Philly Rapper AR-AB Shot Ten Times

African American, Culture, Mental Health, Music & Hip-Hop

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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New Documentary – Hip Hop: The Furious Force of Rhymes (Full Film)

Culture, Films, Music & Hip-Hop

Hip Hop: The Furious Force of Rhymes 

The Grammy Nominated French ‘Afropean’ Hip Hop/Rhythm and Blues Group – Les Nubians

Hip Hop, like the Internet, is a potent tool for education and empowerment. I happen to be an enthusiast of both of these amazing tools.  While on the Internet the other day, I had the fortune of finding this incredible free documentary by the Smithsonian Channel, Hip Hop: The Furious Force of Rhymes. This film directed by Joshua Atesh Litle, embedded below, explores Hip Hop’s history and role as an instrument for empowerment and a voice for marginalized communities worldwide. This documentary begins by examining the origins of the Hip Hop universe with Busy Bee Starski and Grandmaster Caz. The film  moves from the Bronx in the late 1970s and follows the diffusion of this amazing cultural movement through time and space to cities in Europe, the Middle East, South America and Africa. This is not your typical Hip Hop documentary focusing on the meteoric rise of this phenomenon in terms of commercial viability. Instead, this documentary focuses on the ability of Hip Hop to connect people to the struggles of others in similar struggles, irrespective of their nationality, language, ethnicity or religion. It is this ability of Hip Hop, to speak to and for the voiceless, that makes it such a powerful asset for humanity. This film contains poignant and insightful commentary by the legendary Hip Hop journalist and activist, Davey D and others. This film undoubtedly shows the true power and potential of Hip Hop. It is an honor to share this film with you and I hope it uplifts and inspires you as much as it did me. It is up to us to tell the true story of Hip Hop and shape the future of our world! Let your voice be heard, leave a comment and share this with your Facebook friends and Twitter followers!

The 1990s Era of Hip Hop and Me

African American, African American, Culture, History, Music & Hip-Hop, Uncategorized

The 1990s Era of Hip Hop and Me

I was fortunate enough to come of age during the 1990s when Hip-Hop was taking a firm hold of urban culture throughout our nation. There was Eric B and Rakim, Run DMC, Heavy D, Public Enemy, LL Cool J, Queen Latifa, Das FX, De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, Kriss Kross, MC Lyte, Positive K, Naughty By Nature, Yo-Yo and scores of other groups featured on TV Shows like BET’s Rap City and MTV’s Yo! MTV Raps. This was the cultural world and energy I experienced each and every day that I left the confines of my home. My parents were older and were deeply into Jazz, RnB, Blues and of course Michael Jackson, which was probably the closest thing to Hip-Hop for me during my early childhood. There was clearly a disconnect between what my parents were listening to and what would eventually take the neighborhood and the world by storm.

This generational gap continued to widen as the nineties commenced. There was a new flavor of Hip-Hop emerging that not only scared my parents and elders but actually scared me as well. I remember being nine years old and having one of my teenage afterschool counselors play a track off of one of N.W.A or Eazy-E’s albums. All I know was that I heard Eazy-E’s unmistakably high pitched  voice ordering a restaurant full of people to hit the floor, while he proceeded to rob the place. At that exact moment I remember experiencing a feeling of tremendous excitement that include adrenaline running through me but this feeling was followed by feelings of shame and guilt. I almost felt as if I had just witnessed the fictional but dramatically realistic robbery with Eazy-E. I remember the ease at which he threw around the F-word and other curse words as if no one cared or was listening. It was lawless and extremely violent and deserved the “parental advisory” sticker that was placed on its cassette jacket. I also think at this particular moment, Hip-Hop lost some of its innocence for me. It was no longer something I viewed as completely benign and cool but it became something with a dark side and that dark side scared me. Little did I know then how much of a turn Hip-Hop would take towards the dark side.

As I finished Elementary School, Hip-Hop was officially our thing. The ‘Fab Five’ of the University of Michigan had made it to the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship two years in a row. They wore the iconic baggy golden or navy blue shorts and had attitudes to match. Tupac Shakur’s Keep Your Head Up was a street anthem. Nas had hit the scene with If I Ruled the World (Imagine That). The intergenerational conflict over Hip-Hop hit the front pages of newspapers and it also was a top story on the nightly news. I remember watching C. Delores Tucker and other leaders condemn the lyrics, imagery and music of Snoop Dogg, Too Live Crew and Tupac Shakur. It was an all out war over the viability of Hip-Hop. All of us young people were unequivocal in our support of Hip-Hop. Why not support it? It was talking to and about us. The young people were tired of the Civil Rights era elders who seemed to be attacking our culture and who were at the same time ineffective at tackling the problem of police brutality and racial profiling that had reached a boiling point with the Rodney King Case and the Los Angeles Riots of 1992. By this time, I had become accustomed to hearing the arguments for and against the raw and explicit lyrics in the rap. Whenever I got the chance I would try to listen to some of the contemptuous artists of the day. Of course, my parents tried their hardest to censor the music I heard and it worked, while I was home. In the house, I would have to listen to Shaquille O’Neal’s album Shaq Diesel or one of Kris Kross’ albums, which I actually found genuinely enjoyable. Nonetheless, I looked forward to going to school and hearing the latest, hardest and most ostracized sounds from my boys, whose parents either did not know, did not care or were listening to the same music. Despite the presence of this controversial element in Hip-Hop during this time, there was still a great deal of light and love. The films Malcolm X and Do the Right Thing by Spike Lee had come out and Public Enemy was on the scene with Black Power insignias, black barrettes and the Fruit of Islam stepping in unison on stage. I vividly remember the impact the film, Malcolm X had on the city of Boston. It felt as if everyone from the babies in their strollers, their mothers to the winos on the corners had some “X” paraphernalia on. It could have been a hat, t-shirt, sneakers, key chain or gold necklace but people were representing a certain consciousness about what was going on in society and I could feel the power of the people. The darkness of hip-hop had cleared away and was but a distant memory.

Entering middle school, I was thrown into an environment with older kids, who were so much bigger and tougher than I had imagined them to be. There were no “X” hats or t-shirts to be found. I can vividly remember as a sixth grader, a fight between two sixth grade students and the remarkable thing about it was not the fight at all. I had seen plenty and had my fair share. What struck me about this fight was that one of the combatants was wearing an extraordinary gold chain that consisted of hollow golden links shaped into tiny crosses only to support a much larger and more pronounced golden cross pendant. Class was dismissed and the two young men began cursing and fighting and then this remarkable piece of jewelry exploded like a fourth of July firework with tiny shimmering pieces of gold floating in the air, announcing a new era in Hip-Hop; the era of what Chuck D calls, black animosity. These two sixth graders went at each other with everything they had, as members of the crowd kneeled down to pick up these fragments of gold spread across the school’s dusty hallway. I remember kneeling down and picking up a handful of these golden crosses. I stared at them and wondered, “how did this kid my age afford this chain?…What could I get for these pieces?…what does his family think about this chain?” While in the middle of my thoughts, he appeared before me still panting from the fisticuffs. He still had adrenaline flowing through him because he was trying to pick up these tiny crosses but his hands were shaking too much and he struggles to find his equilibrium and his damaged necklace. I generously extended my hand to him, passing him about five of these flattened and crushed little fragile crosses. He took them nodded agreeably as if to thank me and he went about his business, probably headed to the principal’s office or out of the school. The good old days of decency were over; the dark clouds were back and this time they were here to stay.

It was during middle school around 1996 that I was thoroughly introduced to the darker side of Hip-Hop music. I was turned onto Bone Thugs-n-Harmony’s Thuggish Roughish Bone and Mr. Ouija. I remember the macabre intros and preludes on the E. 1999 Eternal album as I hid in my room at night, listening to this music that I knew my parents would not approve of. I still remember the lyrics, “more money, more money, more murda…now.” The rhythmic and harmonious flows of Bone Thugs-n-Harmony were choral and yet paradoxically demonic. It was the demonic side of the music that both intrigued and frightened me. Ironically, I was entering the phase of adolescence where young men deny their fears and assert their masculine identities in more forceful ways. I forced myself to enjoy these feelings as I graduated from Bone Thugs-N-Harmony to the Notorious B.I.G.’s Ready to Die.

The introduction to the Ready to Die album was incredibly powerful, chilling and unforgettable to an impressionable and curious 13 year old mind. It was as if a motion picture was being displayed in the depths of my cerebral cortex, with a vividness High Definition has yet to capture. I remember feeling the same uneasiness and mixed feelings I had from hearing Eazy-E’s skit years prior. Nonetheless, it was time from me to hear these voices from the street that were supposed to be speaking for and to me. So…I listened…and listened…and listened. The lyrics began to make more sense to me as I tried to understand the changing times in the Unites States. I was realizing that the world was a tough place, where the fierce were respected, feared and dominant. The New York Knicks represented this on the basketball court, while Johnnie Cochran, the lead of the O.J. Simpson defense team represented this in the court of law. It seemed as if Hip-Hop culture was fighting back. The days of apologetics and political rallies were over. It was an era of black animosity, animosity towards society, the police and each other. This animosity manifested itself in a feud between the Notorious B.I.G and Tupac Shakur. This feud sparked a bicoastal war of words that seemed to further validate the need for young people to be fierce and aggressive. The music represented this as the artists and groups that captured our attention shifted towards those telling stories of the dark side. Gone were the likes of Kris Kross, Heavy D, Run DMC, Queen Latifa and even Naughty by Nature. In their place rose artists and groups like, the Wu-Tang Clan, Mobb Deep, Nas, Master P, Capone-N-Noreaga, Jay-Z, UGK, Big Pun, D.M.X and others. This movement of Hip-Hop music and culture towards a more aggressive, criminality laced and hardcore style of music tragically served as the backdrop for the deaths of Hip-Hop’s two most influential stars, Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G., who were murdered in 1996 and 1997 respectively. This was once again one of the emotional moments when Hip-Hop’s darker side was all too real and I wondered if things were ever going to change.

It was these interactions with Hip-Hop that allowed me to begin to recognize that although the era of yesteryear was gone, the roots of Hip-Hop were still alive in the music if I listened hard enough. I found that there was a balance between the dark side and the light of love in Hip-Hop and that I had to find a balance that spoke to me and my soul. I found the light of love in the music of Lauryn Hill, Dead Prez, Mos Def, The Roots, Talib Kweli but now I had the maturity and understanding to begin extracting life lessons and experiences from the dark side as well. I realized that the harder side of Hip-Hop, although dangerous and controversial, was just as insightful as the overtly positive side. I had finally found a balance, a yin and yang that would continue to guide me through the 2000s allowing me to never get too deep into the conscious stream but likewise never too deep into the streets or too commercial.

Hip-Hop music and culture has definitely played fundamental role in shaping and informing my experiences. It has served to uplift me, fight for my rights, encourage me and educate me but it has also served to scare me, warn me and inform me about the pitfalls and character flaws of men and women. I am thankful for both the divine and demonic elements of Hip-Hop, which have informed me about the duality of existence, the hypocrisy of man and the power of our ability to define ourselves through our own words.

Magnetic Vol. 1 by Sokstar

Music & Hip-Hop

Magnetic Vol. 1 by Sokstar

Official Newness

Sokstar, the impeccable musical talent, does it again with this album released from all the way from Japan. His music selections and arrangements highlight his ability to hear and feel the music in a soulful way. Not to mention, his ability to mix these soulful cuts in a harmonious manner so you can just keep enjoying. Sokstar mixes Soul, Funk, RnB, Jazz tracks from decades past that are at the foundation of Hip-Hop . If you are a fan of these genres you’ll love his albums. If you you are a Hip-Hop head you are going to not only going to love Magnetic Vol. 1! but you are going to get an musical education no where it all started. This is not just entertainment, it’s as KRS-One would say, its “edutainment.” Download the SoundCloud app on your smartphone and take it on the go or listen to it free on the web at SoundCloud. Enjoy!