I’m sure you all have heard: on May 23, 2014, 22-year-old Elliot Rodger killed seven people, including himself, and injured thirteen more. The attacks occurred near the campus of University of California Santa Barbara, and resulted in four different crime scenes. He began by stabbing his male roommates, shooting three women outside a sorority, then preceded to drive around town, firing at random pedestrians. Rodger’s motives were clearly articulated in his now widely circulated manifesto, My Twisted World: The Story of Elliot Rodger. This manifesto documents his history of disturbed thinking, on matters such as sex, women, identity, money, power and self-worth, and reads as a chilling narrative of our deeply disturbed culture.
Misogyny plays a large role in Rodger’s disturbed worldview; this killing spree is an extreme manifestation of what happens daily to women in America. Violence against women is not a myth. Violence against women is not part of some “liberal agenda.” Violence against women is something we can no longer ignore—it is a reality faced by over half this country’s population that is leading to the degradation of our culture. We can no longer live in a world where our mothers, sisters, and daughters walk the street, plagued with fear, unsure if danger lurks around the corner. Women are the givers of life and should be respected accordingly, not reduced to oversexualized images of flesh that men are “entitled” to.
It has taken several weeks, but after a long battle in court, a federal judge has declared and refused to issue an injunction against the land owners of 5 Pointz that would have prevented them from bulldozing a graffiti mecca in order to build luxury high-rises. Last night, a whitewash went up, and nearly 30 years of New York City’s most prominent graffiti art was destroyed.
The 5 Pointz Art Center, which is named as such because it’s a symbol for NYC’s five boroughs coming together, was an outdoor art exhibit in Queens, which is often cited as the world’s premier collection of graffiti art. Covering over 200,000 sq. feet of factory walls, 5 Pointz was a beacon for graf artists, global murals and it was a New York City staple. Most importantly however, it was one of the strongest beacons for hip-hop.
Often times I look at the environment in which I was raised and the environments in which I’ve taken part in throughout my life. I look for contributing factors related to behavior, I try to study examples of nature verses nurture and I assess correlations between overall behavior and normalcy of individuals within a certain institution. I do this to not only understand regional differences, but also to learn more about myself and what I am still yet to learn.
The Wire is an American drama that ran from 2002 to 2008 on HBO. The series is set in the city of Baltimore, Maryland, and was created by David Simon, a former Baltimore police reporter. The show focuses on many aspects of Baltimore and the typical American city, and its reoccurring trait is that it focuses on institutions and the people that are committed to them. The Wire’s portrayal of America is not only a reflective piece of our country’s society, but also an in-depth connection to hip-hop, as it tackles the constraints on the lower class, oppression from outside forces, the fight against corruption and the withstanding notion of fighting for peace and change.
The Left (Apollo Brown, Journalist 103, DJ Soko) Gas Mask
The Left consists of Apollo Brown, Journalist 103 and DJ Soko. I feel compelled to lay this out on the forefront right away, because if these three names aren’t showcased, then Gas Mask and its ability to showcase collaboration will go right over your head. See, without each fundamental piece, Gas Mask fails immensely. On the beats, Apollo Brown throws down robust production that melds haunting samples with industrial backbeats. Journalist 103 compliments the beats by running parallel beside them, and DJ Soko throws in cuts that enhance the track and engage the listener. Beyond this, Gas Mask is a record that throws hip-hop survival in your face. With an ever-changing Detroit, The Left prove that they’re the “status of legends” by sticking with the environment and preaching their experiences at every turn.
“Chokehold” is an immediate example of this. It cruises sonically, with swelling horns and stretched vocal samples, and on top of this, Journalist 103 and Paradime lyrically shape the track to their liking. There’s a definitive difference between their styles, but both of them manage to stay on top of Apollo’s production with ease. The breakdown in “Chokehold” is the most impressive feature however, where the horns march accordingly until the breakbeat kicks in and the MCs grasp the mic. “Only a few can ride beside me,” Journalist 103 slings. “I rep the home of big Proof and Dilla that’s where you’ll find me.”
Apollo Brown’s distinct sampling techniques and percussion production may seem tedious at times, but that’s part of what makes Gas Mask such a cohesive record. “Caged Birds” clatters with open hi-hat smacks; “Battle Axe” expands organ synths and compounds them with drilling bass throbs that intimidate; and “Real Detroit” shows off Brown’s ability to create symphonic masterpieces.
The guests on Gas Mask are more than just respectable MCs made to fill a record; they’re imperative to its success. From Guilty Simpson to Frank West, the “extras” on this record enhance its sound and improve it beyond normal means. On “Statistics,” a song that poignantly thrashes the “stat game” of America, guest MC Invincible lays down one of the most impressive verses on the whole record. “So free your mind up, this is a reminder / The United States incarcerates more than they do in China / We only 5 percent of all the world’s pop but / It’s 25 percent of all the world’s locked up / So I wonder how to break the cycle will it ever stop? / If we see people as numbers than we make them check a box.”
If Gas Mask is the best hip-hop record Detroit’s made in the last five years, then I really wouldn’t mind. At times, this record seems stressed, but when looking at the bigger picture, that’s exactly what The Left had intended. Gas Mask is the fight, the struggle, the liveliness and the celebration of Detroit, and very rarely does ANY record accomplish such a feat regarding its given city.
Released by Mello Music Group in 2010, Gas Mask, by The Left is made up of Apollo Brown, Journalist 103 and DJ Soko. This recordbegins with the classic hip-hop intro track. There is the sound of static and it sounds as if a radio dial is being shifted from station to station. From there we are thrown right into the fire on the first full-length cut, “Gas Mask,” where Journalist 103 describes the state of mainstream hip-hop. Over a flawlessly crafted Apollo Brown track complete with horns and trademark kick drum and snare, Journalist 103 is off:
“I had a vision when I started spittin’ / To be a part of the hip-hop conglomerate amongst the illest / But right now it’s a real sickness, an epidemic of gimmicks is being spread through your sound system / Not everybody gotta dance, sing along with it / Just lean, snap and pop back and you’ll get it.”
As the album progresses, the realness of The Left continues to take shape. By the start of the third full-length song, “Binoculars,” Gas Mask emerges as an example of how the collaboration of artists can be used to create engaging content without sacrificing the message they wish to convey. In this case, The Left uses music to describe the city of Detroit, the status quo of popular music, profiling based on race and gender and how they process that experience.
From a production standpoint, Journalist 103 and a myriad of guest appearances from the likes of Guilty Simpson, Invincible, Marvwon and Hasaan Mackey flawlessly compliment the gritty, soulful style of Apollo Brown’s beats. For instance, without the forceful, slightly irregular hi-hats, steady kick drum and splattering snare hits, the song “Statistics” would not be as impactful. With the beat, Journalist 103 and Invincible are able to go to work and tell the story of a man and a woman fighting to survive while facing the disastrous effects of stereotypes based on race, gender and socio-economic status. As it is stated at the end of 103’s verse, “Either the grave or the cell’s what I’m headed for / Cause based off of the statistics I’m prepared for it.” With Invincible’s verse, she tells the story of a woman reaching out for help”
“Every life has got about as much a chance of surviving the circumstances as guessin’ Joker’s coin flip / Made an appointment and she met up with the welfare / Office tried to get a bit of medaciad and healthcare / But they had jumpin through the hula hoops / To get some help is hard as tryin’ to pull a tooth / Her heart, it wasn’t bullet proof.”
These lyrics would be powerful regardless of the beat. However, their meaning is amplified by Apollo Brown’s ability to craft strong beats that accentuate the story the MC is trying to tell.
This is true of the entire album, making it an engaging and educational listen. The best part of this record is that it never gets boring. For me there is always something new that I didn’t catch the first time around. Besides that, the subject matter within the album is important to think about and attempt to change in our everyday lives. If you’re looking to hear some fire, think about something from a different perspective and suffer from whiplash from nodding to the beat that Gas Mask is for you.
“The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge natural to party dissention, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries, which result, gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an Individual: and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of Public Liberty.” –George Washington, September 19, 1796
With the recent verdict and acquittal of George Zimmerman regarding the shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, we have once again been thrown into the twirling ring of “true America”. Although the concord of the United States has proven itself at times in this country’s young history, we live in an age where George Washington’s grave prediction of a “frightful despotism” is hard to shake off. It’s not just the Zimmerman trial that has caused an eruption and desecration of our country’s whole either. Rather, it’s been a multitude of tragedies and events for centuries. At this point, how can we have a country where the government doesn’t trust the people, the people don’t trust the government and the people don’t trust the people? Why do we have to live in a constant divide? Now, of course America is not alone in this regard, but if we want to solidify our world as a whole (because our government thinks we should police this planet), we can’t be living in a country with blatant injustice thrown before our feet. The result of this injustice is the separation of our country, whether it’s regarding race, politics, religion or gender, and the suffering from this divide is immense.
The story revolving around Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman has represented so much depending on how you see it—this goes without saying that most people see this story representing multiple facets of its overall blueprint. For most, it’s been an issue about race, civil rights and racial oppression. For others, this story represents everything from the country’s legal system, to gun control laws and mainstream media, and if anything is to come out of this case unhinged from the start it’s that we are still a grossly divided nation: those fighting for Trayvon Martin, his family and justice in America are opposed by those who firmly believe Zimmerman acted in self-defense and nuts like Ann Coulter; those fighting for stricter gun laws and background checks are opposed by those who stand by today’s gun regulations and most likely own many firearms (three out of the six jurors in the Zimmerman trial are gun owners); and those fighting for blue states are opposed by those fighting for red ones.
To put this into a perspective that makes more sense these days, Unreal News Online has reported that last Sunday (24 hours after the Zimmerman verdict) Facebook experienced more blocking and un-friending than any day in its history. Says Mark Zuckerberg:
“Everybody had something to say about (Saturday’s) verdict. Charges of racism were thrown around at everyone. Tempers flared and a lot of connections and ties were severed. It was even worse than the day the Casey Anthony verdict was announced. It really makes you wonder what would have happened if Facebook were around in 1995 when the O.J. Simpson trial reached its conclusion.”
Although this is a small sample of the big picture, it nonetheless shows how we are at the core. Our division amongst each other and our government not only hinders the country’s ability to progress as a whole, but it clinically showcases our flaws. Most of the time, we as people tend to bash on the things that we hate rather than promoting what we love. I think, to speak realistically, we’re all susceptible to this flaw and it truly affects our overall being.
And yet, through all of the division and separation, anger and sadness, our country continues to amaze me.
If there’s a positive I can take from recent travesties such as the Trayvon story, the Oscar Grant shooting (Fruitvale Station is now out in theaters), the Marissa Alexander conviction, the highly unreported slaying of Jordan Russell Davis and the thousands of other stories that go unreported, it’s that these events have spurred the congealing of people from all backgrounds and cultures unified for a common cause. Just when I think the division among the people of this country has come to an all time high, rallies and protests in response to these tragic events have calmed me down, subtly reminding me that the good always outnumbers the bad.
Regarding the George Zimmerman verdict, much like the protests that spurred an investigation in the first place, people from all over the country have come together to resist the forces that continue to separate the people.
On Sunday evening in New York City, thousands gathered as part of a nation-wide movement to fight against injustice in the legal system and racial oppression.
New York City via AP
New York City via AP
Like New York City, protests all around the country connected thousands.
Milwaukee, Wisconsin via AP
Detroit, Michigan via AP
Seattle, Washington via seattlepi.com
Jacksonville, Florida via AP
The Trayvon Martin blackout protests and million hoodie marches have further shown me that our country is still a wondrous entity. For times I have forgotten just how immense and absorbing we all are. But to this I must ask why it takes a tragic or monumental event like this to bring us all together. A year from now, if things haven’t changed, will we continue to march upon the steps of Washington with words of protest? Or will we, like so many times before, step down until another saddening event throttles our emotions? Is this just human nature?
If we can take something like the Trayvon Martin story and demand change for our legal system and call for justice, we must learn how to do this without the wake of such an event. To continually fight means to never succumb and forever persist, and it’s with this where we must stand.
The common result among our country has been that one of the biggest injustices is that of the separation of our country, whether it’s among racial, religious, political, sexual or cultural grounds. From the Trayvon Martin story to the NYPD pat down service to the ridiculous bills being passed that are further trying to chip away at women’s rights, the core institution of the United States has divided us instead of celebrating the uniqueness everyone brings to this great country. We have, as citizens, joined together to fight these injustices and demand change, but we need to be more frequent. By doing this, our voice will constantly be heard, and we will never fall beneath the abyss. By doing this, we’re not only demanding change, but we’re shaping the future of our country and the way it’ll speak for generations.
In the 17 days since the beginning of the George Zimmerman trial, I have tried to keep in touch with everything that has been going on. Like millions of Americans, I’m invested in this case. From the very start of the Trayvon Martin story we’ve delved deep down into the rabbit hole of topics that range from race to national gun laws to Florida’s Stand Your Ground law. Out of all these topics—which are all important in their own right—I still can’t get over one simple thing: George Zimmerman, after being told not to follow someone he deemed “suspicious looking,” decided it was in his best interest to continue pursuing his target, which ultimately lead to a 17-year-old black male with Skittles and Arizona Tea dead on the grass with a bullet in his chest.
And yet, the more I think about this story, the more it isn’t surprising.
I’m sorry for such a pessimistic view on the nature, but if we look at some things—more specifically the slayings and unjust nature against young black youth and minorities in America—how are we at this point surprised by these events when our country is yet to progress? Need I mention Oscar Grant? Or what about Nicholas K. Pert’s riveting story about N.Y.P.D. behavior against black males in New York City? In a day and age where we are almost 50 years removed from Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech (August 28, 1963), it seems that our progression as a whole doesn’t even come close to what civil rights activists in the 60s had hoped for in a 50 year span.
So with that, this is why the George Zimmerman case and Trayvon Martin story are important. And although it’s far from being the only one worthy of discussion—it’s amazing how mainstream media will invest everything into a certain story without focusing on others as well—it’s the closest America as a whole will get to understanding the core issues of civil rights in the 24 hour news cycle.
Stakes is High
Maybe it’s because we’re in an age of technological advancement and online everything, or maybe it’s because news outlets realize the magnitude of this case, but everything in the George Zimmerman trial is being taped and broadcast. This itself is a beauty, because we as a nation don’t have to take a reporter’s word or script to pass judgment; we can literally sit at our television and watch this unfold. And maybe, just maybe, this will ease the aftermath.
See, the Casey Anthony case was stunning, and the Kermit Gosnell trial was frightening and just, but the George Zimmerman case is extremely important in that the verdict will extend far beyond the reaches of the courtroom. Whatever verdict is decided at the end of this trial, it is a guarantee that this won’t signify the end of the story. If taping the entire trial for people to follow and judge for themselves as it unfolds helps ease some, then this is needed. More importantly, getting this first-hand look at the trial gives us a sense of actually knowing the story from witnesses and accounts.
The trial itself, at least through the first 17 days, has been patchy on both sides. From the jury selection, to the opening statements, and to the witnesses, both the prosecutors and defense team have gone through each and every ring a case could possibly throw.
At the end of the jury selection, it was decided that six women would consist of the jury with four alternates (the jury only has six members because second-degree murder cases in Florida only call for six jurors). Five of those women are white, and one is Latina.
Now what does it matter if the six jurors are women and that five are white and one is Latina? Why should there be questions asked? Well, for one let’s look at this case: first, the Trayvon Martin shooting has and will always focus mainly on race, because the details behind the altercation make it so (George Zimmerman was a Latino and Trayvon Martin was a black teenager; Trayvon looked like a “punk” and was “suspicious”). Beyond this, the jury selection was chosen for the benefit of both the prosecutors and defense: the prosecutors agreed upon this jury because to them, women have that instinct that Trayvon was just a kid, and that this would stir feelings of “that could have been my son.” On the other hand, the defense team agreed upon this jury because they wanted to emphasize the fact that Trayvon was a black male wearing a hoodie, and that he looked “suspicious,” trying to evoke feelings in the jury that this kid could have been trouble if they were in the vicinity. From the very get-go this trial continued to play on stereotypes, no matter how big or small they were.
As the actual trial started to commence, it looked like the prosecutors were gaining the upper hand. The defense team began their opening statements with a distasteful “knock-knock” joke, and the opening statements made by assistant state attorney John Guy directly used George Zimmerman’s line he said on the phone that went like this:
“Fucking punks. Those assholes, they always get away.”
Guy later went on to say:
“Those were the words in that grown man’s mouth as he followed in the dark a 17-year-old boy who he didn’t know … Those were the words in that man’s chest when he got out of his car armed with a loaded semi-automatic pistol and two flashlights to follow on foot Trayvon Benjamin Martin, who was walking home from a 7-Eleven … Those were the words in that defendant’s head moments before he pressed that pistol into Trayvon Martin’s chest and pulled that trigger.”
After day one, it looked like justice would be swift and vigilant. It looked, at least during that very moment, that George Zimmerman was doomed for what he rightfully deserved: second-degree murder.
And yet, as the trial wore on, things started to get shaky. The prosecuting team’s witnesses thus far have failed to fully bring the information they were hoping for that would pin George Zimmerman. This is especially true with Rachel Jeantel, the 19-year-old friend of Trayvon Martin who was talking to him that night. Not only was it hard to understand her on the stand, she was also caught with providing misleading information and wrapping herself up in contradictions. Comparatively, other witnesses have only bolstered Zimmerman’s case for self-defense, claiming that Martin was throwing punches and Zimmerman was pinned.
So as we stand, 17 days later and still in the midst of this trial, here’s what’s important:
No matter what the verdict of this case is, remember: George Zimmerman was the one who decided to follow Trayvon Martin, even after being told not to by authorities. We still don’t know who started the initial fight, but this fact is important to retain.
Despite the prosecuting team’s disappointing run of witnesses thus far, remember Zimmerman’s quote from opening statements: “fucking punks. Those assholes, they always get away.”
At this point, it looks like a lot of the evidence is pointing towards a worthy case of self-defense by Zimmerman. Even more disheartening is that the chances of him being convicted of second-degree murder are slim. If anything, he will get charged for manslaughter and will likely get a reduced sentence. His chances of walking are still high.
Most important, no matter what happens, we as a community stand behind Trayvon Martin, his family and all of the similar injustices that plague not only our country, but our world as well.
Which leads me to this.
If you can remember way back towards the very beginning, you’ll remember that Zimmerman wasn’t even taken in for a crime. In fact, it was Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law that actually shielded him from such an event. It took protests, petitions, “million hoodie marches,” demonstrations ,vocal output and action to actually bring authorities around to arresting Zimmerman and charging him for second-degree murder.
One of the biggest groups behind Trayvon Martin and the calling for social justice was the hip-hop community. Not only were there demonstrations and peace talks, but also artists and MCs (both high on the spectrum and underground) were making dedication songs to a story that is all too familiar in the hip-hop realm.
“I’m pretty much not the one to be told that a trial is going to make everybody feel straight and clear … The obvious point is that this young man lost his life from an unjust situation, and it needs to be hammered home. That’s bottom line.”
In the same article, rapper Game goes on to talk about the historical relevance of the Trayvon Martin story:
“For some reason, people don’t think that they need any excuse to kill us, beat us, hit us, run us over, disrespect us or anything like that. This is just another reminder that stupidity still exists.”
And even going past race, hip-hop recognizes that this story touches so close to the community because Trayvon was only a kid. Chuck D’s wife, Professor Gaye Theresa Johnson points out:
“We’re talking about a grown armed man who shot an unarmed child, regardless of race.”
From the outpour and concerns, the hip-hop community has also unleashed a plethora of tribute songs. And although some are better than others, a situation like this shouldn’t be judged on musicality, but sincerity.
On Jasiri X’s song “Trayvon,” he raps over the fitting beat of “No Church in the Wild” to explain the event that took place. It’s a haunting tale, especially over the churning production of “No Church…,” but its Jasiri’s vocal cadence and lyrical detail that reinforces both strength and sadness regarding this story.
“He had just came up from Miami to see his daddy / Who knew such a great weekend would end badly? / In a place where you move because it’s safe for your family / When some people gotta have grown hate for your family.”
Alternatively, on “Date of My Death (Trayvon Martin),” Tahir Jahi tells about continual injustices and the fight “for whatever is left.”
“Sick of innocent getting wronged by the ignorant / Who will benefit from this medicine / Coming from my lungs to warn veterans please let them in / Fuck Democrats and Republicans I don’t care bout your publishing.”
“Made You Die,” a song by Dead Prez, RBG member mikeflo and Yasiin Bey, takes a more revolutionary approach and expresses that the Trayvon Martin shooting is the straw that broke the back.
“Cause we do the same thing expecting different results / I’m checking the vital signs but I ain’t getting no pulse.”
These are just a few examples, but from the hundreds of Trayvon Martin tribute songs, it’s a clear-cut sign that this story isn’t simply a resurgence in hip-hop awareness. Rather, it’s a sign that the problems that plagued the hip-hop community from the very beginning are still very much alive. Moreover, hip-hop has always been something representing that fight, or that something to fight for, and this 16 month story is putting that fight on the national spotlight.
The shooting of Trayvon Martin and the George Zimmerman trial are part of a bigger story. On the surface you have an unjust Florida law that allowed a grown-man to murder an unarmed boy. However, at the core you have bigger issues. There are issues on race, oppression, stereotyping and issues of our country’s growth in general. It’s been 50 years since the “I Have a Dream Speech,” and yet we as a whole are yet to fully embrace it. We have continued to see the slayings of innocent and unarmed minorities (especially the black youth), and we have continued to see the perpetrators let off unfairly. Despite the vast improvements we’re making as time goes by, it’s not enough. We need action.
When the story of Trayvon Martin first surfaced, it took action to have the Sanford Police Department even consider charging George Zimmerman. This action, which included the protests and marches, directly resulted in an arrest and a second-degree charge. Millions of people around the country, whether they were involved with hip-hop or ordinary citizens, took to the streets and voiced their say.
Likewise, in the 60s and 70s, Americans protested the Vietnam War with action. Citizens marched, musicians sang and artists unveiled works all for one common cause. More specifically, these times brought upon thousands of musicians coming together and demonstrating resistance and action through song. One such example is Country Joe McDonald’s “Feel Like I’m Fixing to Die”:
“And it’s one, two, three, what are we fighting for? Don’t ask me I don’t give a damn, next stop is Viet Nam. And it’s five, six, seven, open up the pearly gates, ain’t no time to wonder why, whoopee we’re all gonna die.”
These examples of action demonstrate one thing that must be recognized: unity. We cannot as people continue along our petty ways of indifference if we expect to see change. Furthermore, we need to march together for the bigger causes worth fighting for. Politicians need to stop fighting for “seats” and actually work together and listen to the constituents. Law enforcement needs to stop playing stats and work on bettering the country as a whole. News outlets need to spread attention to all the important stories and stop broadcasting from one side. Focus on education needs to start playing to the needs of the kids instead of standardized tests and statistics. People need to look past skin color, culture, gender, sexual orientation and religious affiliation when judging one’s character. And we as a whole need to realize hatred and injustice are a waste of time; life’s too short to be full of hatred.
We need to come together like so many cultures and people have come together in the past, and fight for these things. We need to come together like hip-hop did for Trayvon Martin. We need to express ourselves, not just vocally, but through art, discussion, workshops, demonstrations, protests and marches. If we don’t take action, we won’t see change.
Along with action, we also need hope.
Tweeting from court Tuesday, Trayvon’s mother Sybrina Fulton wrote: “Day 17 – Remember God gives His toughest battles to His strongest soldiers. Please know I can’t give up now, I’ve come too far. Continue to keep us lifted in prayer.”