Thursday, October 23, 2008
Voices of The New Majority :: A Southern Son Finding A New Life
Photo Courtesy B-Fresh Photography
You look up and this cat is smiling at you. He's wearing a red shirt and his eyes are hidden behind shades, another rapper on the grind. He's here now in Las Vegas, where gaudy wealth and brutal poverty exist side-by-side, and a million simulations of the American dream are on sale around the clock. He's got a CD, and it's called "My America." He introduces himself. Some rappers name themselves after heroes, villains, cartoons. His name is a simple fact. Nov 27, his date of birth. It's the only thing he's sure of.
He was born James Price, in Little Rock, Arkansas, 28 years after nine African American students desegregated Central High School, 21 years after the Civil Rights Act was passed. When he was born, when Bill and Hillary Clinton were still in the State Capitol and Little Rock's civil rights traumas were about to give way to gang-land traumas.
Nov 27 grew up all over town. "I didn't really have a stable home from time to time year to year," he says. His parents were still trying to live the party life. So he moved all over town to stay with grandparents, aunts, other relatives.
"When you're not in a stable environment, you can't adapt fully. You can never feel like you're safe."
He adds, "I was kinda homeless for a little bit, I had to deal with surviving on the streets when I was young. That made me learn how to survive through my mind. That's where rap comes from—surviving from the mind."
Some of his kin were Bloods, so he was too. Then, at 14—the year he began thinking of rapping seriously, the year he started hearing Cash Money and Busta Rhymes and Snoop and Dre in a whole new way—he found himself at a new school on the north side of town, the Black Disciples' and Gangsta Disciples' side of town. It was, he says, "the beginning of my troubles."
Wearing a red cap sideways to school one day, he was surrounded by 30 cats in black or blue. They told him they didn't like the way he was wearing his hat. He wouldn’t back down so he got beat down.
"That's just some of the stuff teens go through out here on the streets," he says.
"It's like, you can't surrender, you don't want to be considered a punk because these cats want you to throw your rag down or abide by their rules cause it's their side of town."
After two years of banging, he says, "I came to the realization I got to do something better. I can't indulge in this nonsense to where it could lead to the end of my life. There was times when I was like the only one representing for the gang that put me down. And I got these so-called homeboys? They weren't down. So it was like, what's the use? I got no backup."
His family sent him to Austin, Texas to cool out for a couple of years. And he did. But when he returned to Little Rock, back this time to a Blood neighborhood, trouble still seemed determined to stalk him.
"I was at a security job at Pacific Railroad. Friday night. I was gonna go holla at my homeboy. Something was telling me just stay home. I guess that was my conscience. 'Just stay home, just stay home.' 'Naw man, it's Friday I'm trying to see what's up with the night.'"
"I'm walking down the street. I see six cats over there approaching me like, 'What up?' I didn't say nothing to 'em, I kept walking. They surrounded me. I'm thinking I'm gonna have to squab with them cause they around every angle. I'm trying to get ready, see who's gonna make the first move. Then I hear clink-clink, paw-paw-paw-paw."
Bullets pierced his stomach and his arm. As he lay on the ground he wondered, "What did I do to deserve this?"
His wounds weren't fatal. But his emotions were a riot. "I went through my pain with that, my anger, my frustration. Listened to my conscience. I didn't retaliate because that just would have been another dead person on the street."
"That's pretty much what Little Rock go through, man."
The violence didn’t end. A short time later, a group did a drive-by on his house. He was 20, had been shot 4 times in his own neighborhood. He knew he had reached the bottom.
"So I just went to sleep, and I woke up. That was a sign. Like, hey I'm still alive. After that, that was the turning point. I was like, 'I ain't finna be around here in this death trap.'"
He left for Austin for good. Got a job, rented an apartment, got back on his feet. Started rapping again, made contacts in the industry. He joined up with a group called Mafia Mob. He was searching for something.
Nov took a job as an elections clerk and was awed by the intensity of the Democratic primary caucuses. He started noticing how his neighborhood on the east side of Austin was becoming gentrified. He got interested in community events. He was going to one—a Department of Justice hearing on community policing—in the fall of 2007 to give a statement when trouble found him again.
As he was crossing the street, two whites stared him down and starting shouting at him. He stopped. They got out of the car. From behind his shades, Nov 27 told them, "I'm not trying to fight but I'll defend myself." They started scrapping.
When the police came, they took the two white men aside. They slammed Nov faced down on the asphalt. The men told the police Nov had thrown rocks at their car and challenged them to a fight. But when Nov tried to say that was a lie, they handcuffed him, pulled his shirt over his face, and took him to jail, charging him with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.
But this time, the trouble ended up different. Nov landed an attorney, Kenavon "K.C." Carter, who took the case. After watching the police video, the judge offered to dismiss the charges dropped if Nov would stay out of trouble for 6 months. That wasn't going to be a problem this time. Carter took Nov to more community events, brought him to Las Vegas for the National Hip-Hop Political Convention.
So now this cat is standing in front of you. He's told his story. Behind his shades, his mind is spinning. He is meeting people he never would have met before, he is seeing possibilities he never would have seen before.
"In my raps, I try to tell people we don't have to blame nobody for our oppression because that leads to hating. That's where rap plays a role, it can relieve tension and bring people together," he says.
"Change can be a positive thing," he adds. "Bullets went through me but they didn't kill me, man. It's like I'm resurrected, a new me now."
Behind his shades, it seemed clear he was getting closer to what he was looking for. A tribe. A cause. Something to believe in, something that might last past tomorrow.
posted by Zentronix @ 3:23 PM
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