by Darryl Roberstson
“Give it up, D,” Baby Love said with his left hand around my neck. He used his right hand to press the blade of his knife into my neck. Not hard enough to draw blood, but hard enough to make me believe that he would.
I went into survival mode and left the near death situation alive. I fought the guy off, however, he got what he wanted from me. And fortunately, the next time I saw Baby Love — exactly one week later — I didn’t have a gun. Had I’d been packing that day, anything could’ve happened. Because of my life and surroundings during that time sometimes I carried a weapon. However, that particular day all I had were my fists, a 4X4 and one of my partners from my ‘hood. From that day on, Baby Love and I had an understanding; I was a man to be respected. And while I didn’t have any further incidents with the goon, other problems lingered in my life. I became more aggressive, and my heart turned colder.
This isn’t an uncommon occurrence in the ghettos of the world, though. Children who come from dysfunctional homes and poverty often experience mental and physical abuse — and witness violence on a regular basis. I was twelve-years old the first time I saw someone take a bullet. The incident made me paranoid and defensive. I’ve even seen men get tied up and thrown in the trunk of a car until they gave up money. Seeing such atrocities and knowing that it could very well happen to anyone living in my neighborhood didn’t leave me with any desire to show weakness.
This is how petty issues such as looking at someone the wrong way, accidentally bumping into someone or walking down the wrong block can lead to senseless violence — especially in low income black and Hispanic communities. From my experiences in marginalized areas, disrespect isn’t tolerated because of the distrust that plagues ghettos. We’ve seen simple words lead to deadly incidents, so we develop a shoot first, ask questions second mentality.
In our deteriorating communities, we’ve seen our childhood friends and neighbors lose their lives over nothing. On top of all this, the police patrol our ‘hoods and harass us, and racially profile us — an issue that Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor recently addressed. All of this produces internal aggression, and ultimately leads to outbursts of violence. And aggression.
For years there’s been a connection between crime and poverty, yet it seems that nothing is done to combat the connection. So, in areas where children are under-educated or uneducated, underemployed or unemployed, the crime rates are significantly higher than other areas. Add to that, the high rate of untreated mental health issues, and there’s a proven recipe for disaster.
This is nothing new. In fact, the first census (1890) that measured the African American generation born after slavery juxtaposed crime and poverty and blacks. The same juxtaposition was made in tenements where immigrant whites lodged.
No one wakes up and says, ‘I want to sell drugs for a living,’ or ‘I want to commit crime for a living.’ There’s a myriad of social, community, family, neighborhood, and even government issues that contribute to crime in America, especially in Black neighborhoods.
Along with the aforementioned factors, you are also dealing with young men who are clueless to the fact that there’s life outside of the ghetto. And I know this because there was a long period of my life when I had no idea that I could go to college and pursue a career as a writer — and history professor. Yes, I knew universities existed. But no one told me that I could go to college. And no one where I’m from went to college. So, it wasn’t real.
For years I thought that I’d be confined to a life as a drug dealer, a prison number or just a regular man holding down a 9-5. It took a life-changing event—which I’m not comfortable discussing here—for me to decide to pursue a real career outside of the streets. My thought process in doing this was gradual. My way of thinking didn’t change overnight. It also took me losing friends and associates to prisons, and death, to fully change my way of thinking.
To a ghetto kid who doesn’t see a promising future, respect amongst his peers is paramount. Respect makes those irreverent to America, relevant in their ‘hood. Even myself. Prior to my transformation, I was nothing more than a gun toting ‘hood cat ready to die for my respect.
Which brings me to Troy Ave and the fiasco at New York City’s Irving Plaza on May 25th. This unfortunate incident left Ronald McPhatter, a.k.a. B$B Banga, dead and three others wounded—including Troy Ave. Also, the Brooklyn rapper ahs been charged and indicted on charges of attempted murder and criminal possession of a weapon — likely destroying a rap career that he built from the ground up.
Now, in no way am I defending Troy Ave’s actions because this is a horrible situation for everyone involved. However, I do understand Troy Ave’s mindset. He’s just a regular ghetto boy who has yet to get rid of his way of thinking that tells him not to accept disrespect under any circumstance. His entire life, Troy — like many other rappers and regular ‘hood kids — live with an unbending attitude picked up from their environment and all the poverty, government rules , police harassment and lack of education (often inexperienced teachers are hired to teach at underfunded schools with marginalized students). Troy Ave isn’t the first rapper to get in trouble for not being able to shake his way of thinking after making it out of the ‘hood.
Back in 2001, Jay Z plead guilty to stabbing record executive Un Rivera, and received three years probation. Shyne received a ten-year sentence for assault, reckless endangerment and gun possession back in 1999. Fourteen years ago, Styles P served eight months in prison for stabbing a man, and the list goes on.
Violence and crime are results of several issues such as poverty, lack of resources, psychological and physical abuse among other issues. Money and resources can fix or alleviate most of these issues. This is one of the reasons why rappers talk about selling drugs — because their parents are underemployed or unemployed and can’t make ends meet. So, they look to the drug trade. But that’s another story.
What one has to understand is that some rappers really are from the streets. And their aggression comes from a real place. The important thing to take from the Troy Ave situation is to understand that he wasn’t born a “gangsta.” No one is. It’s your environment that shapes who you will become. What do we expect from a child from the ghetto?
Since finding my passion for hip-hop journalism and academia, I’ve learned that there is no in-between. I can’t walk the tightrope between chasing my dreams, yet holding on to a destructive thought process that I picked up from my ‘hood. I have a purpose to fulfill now. Fulfilling a purpose is worth much more than showing my old neighborhood that I’m still the same knucklehead Darryl from South 5th Ave in Laurel, Mississippi.
The same goes for rappers who come from similar backgrounds as I have. Once a rapper inks a record deal, or becomes nationally known from his independent label, he’s now in a position to exit the lifestyle that he or she used to live. And that’s the goal: to get money to get out of the ghetto, and develop a new way of thinking about life.