I will begin this essay with two truths about my life.The first was that I was the most privileged person to ever live in the Hillside Terrace housing projects. Every Monday I had a mother who took me back to a hippie section 8 apartment( and later on a house in the suburbs). When I was hungry( and if I didn’t tell my crackhead father) I could go to my grandmother’s to get something to eat. I got up early every morning to go to a school that-though nestled in a sundown town-was first rate. Feeling sorry for my father, the 23rd street hilltop Crips didn’t pressure me to join their ranks. People understood this before me, especially my friends, and when-after I had fully moved to the suburbs-I would go back to the block to hang around, they would respond by whipping my ass.
Tbe second was that, as someone who was bused to school in the city and later lived there, I was the angriest person I knew in University Place. There are the obvious dynamics: I was the opinionated black son of a opinionated white feminist mother, and the designed Levittown is still so racist that it made Floyd Brown( the creator of the Willie Horton ad) a beloved city big wig as late as 2010. It wasn’t just race that made me so furious about the town, however: every week I would see kids from that suburb beat me to Tacoma to either do drugs, get drugs, or start some sort of chaos relating to drugs. Every week, I would see University Place kids of all colors run and revel in a pain that my best friends and I were trying to get the hell out of our minds. When my boys and so many of the people I used to DJ for started to die,( and I realized I was living in a suburb that had skater gangs and Starbucks gangs) I became too angry to function.
It is in this context, that I come to the Too Short hagiography that Unsung put on the air this winter. The show giving the man who said “ I’ll put my foot in your ass and wouldn’t give a fuck, get out of pocket, bitch your getting beat up”, the imprimatur of culture and ancestry is hideous; and the show was as creepy, ugly and patriarchal a shit show as advertised. Also, the lack of any sort of recognition of this by Todd Shaw (Too Short’s actual name)and the producers (http://www.ebony.com/entertainment-culture/too-short-interview#axzz2uY2TuHOs proves that the show has now become an outreach of rape culture. It deserves to lose every member of the audience it has lost because of it, if not more so.
It was when I saw his life story, of a mixed up suburban kid who’s family fell into divorce, who, once in the hood, decided to act out, that flood’s of memories came back to me. Shaw’s upbringing falls in the same pattern as Eric Wright’s( Eazy E), O’Shea Jackson’s( Ice Cube) Jason Phillips’ ( Jadakiss) and Christopher “Suge ” Knight’s: middle class black kid who goes to the projects gets popular by faking a life he had never led before and gets away with it because A:he gives local thugs publicity and a broader access and B: the broader media/ white suburban teenage audience does not care enough to investigate whether or not his persona is a lie.
Which is a legal hustle. Given the critical/ commercial popularity of Drake’s comically ridiculous ” Started from the bottom”( Of what? His gated community?), it is also a popular one. However, there are sorely needed questions to be asked in regards to it. Why do millions upon millions of Americans only want to hear about “the ghetto” from a privileged black male tour guide? Why do those tour guides have almost the same limited, violent and misogynist cultural vocabulary? Why does a massive swath of America consider these tour guides safe and black men like Richard Sherman( a progressive black man who is actually from the hood) a menace?
Of course, it needs to be said that one shouldn’t punish a black person because they are the suburbs, or hold a gangsta to a lower standard because they had an obstacle. I knew several black kids from university place who were first rate achievers and plenty of niggas from hillside terrace who weren’t shit. That doesn’t take away that my understanding of the complex aesthetic of race and class were brined in fire. I put my memories and understanding of hilltop in my poems. I work everyday to try and let go of the rage that University Place set in me.
I cant change the culture of the city, and I have several people I care about who care about the town still. I wont change their minds, nor will I try to. The only thing I can ask them to do is to not support one of the racist politicians in the second half of the twentieth century( Brown). That, and if you are living there, stop trying to be a “real Tacoma gangster”, (or a gangster at all). To set trip in a town that will host the US Open next year ( Chambers Creek golf course) is to do something more ridiculous, more absurd, and maybe more dangerous than the “real thing”.