory, the fundamental causes of crime are the social and economic forces that operate in society, and the most powerful in the society dictate crime. While conflict as a result of struggle and racial/economic inequality did lead to financial change with Birdman, this theory does not apply to him. It is only applicable when considering Birdman’s influence and power, and that the racketeering he has committed could evidence the idea of powerful in society defining crime. Yet, Birdman does not seem to apply here. Simply put, Birdman has continued to commit crimes no matter what position he has been on the ladder of wealth. Negative social change has been brought about with any conflict occurring to him at all — in fact, conflict came with the changes.
- Note: The “404 Errors” at the top of the Works Cited page indicate examples of sources (mentioned in the essay) in which information regarding reports on Birdman’s fraudulent or suspicious behavior disappeared or was deleted.
- Also note: Some of which is being described in the essay is not fact, nor are the sources presented to state it as fact. These unprofessional sources are there to provide basis to claims, and if accusations toward Birdman are true, the sources show how the behavior could be connected to sociological standpoints.