Album of the Week: “The Ghetto Is Tryna Kill Me” by The White Mandingos

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The White Mandingos 
The Ghetto Is Tryna Kill Me
Fat Beats, 2013

Daniel’s Thought

If you look at The White Mandingos you will scratch your head. You will undoubtedly double-check the linear notes and re-read the names involved with the project. One-third of the group is Darryl Jenifer, the bassist for the hardcore fusion band Bad Brains; one-third is music journalist and creator of Ego Trip turned guitarist Sascha Jenkins; and one-third is MURS, the underground rap legend responsible for repping groups like FELT and Sunspot Jonz. The lineup is weird and it’s brain boggling, but the real backbone of this project is the music itself. The Ghetto is Tryna Kill Me is a record full of socially conscious knowledge-drops and well-rounded jokes, and as a whole this album is a service to critical thinking and the musical fusion of hip-hop and punk.

Hip-hop and punk fusion has happened before; think about the early Red Hot Chili Peppers records, Beastie Boys or Rage Against the Machine. However, very rarely do the hip-hop and punk mediums intertwine. It’s a shame really, because both genres possess similar stances (i.e. music representing something to fight for) and if it weren’t for a few continuing stereotypes surrounding these genres, we might have a lot more of this fusion happening. Not only do The White Mandingos continue this rarity, they attack the reasons why it’s so sparse: “Does this shit sound black? Does this shit sound white? Can’t it just be sound?”

In essence, this is what The Ghetto Is Tryna Kill Me revolves and rotates around: the pure notion of stereotypes. Yes, there are drops on politics and love, but if this record is looked at conceptually, then it is purely about racial neutrality and the surviving stereotypes of the 21st century. Even more so, this album is so self-critical and analytical concerning race it seems overdrawn at times, but that’s the whole point of The White Mandingos; this record throws these recurring topics at you from every angle so there’s no getting around the overall message.

On “Warn a Brotha,” rapper MURS talks about stereotypes over a rumbling bass that throttles the ears like a Black Flag cut: “I make big money, I drive big cars / These crackers never seen a nigga play the guitar / We selling out shows when the crew perform / They treat black rock bands like unicorns.”

Elsewhere, The White Mandingos reflect to the listener the black alternative class (“Black N White Revisited”): “I like The Cure, I like Depeche Mode / I love Big Pun and of course I respect Hov.”

The two most noticeable traits of The Ghetto Is Tryna Kill Me are that it’s a record keen on mixing the aesthetics of punk and hip-hop, and that it’s a self-reflective piece that focuses on racial stereotyping and equity. Moreover, the fact that this record is a punk/hip-hop hybrid plays right into the second trait of equity and stereotyping. By mixing these different sounds, The White Mandingos are breaking the bonds of stereotypes that limit artistic expansion. And although at times this album trudges too far off of the edge (like covering Minor Threat’s “Guilty of Being White”), the basis of this work is nothing but positive. In a way, The Ghetto Is Tryna Kill Me is an entertaining call-to-arms by a group with obvious influences and new creative outlets to unleash upon the world.

Gus’ Thought

Released a little over a week ago, The Ghetto Is Tryina Kill Me (TGITKM) by The White Mandingos takes on issues of race, sex, love, politics, black culture and white culture in the best, in your face way that one would expect from such a group. On TGITKM, Murs, Sacha Jenkins SHR and Darryl Jenifer join forces combining aspects of punk, rock, reggae and hip-hop on this inventive record. TGITKM is a conceptual album depicting the experiences of Tyrone White, an aspiring musician from Harlem, New York. With the storyline of Tyrone, The White Mandingos are able to artfully transition from poignant social commentary. Given the content of this record, TGITKM could not have been released at a better time given the circumstances surrounding the Trayvon Martin case and the shooting on Mother’s Day in New Orleans. This record serves as a reminder that in our “progressive” 21st century society there is still much work to be done in the realm of social advancement and racial equity.

TGITKM begins with the title track of the album, “The Ghetto Is Tryna Kill Me,” the most “hip-hop” sounding song on the record. Moving back and forth between a phat 808 beat, live drums and explosive power chords, Murs delivers compelling lines such as, “A black President, just ain’t enough for me/ 400 years of oppression, that’s tough homie” and, “Independent, militant and I’m makin’ money/ I’m like the Panthers, but a fortune 500 company.” On the second track, “Black N White Revisited,” the group takes on our ridiculous societal needto classify and compartmentalize people based on the color of their skin. Over a heavy syncopated drum beat and guitar, Murs asserts, “They say that rock’s white, they say I walk white/ They say a lot of shit, they even say I talk white/ Cause I like to say ‘like, stoked and dude.” Murs continues his diatribe with, “I’m a walking contradiction cause I don’t speak Ebonics or some contrived diction/ I speak in sentences, I am literate/ Sorry, I don’t fit a category for you idiots/ I am just me, you should adjust you/ And if you can’t understand that, fuck you!” In their delightfully unapologetic approach, The White Mandingos are expressing their contempt for a society that pigeonholes people into biologically non-existent categories that are framed in the language of a racist past. Furthermore, they take on the devastating need for people to stereotype other people based on a socially constructed idea of race. They continue with this style of commentary as the album progresses while telling the story of a biracial couple and providing their opinion on the hot topic of abortion.

On “My First White Girl,” the group layers guitar feedback, drums and walking bass line under Murs as he speaks from Tyrone’s experience of being a black male dating a white girl. On this track, cultural differences are touched on in a truthful, humorous and melancholic manner. Lines such as “On Sunday she would make me vegan food/ Lot’s of other shit I’d probably never be into,” “When we’d travel I’d be the only black person/ Except the gay best friend, he was half Persian,” “She used the word cock, I never heard that” and “She told me, ‘Don’t believe the white lies, my dick was no bigger than a white guy’s” debunk the social norms and stigmas that allow our highly racist and divided culture to endure. This is most notably illustrated on the hook where it is explained, “And she truly was the apple of my eye, never wanted her to ever leave my side/ Miss America, American as apple pie/ My first white girl, her first black guy/ Pure love sent from the most high/ Racist bullshit came from both sides/ My homies used to say she wasn’t that fly/ My first white girl, her first black guy.” Next time you read an article questioning the validity of biracial couples and/or love, bump this.

The same should be said the next time you watch the news and they talk about abortion. The twelfth track, “I Like You” puts Tyrone in sticky situation, as his girl is now pregnant as a result of some unprotected sex. The group does a perfect job of capturing the initial fear, anger and panic of Tyrone and his girlfriend as adulthood is suddenly thrust upon them. They also do an excellent job of addressing the politics wrapped up in accidental pregnancies. It is decided that they should at least explore the option of an abortion. In the second verse, in my opinion the best verse of any released in 2013 thus far, they decide to go to a clinic where they will weigh their options. Outside the clinic, there are pro-life protestors that are jeering them as they walk up. At this point in the verse Murs describes the confrontation he has with one of the protestors and goes on to deliver the best lines of the entire album; “Now we might wanna do it just to spite you, makes me wonder if your God even likes you/ See, I might disagree with what she might do but it’s her choice and she should always have the right to/ But you never heard of women’s lib, it’s the right-wing conservative/ Bombs over the Middle East, the only time we should murder kids/ See, you can teach to protest with your picket signs and get pushy/ But honestly, your politics have no place in a woman’s pussy.” At a time when women’s bodies are as politicized as they’ve ever been, this could not be said at a better time.

With The Ghetto Is Tryna Kill Me, The White Mandingos cover a lot of ground. They provide vital social commentary regarding race, abortion, love and politics that is much needed in a society that was founded and functions on the basis of bigotry, ignorance and stereotypes. There are those that would say that since the Supreme Court ruling in Brown V. The Board of Education in 1954, Roe V. Wade in 1973 and the ratification of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that we have made leaps and bounds in the realm of equality and social justice. There has most certainly been progress as evidenced by the election of Barack Obama. However, the next time you read that racism is over or someone tells you that people don’t stereotype based on race anymore, put this album on full blast.

Must-Listens

“My First White Girl”

“Mandingo Rally”

“The Ghetto Is Tryna Kill Me”

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