As an enthusiast of both rap and cycling, I’ve been interested in rap music’s intermittent engagement with that alternative means of transportation, the bicycle. Make no mistake: in hip-hop, the car is king. Rappers have made household names of luxury brands such as Maybach and Bugatti — but what of Colnago or Cervelo?
First of all, forget road bikes and drop bars. The BMX bicycle is the conveyance of choice, sometimes slung low like Harleys with high-rise handlebars.
Not surprisingly, these miniature bicycles inspire considerable nostalgia in the artists who rap about them. The bicycle is associated with fond memories from childhood; Jay-Z boasts how he “[u]sed to wheelie bicycles since I was six.” The boy on a bicycle is the starting point of the rapper’s story — a boy on the come up. The bike itself becomes at times a symbol of the slender means one has moved past. “Trump Tower and I started with a ten speed,” Rick Ross says in “Sixteen”; Gucci Mane (“Swing my Door”) describes his rags-to-riches trajectory as going from a 10 speed to a Bentley.
Learning to ride a bicycle is one of those pivotal mythical moments in the formation of autonomous identity, and so it stands to reason that the rapper’s story would begin there. Autonomy brings potential, of course, but also peril, as you are exposed to accidents and injuries from which you were previously protected. Hova’s wheelies aside, the bicycle is generally not a site of childhood play in rap music, but an instrument of work, used in low-level street drug dealing and other criminal activities. Jeezy stashes drugs in “inner tubes like the tires on my Mongoose” (“Trap or Die”). Lil Wayne warns that he and his crew will “pop up on bicycles, pop y’all like spot pimples” (“Bring it Back”). The bicycle is situated somewhat uneasily between youth and age, play and work.
The bike is unique of road vehicles in being powered by human exertion. Perhaps rappers are generally not shown riding a bike because they are imagined as having transcended the necessity of physical labor.
An important iconographic subgenre shows rappers riding on the front handlebars as someone unseen pedals the bike: Snoop Dogg “rolling down the street” in a Pittsburgh Penguins jersey in the video for “Gin and Juice” or, more recently, this beautiful photo of A$AP Rocky being carried through the Manhattan city streets, below:
Like any arcane topic, this one has been curated online. See the 2012 gallery “Pictures of Rappers on Bicycles,” from which I believe all of the images of this post are taken.