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.
Nia Wilson was murdered just last night at the very same BART station that I’ve gone to with my daughter several times. Macarthur BART station is a transfer station so you can get anywhere in the bay from its platforms. And it is right around the corner from Marcus Book Store which is the oldest black owned book store west of the Mississippi. It is within walking distance, for me at least, of Fenton’s Creamery—my absolute favorite place to assuage my very serious sweet tooth. And now it is the place where an 18-year-old black girl got her throat sliced open. At this point the only justification for the crime is that she is black…I mean was black. And that’s where the rage sets in for me.
We should never have to speak of an 18-year-old girl in the past tense. A woman who slowed down on her exit from the train to help a lady with a stroller. Shortly after that she was murdered and her sister was stabbed. Her aunt sad Nia was “100 pounds soaking wet” yet she was killed so brutally. And in such a public place. And all media outlets are saying that it is random but all black bay area natives know better. Her killer is a terrorist who viewed her as a soft target. Had she been white or male I’m certain that he would have looked elsewhere but she was a black woman, the least protected human being on Earth so he went for it.
Nia’s life was precious. She couldn’t help the fact that she was born in a place that would rather sell an image of peaceful hippies and hipsters than deal with its overt racism. An area that acts like Oscar Grant wasn’t killed on BART, and like the Black Panthers didn’t start here because of how oppressive and hateful it is. BBQ Becky, Permit Patti, and Jogger Joe are not anomalies. Neither is the killer of Nia Wilson. Nia will forever be a black an 18-year-old black girl killed by a home-grown terrorist in the San Francisco Bay Area. This is nothing more than a 2018 California lynching.
Depression is the permeation of nothingness. It’s the acceptance of futility. It’s feeling helpless and needing help. It’s wanting to talk to someone but not being able to find anyone who speaks your language. It’s needing rest but not knowing how to stop. It’s being alive but feeling dead inside. It’s cutting everyone off then getting upset because no one ever calls you anymore. It’s not knowing how to find happiness. It’s not knowing how to sustain happiness. It’s not knowing what happiness is. It’s envying everyone else because they look so happy. It’s being uncomfortable with being comfortable. It’s failing so much that you fail to try. It’s feeling done with this whole thing. It’s inescapable grief. It’s the certainty of uncertainty. It’s grappling with the reality that you will never be able to make him proud. It’s always wanting to go back and do things better. It’s feeling out of touch with everything but pain. It’s losing sight of an escape. It’s having your whole body glued to the floor and being afraid to scream for help because you know that if they hear you then they will kill you. Depression is about knowing that you fucked up and that you will continue to fuck up because you are indeed a fuck up. It’s about feeling as though your inadequacies are contagious so you quarantine yourself in hopes that the “fuck up virus” will kill only you. It’s about believing that the world can’t get better until you are no longer a part of it. It’s about going from keeping everything to yourself to telling all of the wrong people. It’s about not always wanting to be so weird but not being able to help it. It’s about the disconnect between you and everyone you love. It’s about not knowing how to make anything work. It’s about searching for peace in vain. It’s about succumbing to anguish. It’s feeling too tired to fight back. It’s about having a strong idea of what normal is while knowing that it’s something that you could never be. Depression is how you feel at the exact moment when you realize that the good part is never going to happen. You didn’t miss it and there is no need to wait on it. Everything is a lie.
I can’t imagine what being white must feel like. It’s baffling when I think about all of the ways in which white skin distorts the mind. Let us make a brief foray into the brain of one Henry Sintay. Henry Sintay is a white man who was born in Idaho (it doesn’t get any whiter than that). Apparently, he got into some trouble in Lake County, CA and was busted for cultivating marijuana with intent to distribute. He did over two years in prison for that offense and got out November 27th of 2017. Mr. Sintay is currently in the process of going viral for throwing a homeless man’s items—the homeless man is black—into Lake Merritt and in a nearby trash can while said homeless person was not even there. Some people, including the people who videotaped the incident and tried to intervene, are upset with Sintay while others are applauding him for restoring the beauty of the Lake. I am of the opinion that not only was Mr. Sintay wrong but he definitely needs his ass beat.
The homeless situation in Oakland is far beyond a crisis. There are encampments on major thoroughfares, under freeway overpasses, in parks, in residential districts and all around Lake Merritt. One cannot go anywhere in the city of Oakland without seeing our unsheltered brothers and sisters. It is extremely disheartening. It has inspired me to host a panel discussion. I have participated in several “Feed the Hood” events put on by the East Oakland Collective. I try to give back to the homeless whenever I can. I’ve had multiple conversations with people both online and in person about what is causing this problem. It is clear to everyone who is actually from Oakland that homelessness now is worse than it has ever been before. At no point in all of my interactions with those who live on the streets have I ever had the urge to pick up a homeless person’s belongings and throw them in the trash. At no point, have I ever held animosity towards those who live on the streets in deplorable conditions and have to beg for food.
Everyone knows that the skyrocketing homeless population in Oakland is directly related to the skyrocketing rent. It’s also very clear that while most of the homeless population is black, most of the newer Oakland residents are white. It wouldn’t be a leap for one to come to the conclusion that these new white residents shoulder at least some of the blame for so many people living on the streets. This truth is what makes the acts committed by Henry Sintay absolutely repugnant.
He’s upset at a situation that he helped to create. He is in effect raging at a man who cannot be doing any worse. A man who is sleeping on the concrete and must endure the daily trauma of living in squalor and uncertainty. And even worse he did this at a time when the man was not even there to defend himself. I will never understand how delusional one must be to do two years in prison, live in a town for six months, point to the homeless and say to himself “These people are the problem. I’m going to do something about this.” This is the very same Wyatt Earp, George Zimmerman, self-deputized, colonizer-cowboy mentality that America is built on. This is the aggressive form of outward racism that Californians like to pretend only exists in places like Mississippi and South Carolina. A lot of “good natured, liberal minded” people won’t see hatred in Henry Sintay because he isn’t an Oklahoma trucker with a Make America Great Again hat on his head. But he is a manifestation of the devil and we all need to internalize this fact. Even as an outsider and an ex-convict he knows that his white skin gives him the power to pillage and plunder. He is reclaiming the lake for his people, but unlike BBQ Becky he took things into his own hands.
I can’t fathom what it would be like to possess the blinding privilege of whiteness. I also have no clue as to what it takes to combat such idiocy. It would be nice to beat Henry Sintay’s ass though. To land a few straight rights to his nose. A left uppercut to the solar plexus. Maybe if someone made him bleed then he would realize that he is only human and not the great white god that he’s been conditioned by society to believe that he is. Perhaps the sight of his own blood on his fingertips after he wiped it from his broken nose would cause him to be humble. Probably not, albeit the fantasy is a gorgeous one. Picture a colonizer with blood on his hands, but not the blood of the natives, this time it is his own blood. Because this time there are repercussions. This time his sense of dominance is questioned. This time he losses. Can you imagine that? Can you envision the downfall of white supremacy?
Drake was just the man about a week ago. He was the Canadian that could do no wrong—especially when it came to black women. He seemed to be the only major figure in rap that would consistently praise black women in his music. Remember his line from the 2011 hit Make me Proud: “Like you went to Yale but you probably went to Howard Knowin’ you.” The song is about women who accomplish major goals but don’t get the recognition that they deserve from men. What this line does is it makes the song solely about black women considering the fact that Howard is an historically black college. Drake has kept this same energy (publicly at least) through his last video for “Nice for What” where he has cameos from almost every single black woman making power moves in Hollywood right now and Olivia Wilde, which is kind of weird but you get the point.
He’s also been linked to romantic relationships with Serena Williams, Rihanna, and dancer Miliah Michel. All of this seems to confirm his devotion to black women. That is until Pusha T exposed him for having a child with soft porn actress Sophie Brussaux who I’m sure is a very nice girl but, to be frank, she’s white. And you know what? It matters. Now I personally am not opposed to interracial love. It’s all good. I mean that’s how light skinned black folks were created and I have plenty of light skinned friends. More importantly if it were not for fair skinned groups like DeBarge and light skinned athletes like Steph Curry and Clay Thompson my childhood would have no soundtrack and the Warriors would have never won a championship—but I digress. The point is that for Drake his impregnation of a white lady matters because he has made an entire career out of uplifting black women in a genre of music that has amassed a fortune by degrading them over dope beats. It matters because Drake is wealthy enough to choose any woman that he wants but he always seems to choose the sistas, and sistas rocked with Drake, and downloaded his music, and filled his concerts and went through great lengths to see him in person (see season 2 Ep7 of Atlanta). Now it seems as though it could have all been a front.
Another reason that Drake’s vanilla love matters is because it matters to black women. I don’t care how educated and free thinking a black woman is if she sees a handsome, successful black man with a blonde haired white woman then it will bother her to her very core. Facts! I have an aunt who had children with a no-good man. He abused drugs, she forgave him. He went to prison; she wrote him every day. He had an outside child, she reasoned that her father had done the same thing to her mother so they worked through it. He beat her, they separated but got back together. She caught him creeping around with a white woman, RELATIONSHIP OVER! Within hours all of his clothes were on the porch. That’s just the way I was raised. If you get caught fooling around with a white woman, the consequences can be severe. In many cases this can be an unforgivable crime in the world of black women.
So, where does this leave Mr. Champagne Papi? Only time will tell if his music is powerful enough to give him a pardon but let’s not act like his core fan base isn’t devastated right now because something like this matters and it matters a lot. It just does.