This is the second part in the exclusive two-part Black History Month: A Convict's Perspective by X-Raided, for the Amoeblog Black HIstory Month series. The first part, posted a little earlier and found immediately below this Amoeblog, is an essay that I invited longtime incarcerated Sacramento rapper Anerae "X-Raided" Brown to pen on what Black History Month means to him from where he sits: the California State Penitentiary in Coalinga. This part is a Q&A with him.
Due to the prison recently being on lockdown, both this interview (via mail) and his insightul essay on what Black History Month means to him, took longer to get done than initially anticipated. But such is the plight of living a life behind bars, something that Anerae addresses in both of these engaging Black Hisotry Month Amoeblogs which might be a little long but are well worth taking the time to read.
Now 34 years of age, Brown has been incarcerated for half of his life, since the age of 17. From his early to mid teens in Sacramento, X-Raided had been an active member of the 24th Street Garden Blocc Crips gang -- even long before his first release came out. In 1992 he was arrested for his alleged part, along with several others, in the fatal shooting of Patricia Harris (the mother of a rival gang member). Brown has never denied being present at the shooting but has always maintained his innocence, in that he was not the one who pulled the trigger. Adhering to the unwritten "No Snitch" code of the streets, he would not tell cops who did pull the trigger. “I could have testified and gone home,” the rapper famously said in an interview at the time. “But I kept it real.” Hence, he is still incarcerated on murder conspiracy charges with a 31 year sentence. His first album, Psycho Active, came out in 1992 and made history when it was used in court against him, with authorities playing music from the indie rap album and also citing the cover art (the rapper's face with a .38-caliber handgun pressed to his temple --see below) as evidence in the case against Brown.
Since his incarceration X-Raided has managed to maintain his recording career and stay active as a writer and recording artist, some of it recorded over the telephone. Rather than rehash the case that led to X-Raided landing behind bars, I invited the always articulate artist, whom I have known from when he first got incarcerated, to contribute to the Amoeblog Black History Month series -- offering his insights from a convict's perspective. This he ably has done. The following interview was conducted via mail from Coalinga, California's Pleasant Valley State Prison with assistance from Elayne Brown of Bloc Star Entertainment.
AMOEBLOG: For those who don't know about you as an artist and your impressive recording output, can you give a brief overview of all of the recordings you have been involved in (including as a writer) over the years?
ANERAE: Well, I began recording with a DJ named Percy Hunter, who we called "P-Nutt" as a homeboy and "DJ Tantrum" as a DJ because he was always yelling at us for stealing his records! (laughs) I met Sicx shortly after that, through my cousin Nicole, and Sicx introduced me to Brother Lynch Hung. None of us had a name at the time, we were just circulating tapes In South Sacramento. Sicx and Lynch convinced me to hit an actual studio, Enharmonic, owned by John Botch. That was when we made what came to be Psycho Active -- me, Percy and Lynch at Enharmonic. Since then I've released five albums on Black Market Records, including Xorcist and Unforgiven 1.
I've released another six or seven on my own since then, including The X-Filez Volumes 1 – 3, Ignition with Loki, At AI I Costs- 20/20 Vision, and E- From the Block to the Booth. I've written songs for Lunasicc, Luni Coleone, and most notably for C-Bo, who was arrested for one of them, "Deadly Game," after it was alleged that the lyrics advocated violence against law enforcement officials. So not only was I among the first hip-hop artists to have their music and images attempted to be used against them In court, I also wrote the song that sparked debate about the violation of C-Bo’s right to freedom of speech after his arrest for recording my song.
AMOEBLOG: You began your path early in life, recording and releasing music while still only in your teens. Initially, who were your role models and inspiration to help you or inspire you to get started?
ANERAE: I'm going to be totally honest with you here. My role models were Crlp gang members. I used to freestyle for the homies in the 50's and the Cadillac apartments and they would tell me how good I was. One of them, named Old Man from PJ Watts, used to tell me that I was just as good as Ice Cube, who was the best at the time. My nephews' father, Big Tony, used to tell me to keep writing, to focus on music because he thought I was really good. Without them saying that, I never would have taken Percy seriously when he kept badgering me about doing some songs at his house. He had SP 1200's, a four track sampler. This 17 or 18 year old kid. I was barely 16. Once we started going to Enharmonic, BK from 29th Street Crip and Old Man from PJ Watts started giving me crack to sell in order to pay my studio time. It's crazy, in retrospect, but in the streets this was seriously love and respect, as warped as it may seem to some. They were trying to help me, trying to save my life, in the only way they knew how. The Micko Your, C-Bo's little brother, got involved and started paying for studio time and giving me dope to sell to keep money in my pocket while I wrote my songs. Micko tried to keep me out of trouble but I didn't trust him, so we never managed to pull it together. My musical influences were 1988 - 1991-era Ice Cube, NWA, Scarface and the Geto Boys, Naughty By Nature, and Digital Underground. Public Enemy, as well as BDP. I was listening to everything. Native Tongues. X-Clan. I am a hip-hop baby.
AMOEBLOG: From your experience, does Black History Month have any special meaning to the average black inmate where you are now?
ANERAE: No. There are not many enlightened men here. The ones who are speaking with intelligence and saying something positive in spite of their situations are special men. There are only one in a thousand, or fewer, and even then, they have to be educated and must mature themselves, before they can be assets. In this place, people make jokes of everything. We’re talking about an environment where everyone at one point of their lives [was an] idiot. There aren't that many who rise out of that, but there certainly are those who do, who have, and when you meet them, the difference can be seen, felt and heard immediately. You're more likely to get a quiet, solid conversation out of an older brother than anyone else. These youngsters are a mess. It’s hard to witness. More black OFFICERS come at me with comments about the state of black America. It is more real for them, they're making money, dealing with the economy, raising their kids, and they're watching all of us, black men who could be their sons, brothers, nephews, coming in and out of here. I imagine it has to be disturbing for some of them.
AMOEBLOG: Statistics show that black males make up only 7% of the total US population, yet 46% of the jail and prison population in the US is made up of black males. Do you think this unfair ratio will ever even out?
ANERAE: I think, first of all, we have to take responsibility for this, as black people, first and foremost. We have to repair the black family in this country. This begins and can end with the relationships between black men and black women, black men and whoever their baby mamas are, because we all know that's a black baby in the eyes of the world. We need to repair the relationships, repair the love, and then we can impact these stats. When you love something or someone, you wish them the best, you do for them the best. No one paying attention and seeing that their kid can't read would want to leave their kid at that disadvantage. We just aren't paying attention, or it's a situation where we can't read either, so we can't help to begin with. So it has to start somewhere, from the top, beginning with sincere love and respect for one another, and then moving into the realm of education. Then we’ll I have another set of huge obstacles to face, but at least you are aware you're facing them at that point, your eyes are open, you’re probing for a way in. So before the stats on black males making up these percentages of the US population and the prison population can even out, we need to even out how much love and education is in our homes versus other racial groups' homes. As parents, that's 100% on us.
AMOEBLOG: In your time behind bars, have you noticed any changes In the prison population In terms of age or race or crimes sentenced for?
ANERAE: We have the Three Strikes You're Out law, which was the subject of the song "Deadly Game" that I gave C-Bo. Because of that law, we have men riding sentences of 25 to life for burglary or other non-violent crimes and it's causing over-crowding. A guy who is an addict, who has been caught with felony amounts of crack twice, if he gets caught a third time, it's 25 to life. But he's an addict, and they aren't treating him, they're just locking him up. How can he change his life when no one is helping him change? They need to be in treatment facilities, not locked up with guys who are murderers and rapists, here in California. It's nonsensical. Then they lock kids up who obviously come from broken homes and didn't really have a good shot at life. These guys are 18 and 19 years old with 25 to life, cases they caught at 16 years old and were tried as adults. Can we save any of these kids? Can any of them be rehabilitated? And were they ever habilitated in the first place, for there to be a "re"? If they came from garbage and all they know is garbage, you are returning them to that by rehabbing them. They need to be programmed from scratch, but it's not happening. They'll teach them how to fix a car, an air conditioner and call it a vocation, but they don't teach them how to fix themselves.
AMOEBLOG: You have been incarcerated now for a significant chunk of your life and, to me, you have always seemed to be able to maintain a healthy and positive attitude-- something that many people in your position would not be able to do. What are the things that keep you focused and uplifted when you might feel otherwise?
ANERAE: When I was a kid, after my maternal grandmother died, my mom fell apart. She was devastated. I was left alone a lot. She made sure I had encyclopedias and dictionaries, books, pens and paper, and music. Lots of music and video games. But the solitude and having to fend for myself taught me how to handle my fear and anxiety. Whatever apprehensions I ever feel, I know that I have to survive regardless, because that is the basic human instinct. I know I am going to survive another day, and if not, well, it won’t matter then what I felt. Knowing the difference between perception and reality is the key. A lot of what we feel is based on perception, so I’m always trying to make sure I’m feeling the right thing for the right circumstance, asking myself why I feel something. "Why am I afraid?" The answer could save my life. "Why am I happy?" The answer can allow me to be happy about that again. I wasn't aware of this until after my incarceration, when I started introspecting and trying to figure out what was broken within me that allowed my life to get to this point, this place. I made peace with it. I didn’t have very good parents. I was not properly nurtured, monitored and cultivated. I was not properly educated.
A child doesn't get to pick its parents, that is arbitrary; your parents don't even pick you. So I made peace with that. At that point, it became an issue of, when all of the reason is stripped away, being a decent person, when even the expectation is gone-- that is when it's authentic. I am being a positive, focused person, being honest, because it is the right thing to do. The alternative is not my nature. I could choose to lose myself in barbarism, spew hatred and advocate violence, and people would say, "What do you expect?" That would be easy, but it would also be dishonest. This pain I feel is real. It is very much the appropriate feeling. I don't want to run from it. I know I am still human, because of it. I found my humanity because I found my pain, and its source. I am not sad that it exists, because it should exist, it is appropriate. So I can also be happy about other things when happiness is appropriate. I can feel peace, express positivity, because it is appropriate. When it gets hard and I don't know what else to do, I pray, I read. I realize that what I am going through is nothing compared to what other people are going through. I make sure that my perception of reality is as close to correct as I can possibly get it.
AMOEBLOG: How was the reaction to the election and recent inauguration of Barack Obama from where you are?
ANERAE: Through the process, people's prejudices began to show. Blacks wanted him to win because he's black. Some blacks said that he isn't even really black, because he's bi-racial. Whites cracked jokes, Mexicans went back and forth. Most everyone was confused about it. Maybe they weren't listening. The things Barack Obama has to say are the things I would have wanted to hear my father say to me, all of my life, and if I had heard that, I could have been an asset to my community by the time I became a young adult. For me, I don't know why, because I read, maybe because I listen, maybe because my mama left me alone with those books, but when Barack Obama speaks I understand what he is saying to me, what he is quoting and why he's right, and I am willing to be led by him because of it. These guys? In the weeks leading up to Barack's inauguration, the Mexicans and Blacks had a riot, stabbing and slicing one another up over a basketball game. I don't know what to add or subtract from that. I feel like Lot in here.
AMOEBLOG: Do you think that the "no snitch" code is a good thing and in reality how true are most people to that code when it comes down to it?
ANERAE: I think, what people have to realize, is that unrealistic expectations are opportunities for disappointment. Is it realistic for a self-professed "gangster" to expect a young lady with a child to keep quiet when the choice is to go to jail for you or to "snitch" on you and go home to her baby? Please. She's going to tell on you 9 out of 10 times, and that's just the reality of it. Expecting the old lady down the street not to call the cops if you shoot a man in front of her home is unrealistic. She's calling the cops. There is a difference in what should be expected from a civilian and what can be expected of a so-called gangster. You don't put people you love in positions where they can betray that love. That's "gangster." Keep your dealings between yourself and other gangsters. Now, is it fair to expect a so-called "gangster” to keep his mouth closed? Absolutely. If you sign up for the army, you play by their rules or you will face court martial. These guys in the streets pretend to be gangsters but when it's time to make sacrifices that gangsters know they have to make, they all of a sudden decide that they don't want to be gangsters.
So while I understand the meaning behind the "no snitch" code and understand its place in that world, I realize that it is an unrealistic expectation and a person's best bet is not to allow anyone to know anything they could "snitch" on you about in the first place. That's gangster, other than that, the best reason I can give anyone for staying quiet isn't about any code of silence. It's because they read you your rights and tell you that "anything you say can and will be used against you." Why would anyone want to talk to someone who is telling you that anything you say will be used to harm you? We should be teaching our kids not to make statements without lawyers present just because it is their constitutional right. We could save a lot of them, turn their lives around, if we can properly defend our children when they make mistakes, big or small. Forget "no snitching." It should be "no twisting," because they will twist whatever you say into whatever they want it to mean. Then they'll say you're guilty because you don't want to speak. You can't win. So don't say anything, then; it is the lesser of the two evils. Johnny Cochran would have told you the exact same thing, and so would Barack Obama. Any lawyer worth a dime would say that.
AMOEBLOG: Since the beginnings of gangsta rap the mainstream media has been saying that the music, by glorifying the gangsta lifestyle, is a direct cause of illegal activity. What do you think of that mentality?
ANERAE: I think it’s hypocritical. These same people will give an Oscar to everyone involved in The Godfather trilogy, complain that they didn’t win for Gangs of New York. No one from the hood made Scarface, Goodfellas, or Casino, or celebrates Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci for being great at portraying gangsters in their films. No one from the hood wrote The Sopranos. How many Emmys and Golden Globes have they won? Hip-hop is entertainment. We may use this medium to tell stories about what's happening in our communities, but it’s still entertainment. NWA had "Fu*k the Police" on the same album as "Something To Dance To." Why? Because it's entertainment. What we have to do is be able to fight back when they unfairly criticize us above other forms of entertainment, and at the same time, we have to be responsible, identifying our entertainment as a work of fiction when it’s a work of fiction.
A movie will tell you it's inspired by true events, based on a true story or it's just fake. A documentary will tell you it is a documentary. The same has to go for music. Does 50 Cent want us to believe he's going to really go out and shoot someone? Should we expect that from him? Should he make sure the children know it's just entertainment? I've never seen Robert DeNiro stop, right in the middle of killing someone in a movie, look at the camera and say, "This isn’t real, folks,” then finish what he was doing. But after they say "cut," he discusses his work as an art form. That is what has to happen with hip-hop.
AMOEBLOG: What future projects can rap fans look forward to from you?
ANERAE: We will be releasing my new album, Eternally Unforgiven, on Bloc Star Entertainment, ApriI 21, 2009. I'm the best rapper in the world, enough people just don't know it yet, but they will.
For more artist information visit X-Raided's MySpace. Special thanks to Elayne Brown at Bloc Star Entertainment-- without her diligence and assistance this interview would not have been published. And of course thank you to Anerae Brown for doing such an indepth and honest interview. To contact X-Raided directly you may do so via US Mail to the address below.
Anerae Brown K-17737 A5-202L
Pleasant Valley State Prison P.O. Box 8501
Coalinga, CA 93210
Pleasant Valley State Prison P.O. Box 8501
Coalinga, CA 93210