“Before ever dreaming of earning a college degree, I dreamed of one day copping a ki (kilo of cocaine)” or at least, being fronted one. Those incredulous words you just read are both harsh realities for many and derivatives of a rap song. Which shouldn’t be so far unimaginable especially sense rap is just a reflection of the community, the origin of the genre. The actual rap lyrics referenced are from Rick Ross and goes as follows, “he wanted him a degree, but got him a ki.” However, when I first heard the song, my interpretation, as it applied to me and many I know, was quite opposite. And as glaring as that may sound to some, what’s sadder is the fact that there were millions of young black boys growing up when I did and like I did who felt the exact same way as I did. As a matter of fact, what may be even more heartbreaking and glaring is, that flawed, but honest sentiment of mine from thirty years ago may be more applicable and relevant today amongst our youth. And we wonder why the prison population is thoroughly overrepresented by people of color, especially black males. But it’s not coincidental at all.
If it was thirty years ago, John Legend’s Oscar acceptance speech comments made a couple of weeks ago about the number of black men under correctional control being greater than the total number of black male slaves in 1850 could have honestly been disputed. Because prior to 1985, America’s prison system wasn’t dominated by people of color, as it is today. Instead our prison system population on both the state and federal levels were mostly comprised by whites. Reports suggests that the numbers of white prisoners from 1970 to 1984 were as high as 60 percent of the total prison population. But something, not so “coincidental” as it may seem occurred between 1985 and 1995, around the time I had kingpin aspirations and the time I was scheduled to graduate from college. An American civil war was waged mainly on poor black people, disguised under the pseudonym as the “War on Drugs.” Well in all actuality, the “War on Drugs” was started in the ‘70s led by then president Nixon, but President Reagan in the ‘80s was at the helm when the prison population numbers skyrocketed due mainly to nonviolent drug related crimes. And it’s obvious who were impacted the most.
I was twelve in 1985. Beginning the seventh grade. Slick as ever, all in my mind. I had three notebooks that I carried daily. One notebook was full of school work, another was a book full of Run-DMC rhymes that I was memorizing and the third book was full of a list of things that I was going to purchase when I became a big time drug dealer within that year. This was during the time in the ‘80s when older hustlers were starting to recruit juveniles to sell drugs for them because the penalty for getting caught was far less criminally punishable for the child than the adult. Oftentimes the child would be released to the custody of a parent, whereas the adult would be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Seemed like a risk worth taking to me. So, like the title of Rick Ross single Neighborhood Drug Dealer, I aspired to be.
I totally disregarded the fact that drugs and drug dealers were the detriment to our communities and families by helping to perpetuate hopelessness through marred lenses and by personally assisting in the dismantlement of the black family, even their own. I was too young and uninformed at the time to understand the game even though I was personally being affected by it. I tried to ignore my own father’s heroin addiction and how his substance abuse issues had personally devastated and traumatized me, my mother and the rest of our family. I surmised that he was weak for falling victim to a substance and allowing it to derail and defeat him as a man. I concluded that I didn’t want to be like him, as a man. Rather I celebrated and elevated drug dealers as men I’d aspire to be like. And apparently I wasn’t the only one.
You see, it was easier for me, at the time, to reason that being a kingpin was more attainable than earning a college degree. I hadn’t known anyone who’d graduated from college personally. And I didn’t personally know any drug kingpins as a child. But unfortunately, the presence of common drug dealers were rampant in and throughout my neighborhood. Plus, I was sold on the commercialization and glamorization of the imagery of gangsters, hustlers and others who thumbed their noses at the system and appeared to be winning. I was ignorant. But not necessarily due solely to my own choosing.
This was done systematically. I was personally targeted. And that’s not conspiracy theorist cliché. Naw, that’s the actual truth. Either way I was destined to become a statistic. Graduate college?
Statistic. Become a criminal? Statistic. Truth be told it was much easier for me to succumb to the societal ills that plagued my community and became the nemesis for so many other black men. I wasn’t supposed to make it. Well let me recant that statement. I wasn’t supposed to make it unscathed. And I didn’t make it unscathed. I was severely impacted. I just happened to avoid incarceration (knock on wood). Mobb Deep said it in 1995, “there’s a war going on outside, no man is safe from.” None of us were safe then, nor now. And we have the evidence to support that claim. Just look at the jails.