I'm not going to lie, it's been very hard to process the Michael Brown killing as a man (not just a Black one), a father (not just a Black one), and an artist; however, thanks to Killa Mike's interview on The Breakfast Club, it's even harder to process as an American citizen. I won't recap it because it would do his words a huge disservice, but one of the things that he basically pointed out is that we, as Americans, should be grateful, protective, and appreciative of the rights that are afforded to us by the US Constitution.
Fast forward a couple of days...
The wife and the kids are off to bed, and I'm hoping to be there soon also. So I wind down with my last bottle of Shock Top and music from the great Afro-French composer and violinist, Le Chevalier Saint-Georges. Then Mike Bigga's words echoed in the corner of my mind, “All of our rights are effected”.
Suddenly I changed from chilling out and getting ready for bed to stimulating my mind so that I can write this article while I still have the bug. First, I took the rest of my beer to the head, and then switched from my Saint-Georges playlist to my Beethoven one that began with “Moonlight Sonata.”
I take a deep breath, close my eyes, and imagine the words forming into sentences as I attempt to explain my Killa Mike inspired view on what's going down in Ferguson, which isn't that hard really. The challenge for me is to express to suburban America (not just White Folks) how the series of events inspired by a Black kid from the hood being executed by a police officer in the broad day affects them also. I have to figure out how to convince them that law enforcement agencies with military grade equipment at their disposal is a threat to all of our civil liberties. That what happened in Ferguson can and will happen in Glendale if we don't stand together and draw the line in the sand now.
So I decided to take them on a history lesson.
After 9/11, everyone was clamboring for answers and protection. So Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner introduced a bill that was designed to “strengthen” national security. On Oct 24th, 2001, The House passed the Act 357 to 66, and The Senate passed it the next day 68 to 1. This is how The Patriot Act became law.
There have been parts of this law disputed...and rewritten...and ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court; however, the fact remains that The Patriot Act, in its most stripped down form, altered our basic civil rights afforded to us by The United States Constitution.
Think about this: It is now legal to intercept your communications without a court order. This includes hardline and cell communications, voicemails, emails, and your social media accounts. They can get your login times on your computer from your ISP.
It gives the already powerful National Security Letter even more. An NSL is a demand for the release of information and paperwork related to a person under investigation. Under The Patriot Act, an NSL can be issued for US citizens and contains a gag order. This means that you won't know that you're under investigation, and, if you do find out that you are, you can't talk to anyone about it. All of this could be done without any kind of judicial review or probable cause.
All in all, the Patriot Act is over 300 pages of complex jargon that threatens many of our civil liberties afforded by The Constitution. You would think that there would be countless hours of debate and philabustering on the floors of Congress. In reality, this law passed in 48 hours. The House passed it with 357 votes, and the Senate only had 1 vote against. Thank God for Russ Feingold.
Here's the kicker. The general public, still spooked about the destruction of the Twin Towers, embraced The Patriot Act. Congress' and the President's approval ratings went up almost instantly. Yeah, there were opponents that brought up how unconstitutional the law was, many were the politicians that voted for it; however, the damage was already done, and, even with the Supreme Court ruling parts of The Patriot Act unconstitutional, American citizens gave up their right to privacy.
Still the vast majority of Americans didn't seem to care about it because we were fighting a “war on terror.” After all, the Patriot Act was meant to protect us and catch terror cells before they attacked. “We're law abiding American citizens, not terrorists. They won't check our emails, and listen in on our phone calls.” Then we found out they did.
Last year, The Guardian published an article on how the NSA had been collecting the daily phone records of millions of Verizon customers that make calls in the US or between the US and other countries. From the court order, it seemed that it had been happening for a while and renews every 90 days, and that it was a bulk collection. Also, from the general language, many believed that the same order was issued to Sprint, AT&T, and other carriers operating or doing business on American soil. Additionally, it has since been revealed that the Feds monitor Facebook pages, phish accounts through email to gain access to cameras and listening devices on computers, and who knows what else.
Now everyone is up in arms attempting to invoke their Right to Privacy, conveniently ignoring that 13 years ago, our country gave that up because they thought it would stop “terrorists,” aka Middle Eastern Muslims.
Fast forward to now...
There are a lot of people in this country who have sided with the police officer who shot and killed the unarmed Michael Brown. Why? One can only assume. Maybe they’re unconditional supporters of the police. Maybe they are anti-smoking lobbyist that didn't appreciate him purchasing that box of cigars. Maybe they believe that walking in the middle of the street should be a capital crime. Or maybe...just maybe, they don't see an issue with the police killing a Black teenager.
Whatever the reason, I would say to those people, beware the day that your son is shot while in a surrender position. Fear that when you protest, your suburban police department will happily whip out their military equipment purchased from our very own Department of Defense. Know they will fire on the crowd, at reporters, at other residents just standing outside of their home, and accuse them of being the aggressor when all accounts prove that they are not. Understand that they will disgrace and defame your son with false truths and straight out lies. Watch and listen as radio hosts and news shows help them. Believe that your elected officials, from the president (did lowercase on purpose) down to your mayor, will do nothing to stop this atrocity. Then think about how you'll feel when there are people donating millions of dollars to your child's killer to show their support.
Then think back to that month in Ferguson, Missouri when you could've taken a stand to uphold the rights that are afforded to all Americans by The US Constitution.
My Thursdays usually consist of waking up at 6:30 am to get Jemal dressed for school, then walking him there with my youngest, Jamen, on my shoulders.
When I get back home, I make Jamen breakfast, turn on Nick Jr, pour myself a cup of coffee, start up the laptop, and begin the business of the day (booking shows, returning emails, blasting to blogs, going over marketing plans). In between all of this, Jamen and I go over ABC’s, read books, play Pokemon, and I lay him down to nap.
By 2 in the afternoon, my wife is home from work, and it’s my turn to go. I’m a manager in the service industry so you can imagine how that is. A whole lot of hustling, smiling, and not enough thank you’s most of the time. On this particular day every week, we get our order in, so I have to oversee getting it unpacked and put away.
I usually leave the job around 11:00 pm, go home, and continue to work on the business of the day til at least 3 in the morning (sometimes overnight). Then I wake up and do it all over again.
No big deal, right? I’m just doing what many people in this world are doing, especially indie artists and musicians like myself who are working hard to make their dreams a reality while living in real life.
What if I told you that while doing all of this, I am clinically depressed?
For those who may not fully know or understand what depression is, imagine feeling like you have a permanent hole in your stomach that is trying to expand throughout your body. Now picture the amount of energy and will that it takes to fight the emptiness from spreading. Feel how exhausting it is. Then think about doing that every day, all day.
Each one of those daily tasks is a mental journey of self doubt to affirmations, but I do them because I know that I have to. I am a father, a husband, and an independent artist. Responsibilities come with each. Sadly though, that’s not enough to keep fueling the ongoing fight waging in my head.
Without casting judgement on anyone that does, I don’t believe in taking medication to help with my depression. For me (reiterating the FOR ME), it would be admitting that I don’t have the self control and discipline to overcome. Besides, there’s a reason for everything. Maybe the depression is preparing me for something that’s going to require me to be mentally tough.
Maybe that thing is fatherhood.
Maybe it’s marriage.
Lord knows that the music industry requires intellectual durability.
So I embrace my depression. I might even go so far as to call it a blessing. Approaching it this way has allowed me to analyze it without panicking, then come up with a few unique ways of dealing with it:
Always look at the bigger picture.
For me, the easiest way to sink emotionally is to live in the moment because that’s when everything goes wrong. Some examples that have sent my plane crashing in the past are:
Keep my emotions in check.
I probably should have put this first. It’s definitely the hardest and most important of the three. Even though most people can’t tell, I’m always a broken egg away from breaking down. Literally, I could spill a cup of juice on the floor, and trigger a crying episode. Over the years though, I’ve trained myself to look at the solution with logic. In other words, rather than focus on the fact that the floor is a mess, I think about what I need to do to clean it up.
Another thing that I’ve found helpful is to smile as much as I can. When I act happy, I tend to become happier. Sounds crazy and overly simple, but it works.
Imagine the worst that can happen.
Let’s say my album isn’t ready in time for its original release date.
Here’s what I imagine:
Producers will probably get pissed off and take back the track they gave me, the promoters and clubs will cancel my tour dates, my fans will stop listening to my music, and other artists may refuse to work with me because they view me as unreliable.
Here’s what really happens:
I’m not writing this for you to feel sorry for or relate to me; instead, I want to give you perspective. Despite my condition, I manage to be a dedicated father, a loyal husband, a hard working employee, a driven artist, and an entrepreneur. I’ve released 13 albums, a documentary, a book, and currently working on a series of short films. I’ve booked, planned and promoted my own national tours. I am my own manager, publicist, creative director, investor, and executive producer.
If I can do all of this with what I go through, then most you should have no apprehensions. Excuses are over people. Go get it!
I’m sitting on a Megabus right now on my way to a show. How did I get here? Well, my dude that I usually perform with, Evaready RAW, has to work. My wife needs our car to transport my 3 children around, and, as you all should know by reading my posts, I’m a determined dude. So I went to www.us.megabus.com and copped a ticket from ATL to Charlotte for $12. The Charlotte to Raleigh (where the show actually is) Megabus wouldn’t work because it would get there after the show; so my DJ, Coach K (who lives in Greenwood, South Carolina) is going to scoop me up on his way to Charlotte. After we perform, he’s going to drop me back off in Charlotte to catch the 6:45 am Megabus back to Atlanta.
This got me thinking, am I unique?
Maybe I’m ego tripping. Actually I’m pretty sure I am; however, that doesn’t mean my uniqueness isn’t true. I have a belief that when I choose to do or commit to something I have an obligation to do everything in my power to ensure that I will see it through. This is true with my music career, my job, and my family life.
Even still, with doing everything in my power, I often fail to achieve exactly what I was aiming for. In failure, though, I’m satisfied that I’ve exhausted all avenues and alleys available to me. Then, I rethink my strategy and go after it again, whatever it may be.
As indie artists, any level of success is due to going the extra mile and doing what the others won’t, can’t, or haven’t thought about doing yet. It is a forever turning carousel of ideas, work ethic, and execution, with the most important being the middle. Failing is part of the process, but quitting is a bunch of bull shit.
A couple of weeks ago I played a show to 7 people...yep, 7 people. Let me rewind a little. I have a tour series called “The Just Bust Tour." What we do is book shows all over with local, regional, and national talent. The purpose is to get independent music in front of crowds that would love it, and present it to them in the right way, as a show with great performances, DJ’s spinning, and dancers (coming soon).
On most occasions, I book 3 shows, then come home and insert myself back into husbandry, fatherhood, and mindless employment. This time, however, there was a little hiccup in the plans. One show fell through, and the other was cancelled. With three weeks to go, that left just the final show, which was 9 hours away. Driving that far for one show was possible, but tough. Very tough. So what would be the logical thing to do?
Right off the bat, one would think to try to reschedule the show; however, with not much time left, it would be pretty hard for the venue and promoter to find another act to book in time. This could have several negative consequences. The most critical of which being that we wouldn’t get a show through that promoter or venue in that city again.
Also, I’d already spent money on flyers and posters. Besides, we’ve played this particular place on more than one occasion, and averaged between 70 to 100 people a show. So there was no reason to think it would be different; however, it was. By the time of the show, which was around midnight, there were 7 paying people who'd come through the door.
Now, I could’ve pulled the “ungrateful artist” role that many indies tend to use as their default and argue with the promoters and ask them now useless questions like:
I chose not to, though. Instead, I stayed smiling and professional, conducting myself the same as if the spot was packed to capacity. Went on stage, rocked our set, and thanked everyone for coming to see us. The promoters came to apologize for the turn out. I told them, “It’s cool, you win some and lose some. We’ll both make sure that it’s a better a show next time." The owner of the spot then came up to me, and said, “I don’t know why the crowd was so thin tonight. I’m sorry. You guys were awesome as usual." Then he gave me money from the bar’s cash register to help cover our expenses, even though we were supposed to have just gotten a cut of the door. That covered our gas up to the show and back home. If I would have acted an ass, I would've walked away with a loss.
The moral of the story is that the professional artist always trumps the asinine artist in the long term.
The text above is from my post on Facebook the day before the verdict came down in the George Zimmerman Trial. Here is an expansion on that...
I have not been one to obsess over these types of public court cases, but I do try to stay aware of the news. With a situation like this, seeing coverage or opinions of the case is unavoidable. Trayvon Martin's name has been a trending topic for the entire year and a half since the incident. During that time lines have been drawn and opposing sides have dug in their heels on the hot button issues – Gun rights, Race, and Self Defense. The first two of those issues, while clearly playing a role in how the events unfolded, both before and after the incident, are not the issues that truly matter in this case. They are just easy targets for media and politicians to steer the conversation to the things that distract us and keep us divided.
Did George Zimmerman racially profile Trayvon Martin? Fuck yeah he did. Did his defense shamelessly attempt to use anything they could to posthumously thug up Trayvon's character? Disgustingly yes. The sad part is that had Trayvon lived and killed George Zimmerman in self defense he would be on trial and the same character assassination would be coming from the state. George Zimmerman is a sociopath who aggressively pursued an innocent teenager, initiating a conflict that was bound to cost one of their lives because he brought a deadly weapon into the mix. The scary thing about all this is that there are people who think he's not a dangerous person, and not only that, but he did the right thing. Killing an unarmed teenager is never the right thing. Zimmerman was a ticking time bomb. Carrying a gun with him, playing police, following people; These are not the actions of a stable person. This man was directly told by 911 to STOP FOLLOWING Trayvon Martin. He ignored that instruction. Now, should we believe that had Trayvon submitted to him that this would have turned out better? How about if Trayvon had turned out to be a teenage girl of similar build and reacted similarly to how Trayvon did? The defense was right, there are “too many what ifs”, but not the ones they intended.
To the real facts of the fight, no one will ever know the full truth but Trayvon and Zimmerman, though regardless the circumstance, Trayvon did not have to die. Zimmerman was power hungry, but what he was really driven by was his own fear. Fear of different people, fear of being powerless, and god knows what else. If what has come out in trial is true, that Trayvon was on top of Zimmerman getting the better of him, in my eyes Zimmerman was getting what he deserved. We believe in this country in standing up for ourselves. The irony is that at the time of the incident all the talk was about Zimmerman using the “Stand your ground” law, when what Trayvon Martin did was stand his ground. He stood up to a strange man who followed him, and may or may not have obviously had a gun. It took courage for Trayvon to confront the man who was stalking him, and it took a great deal of cowardice on the part of Zimmerman to gun him down, regardless the scenario. Zimmerman was no where near sustaining an injury great enough to truly have reason to fear for his life. He could have yielded, he could have run away, hell he could have pulled his gun and not fired to get the kid to back off. The bottom line is to believe the defense theory requires that we accept that Trayvon Martin was viscous and brutal enough to attempt to beat a man to death. That's is a pretty huge jump in logic, not to mention that George Zimmerman was the only one who entered this situation with a weapon and intent to use deadly force. This man tried to play super hero, but had no thought behind it, no training, no plan, just a gun and sudden confidence to feel empowered to pursue his own paranoid delusions. When he got bested, he used his false sense of power to take the life a young man who was simply fighting for his. That's not self defense, it's flat out murder. As I stated above, I don't believe this incident would have turned out better had Trayvon been submissive to Zimmerman. He had no plan for how to handle a situation like this, yet he pursued it aggressively, even against orders from authorities. That is dangerous, deluded, and frightening. He is a sociopath.
I hoped to see George Zimmerman get found guilty of the full charge. Alas, I sometimes have too great a faith in what I see as obvious logic. In my eyes I see a dangerous trend of people in this country becoming increasingly paranoid, xenophobic, racist, and feeling justified in their aggression. These are not the people I want roaming my streets armed feeling like they run the roost. Authority figures abuse their power enough without a bunch of crazy assholes running around playing cowboy. My streets feel safer when there isn't a local sociopath driving around with a gun looking for people he deems “suspicious”. Even as a white person myself, because of my tattoos or my style of dress in the wrong neighborhood people will look at me crossly, like I don't belong. It's a scary feeling, made all the scarier now that there are people out there who have gotten the message from this: “It's OKAY to be a vigilante”. Something gives me the feeling that the people who take that message away, are DANGEROUS. One of my favorite graphic novels, Watchmen, is about real life super heroes and the societal impact of vigilantism. A great question posed in the form of graffiti in the book is “Who Watches The Watchmen?”. I think that is a question we should be asking ourselves after all this.
I'll close with this, one of my favorite observations about Zimmerman in the aftermath, that came from comedian Matt Braunger: “Ironically, Zimmerman will spend the rest of his life worrying that someone with a gun and something to prove will murder him.” And if someone gets him, well, sadly I doubt anyone would feel pity.
I'm glad this Zimmerman trial is almost over and I do hope he is convicted of manslaughter at the very least. What parts I've watched of the trial, I have been absolutely floored by the defense strategies, particularly the fact that they feel they must spit on the grave of a dead kid to make it seem acceptable that he was killed. Race is a part of this whole ordeal, but it is also a huge fucking distraction with people caught up on both sides. The important part in this is about SELF DEFENSE. Let me be clear I am NOT talking about pussy ass Zimmerman's idea of SELF DEFENSE which is to feel more powerful by having a gun. What is at stake here, is a the right of a private citizen to DEFEND THEMSELF AGAINST A WEIRDO FOLLOWING THEM WITH A GUN. Trayvon Martin could very well have been on top of George Zimmerman and giving him the ass-whooping of a lifetime, which he rightfully deserved for following and harassing another human for no reason other than his own paranoid suspicion. The fact remains Trayvon was unarmed. Zimmerman initiated conflict by following him and approaching him, so if he got his ass kicked, sorry bud take it like a fucking man and learn not to follow around people you got no business following around. The claim is that Zimmerman "feared for his life" but it was in a situation HE PUT HIMSELF INTO. At the end of the day, Trayvon Martin is dead because George Zimmerman is a cowardly sociopath with delusions of authority. Think for a minute how this situation would have played out had Trayvon been submissive to Zimmerman, does it end with Trayvon alive?
1 in 6 Black males are in prison.
Black males consist of 50% of the prison population.
I hate those numbers because I’ve always felt that they’ve been used to write the story for myself and others before the book is even opened with the synopsis reading, “He was born. He became a criminal. He went to jail. He died. The end.” Today, it’s become a bestseller among liberals and conservatives alike.
It hurts me to see those stats, to hear them reinforced by media everyday, to listen to them celebrated by some of my fellow hip hop artists in song, and to see the fear in the eyes of strangers who see me walking up the street toward them; however, what angers me more than any of that is that I never, ever hear about how many White men are in prison. Or, for that matter, how many Black men are. Not “1 in 6”...the actual number.
See, “1 in 6” could be twisted to be interpreted in a couple of different ways. For example, what if the government took $1 for every $6 you made? If you only made $6 total, then taking that $1 would seem unjust. What about $600? Most of us pay well over $100 in taxes per paycheck anyway. What if you made $6 million? You still have $5 million to play with.
Bad example? Money and peoples’ freedom have no comparison. Maybe not; however, the point that I want to convey is that “1 in 6” can be seen different ways based on presentation. What if I said, “5 out of 6 Black males in America will never see the inside of a prison cell?” Why don’t you think that’s ever said?
Well, whether you know it or not, scary Black guys move the meter in America (a half-naked White woman does, also). The thought of 1 out of every 6 of us having sex with daughters, teaching sons how to sag their pants and do drugs, robbing homes, and jacking cars is just what is needed to push people in whatever direction politics and media ratings need them to go.
Unfortunately, this view isn’t just held to White America. Many Blacks find themselves clinging to the same perceptions that are used against them by others. Are they right? After all, a lot of Black Folks are in the trenches. We live among the 1 out of 6. If we’re scared, shouldn’t everyone else be?
As a Black man, raised in Compton during 80’s and ‘90’s, I would say no. Using myself as a tester, I’ve never been arrested, so off of default, I’ve never been to prison. The same would go for most of my friends. We did all of the same things as most of the other adolescents where we lived, and more. So since this is true for me, is it that outside of the realm of thought that there are others like us?
The purpose of this article is to show you how Black men, in general, are the 5 out of 6 that you don’t hear about. I know it won’t be easy. After all, I’m fighting mental conditioning on all fronts, but I have an idea that projects at least moderate success...I hope.
To put it simply, I am going to give you numbers that I took from The FBI database, Bureau of Investigations, and Consensus websites, and let you decide. No reverse brainwashing or guilt trips. All I ask is that you have an open mind, and see the truth in what I tell you. Deal?
Okay, let’s get started.
From 2000-2010, Black males were arrested at a yearly average of 3.8 million, while nearly 3 times the amount of White males were arrested at an average on 9.7 million. Of those arrests, I discovered a couple of things:
I found this interesting because these are three violent tendencies that have been a main focal point of the Black stereotype. It was weirdly satisfying to see that the numbers say something different. I wasn’t completely satisfied, though. These numbers speak to the current state of Black men in America which, as established in part 1, shows how violence in our community has declined.
So I went back into my databases and went all the way back to 1980. In that year, 7.74 million White males were arrested versus a little over 2.5 million Black men. I thought to myself, “It was probably because crack hadn’t hit the streets yet.”
So I fast forwarded to 1985, where I saw that 8.57 million Whites in contrast to 3.17 million Black males were arrested. Nearly 558,000 of the Whites were arrested for drug related issues while only 245,000 Blacks suffered the same fate. Another surprising thing was the amount of forcible rape arrests from both races of men. Blacks were at 17,000 while Whites had 19,000.
I went to 1990 where I found pretty much the same thing, except that for the first time, I noticed that Black arrests for homicides surpassed White arrests. It did so in a disturbing fashion. There were 12,477 Black men arrested for homicides; however, there was still a high number of White homicide arrests, over 10,000. In addition, forcible rape arrests with nearly 17,000 and over 21,000 respectively.
Since then, the number of homicide and forcible rape arrests for Black and White men have dropped drastically. In 2010, there were 5430 Black men arrested for homicides and only 6300 for forcible rape. At the same time, 5540 White males were arrested for homicides with a little over 13,000 being arrested for forcible rape. Drug arrests have nearly stayed still since 1995, and arrests in general have declined by about 1 million for Whites and Blacks.
So here’s the inquiry: what do these numbers say to you? I hope they make you question what you’ve been trained to believe about me. If not, that’s okay. I’m just glad you took the time to read this. Now I do want to end on this...
...despite the overwhelming number of Whites arrested over Blacks, there is consistently around 100,000 more Black men in prison annually. I will attempt to examine that in my next article. Peace.
A couple of days ago I had the privilege of bearing witness to a discussion that my little brother, Jason, and a very good friend, DLabrie were having on Facebook. Honestly, it was more like an argument, but can you really call replying to each others’ comments an argument? It all started with Amos Smith, the 26 year old gentleman who was shot 8 times in the back of the head by police in Union City, CA. My friend posted the story and called people to action (protest not violence), there were a couple of replies, and then my brother set it off. Lol. He responded with something that questioned why the outrage for this when black men are killing each other everyday? My friend, in reply, states that it’s two different issues, my brother disagrees, and then comes the shit storm.
People began responding, each basically picking a side: Team DLabrie or Team Jason. The battle lines were set, and 150 or so posts later there was really no more agreement than in the first four posts. Tempted to chime in with my own views, I refrained and observed. I saw no need to. This argument has been going on since the early 80’s, around the time that crack hit the streets. Black and whites folks, conservatives and liberals, the wealthy and the poor alike, all have accepted the fact that Urban America is in a state of emergency. But why? Why is it in a state of emergency? Or better yet, why do people think that Urban America is in a state of emergency when the numbers state that things are trending towards the exact opposite?
There’s this stat that everyone used to quote, “The average life expectancy of Black males in the ‘80’s was 21 years old.” Growing up in Compton, I was quick to confirm this because shit was crazy back then; however, over the years I began to question whether that was actually true, because, according to this, most of my childhood friends should be dead.
Intrigued, one day I had opened the laptop and began to search the quote. I found nothing that dealt with that. What I did find, even though not directly related, was that the life expectancy of Black males in America rose from 68.8 - 70.3 years of age from 2003-2008. This was mainly due to the decrease in deaths due to HIV and heart disease. Great news, but not really what I was looking for.
So I took a different approach, and Googled “crime in Black America.” I still found nothing on that quote; however, something did catch my eye. This blog post called “Five Myths About Crime In Black America” on the blog site www.colorlines.com.
The article, which is really a collection of statistics from various sources, discussed what the writer saw as the five biggest myths about crime in Black America, and I admit that I was pretty astonished by the numbers. Among them was that violent crime has decreased from 758 per 100,000 citizens in 1991 to 404 in 2010, and that the percentage of White on White homicides since 1976 are about as high as Black on Black ones. It sited The Bureau of Investigations and FBI as its sources.
Further intrigued and not totally convinced that this could be true, I began to research things on a more personal level by looking at numbers on Compton. In a place more known for its gangs, drugs, and drive-by’s than anything else, it was incredible to find that there was only 17 homicides in 2011 and 26 gun deaths in 2010, both being down from 42 in 2009. This is compared to the estimated 96,455 legal residents of the city. Right now, the city is experiencing the lowest number of homicides since 1972.
So if all of this is fact for a city that has the reputation that Compton had earned and, in many cases, boasted of over the years, could it be logical to assume that the same could apply to other Urban areas in this country? Not really with an immediate answer and already with an overflowing plate of life containing marriage, fatherhood, and music, I filed it in the “interesting facts that I can use in discussions” part of my brain and moved on. That is until the conversation between Jason and DLabrie.
Finding myself compelled to revisit this, I busted out my handy dandy laptop, and went to the FBI database to check numbers. Just as the article from www.colorlines.com stated, violent crime has decreased drastically since the 90’s. Murder dropped 14.7% between 2007 and 2011, and 10% if start comparing from 2002. Looking deeper, I searched cities that had high populations of Blacks.
In Atlanta, where I currently live, homicide dropped 57% from 2001 to 2009. Furthermore, in 2011 there were only 88 homicides out of a city population of about 425,000.
In Los Angeles, there were 297 homicides in 2011 for a city population of nearly 4 million. This is well under 1993, when it was 21.1 per 100,00 people. In fact, between 2009-2011, L.A.has been experiencing a 50 year low.
I found similar numbers for most cities that I checked; however, there were some that, to be honest, made me sorrowfully tear up. In 2011, Chicago posted 431 homicides against a population of 2.7 million, Detroit had 344 versus 713,239, Oakland had 104 homicides against 400,000 citizen, and Newark had 94 with a population of 278,000.
Right now I can see you looking at my blog posts thinking that none of this means anything other than that every race except Blacks stopped killing each other. Could be true, so I went back into the FBI database. There I discovered that there were 2447 Black on Black homicides nationwide in 2011, which was down from 2604 in 2009 and 55% from 1995. Surprisingly, I also found that White on White homicides similarly mirrored Blacks with 2630, 2963, and 4124 in the respective years; adding to this, since 2000 there have been more White intraracial homicides than Black.
What does all of this mean? Simply put, our perception of crime in America, especially when it comes to Black on Black homicide is not supported by reality. There could be several reasons why this has happened, but this might end up being equally as long; however, I will steal bite a line from Jay and say, “Men lie, women lie, numbers don’t.”
The other day, I’m having this random conversation with this kid (20 year old, which is a kid to me) when he started talking about how he is overworked. After a couple more sentences, I realized that overworked to him meant that he worked 35 hours/week, and, therefore, found it hard to do anything on his off days because he was tired. By the way, before you start thinking that he had a high pressure work environment, he doesn’t. He works at a cafe, during the slow time.
Amused, I shared my life at his age with him thinking that I could give him some perspective. I told him that I was in school (officially though not literally), worked two jobs, paid my own, and was on the train. By the time I was 22, I’d started my first business while still having two jobs. Deciding to take my passion for hip hop to a professional level at 23. About how I’ve slept an average of 4 hours/day since. I even added a couple of cliches like:
“Work now, rest when you’re dead.”
All dude had to say was, “Damn man, if I don’t get at least 8 hours of sleep I’d really be out of it.” At least 8 hours? I also forgot to tell you that this guy isn’t in school, lives with his parents, and doesn’t even have a car note. Sleep should be the last thing on his mind.
Why would I think that he would be any different than what he was? After all, we live in the world of instant information at the touch of a phone, helicopter parents that hover around their kids continuously from birth until college graduation, bully laws that expel children from school districts because they called another child names, being rewarded for being especially mediocre so feelings and self esteem are intact, and becoming famous for doing stupid shit in a video on Youtube.
We are robbing the younger generation of the most precious human ability: To learn from and overcome adversity.
I love the NFL. Not “paint my face and yell obscenities in the freezing cold with my shirt off” love it, but you know... I’m black, and we don’t do that (unless we’re in Oakland). A few Sundays ago, I had the privilege to witness the post-game speech from Chuck Pagano.
For those who don’t follow the NFL, Chuck Pagano is the first year head coach of the Indianapolis Colts who was diagnosed with Leukemia, and was on a leave of absence from the team to get chemotherapy. The previous year, the team went 2-14, and this year, at the halfway point, they’re already 5-3. For whatever reason, today he decided to join the team and made an impassioned soliloquy after a win over the Miami Dolphins that I felt blessed and honored to have had the opportunity to listen to during a highlight reel.
The part that had me at hello (Jerry Maguire reference) was at the beginning:
“I mentioned before the game that you guys were living in a vision, and that you weren’t living in circumstances. Cause you know where they had us in the beginning. Every last one of them, but you refused to live in circumstances. You decided consciously as a team and a family to live in a vision. And that’s why you bring things home like you brought home today. That’s why you’re already champions, and well on your way....”
It brought me to tears, and inspired me to think about my life.
By the beginning of 2005, I was a beast. I’d just dropped my first solo project, “Sometimes You Gotta Stand Alone,” and was touring like a mad man. In the process, I discovered that it was easier to book a tour when it had a title to it, so I created “The Bring Your ‘A’ Game Tour Series.” I touted it as the fastest growing Indie Hip Hop Tour in the country, which may or may not have been true.
Twice a year, I (along with my compadres, Evaready RAW and DJ Metrognome) would load up in the car and travel from city to city rocking crowds. For over two years, it was great. It was more than great. Then 2008 arrived, and the bottom fell out.
Here’s what happened:
Lori (now my wife) and I, after working together for almost a year, became a couple. Then shortly after our declaration for one another, I left our job for what I perceived to be a better opportunity only to be told after a month and a half that the company was closing...so I was unemployed. Also, we found out Lori was pregnant with my second child, Jemal. On top of that, my documentary, “Dot It!: A Documentary” (look it up on Amazon) was set to drop. The real kicker happened when the economy reset (or so they would have liked us to think).
People were losing jobs, and settling for shitty underpaying ones. Pensions were being reevaluated because companies couldn’t afford to keep paying them out. 401K’s were diminishing in value because the stock market was down. Homes were being foreclosed on. Our entire financial system was going through the ringer. What did that mean for me?...No shows, and the ones that were there were for 50%-70% less than before.
See ,you have to understand something: We as entertainers are an accessory to people’s lives, meaning that we are a nonessential component in the everyday world of the average person. Our music may nourish the soul, but, last I checked, the body needs food and drink. If someone had the choice of feeding their family, keeping their house and car, and paying bills I would hope that they’d have chosen that over a show or CD featuring their favorite artist named Quanstar.
Luckily (or unluckily if you were me), they did so.
So where I went next was to that familiar place that we all go to at one time or another...“Doing what I gotta do.” What I had to do is get some money, and to get money I got another job that wasn’t as flexible as the one that Lori and I had. It didn’t even pay as much. So my situation was the same as before.
Still, I kept the faith...or did I?
During this tumultuous year, I released “Do It!: A Documentary” and got it screened at several colleges around the country; however, I didn’t have enough funds to actually travel there with the movie. I had planned to rent out a local independent theatre to screen the film, but it costs money. Not much, but more than I had (which was none). I didn’t even have the funds to enter it into many film festivals.
Why was money so low?
I would like to blame it on my shitty job, but, to tell the truth, my jobs never paid my bills. They were basically there for healthcare for myself and Jr (my oldest son), and to be that financial stopgap when I’m not on the road; however, the bulk of my bills, daycare for Jr, and rent was basically paid for through me performing. I’d all but stopped doing that.
Why did I stop performing?
Simply put, I was gun shy.
Here’s the truth about being an indie artist...it’s a hard lifestyle, especially the way I chose to handle my career. I:
I performed these tasks on three to four hours sleep while maintaining full time employment. I loved every minute of it though, because I was in charge of my destiny. All I had to do was stay the course and be patient. I hit bumps. I ran into walls. So what? I got up, dusted myself off, and kept it moving. If rent got into the way of the studio or funding my tour, rent had to wait. Then came kids.
Already grinding harder than most in my position, when my first son was born I’d bestowed so much pressure onto myself to succeed that I don’t know how I functioned properly. I’d made it my mission to show him that a man could do anything he chose, as long as he was willing to commit to it. So I recorded more songs, booked more tours, and slept even less.
I was so intense and intent on achieving all of my life’s visions that I stopped enjoying being an artist as much. I became almost completely task oriented. I’d give myself four months to book a tour, six months to drop an album, etc. This in itself wasn’t a bad thing, but every time one those tasks didn’t pan out I found myself feeling like I let down my son.
In ‘08, that feeling had become a daily thing. The economy had me in a fucked up situation. Then when Lori became pregnant, the pressure doubled. I’d never been so depressed and scared. Rather than coming to bed I’d stay up all night working, often times falling asleep at the computer or while writing a song. My migraines became so frequent that I’d go through a bottle of Excedrin in a couple of weeks. I was up to 3 or 4 pots of coffee a day, and as a direct result from the combination of the medicine, coffee, and the stress that I put on myself I started throwing up blood.
No money coming in from music, bad health, a second kid on the way, and depression. It became too much to deal with so I shut down. Well maybe not shut down, but I stopped taking chances. In the past, if my transportation and stay was supplied, I was there. I would depend on my hustle to pay the bills. I’d stay up all night, walk the streets, and flirt and talk to whoever I needed to in order to sell those CD’s. I’d sell them for $10, $7, $5, $3, and sometimes even $2. I didn’t care. My objective was to get rid of all of my inventory, and come home with whatever I needed to pay my bills.
Most of the time it worked like a charm, but not all the time. It was that “not all of the time” that had me hesitant. There were points, no matter how hard I hustled, where I’d come home with empty pockets to bills on their last notice, frantically calling around to borrow money to cover my losses. With the economy the way it was, I’d trembled at the thought of those few moments turning into a trend. I felt that I had too much to lose to allow this to happen. So I decided to rethink my situation and come up with a new strategy, a better strategy.
I spent weeks redeveloping my plan to not rely on the slumping touring market. I thought and wrote. Reevaluated and reconfigured until I came up with something that helped bring more balance. Thankfully, by the time Jemal was born I felt I did that, and over the last four years, I am proud to say that I’d been working hard to make that plan a reality.
I’ve released four albums, authored a book, and begun designing Android Apps for other artists. It was still a complete failure. I have yet to recapture all of the success that I’d experienced before the economy reset of 2008 because I took the most vital part of my marketing plan out of my repertoire...touring.
Nothing that I could come up with would replace the face to face interaction or pure showmanship of a Quanstar performance. I couldn’t inspire a person’s purchasing impulses. I couldn’t sit down and have a shot with them while talking to them about buying my new album. I couldn’t listen to them tell me about the first hip hop album they ever bought or concert they went to. I didn’t give them the opportunity to tell me about the artists they would love to see me on tour with, or who they reminded me of. In short, I allowed my circumstances to dictate my vision and give it a complete makeover.
I made myself believe it was for my own good, but was it really? Even though I was receiving royalty checks and doing one off dates (shows that are booked one date a time for the layman) I still don’t make much more money, my health is still pretty bad, I don’t sleep much, and the pressure of raising sons (now 3) often feels like I’m carrying a 2 ton weight.
So after deep contemplation and weighing all of the pros and cons it pains to come to the revelation that it’s time to hang it up. I’ve decided to retire. I’m done! I want to spend my remaining years on this earth enjoying it.
I hope ya’ll don’t believe that shit!
See you in 2013 because I’m back on the touring grind. “It’s about damn time!” (In my Lebron James voice).
The other day, I saw the first episode HBO’s Newsroom which is created by the brilliant Aaron Sorkin. For those that don’t know him, I’m sure you know some, if not all, of his works: A Few Good Men, West Wing (my personal favorite), Charlie Wilson’s War, Social Network, Moneyball, etc, etc. This might just be the most brilliant of them all.
Even though I just did, I’m not writing this article to tell you how great he is and highlight his resume. It was more about the Newsroom, or more accurately, the first 10 minutes. Here’s the scene:
Will McAvoy is an anchor on an imaginary show called “News Night”. He is on a political panel at a random college, sitting in between a liberal and conservative arguing with each other about the same shit liberals and conservatives argue over all of the time...everything.
The camera focuses in on him, and, to be honest, he looks like he’s about to have a panic attack. The fade out, he looks into the audience, and as they fade back in the moderator asks if he has anything to add. He replies, “I think we need a more precise definition of perverted”. Crowd laughs.
The moderator then points to the next person to ask a question, ask McAvoy if he is a conservative, liberal, or independent. McAvoy, intending not to offend or take sides with anyone, states that he is a New York Jets fan. Crowd laughs.
The moderator mentions how he always avoids a political allegiance, and asks if it’s because he feels that his integrity as a broadcaster will be compromised? He replies, “It sounds like a good answer”. Crowd laughs.
The moderator tries to press him a little further to find out which side he leans towards to no avail, then moves to the next question.
Enter: The Sophomore Jenny
Her question to the panel is, “Can you say why America is the greatest country in the world?”
The liberal says, “Diversity and opportunity”.
The conservative says, “Freedom and freedom, so let’s keep it that way”.
Mr McAvoy says, “The New York Jets”.
The moderator won’t let him get off that easy this time, and tells him that he needs a legitimate answer. After a little positioning of his words to agree with the conservative and liberal, he then drops a bomb (after brief pause) while being badgered to give an answer.
“It’s not the greatest country in the world Professor, that’s my answer”.
The moderator tries to confirm what he said, and McAvoy confirms. Then continues to go on this rampage where he tells the liberal that the reason that no one likes liberals is because they always lose, and mocks the conservative for talking about freedom is what makes this country great because over 180 countries have the same thing.
He then goes in on Jenny The Sophomore or as he refers to her, “Sorority Girl”.
“There is no evidence that supports the fact that we are the greatest country in the world. We’re seventh in literacy, twenty-seventh in math, twenty-second in science, forty-seventh in life expectancy, one hundred and seventy-eighth in infant mortality, third in median household income, number four in labor force, and number four in exports. We lead the world in only three categories:
Then he scolds her and all of the students that are there to see him by yelling, in the best bitter old man voice that has, that they are part of the worst generation ever. The auditorium is silent.
He then starts part 2 of his monologue by saying, “It sure used to be. We stood up for what was right. We fought for moral reasons. We passed laws, struck down laws for moral reasons. We raged wars on poverty not poor people. We sacrificed. We cared about our neighbors. Put our money where our mouths were, and we never beat our chests. We built big things. Made ungodly technological advances. Explored the universe. Cured diseases, and we cultivated the world’s greatest artists and the world’s greatest economy. We reached for the stars. Acted like men. We aspired to intelligence, we didn’t belittle it. It didn’t make us feel inferior. We didn’t identify ourselves by who we voted for in the last election and we didn’t scare so easy. We were able to do all of these things and be all of these things because we were informed. By great men. Men were revered.
First step in solving any problem is by recognizing there is one. America is not the greatest country in the world anymore”.
In my opinion, the most powerful first eight minutes of a first episode of any show that I’ve ever seen. It made my mind stir and wonder. I saw the argument. I felt his pain and anguish. I understood what was going on in his head, and I knew why he did it.
Then I asked myself...what have I written to inspire that emotion in people?
Does my music, blogs, films, or books inspire people to think about anything other than what they are watching, listening to, or reading by me? I wish it does. Now I’m not of the mindsight that everything that I ever write will be this Shakespearean Masterpiece. I know too many people that try to get deep everytime that lay something, and, to tell the truth, it wears me out to have to listen to that all day. Besides, if you’re trying to be deep all of the time, are really doing it for the right reasons? I mean are promoting thought because you are sincere, or are you doing it so that everyone can say how thought provoking you are?
I’ve been on both sides of that mirror. I’ve written songs on subjects that made me cry while writing them; however, I’ve also written shit for the sake of my own self assurance through the eyes and ears of my listeners. That becomes addictive...and dangerous.
People are influenced, and when I say people I mean everyone. No ideas are completely original and most behavior is learned. The clothes we wear, the computers we own, and the type of phone that we talk on was inspired by something or someone.
Even emotions are at the behest of the influencer. Brooklyn Nets forward Kris Humphries was booed in almost every arena he played in last season because he was being divorced by Kim Kardashian. Biggie and Tupac had entire coasts beefing with each other. Radio commentators, like Rush Limbaugh, influence Republican party policy through his listeners. Dave Chappelle had every White kid in America claiming they were “Rick James Bitch!”
So the question remains..do I inspire people, and, if I do:
I would like to have a positive impact. To think that my words are a call to action for most people. Enlighten them to whatever was in my heart and compelled me to create, and hopefully find their own meaning through what I’ve presented to them.
With all of the information that floats and flows on the 24 hour cycle, who knows whether the things that I put out influence people to do anything but listen, read, or watch my projects. All I can say is that I put my all into it, and will continue to do so until I feel that I’m no longer influenced by myself. At that moment, it would be time to go to Las Vegas and drink myself into oblivion.
Quanstar is an American underground hip hop artist, indie filmmaker, comic creator, and self published author from Atlanta.