The other day I turned down the opportunity to live out my teenage dream.
The offer came to share a stage with my musical idol, a rapper I held up almost as a holy man, the shaman of my adolescence – Brotha Lynch Hung.
It wasn’t an easy decision. At first I even accepted the offer. For artists, getting the chance to be associated with those who inspired us is one of the sweetest tasting fruits of our labor.
As a teenage fanboy in 1997, Getting the offer would have felt like I’d just hit the lottery, flown to the sun and touched it, been granted a wish from a magical genie.
But now I’m 35 and have adulting to do. A son to raise. A job to keep. Several long strips of cement to clear whenever it snows.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ll still wreck the stage on a microphone. Opening for Blackalicious last year at The Waiting Room (thanks Surreal) was one of the best nights I’ve had as an adult emcee with real life shit to handle the next day.
The issue is not with performing hip hop music in itself, but the content of the music I associate with.
Lynch kills and eats people, including babies, in his music. Anyone with a chip on their shoulder or a desire to take me down professionally could potentially do so by linking me with that sort of art.
So I turned it down.
Instead, I’ll go to the show and hang out backstage, meet the man, and hand him a copy of my 2006 CD where I shouted him out on a track and defended his legacy. I also feel the need to revisit Lynch from where I’m at now in life, by writing about him here.
Lynch grew up Kevin Mann in the Meadowview neighborhood of Sacramento California, same neighborhood where Levar Burton and Cornell West hail from. As an adolescent, Lynch used to encounter another local emcee who would later become Gift of Gab, the lyrical mastermind behind Sacramento hip hop group Blackalicious, pictured above.
Sacramento and Omaha have been connected ever since the Transcontinental railroad, and I was blasting Sac Town hip hop in Omaha not long after it first started making national waves. I surfed over the rhymes of Gift of Gab and Brotha Lynch, studying them in great detail as their loyal student.
But the two emcees couldn’t have gone in more opposite directions, which accounts for the opposite responses I had at the chance to warm up a crowd for them.
Both emcees are top tier lyricists, but only one makes music that might cause Tipper Gore to have a nervous breakdown. Gift of Gab became famous for rhyming the alphabet, Brotha Lynch for rhyming about eating nuts and guts and slabs of human meat, motherfucker.
So I have to eat the fact I live in a conservative state where a lot of the white baby boomer gatekeepers of society probably think Run DMC is pretty edgy stuff. Opening for Lynch wouldn’t be a good look to them.
Even though they probably grew up insisting to their parents The Beatles weren’t actually satanic forces from the pits of hell, this is hardcore rap music we’re talking about, not the British invasion, and Lynch is a rather odd looking Black man from Sacramento talking about cannibalism, not cutesy, mop-headed blokes from Liverpool telling a generation of screaming girls he wanted to hold their hand.
So maybe Paul and Ringo would get a pass for their own dalliance in disturbing baby imagery from the very people who would abhor Lynch’s work. Hypocrisy abounds.
Far from the shores of the United Kingdom, the mean streets of Sacramento in the 1980s and 1990s were staging grounds for turf wars between rival gangs, including the Garden Blocc Crips, who claim Lynch as one of their own.
Through centuries of trauma and oppression, deindustrialization and waning career opportunities through the 1970s and 1980s, Black people in urban centers faced a bleak world with little hope for improved life conditions. When crack entered the fray, all hell was unleashed as rival gangs fought each other to death in endless cycles of retaliatory shootings, competing for economic territory.
I’ve always viewed this sort of thing as a microcosm of what governments of nations do, fighting wars in competition for territory and resources. The only difference is the scale of the fighting and the fact that when you slap an official national endorsement onto the killing, it becomes legal and even heroic.
Any brief study of what the Reagan administration was doing in Nicaragua in the 80s will show how closely aligned the actions of the federal government were with Crips and Bloods in the drug game. Substitute Crips and Bloods with capitalists and communists, put the turf warfare on a global stage, and you’ve got the same thing.
The realities of these turf wars run through Lynch’s early music consistently, with frequent references to his set and his familial connections with loved ones within that set, including his mysterious cousin, Q Ball, to whom he dedicated his 1995 classic, Season of da Siccness.
In the skit intro to the brilliant track ‘Liquor Sicc,’ Lynch swigs a 40 ounce while talking to his dead cousin at the grave. He begs Q Ball to give him guidance, as Lynch feels there is no choice but to retaliate and that if he does, he will likely kill himself afterwards rather than spend his life locked up.
It’s a cinematic moment on an album I listened to thousand of times as a youth, one that gave this white kid in Omaha a glimpse into the side of gang warfare we don’t get from the news – the love gang members have for each other, which is exactly the type of brotherhood those in the armed forces describe feeling for their comrades in arms. Band of Brothers, Crip style.
At the end of the day, Meadowview Bloods killed Q Ball of Garden Blocc, and the only retaliation came in the form of shots fired into the air by another legendary rapper from the area, C Bo. Lynch felt confusion and frustration as to why this was the case, but didn’t know if he should escalate and risk losing or ruining his life.
At the end of the song, Lynch sings, more than raps, with almost trance-like calm, repeatedly, “there ain’t no fucking way… My cousins gonna lay up in a casket with no retaliation.” Genuine feelings from someone whose family was just killed, as any soldier who has lost a loved one in combat over foreign oil supplies can attest to.
In 1995, just before the age of the internet, the only image we had of Q Ball was a photo on the bottom of the inside CD sleeve.
But it’s possible we also saw Q Ball before and never even knew it. It’s possible we had seen him threatened with death in our own living rooms, as we snacked on Doritos and sipped on our Crystal Clear Pepsi.
He was on Cops, the TV show.
In the segment, a smallish white woman officer suspects him of something or other and pulls up behind him as he parks in the driveway of a house. As she searches him, he suddenly busts away, so the camera person takes us on a Chase, Grand Theft Auto style, through residential South Sacramento.
At gunpoint, the officer threatens to shoot him in the head if he doesn’t follow her orders, then calls for backup in order to make the arrest. She obviously didn’t feel comfortable doing it on her own. Then she proceeds to barrage him with gaslighting techniques, including telling him to stand up on his own while his hands are cuffed behind his back, and telling him he needs to get into better shape, as she pants incessantly like she’s grasping for her life to catch her breath.
Looking back in the post Trayvon Martin era, this clip is absolutely bonkers. The man posed no threat, and this officer threatened to shoot him in the head execution style over the positioning of his body on the ground he already lay on, in submission to her deadly weapon.
The shit is ludicrous, yet it played out casually in the homes of millions of American viewers, a further dehumanization of Black men who see no other way to get ahead in life than to hustle and gangbang, the way all the men on their block with money did. Such was the mood as the war on drugs escalated under Reagan, Bush, and Clinton eras.
It is perhaps worth noting that even with the disturbing power dynamics displayed in the interaction between Q Ball and the officer who threatened to murder him, I think he ultimately played her. He probably only ran in order to ditch whatever stash he had in his pockets at the moment she pulled up on him. She missed that part.
By all accounts, Lynch never ended up killing anyone in real life. The Garden Blocc Crips didn’t mind him throwing their name out even if he strayed away from that life as his music took off. They viewed it as a win win situation – he stays alive, out of prison, and making music, while they gain worldwide notoriety.
Along with the gangbanging themes in Lynch’s music is an omnipresent ultraviolence, cannibalistic serial killer tales woven as a tapestry though his song narratives. Lynch holds a mirror to the human species and shows the worst elements of ourselves, as he commits acts of full scale brutality, including the killing and eating of babies.
Before you pass judgement on Mr. Lynch, please remember that infanticide is ordered by God in the Bible. Lady Macbeth fantasizes about killing her baby in the Scottish play. Hansel and Gretel is a children’s story all about a woman trying to eat children, who then kill the woman by burning her alive, and it’s *told to children.*
Lynch plays a villain in much the same way an actor plays one. But because he’s Black and a rapper, society fears that his violent art will cause violence in real life.
Nobody blamed Wagner for the Holocaust, even though his music and anti-Semitic ass was right in the thick of the Nazi movement.
And yet, even a psychologically disturbed man on crystal meth was used as a vessel to blame Brotha Lynch’s music for a 1996 murder suicide:
The article goes on to explain that Gallegos was in the care of local youth minister Bryant, and that he had been hit in the neck by a sniper during hostage negotiations, and pronounced dead a half hour later:
Not Beaver Cleaver indeed.
So where are the news articles with people blaming Shakespeare or the Abrahamic God for murder? Where are the articles blaming Wagner for the Holocaust? You won’t find them, because mainstream society is selective in which violent art is deemed a threat and which belongs in the highest echelons of sophisticated human expression.
When Lady Macbeth speaks of smashing baby brains, it’s tragic art. When Brotha Lynch speaks of the same thing, he’s Charles Manson in the flesh. It might be said a decapitated head in Shakespeare is art imitating life, but with gangsta rap music, the reverse is said to be the case. South Chicago violence is caused by Chief Keef, not 500 years of economic oppression. World War II is caused by the great depression, not Wagnerian opera.
So here I am faced with an opportunity to live out something I used to dream of doing and the cold hard reality that rap music isn’t given a fair shake in a society like ours, built on anti-Blackness and narratives about Black male pathology.
As a history teacher, I’m expected to inspire kids to be engaged citizens, and I took great pride in seeing three of my young Black male students perform a diss track they made against President Trump on the most bourgeoisie stage in the city, in front of the mayor no less. A local newspaper even covered the story, which has put wind into the sails of these boys who don’t necessarily have many sources of moving air steering them forward in life. Many of my colleagues have expressed their support for that project.
At the same time, I feel the potential for another narrative to rise from my identity as a history teacher who also deals in hip hop. Imagine one of the boys who performed that Trump diss ended up in a gang. Or getting caught bringing narcotics or weapons to school. Or robbing a store. Or killing someone.
In this scenario, nobody would look to see if he’d been studying Macbeth in English class, or any other literature with violent themes for that matter. But imagine if I had slipped them a copy of the Autobiography of Malcolm X. Now imagine I’d given them an N.W.A. CD.
A Brotha Lynch CD.
Lynch pushes the boundaries of what rap can be, and therefore what art can be, by exploring the limits of human depravity in shockingly gruesome detail. But it’s all work of fiction, unlike Trump’s pussy grabbing or Obama’s drone strikes or Clinton’s three strike rule.
Far from being a mere shock factor novelty, Lynch finesses language with the best of them, with intricate wordplay and captivating song narratives. He surely inspired another technically gifted emcee who went on to bring horrorcore to the masses, under the Ted Bundy guise of a handsome, charismatic white guy.
Of course I would never give my students a copy of anything Lynch ever made, but any association I might have with the man could potentially be used as leverage in a case against me as a teacher. Because I teach from a Howard Zinnian approach to history, I’m already likely putting targets on my forehead from reactionary forces who listen to Donald Trump Jr. when he tells them public school teachers are losers trying to indoctrinate kids into socialism.
Give them a recording of me teaching students the United States is chock full of racist/imperialist fuckery and they could have it on Breitbart the next day. I don’t mince words when I teach the history of race and racism. Because of that, I must be wise in the way I present myself outside of class, especially with hip hop music.
I already erased my SoundCloud after some of my students found it and started spreading it around. At age 22, I wasn’t writing the most school appropriate lyrics, and I love my job too much to risk anything.
I’ll continue making hip hop music, but I’m too aware of the double standards in society to closely associate myself with horrorcore rap music. A hundred years ago, it was jazz. Then Rock and Roll. Now it’s hip hop music that’s terrorizing our society, and I have to navigate the waters as they come, not as I wish they could be.
In 50 years, rich white folks will be hanging out in art galleries, drinking wine and eating cheese, with Wu Tang playing in the background.
For now, I’ll have to sacrifice one dream in order to continue living another, which is to teach history the right way and plant seeds of critical thinking that hopefully sprout in ways that will benefit society in the future.
I must always be wary of the fact that others might not see these seeds for what they are, and might even view them as poison, and we all know what Socrates was made to do for corrupting the youth of Athens by teaching them the truth. I seek no hemlock at this stage in life, thank you very much.