On bad days, such as this one I feel as though I’m wasting my grind. I’m no longer thinking like an artist. I’m hanging on to the old days like the neighborhood addict who used to be the captain of the football team that one year they went undefeated. Back when they were raw. All the teenage boys think that he’s lying, but he really was a star athlete back in the day. None of it matters too much to anyone else but him now though.
At any rate that’s how I feel when I tell a college student that I once wrote a book. Or that I used to get published in magazines, and they look at me like I’m a panhandling junky in Fisherman’s Wharf. And actually, I kind of am. My cardboard sign reads “Haven’t had confirmation in years. Anything helps.” It’s all very pathetic.
I used to have a jones for this shit. Writing before the sun came up. Performing new material at readings around the Bay Area at least one weekend out of every month and only associating with other artists. Now I have to force my own hand. It makes a man wonder where do waning passions retreat to and does Southwest fly there?
Without my drive I am incomplete looking back down the road of past success. Scared to go forward and scared to put my art out there. I’ve allowed myself to become spoiled by the complacency of having dental benefits and a professional title. I have forgotten that I am a savage. I forgot that I don’t care. I know I promised myself that I never would but I fear that I have indeed lost my soul.
Earlier today it was revealed that the killer of Jazmine Barnes is not a white man in his forties but rather a black man in his twenties. My thoughts on the matter can be summed up in one sentence: “We need to keep that same energy.” A seven-year-old girl was murdered and we should be just as appalled that a black man did it as we were when we thought the killer was a white man. There should be just as much outrage, there should be the same outpouring of sympathy, and there should be the same amount of media coverage now that we know that the killer is black. As a matter of fact, even if we knew that the killer was black to begin with there still should have been national outrage.
The other day I wrote a blog condemning America for its racism as it manifested itself in the murder of Jazmine Barnes. Today I want to speak to the problems that come along with not highlighting black on black crime as the most significant issue facing our community. And I think that everyone who lives in predominantly black communities from Newark to Chicago to Oakland would agree with me when I say that a black life is just as precious no matter what color the perpetrator that decides to take it.
When Nia Wilson was killed by a suspected white supremacist in July at Macarthur BART Station there was international outrage. There were even several celebrities who condemned the act. Less than a week later a 21-year-old woman was shot to death along with a 19-year-old man in East Oakland and there was nothing. Outside of the Deep East Oakland community where the killings took place it seemed as if no one cared. As if black teenagers being killed presumably at the hands of another black individual isn’t quite sensational enough.
I blame the current state of lack of outrage on people who don’t live in the ghettoes of America controlling the Black American narrative. For everyone who lives in the hood knows that the dialogue of improvement needs to begin with us conversing with ourselves first. I hate that anytime a black person says “What about black on black crime?” when the topic of violence against black people comes up they are more often than not generalized and dismissed as being a sellout or being out of touch. It bothers me because it focuses the conversation on victimhood instead of control. We, as black people, control whether or not our lives matter we just don’t know it. We control whether or not middle class white people around the country make a living of us as police officers and prison guards we are just blinded to this truth. It is our job to keep our little girls alive and free from violent deaths. Jazmine Barnes is dead at 7-years-old and a black man killed her. We should all be outraged.
Jazmine Barnes was gunned down by a white supremacist the other day. She was 7 years old. No less than 6 months prior Nia Wilson was murdered by a white supremacist. She was 18 years old. There’s a good possibility that Nia’s killer may be deemed unfit to stand trial. The killer of Jazmine Barnes has not been apprehended. I don’t want to hear anything about progress. Race relations have not improved. We are not becoming a more perfect union.
Do you know how exhausting it is to be a member of a race of people that have to organize an international campaign to prove to the world that our lives matter? How hopeful can I be when a 2nd grade girl can be murdered with impunity just for existing while being black? Our little girls and our women are being attacked. What recourse do we have but to protect them by any means? In the mind of the public this has to constitute as justification for revenge. Wars have been waged for less. I mean what would your people do under the same circumstances? Would the world at large expect them to sing, pray, and instantly show forgiveness? Or would the world be on edge anxious to see what your next move would be?
I just want Kanye to own everything he said yesterday in his oval office meeting with President Donald Trump. I want him to stop blaming his strong reverence for The President on mental illness. He needs to keep that same energy that compelled him to claim that Donald Trump is a father figure to him when he goes on black radio and talk shows. And I’m not saying that everything that Kanye said was negative because it wasn’t. Some of it I can only describe as brave and profound. He said marvelous things about former Chicago gangster and community leader Larry Hoover in hopes of getting him sprung from prison. He spoke about bringing honor and dignity back to the black community and making sure black fathers are in the household. He placed himself in a position that makes him impossible to simply dismiss as ignorant. He cooned with compassion.
Yes, he definitely put on a show for the white president, the white photographers and journalists, as well as all of the white republicans watching at home, but isn’t that what the American political game is all about? Any time an African-American lobbies hard for white people isn’t that cooning? So, would you feel better if he would have given that speech at the feet of Bernie Sanders or Hilary Clinton? Would it be more acceptable then? I don’t think so. I feel like a lot of African-Americans are upset because they snuggled up to the wrong white person. Kanye aligned himself with Trump and Kanye won. He now has a direct line of communication with the president.
Yesterday Yeezy tap danced on the master’s desk until all of the polish wore off of his shoes, until the soles cracked, and until his feet ached. He went ALL in and no one forced him. He called President Trump his daddy and gave him a hug. He took arrows in the back for the President and teetered the line between calling black people out and being their representative. Kanye is not a victim of the Republican party or Bi-polar disorder. He is doing exactly what he wants to do. All that I ask is that he stands strong when the black tide of judgement washes over him. Don’t blame it on being crazy then Sir. Please don’t, for there are too many people who are really suffering with mental illness for you to hide behind it whenever your people hold you accountable. All that I ask is that you keep that same energy.
I’m a town dude. There is no doubt about it. What I mean by that is the lens through which I view the world is totally Oaklandcentric. So, if you ask me Jason Kidd is the best point guard of all time with Gary Payton being a close second, Oakland completely shaped Tupac Shakur, and the Bay Area sound deeply influenced the present-day Atlanta hip-hop scene via local producers like Ant Banks and Zaytoven. In general, Oakland has always been the most popping place on the planet—that’s just my totally biased opinion. Oaklanders are very prideful but we demand that our representatives remain humble. And dare I say that if a celebrity claims to have the town on their back then we believe that they should actually be deep in the trenches putting in work. The self-styled rapper turned pop star G-Eazy does not do that. His relationship with Oakland is largely touch and go. And one gets the overwhelming sense that Oakland has never really been enough for him but rather it’s just extremely marketable for him to continue to claim it.
There is a line that triggered me from his most recent single 1942. In his laid-back braggadocios flow he spits “Flooded all my diamonds, Poland Spring/ Back in Oakland I’m a king” and when he said it I cringed. My reaction was so visceral because G-Eazy moved from the Bay as soon as his career took off. One cannot be a king and reside 400 miles outside of one’s kingdom. Also Oakland has never been a place that has had a king. There is an ongoing debate about who is the reigning King of New York. Snoop Dogg once declared that he was the king of the Westcoast but no artist from Oakland or the surrounding Bay Area has ever claimed this title for himself. We historically have never played that game. We have always preferred a person’s character to be thorough rather than their appearance to be flashy, but alas the Oakland of old is gone.
Gentrification has nearly chopped the cities African-American population in half since the days when Too Short was a fixture on the Foothill strip and in Eastmont Mall. We no longer demand that our MC’s be down to earth players that don’t like drawing unnecessary attention to themselves. This code was so strictly enforced in the early 1990’s that many in the town renounced MC Hammer and deemed him a sellout because of his shiny hammer pants and multimillion dollar Pepsi deal, even though he went broke trying to uplift the city and built a mansion in nearby Fremont in order to stay close to his family. But now Oakland has become a trendy town with countless brunch spots and beer gardens, and G-Eazy is Oakland’s trendy MC.
G-Eazy stated on his breakfast club interview earlier this year that he’s always wanted to be a superstar outside of the Bay. He also alluded to wanting to be as big as Kanye West. And as I watched I wondered when did my hometown full of contradictions, replete with the most positive vibes yet satiated with crime that used to sit a world apart from the high society bohemian snobbery of San Francisco, become a place where our most popular rapper can get away with speaking this way in a studio in New York before flying back first class to his mansion in Los Angeles? Why is there no accountability? I mean surely there would have been a backlash if Keak Da Sneak would have taken the same approach after he dropped “Super Hyphy” in 2007 following his massively successful feature on E-40’s “Tell me when to go” the previous year. Can you imagine Keak saying that he wants to be the biggest name in entertainment and although he loves Oakland he always wanted more for himself? The hate would have been so real. But we let G-Eazy claim our struggle all the way to the bank, give us crumbs, and go back to LA.
And this is why I don’t view him the same way as I view all of the other rap legends to come out of the town. From the Mobb Music era through the Hyphy Music era to say that you were from Oakland meant that you spoke for the people in the hood in a way that no one else could. The Oakland that I love will never be a place that accepts pop star rappers who never come to the ghetto. I could never stand behind a hometown MC who flies into the town, gets the bag, and leaves. G-Eazy represents the coopting of the town swag and as I look at the world through my Oakland lens I look right past him and back into the past. For if he represents the future of Oakland hip-hop then I will not be able to watch this mockery for much longer.
I’ve been waiting for the film that would resonate with me like Eighth Grade did this past weekend. What made the movie experience even more powerful is I was able to take my own eighth grader (who will be a 9th grader when school starts on Wednesday) along with me. The movie speaks to the awkwardness of not knowing who you are and feeling pressure from every angle to be “cool” by any means necessary. These factors have always come into play when going through adolescence but when you add the monster of social media into the mix then we have effectively created a generation of kids that must deal with more growing pains than we could ever imagine. The movie is centered on a young girl named Kayla (played by Elsie Fisher) who must navigate all of these issues in addition to trying to prepare herself for high school. The young actress does a masterful job and one empathizes with her from the very first scene.
But to be honest it wasn’t her character that spoke to my soul as much as it was her father. Going through eighth grade is difficult but I have found being the father of an eighth-grade girl to be the most helpless period of my life. You sit there, as a man fully aware of how cruel the world is—especially to girls—and you offer your guidance and support to your child but your child is determined to figure things out on her own. And you admire her independence but you yearn for the opportunity to be relevant in your baby’s life once more. There is a single scene from the movie that perfectly captures this dilemma. Kayla is invited to hang out at the mall by her high school mentor and her friends. While sitting at the table with these high school seniors who she has very little in common with and for the most part is unable to join the conversation, one of the kids says she’s noticed a creepy guy looking at them but tells the crew not to look all at once. By the time Kayla looks up she sees that it’s her father and she asks to be excused from the table. It provides some perfectly timed comic relief; however, it also gives a lot of insight into the pain of watching the most precious thing in your life grow into an independent being.
The father played by Josh Hamilton tried to express this to her then apologized saying that he would get lost until it was time to pick her up. Kayla said that she would find her own ride home. The father says ok and leaves some money so Kayla could buy a few things. She initially refuses to take it so her father just leaves the money then goes away. The scene was so honest that I nearly cried. The father had been her sole protector and provider and at one point probably her best friend (her mother was not a part of her life) and now all he could hope to give her was money. For him to place his daughter in the center of his life for so long only to be suddenly forced out is difficult for him to accept. No matter how natural it is, no matter how inevitable it still hurts. It’s a very specific kind of pain too, and the film totally got it.
Eighth Grade is such an amazing movie. It’s so raw, tender, and real. It’s the best movie of the year by far.