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With the release of 31-year-old Torrence Hatch aka Lil Boosie, one of the South’s most popular and anticipated raw street rapper, a discussion about ‘street rap’ and it’s alleged ‘influence’ on young people is necessary.  Just fourteen, coming up in Southeast Raleigh, NC, I immediately realized that things weren’t even as ‘pretty’ as I had once believed them to be. From the cracked roads to the stale painted project building s and slum lord housing, eye sores surround you when you’re growing up in the hood. Happiness was a chore. It was something you had to force yourself to have. Soon enough I’d find out that it’s really up to me and my mind frame of choice to make beauty out of pain.  That was if I wanted to keep some level of personal peace.

I was eighteen, during the time of Lil Boosie and Trill Ent. Southern takeover began. I was taken by this small framed, funny voice, street rapper, same age as I was – and his choice to rap things in a manner that proved he didn’t care to be judged.  Very much the opposite of most teen girls in their prime – I was what some may call ‘young and thugging’, because I was caged in this frame of mind, polluted by my surroundings. I indulged in countless activities, due to trial and error of bad decision making heavy peer pressure. Blindfolded to what I would encounter, in the long run, I was in the midst of many of the hurdles young African American people, who come out of poor areas, place in their own paths. One thing, I could never lie about, even if I wanted to – at 31 years of age now- is the fact that I fell in love with ‘harsh street rap’. Guilty by hood association, I suppose.

Shamefully I have to admit, street rap for me was nothing more than my conscious cushion – or my therapy. Why? That would be a logical question, being that street rap consisted of vulgar language, renditions, and encounters that normally had bad, if not deadly consequences.

Well, I had an easy answer – ‘nobody else listened to or understood my struggle’. So, why not soothe my heart by listening to someone spit imagery of equal or greater than struggle and rugged lifestyle? Seemed like a no-brainer to me.

The nervous feelings my heart would encounter from attending countless court dates, after being caught dabbling in things I shouldn’t, felt it needed this relatable harsh music. My mind was so closed and my community was so flawed, that I believed that making fast illegal money was the only way I’d eat that night. I was experiencing the pain of having nowhere to rest my head at when it turned nighttime, the pain of rejection of peers and family, and the pain of ‘failure’. I had been failed by so many, including myself – that no matter the vulgar format, my pain needed to be soothed. I needed someone I could relate to – even at my worse.

What many journalists will never be able to admit, is rappers like Boosie, in his prime, would talk to us through their lyrics. One reason could be because those who come from situations, and bad choices like me, dancing with the devils of poverty and hood politics, hardly ever make it to become journalists.

My type would have probably been one predicted to end up in a women’s prison cell, being someone’s pen pal instead of a writer. Was I in the right in all of my ‘bad doings’? Definitely not, in fact, I own up to all of my wrong. That did not mean that I and others like myself didn’t need to know that someone else was going through what we were going through.

In the last years of the 19th century, a new young rebellious wave of the future began adding their two cents to the music industry. Street rap, which comes from the mouths of artists who actually went through dire situations, became something we craved musically.  I suppose when beats are paired with ‘street rap’ words, and it’s played in venues where people gather to enjoy themselves – then it comes off as ‘glorifying’ negativity. I know better.

I know that having to do things that go against the grain of morality, aren’t things anyone hardly ever ‘wanted to do’, but with such hopeless environments, closed minds, and eye sores for housing, you almost felt backed into a corner.

See, one thing that has heavily affected young black youth from areas like the one I grew up in, is their handicapped level of ‘aggression’. There is this pinned up aggression that lingers in the minds and bodies of young people that soon becomes detrimental, if things are not changed around. In my essay “Dear Dope Boy”, is point out the actual skill learned in such a ‘dead end’ career of illegal activity. It’s up to us who come from bad places, to find the good given from our God.

Our teen years weren’t consumed with travel and new and exciting career planning, like many who didn’t come from such broken environments. In fact, many of us – due to different factors – had more ‘bad times’ than ‘good times’. The question that will always remain in my mind is:  Who believed this aggression wasn’t going to end up in the type of art they expressed; street rap?

Street rap basically took over the south and those who’re trapped in environments where nothing was painted in ‘cotton candy’ imagery and even the music we learned to like has now been labeled bad and negative. So, now we’re all guilty. Meanwhile, we’re all surprised when a white middle aged male puts a bullet in any young black child that appears ‘street’ or ‘hood’. One reason is because of the added ‘push’ we gave other races on ‘our communities’ – agreeing that everything that looks, talks, and walks street represents bad or ‘incorrect’.  I mean, we’ve literally helped with the sculpting of these beliefs, that now actual clowns are putting their own death sentences upon the heads of our young black people – for just ‘looking like today’s hip hop’.

Pat your judgmental self on the back for that assist.

Tell me, what are these rappers who come from war zone environments supposed to rap about? Emotions they rarely got a chance to feel, or the trials and tribulations they went through – that others who come from the same places are going through as well?

You know it’s somewhat of a joke, in my opinion to think that rapping should be this happy rap. When I’d walk outside, in my zip code, which had police patrolling 24/7, nothing made me ‘happy’. I and my friend were dealing with poverty, parents with disabilities, and getting picked on in school for having less than others when we came up. Let’s not forget we were dirt poor. So, eventually ‘having less’ and ‘being bullied’ would spill into our consciences, adding to more pinned up emotions. Eventually the inner sadness of feeling unaccepted in tattered clothing and old shoes, would spill into our bloodstreams to where we didn’t take disrespect anymore. We stood up to poverty, but we did it wrong – and raw street rap came out of low-end basement studios. Corporates and execs of record labels saw following and revenue and publicized this type of rap for monetary reasons.  My question is to critics is: Where is this ‘happy’ rap supposed to come from?

Are we supposed to bypass the ideas of the social issues caused by close-minded politicians who’re placed into offices only to make areas like those I come from – even trashier? You know the lack of community funding, due to politics, which pulled supporting free camps and recreation from the fingertips of those kids who frequented community centers? What about the pay cuts that middle class took due to 8 years of a Bush presidency, leaving those who were already poor – in poorer conditions?

Not to discredit Macklemore, the industry’s new ‘happy rapper’, but hip hop started out on blocks like those I come from. While those blocks fell due to politics, recessions, and other heavy incidences, a lot of happiness left the building. Just looking out my window, I noticed, people struggling on a day to day, with not just finances but drug addictions and illnesses. Rappers, such as the very much critiqued Lil Boosie, talked about his drug addiction, which almost killed him – leaving him in the hospital for days.

Why is he such the enemy? Is what he speaks of not actually happening? Are young boys who struggle with the evils of environments we forget about to blame?

During my time, many young AA males barely had in house male role models. The funny things about these absentee fathers were that they never left the zip code. I came up in an era where the fathers who were absent in their kids’ lives, were actually just standing outside in the neighborhood, loitering, drinking themselves to death – or pacing the streets for highs instead of tending to their responsibilities.  This gave for even more immoral ridicule, and even more disrespect for older generations, who we counted on.

In my eyes, Boosie introduced an era of new young black men, who were ‘tired of struggling and being neglected’ and literally turned into beasts to get the things they needed. He and other southern artists like the Hot Boys, were clear lenses to the darkest holes of society. Were these young black men correct and ethically good with their decisions? Of course not, but it didn’t mean that their true lives wouldn’t spill over into a form of art – called rapping?

Now, instead of pointing a finger and blaming street rap for ‘spewing’ so-called negativity, ask yourself: Why is there a gap in generations who are so against those they actually gave birth to? When people listen to street rap, they listen for one thing – influence on young people.  The rapper who puts all of his feelings on beats, right or wrong, is judged for the influence he will have on the youth – instead of being looked at as the lens given to older generations who ignore the cries of young black people. This essay was just something for us to think about. I do not suggest we allow our young people to hear any and every rap song, but we must put our blaming fingers down. Look at the bigger picture and focus on what we can do to reverse such feelings. Then maybe the harsh rap will disappear.

 

Chakara Conyers is a 31 year old AA journalist from Raleigh, N.C. She’s a W.R.I.T.E. is Right Teen Workshop creator and facilitator, public speaker, journalist, and author of two novels. Email [email protected] to reach her.