Thursday, June 25, 2015

Crime and The Artist Grind (A True Story) Part 1 Without A Reasonable Doubt

A thunderstorm rolled through Austin this past weekend and brought along with it some time for contemplating and set the perfect scene as we headed back from the 1st annual summer solstice art festival here on Austins East side. It placed me in a great position to reminisce a bit deeper and get inspired by my past more than I have done in a while. As we settled home after getting soaked at the event a music playlist came on with a BOYZ N DA HOOD track "No talking'" -this project was the self titled first album of Bad Boys South, Diddys first super rap group (Jody Breeze, Big Ghee, Big Duke, & THE SNOWMAN: Young Jeezy) an album that was constantly spinning in the white Cadillac I drove around Vegas and would take in and out of town often times with no less than a 40 cal pistol and a quarter kilo of coke just about 8 years ago. As the music kept playing I settled to read an article as I dried off and was quickly thrown into a stupor as I begin to have flashbacks of my days as a young hustler in Vegas, circa 96-2008. I promptly added the tracks to my spotify Playlist and as the rain pattered on my window, images and visuals from my past flooded into a blend of the soundtrack that was paying homage to my past. G-Units "Poppin Thangs" came on as my eyes got heavy and I thought back to the rainy night this song was bumping in my murdered out chevy as I participated in my first drive by. Thankfully, in this particular episode nobody was hurt but we thought it shook up the thieves who we had tried robbing a partners place since tracking the busters became impossible after that ride, they either skipped town or got done in by someone else they tried to fuck over. Either way that was my life then, let me tell you how it got that way. 
First, I want to be clear that I dont glorify or agree with my past behavior and choices, which I made as a lost and ignorant young boy. Im just telling it how it was and it took many hard lessons and some time in prison to get me to think straight and understand how lucky I am to have made it out and learn the fact that karma does exist. For me, coming to the U.S without knowing the language, having my father leave us, and learning through the struggles as a seven year old Colombian boy in a mostly white trailer park on the South East side of Vegas was not only a culture shock but factors that lead me to the path I took. It was nearly impossible for me to dodge the trappings of crime as I grew older and noticed the opportunity, lust, luxury, and temptations the city had to offer. A household with a single mother and turmoil filled familial condition, financial hardship, depression, and anger so much anger. I had to do something to keep from imploding and I made what I thought to be the best choice within my abilities.
In all honesty I was a never soul-less person and all my actions were handled with a code of honor and moral conduct that may not have been up to the "Church's Standards" but I did most things meaning well and primarily extended from a survival instinct. Years later I learned that these patterns imposed a kind of sociopathic mindset that I had to break through to become the self aware, valuable, and loving being which I try to be today and everyday. If I may say so myself I have come a very long way and have been blessed with the opportunity to keep growing after realizing that I had a choice during a two year prison sentence.
Complex just did an article that inspired me to write this blog. These articles spoke on the Mafia References in hip-hop and was accompanied by an 1800 Tequila sponsored slideshow that explained the correlation between organized crime and Rap. I myself, having been greatly influenced by the Italian American culture in Las Vegas, felt like an expert reading up on this article and it stirred something in me to tell the story of how a fairly normal little boy became the man I am today. I mean I owned Sinatras full CD collection by the time I was 16 and completed my Sinatra Tattoed portrait shortly after I was released from TDCJ; Tony Soprano, Pablo Escobar, Fabolous, and Young Jeezy were the father figures who I idealized so maybe I wasn't all that normal to start off but I was relatively a normal kid. One of my OGs and my best friend, James-who played a large role in my life, has a full back and stomach mural dedicated to John Gotti and me being a connoisseur of the italian female type I brought myself as close to the culture as I could growing up in Vegas. I truly admired the close knit bond of my girlfriends' paisano families and I became dedicated to rub elbows with these legendary and someone mythical gangsters one day. The Jewish culture also made an impression on me, I learned a lot from a prominent Jewish family who had roots in the city since the Italians and the Jewish syndicates established Sin City, after a friend's family gave me shelter and took me when I was kicked out of my house by my poor mother. I saw the loyalty within their community and admired the levels of success they escalated to when they started with nothing, it made me feel like some hope for my future. 
Now, James-the guy with the Gotti mural tatted on him was not only a father figure to me but my introduction into hip-hop, the first art form that brought me closer to my passion in streetwear. The year I came to the States Jay-Z had just dropped his debut album: Reasonable Doubt which would forever change my life. It was a hot Vegas summer in 1996 and I was in awe with this young tattooed white boy who would drive in from Texas to see my aunts husband, a pilot who made frequent trips to South America and owned a series of small shabby businesses and vintage cars yet kept us in a trailer home. The trailer was surprisingly luxurious inside in comparison to any regular home and stood out in our trailer park, but still the conditions of our living situation were questionable. James was what we call a HOG in the game, he was a big boy, driving Maseratis and Ferraris at the age of 16 and interacting with people such as my uncle who kept a contact list of some real legends in the streets. I recall James' genuine kindness towards me, even though he was without a doubt a very intimidating figure behind his all gold smile, blonde hair and green eyes he had pureness to his soul. One day as I looked on admirably and James waited outside our house, he called me over to his car. I made sure my mom had not returned from her mobile car wash job which was set up for her to work until she had documents to get a "real job". I knew she wouldnt allow me to talk to James as she was very adamant about not letting me around anyone who her brother in law fucked with and more so since she associated tattoos with bad people. I got in the passenger side of James' new convertible and he gave me daps, I felt so cool just listening to rap in this young OGs car as the sound from the speakers soothed our whole neighborhood this hot Vegas day.

James was very progressive in more than one way, such as being a Texan bumping East coast music like Jay-Z. A dumb as it may sound, it showed he had made it out of his neighborhood-the Bloody Knickle, Houston's 5th Ward, where loyalty to their States musical sound as as deep rooted as their gangs. He was seeing parts of the world most folks from his area and would only dream about, but that didn't last forever. The track was playing and I imitated his head bobbing to the music when the song 'Dead Presidents pt 2' came on. I don't remember exactly how I asked him but it was something along the lines of 'What's mean?' - as in "what do the words mean" in my seven year old broken English. James spoke some but not much Spanish but somehow the complicated yet eerily congruent lyrics of the song were explained to me with a crystal clear understanding- the verse that popped was; "Cant stop PA from drinkin mai tais w Tay Tay out in NevadA, haha papa-(world like) i dabbled in crazy weight, without rap i was crazy-potna I'm still spending money from 88".  We were currently in NevaDA, Papa was a term often use to describe "papi" or the main drug connection, a word I was confused to hear James say often, and the year of my birth is 1988. In that moment I became a student of hip-hop and the years that followed I understood a bit more about my place in this socio economic system and how that albums theme became almost a narrated story of my life as I adapted with the survival skills that I need it as a young man that ended up having to grow up too soon, yet still had the angels of Art watching over me.
Even though James was way ahead of his time his attachment to the hood mindset and the dependance on crime was what ended up slaving him for life.  His passion for music, however; was the best language barrier for us to connect through. His vision for the future was colossal but tainted by the game and even after he caught his life sentence in mid 2000 his influence and guidance stayed with me. As a person who's kept himself growing within the Texas Prison system and being one has come to term with his deamons, my boy is still  one of the strongest and kindest people I know and seeing him increase his self awareness and emotional, spiritual, and educational growth has inspired me to stay focused on my goal as a creative. I constantly reach out to him for counsel and hope the day comes when his music can be heard this side of the walls. We have began a 15 part patch series based on the Street Wisdom he passes on as 2015th marks the 15th year of his sentence, the first set is available here.

After my experience with the Reasonable Doubt album I worked on finding as many tracks to study from the only two rappers I knew about: Tupac and Biggie. I had to do it without my mother catching wind of the lyrical content which proved to be easy, being as how she didn't understand much more English than I did at the time. At the time we left Colombia I remember the badass music was still heavy metal so I had a few cassette tapes I could hide my rap music in as well as a wide range of musical genres that influenced me throughout my life.  
When my mother remarried we moved to a better part of town and my creative outlet in music blended over with my anger and misguidance as I was trying to figure out who I was. The beatings from my frustrated mom kept me from "thugging" full force in front of her for a while but I found fighting as the perfect pacifier for my rage and as an over protective big brother I capitalized on every opportunity for a scuffle. I was a very small kid fighting boys twice my size since my first day of 3rd grade and thats a trend I've been all too familiar with to this day, being the underdog and battling for what I feel is mine be it respect or recognition.  The ropes of the street became a curriculum for me, I would study books about gangs and gang leaders, research stories of crime and their enterprising techniques and downfalls. I simultaneously watched the million dollar houses across the street from our school not far from my step dads home. I wondered why God was punishing us, were we underserving of a happy home and the luxuries that others had? The realization my young mind conjured up was that I had to take the reigns of my future and nothing was going to keep me in the situation we were in forever. The feeling of never being enough clouded my judgement as I received and distributed my first quarter ounce of weed and an ounce of high grade cocaine, the powder being courtesy of a family friend who saw my potential as a hustler. I had a small conscious and after that $1,200 bag of coke was gone I stuck to weed for a little since seeing some unspeakable things crack heads would do for a high, was still beyond my scope of comfort. I didn't go back to moving serious coke until after cutting my teeth on out of town trips and securing the market of the opulent by dealing with mostly rich kids and business types who wanted powdered form of raw for personal use, no more crack cooking dealers and sketchy corner and bathroom transactions-at least for the time being. Eventually, however; my adrenaline threshold and greed would surpass just dealing with the soft stuff and I quickly came back to wholesaling any substance I could find a client base for... be continued
Stay tuned for part 2 Next Thursday
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