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“You’re nobody/ ‘Til somebody kills you.” - Notorious B.I.G.
In today’s news, there was a double homicide in the Bronx, yesterday, involving two fifth grade students at PS 187. After heated words, gunfire was exchanged, leaving both children mortally wounded. Though first thought to be a result of bullying, it was later discovered that the killings were a result of an argument over who was the greatest rapper of all time – Tupac Shakur or Biggie Smalls. More news at 11:00…
On March 9, 1997, the murder of Christopher Wallace aka The Notorious BIG sent shock waves across a Hip-Hop nation still mourning the death of rival rapper Tupac Shakur months earlier. Wallace’s death was followed by pledges to stop the violence, not only in Hip-Hop, but in ‘hoods across America. There were numerous conferences and rallies with people declaring that never again would a life so full of promise be wasted.
The final outcome 15 years later… epic fail.
The senseless violence that plagued this country during the ’90s is still prevalent, and many will argue that the problem has gotten progressively worse. With the growing popularity of social media (Twitter, YouTube, etc.) the ‘net is flooded with videos of people beatin’ each other’s brains in. In 2012, every kid with an iPhone can become a ghetto Don King.
Although the focus in the media today is on “bullying,” this term does not adequately address the drama that is going on in the streets. While it is popular to do a psychoanalysis of Lil Billy from the ‘burbs who was picked on so much that he marched into his school cafeteria one day and started blastin’, rarely do we ask what makes Lil Tyrone from Compton carry a gloc and shoot up the block on the regular. This type of behavior is just accepted as a cultural norm, especially in the world of Hip-Hop. Like Cyprus Hill said back in the day, “Here is something you can’t understand/ How I can just kill a man.”
There have been rivalries in Hip-Hop since the beginning. Many can remember the classic battles between Kool Moe Dee and Busy Bee or the Cold Crush Brothers and Dr. Rock and the Force MC’s. Even during the era of “Hip-Hop unity” there were ideological rifts between KRS One and members of the X-Clan, and Ice Cube and Common. However, except for instances such as BDP throwin’ that PM Dawn dude off the stage, these rivalries rarely led to violence.
However, by the mid-’90s, entertainment and other industries began to realize that beefs were extremely profitable for selling, not only selling “murda music,” but on a deeper level, guns and ammunition. Not to mention supplying the prison industrial complex with an endless source of funding. This is why many people consider the East Coast/West Coast beef that resulted (at least on the surface) in the deaths of Hip-Hop legends Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls the result of a well-thought out marketing scheme that went right.
This is not merely some some conspiracy theory, either.
In his autobiography, My Infamous Life, Prodigy of Mobb Deep claimed that an associate once told him that the infamous shooting of Tupac at a New York recording studio that kicked off the deadly East Coast /West Coast beef was an attempt by Shakur “to start controversy” and use “Biggie and Puff” to “turn his gunshot wounds into marketing and promotion.”
More recently, R&B legend Chaka Khan told CNN that a manager once told her that she was “worth more dead to him than alive.” If this can be said about a musical icon, think about how much more dispensable are the lives of Hip-Hop artists who are viewed as easily replaceable common street thugs.
Since, Hip-Hop is dominated by African American males, the stereotype of Black youth as violence-prone animals only heightens the folklore and commercial appeal of “beefs.”
Although Biggie once defined “beef” as “when you need two gats to go to sleep” that ain’t necessarily so. In the bigger scheme of things, real “beef” is bombing a country while they’re sleep. But if your world view extends no further than your block, then the ultimate example of beef is Black men killing other Black men in the streets.
This is especially destructive when this ideology becomes embedded in the psyche of the youth.
According to Dr. Amos Wilson in his classic work, “Black on Black Violence: The Psycho-dynamics of Black Self-Annihilation in the Service of White Domination,” the Black-on-Black violent criminal “hates in other Blacks those characteristics that he hates most in himself” and he “commits homicide to keep from committing suicide.”
This is the type of logic (or lack thereof) that flows throughout Notorious B.I.G.’s CDs Ready to Die and Life After Death, as he weaved tales of murdering other Black men with lyrics about being “Black and ugly as ever” and how teachers told him that he would “never amount to nuthin.'”
So the question, after seeing all the death and destruction in our communities over the last 15 years is, why do we still glamorize this nihilistic mentality? Why are we more concerned with creating another “Frank White” than we are with saving a “Christopher Wallace?”
As Dr. Na’im Akbar wrote in Visions for Black Men, “If we spend all of our time studying the destitute, desecrated and destroyed, then we’ll end up with a destitute, desecrated and destroyed image of the Black man.” He urged that, “If we want to know how to survive, let’s look at the image of those who did survive.”
An example of survival is the one-time lifer, Durham, Carolina’s Mike “Poetic Mike” Anderson, who went from serving a life sentence in prison to founding “Polished Souls,” a movement to save young people from the streets.
However, for every Poetic Mike, there are hundreds of Christopher Wallaces who don’t get second chances, but wind up six feet under.
Whether you call it beefin’, bullyin’ or Black-on-Black violence, the cycle of self destruction in the ‘hood must end.
Despite what the Notorious B.I.G. said on his first hit, “Juicy, “the stereotype of a Black male misunderstood” ain’t all good.
TRUTH Minista Paul Scott’s weekly column is “This Ain’t Hip Hop, ” a column for intelligent Hip Hop headz. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, on his website at www.NoWarningShotsFired.com, or on Twitter (@truthminista).