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.

That Ain’t Gangster…That’s Mental – The Philly SEPTA Bus Shooting

Education, Mental Health, Uncategorized

That Ain’t Gangster…That’s Mental

The Philly SEPTA Bus Shooting

On June 18, 2011 in Philadelphia an incredibly brazen shooting took place and it was all caught on tape. I was recently made of aware of this shooting and after seeing this video I just need to say the following about the young men who pulled out their guns in broad daylight to shoot at someone they did not know on a public bus. Here is the clip. Read more of my thoughts on it below.

My immediate comment about the shooting was, “That ain’t gangster…That’s mental.” For me, this case highlights the psychology of a specific segment of the urban community, who actually perpetrate the majority of the violence in our community. The mindset is ‘don’t disrespect me or my peoples…or I will get violent!’

I can imagine these shooters receiving recognition and street credibility in their neighborhood for their propensity for committing violent acts and the recklessness with which they talk about those acts. I can also imagine the feelings of empowerment that they have when they get their hands on handguns and assault riffles. They feel powerful, able to control others and enact their own personal version of justice whenever or wherever they see fit. I can imagine some of kids in the neighborhood, idolizing these two men for being ‘real’ and ‘thorough’ because no one but the cops messes with them. I can even imagine how some kids will even admire and glorify what these two did.

The reality though is that you just shot at someone for what? A comment your friend found offensive? You just put your freedom on the line for what? To demonstrate that no one is going to disrespect you and yours? That ain’t gangster by any stretch of the imagination it actually a sign of some deep seated emotional and psychological issues.

To be gangster for some young people means the absence of fear. To not be afraid of hurting someone, being hurt, going jail or dying young. I understand that this type of ‘gangster’ psychology is developed after years of surviving in economically, educationally, and spiritually deprived and oppressed environments but this type of thinking is a problem that our community and leaders need to better address. We cannot rely upon the criminal justice system to rectify this type of thinking after the crimes have been committed and consequences handed down.

I want to make a point that the same people who boldly claim to not be afraid of anything are indeed afraid of many things. They are afraid of being rejected by society so they opt to gain acceptance from the underbelly of society, the streets. They begin to adopt the thoughts and behaviors of those who are involved in criminality and other anti-social activities. They begin to care less about spirituality, education, health, legal employment and most importantly their futures. Money, clothes, guns, drugs, women and other trappings of success on the streets become a salve to heal their wounded egos.

I have heard this quote numerous times and it applies to this situation, “hurt people…hurt people.” There are so many people who have been hurt, whether it be from parental abandonment, divorce, abuse, neglect, poverty, death of a parent or sibling, the incarceration of a parent, relative or friend and the list goes on. Of course all human beings have been hurt to some degree but most human beings do not fire off bullets at a public bus over an argument. The reason they do not is because they have generally had some type of positive support systems in their life that have helped them along the way and helped them find ways to heal and cope with life’s hardships. However, many young people from rough backgrounds do not have the necessary supports and many have heavy emotional and psychological scars that they have never learned to deal with. These are the young people most vulnerable to fall victim to finding their self worth and self esteem through criminality on the streets.

There needs to be a greater emphasis placed on mental health  in our communities. The word ‘mental health’ for many is synonymous with being psychotic and this is a fallacy that needs to be remedied. I explain to people that the core meaning of the term mental health is, “the health of…the mind.” A person’s mind is obviously not healthy if it allows them to commit an act like the SEPTA bus shooting in June. There needs to be dynamic and new approaches to saving and rehabilitating people struggling to make healthy decisions in life other sending them to criminal justice system. These two men would likely have never walked into a community based mental health provider without being court ordered to do so. They also would not  likely have invested in whatever therapies that would have been recommended and that is quite understandable given the stigma that ‘mental health’ has.

There needs to be a new model for mental health that deals specifically and effectively with this type of ‘gangster’ psychology. People need to reach out to this neglected and demonized segment of our community with compassion and empathy before offenses are committed and people are condemned. One young man is doing just that through his writings, YouTube channel, Facebook and community involvement. His name is Supreme Understanding. He has published a number of powerful books directly speaking to the experiences of young African American and Latino men and women living in urban environments. His books are designed to educate, awaken and provide ‘real’ advice about the issues affecting our lives. The greatest thing about Supreme Understanding’s work is that it is unapologetic and highly practical. Supreme Understanding  writes the book using not only the language of the intellectual but also the language of the streets. He utilizes his own story of growing up in the streets and his past life to connect with readers. His books have been well received from the streets and jails to the college dorm rooms. Supreme Understanding is not trying to win the respect of academia but he is producing some of the most innovative and effective solutions to the problems  young urban men and women are experiencing. He is leading a whole generation away from the pitfalls of the streets and teaching them how to win. Had the two shooters have read his book, How to Hustle and Win, they would have realized that shooting up the SEPTA bus like they did “Ain’t gangster.”

I would be happy to hear any ideas and exchange thoughts. So post a comment, send a Tweet or just share the article with your friends. Below you will find links to Supreme Understanding’s works.

A Must See Film – The Interrupters


“Violence is Like a Disease”

Today The Interrupters Film premieres in Chicago. Visit to find out when it premieres in your city. If you work in a school or with young people, consider getting an educational license to screen it yourself. Contact them at the link above.

There is a serious problem with violence in every major city in our nation. Chicago happens to be arguably one of the violent cities in our nation and possibly the world. Check out the trailer above, get inspired and go and find a screening and bring a friend. It is time to interrupt the cycle of violence claiming the lives of our young people!

The Interrupters