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Stripes and Bars to Stars

The Difference Between the Enlisted and Officer Ranks

By Skyler SaundersPublished 2 years ago 3 min read
Top Story - September 2021
Archives Branch, USMC History Division

In the hip hop genre, rappers often describe how they’ve earned stripes, and sometimes in the next breath say they’re five star generals. This is true, but only with conditions. Someone who transitions from the enlisted ranks to becoming an officer is known as a mustang, and it takes decades for officers to achieve general status.

But how many rappers know this? While they may have sparkling wordplay, and stirring subject matter, do hip hop artists know the difference?

The enlisted forces carry stripes on their arms because they are the muscle of the military. Officers sport their ranks on their shoulders because they carry the burden of the troops under their command.

Rappers usually claim that they’re bosses. You don’t become a boss in the United States Armed Forces until you’re a non-commissioned officer (NCO), or staff, or senior non-commissioned officer (SNCO). Once you’ve achieved the rank as an ensign in the Navy or Coast Guard, or second lieutenant in the Army, Marines, Air Force, and Space Force, you may command a small unit right out of Officer Candidate School. Together with warrant and chief warrant officers, comprise the military makeup of America.

When rappers claim to be on par with those of military rank and service, they come across as braggarts. They confuse egotism with egoism. The military may well be all about the ego, but all ranks are earned. There’s also no free speech; you’ve gotta earn that, too.

To present to hip hop artists the facts should be able to paint a picture of how the enlisted and officers function. For one thing, officers are bosses to the enlisted members. This often causes tension between SNCO’s and second lieutenants, who may be in their forties and twenties, respectively.

A Marine gunnery sergeant (E-7) may view a second lieutenant with a questioning eye, or even disdain because of the years of experience the gunny has gained compared to the amount of schooling that the officer can boast.

Rap artists should be encouraged to compare themselves to members of the armed forces and to say they’ve got (legal) guns like the Navy S.E.A.L.s use.

As Shawn “JAY Z” Carter has said, he carries himself and his team like “the Army, better yet the Navy.”

There is a tacit respect between the hip hop community and the US military.

Rock and especially country singers typically and unequivocally support and praise the members of America’s armed services. Some reggae and rap artists, like Orville “Shaggy” Burrell (USMC), Gene “No Malice” Thornton (US Army) and Michael “Mystikal” Tyler (US Army) were actual enlisted men, but they don’t sing or rap about their service specifically.

The response by the audience is just as implied. There may not be hatred, or animus against the troops, but people in the crowds listening to this music make little effort, or show little inclination to support the military. A few rap artists opt to go on tour with United Service Organizations (USO) This is at least admirable. The connection to their base of supporters is paramount.

The supporter base of military men and women who listen to hip hop is deep and continues to grow as members of Generation Z enter the ranks. Most of them recognize hip hop as the dominant genre in the entire world.

The best way to categorize the hip hop military dynamic is to say that they’re like the brother who went off to war, and the one who stayed home, patrolling the back roads, the suburbs, or the block.

For rappers to consider the rank structure in their rhymes is a starting point to bridging the gap between the genre, and the only line of defense to protect us from foreign invaders. The parallels should encourage mutual respect between hip hop heads and members of the military whose rank names they appropriate.

pop culture

About the Creator

Skyler Saunders

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