Working with young people in the Juvenile Justice System has been incredibly rewarding for me. I am always learning new fashion styles, slang words, trends and rising rap artists. A few years ago, I began hearing about an underground rapper from Philadelphia named, AR-AB. I was somwhat familiar with the big figures of Phialdelphia’s Underground Rap scene, including Cassidy, Meek Mill, Tone Trump, Gillie Da Kid, , Joey Jihad, Qwilly Mills and others; so I was in no rush to look up some lesser known rap artists I had never heard of.
It also didn’t help that although I am a fan of Hip Hop I often times feel at war with the messages and influence of the “streets” that is typically the focus of these underground artists’ music. I refused to look up AR-AB on the internet, content that I basically knew what his rhymes were going to be about, hustling and riding on enemies. I felt uncomfortable and ignorant each time that a new youth would mention him as one of the best rappers in Philly.
After months and months of hearing scores of young people recommend AR-AB, I finally broke down and pulled him up on YouTube. I wasn’t surprised about his style and his demeanor. However, I was surprised with the blatant and over the top references he made when it came to selling drugs and violence. He spoke with malice, hatred and rage towards his real and perceived foes out there. He spoke of a lucrative underground illegal economy and the significant amounts of money he was making. He also spoke of how his street fame and credibility made women flock to him.
As I listened more and more to AR-AB it became clear how appealing the lifestyle is for many young people and males in particular, growing up in impoverished and disadvantaged inner city neighborhoods as they struggle to find their identities. AR-AB calls himself the “Top Goon of Philly”! His world is a world very different from the average American. His world is a world where one’s capacity and propensity to commit violent acts either overtly or covertly earns you respect and makes you many enemies in the process. Pulling young people into an endless psychological state of heightened awareness of friend and foe, life and death and freedom and incarceration.
Through listening to AR-AB’s music, I actually began to understand what I was up against even more, as a person trying to help young people get out of the justice system and move away from a life of crime. I already know that it is challenging trying to reach young people, who have many times been alienated by the wider society, seduced by the lure of the streets with its quick money, power, fame and respect. Hearing AR-AB allowed me to realize that his voice was louder and more respected by young people in the streets than my own and I needed to respect his, if mine is ever to be respected.
Despite living under the administration of the first African American president, a seemingly hopeful time, many young people have experiences and views of their world that are more closely aligned to rappers like AR-AB. It is time for professionals, teachers, academics, parents and concerned community members to listen. Although we should still be concerned about the lifestyle AR-AB discusses in his music, his voice should be used to draw attention to the hopelessness, desperation and anger of our most marginalized youth and provide some thoughtful discussions about solutions to issues of manhood, the drug economy, violence, mental health, misogyny and hyper masculinity in Hip Hop Culture and urban life.
Coincidentally, AR-AB was shot 10 times in late September. Miraculously, AR-AB survived and is currently recuperating. It appears that he should be able to make full recovery given the small caliber of the bullets that hit him and the non vital areas where he was struck. It is my hope that this event in his life will help him recognize the damaging impact of violence in the community and create more positive and inspirational songs. This incident may only further validate his “Top Goon of Philly” status and propel him to the success of another street rapper who was shot 9 times. It is clear that AR-AB and the life he speaks of is not going anywhere. We all need to pay attention and get innovative in developing solutions to our problems. As always, leave a comment and share your thoughts!
Below are some additional videos of AR-AB rapping. In NO WAY do his lyrics and these videos represent my views and perspectives.
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