Black History Month: A Convict's Perspective, Pt 1: Longtime incarcerated California rap artist X-Raided offers his perspective

Posted by Billyjam, February 10, 2009 03:05pm | Post a Comment
Black History Month – A Convict’s Perspective By Aneraé “X-Raided” Brown

As a 34 year old incarcerated African-American male, as a hip-hop artist, and as a human being, I can unequivocally say Black History Month has a deeper meaning to me now than it ever did, any prior year. You see, I am a California boy, a real child of the 80’s. You know, Reaganomics, Oliver North, Freeway Rick, Manuel Noriega… no Rick Ross. I am the fabled crack baby. A boy who became a teen during what some argue was one of the roughest, most dangerous periods in U.S. history. I turned 14 in 1988, a black boy, a fledgling member of the notorious Crip gang, trying to learn how to fly, in the wrong direction, unknowingly, with lead wings. Pistols, cocaine, HIV/AIDS, the Cold War; how those things became the concerns of a 14 year old, who, according to a paternal grandmother named Jesse Mae Martin, of Mobile, Alabama, had “the bright eyes of an old man and an old soul,” God only knows. A boy who learned by what he decried, I was an impressionable teen absorbing the teachings that emanated from the conditions I saw on a daily basis, which included police brutality, the devastation of the gang and crack epidemics on the black community, and an overall fear and disdain of both white people and law enforcement, issues with were largely ignored by the mainstream media. The only journalistic reports being published that addressed these matters to reach my eyes and ears were coming to me in the form of hip-hop music, videos, movies and magazines: Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing; Yo! MTV Raps; The Source magazine; In Living Color; and the strongest voices of all, which came from a few little groups you may have heard of that went by the names of Public Enemy, NWA, and the Geto Boys. They were, to the streets, what The Beatles were to white folk. What James Brown, Curtis Mayfield and Marvin Gaye were to older black folk. They were the voices of our generation. Chuck D and Ice Cube’s voices are as recognizable to us as Paul McCartney and John Lennon’s are to, say, a Baby Boomer, for perspective.  "Fight the Power," "Fu*k the Police" -- you know Chuck D and Ice Cube’s voices and the sounds of Dr. Dre and The Bomb Squad, even if you do not know their names and faces.

spike leeBlack History Month has a deeper meaning to me now, because after everything I’ve seen in my lifetime as an 80’s baby, from the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War, to the election of George H. W. Bush as President of the United Sates-- he, the former Director of the CIA who was a cocaine dealing, oil and war mongering Republican-- to the announcement that Magic Johnson had HIV, to Operation Desert Storm, the beating of Rodney King and the L.A. riots, to original Dream Team, the release of Dr. Dre’s The Chronic and Snoop Dogg’s Doggy Style, to the death of Eric “Eazy E” Wright from AIDS; from the hope that we felt when we helped elect Bill Clinton as the first Black President of the United States of America, unless we count Abraham Lincoln, as some do, to the disappointment that followed as we watched his impeachment with mixed feelings. From the emergence as rap superstars and eventual deaths of Tupac Shakur and The Notorious BIG, and the subsequent exploitation of both, to the fear of the end of the world as the clock ticked and the new millennium dawned, and the validation of that fear by the election of George W. Bush and the practically immediate attacks of 9/11 and even further validation of Afghanistan, and higher gas prices, and more war, this time in Iraq, with the ironic tag of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Nothing, it seemed, would ever be the same, and the same had never been that good to begin with.
in living color
If anyone had a doubt that the world was, indeed, upside down-- the best rapper in the world, Eminem, was white, and the best golfer in the world, Tiger Woods, as well as the best and most recognizable tennis players in the world, Venus and Serena Williams, were black. 50 Cent was being shoved down our throats as the image of black power and dominance while intellectually stimulating artists like Common, Nas, Talib Kweli, Black Thought, Dead Prez, and Mos Def were largely ignored, if not called soft, adding insult to injury.

Then Hurricane Katrina blew us all away and made us take a good look at ourselves and one another.  Kanye said it best, “George Bush doesn’t like black people,” but even deeper, unspoken, it simmered: did any white people like black people? Don Imus making observations about nappy headed hoes and then blaming it all on hip-hop, and being paid 40 million or better to go back to work after being fired for the blunder, or tactic, and Oprah’s subsequent criticism of hip-hop, made us all wonder, will we ever be understood?  Word to Ludacris. The movie Crash gave us an opportunity to take a look at our bigotries. 

With strong, decent examples of black love being few and far in between, Will and Jada, one of a very few, were our greatest hope; with Oprah misunderstanding our every word, or thinking that our every word spoke for every one of us, and with our hope that Kanye and Diddy would explain what we were trying to say, what we, the hip-hop generation, were trying to do, since Russell was long gone and out of touch with us; or, we hoped, Jay would be willing to do so, to explain what we meant, explain our circumstances, as we all knew he could, if he only so pleased. We had very few things to be hopeful about, in the form of prominent examples of classy, black success, with that hip-hop swagger and credibility that would allow its voice to echo from the halls of Corporate America to the hood, from Hollywood to D.C. and back.
barack obama
Then, seemingly from nowhere, one Barack Obama popped up everywhere, hugging and kissing his wife, walking with a bop, listening to Jay-Z on his iPod, addicted to his Crackberry, loving his children, playing basketball, speaking well and often, and on everything, and saying what so many of us believed to be true, and all without disrespecting a soul, and, somewhere along the way, awakening something within us all, and by “us,” I mean the men and women of my generation, the poor, the disadvantaged, the oppressed, anywhere in the world, regardless of race or nationality, between which there is a huge difference that more of us must learn; awakening something within us all that made us want to be, and do, better. And with that awareness came the realization that what I now feel, this new hope of mine, had been missing. 

As one can’t miss what one never had, a shaky assertion, ask any fatherless child, but, still; now that I have the awareness of my desire to do and be better, and that I can, indeed, dream big-- President of the United States big, realistically -- I am certain that what was missing was not hope, but the faith it takes to maintain it. What I have right now is an awareness that my belief in this country, and what it has professed to stand for, its promise, is not and has never been a ridiculous pipe dream, as more than a few, including myself at times, have suggested. What I have now is the audacity of hope, and an awareness of the validity of that hope. If my parents could have had the same when I was a 14 year old black boy, who knows what could have been.

As an incarcerated African-American, I have had the time to read and learn, much the same as Detroit Red was able to do, which facilitated the emergence from within him of the man we came to know as Malcolm X… and not the Nation of Islam Malcolm X, but the man who returned from Hajj, pilgrimage to Mecca, as Malik Al-Hajj Shabazz, who said, and I paraphrase, “The white man is not the devil. We are being lied to. I prayed side by side with white men in Mecca. They treated me like a man.” The Malcolm who was killed, by black men, for saying that. 
malcolm x
In prison, like Malcolm, one has the opportunity to read newspapers, magazines, and books, to study words themselves, in dictionaries, thesauruses, laws books, everywhere, and to be aware of current world events, and have the solitude, silence, sobriety, and the time to process such information with great consideration. One has the opportunity to mature correctly and overcome the stagnation that causes some to freeze in time, intellectually stuck at the same age they were when the cuffs were put on them and the cell door slammed, even as they continue to age physically. As with the lyrics to my older songs, how my voice is immortalized, frozen in time, but also the mentality that wrote those words, as an uneducated, misguided, 16 to 25 year old young man, those words standing to speak for me forever, if I allow, even as I stand before you now, a 34 year old with a sense of decency that was not fully developed back then, with beliefs, with faith, with hope that was not present back then. Imagine men who have the minds of 16 year olds at the ages of 46, after serving 30 years in prison. Imagine being trapped with them, uneducated inmates, when you are of the ones who have elevated your mind and continued to grow. You look for them, the ones who have grown, but the words of Solomon take on greater meaning here. In Ecclesiastes, he wrote that he searched the city and found, out of 1,000, one good man, but not one woman. In prison, those words ring so true that it could make your ears bleed as if you were standing atop the Cathedral at Notre Dame when the bells were rung. When your eyes are opened and you ask yourself, or someone, or something, greater, sincerely, after years of introspection, Lord, what have I done?

To your life, to your victim’s life, to their family’s life, to your family’s life, and to your soul, of which you will have had time to become aware of, when all of the noise of the ringing bells of truth that you once masked with narcotics, alcohol, gang violence, hatred and fear, have been isolated, and at that time you become aware that those bells aren’t ringing, they are speaking to you, a voice in your mind, telling you: Don’t do that; don’t be that way when you have a thought of doing a bad deed or saying a bad thing. That ringing which revealed itself to be a voice-- your conscience. You ask, Lord, what have I done? already knowing the answer. You know that you have violated sacred laws, the scrolls upon which they were written being your very heart and soul. Yes. You learn that Solomon was correct, not as if he needed your validation, but that you needed it. If it is true that ignorance is bliss, then it is also true that with knowledge comes pain. No one knew that better than Solomon the Wise. 

The question becomes, What do you do now?

A man who changes for the better because of something is in jeopardy of losing his footing when that reason is removed. “Be careful the man who thinks that he is standing, so that he does not fall.” The change has to be based on the fact that it is better. Change has to be the reason for itself in order for it to cease reliance upon any other motivation. Change is necessary because it is necessary. In that, I have found, the only reason I will ever need for doing and being better is that it is necessary. 

Black History Month means more to me now because I am living, walking, and breathing black history, and I am more aware of it now than ever before. MLK’s speeches mean so much more now, with Barack Obama living them, as if MLK was the John the Baptist announcing the coming of the messiah. And as Barack gives his speeches and quotes these historical figures that we have studied during Black History Month for so many years, he validates the words and the lives of the men and women who spoke them.  martin luther king jrAnd when he said, during his inauguration speech, that it’s time to put away childish things, I felt bad for the men around me who many not have known where those words come from. I try to tell them, to show them, because it is necessary. If it is true that in a blind world, the man with one eye is king, then I use my one working eye with humility and no desire to rise above anyone, but only to rise to the stature that God intended for me, whatever that may be. So I show them I Corinthians, chapter 13, verses 11 through 13, which Barack quoted in his inauguration speech: 

"When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known. And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love."

Such a wonderful thing for him to have said to the entire world, and especially to those who knew what he meant.  Like a great MC delivering rhymes with metaphors and similes, in hopes that you get it and appreciate the artistry of his orations, Barack Obama is a master of the spoken word. It is amazing to hear someone say something so touching to us all. I immediately understood what he meant, because I have read and learned and tried to be ready. Lord only knows if I am. Yet I wanted to be ready so that I could understand it when I heard it. I never knew what it was, until now, but because I was ready, I am aware that Barack Obama said it to us. If for no other reason, we must educate ourselves, all of us, and one another, so that we can know what someone is saying when they are talking to us, so that we may appreciate the person saying it, and so that we may appreciate that it is being said.

That is what Black History Month means to me this year. This year, this time, I understand what is being said to me, and what was always being said to me, from Abraham Lincoln to MLK, to those before them both and an incalculable number of those who came after who said it. This year, I understand, and I am thankful, for all of our martyrs, the citizens of the United States of America, and for the President Barack Obama.

In the words of one of the street’s most recognizable voices, Jadakiss of The Lox, “We. Gon’. Make. It.  We gon’ make it!  We gon’ make it!”  Sounds a lot like "Yes we can" to me, but like I said earlier, no one really understood what we, the Hip Hop generation, were trying to say. Maybe now that we have what we were asking for, this validation of our mental capacities and potential to lead and be led, maybe they understand now, and maybe we do, too. 
                                                Aneraé “X-Raided” Brown, January 29, 2009  12:53 PM

X-Raided’s new CD, The Eternally Unforgiven Project, will be available April 21, 2009.

You can contact the artist directly via US Mail at this address:
Aneraé Brown
CDC#:  K-17737
Pleasant Valley State Prison
P.O. Box 8501
Coalinga, CA 93210

This is Part One of the two-part special by X-Raided for the Amoeblog Black History Month seriies. Part Two is an Q&A with the incarecerated artist -- available to read above this Amoeblog or by clicking here.

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