Although I have never been a fan of Soulja Boy’s music, I have been an enthusiastic supporter of the infectious entrepreneurial, “do-it-yourself” spirit he has instilled amongst his legion of fans – the majority of which belong to Generation Z, “The Net Generation.” With fame, and the rapid rise of DeAndre Way’s career, however, he has had to face a considerable amount of scrutiny and condemnation, in regards to a series of imprudent personal decisions that have been revealed under a bright, public spotlight.
On October 18, 2011, the 21-year rapper and four others were charged with felony possession of marijuana and guns – of a "substantial amount" – after being pulled over by police for a traffic violation in Temple, Georgia. The arrest fell exactly a week before the DVD release of his mini-documentary, Soulja Boy: The Movie, which was directed by Academy Award™ nominated director Peter Spirer (Notorious B.I.G. Bigger than Life, Tupac Shakur: Thug Angel). Unfortunately, in response to the arrest, all pending press activities were postponed indefinitely.
What disturbs me the most about DeAndre’s recent arrest lay not in his decision to travel (and apparently carry) illegal drugs and weapons consciously, but rather the implied “normalcy” – as a bonafide member of America’s economic “upper crust” – to engage in such actions. On the other hand, from a purely legalistic perspective, I am dismayed by the disproportionate search of vehicles owned by Black drivers during traffic stops by law enforcement officers, which ultimately leads to racially-imbalanced percentages in arrests and rates of incarceration.
[SIDENOTE: Contacts Between Police and the Public, 2008, a special report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics: (1) “Black drivers were about three times as likely as white drivers and about two times as likely as Hispanic drivers to be searched during a traffic stop.” (2)“During traffic stops in 2008, about 57.7% of searches of the driver only and 60.0% of searches of the vehicle only were conducted with the driver’s consent.” (3)“About 36.1% of drivers who were only physically searched and 20.7% of drivers who only had their vehicle searched believed police had a legitimate reason to do so.”]
According to Temple Police spokeswoman officer Dana Rampy, five ounces of marijuana were found in DeAndre’s transport vehicle. Considering the quantity cited by law enforcement officials, this unfortunate incident alludes to more than simple possession for “recreational” usage and instead a spotlight on frequent “illicit” usage by the artist and members of his entourage.
Above and beyond these concerns, I am deeply troubled by the felony record that has also been attached to Soulja Boy’s “permanent record.” (Historically, he is simply an addendum to a long list of fellow rappers – from DMX to T.I. to Wiz Khlaifa, and Big Boi - all of whom have been charged for the possession of controlled substances or related paraphernalia.) In light of this nagging legacy and its enduring presence in contemporary times, what does the Hip-Hop community – whether membership be defined as a producer or consumer of the culture – have to say about the ever-increasing number of its visible “role models” – even if they do not see themselves as such – being disenfranchised within socio-political frameworks?
If Hip-Hop aims to be an active and powerful agent of “undefined” change, then what steps its community take to safeguard and empower its young men who serve as “mainstream” representatives for countless millions? Who, pray-tell, is guiding and mentoring the current generation of entertainers?
For more of Clayton Perry's "views" and interviews, visit his official website: www.claytonperry.com