Your killer’s name was Rodney. I have heard many stories from many imaginations about the gore and violence that came from him. I have been bombarded by reporters more decorated than you about the people he killed and the people he bragged about killing on record. But you have told me you want to the first honest article on him, and fair enough. But if you want to be the first person to do so, however, you have to begin with his name. Rodney. Rodney Alan Shannon. Also known As Rodney Rage of the 11th Street assassins.
I can’t think of Rodney or the assassins too much now. To be specific, if I think of them too much now, I end up getting or staying high. Harbor Springs residency isn’t necessarily the best place to hide from the legacy of my brother. The center is basically a club house for rich kids, but the staff is nice; and when I can limit my space and my mind, I don’t use. In a way, I’m grateful for my lady’s old man being an inbred wastrel with money. (Though if I also think about that too much I think about my lady, how bad for each other we are, and how we need to be away from each other to stop using even though it hurts as much as when I do use. )
But mostly I hide here. I get up. I read the paper the staff has for the kids. I eat the free breakfasts they have from 7 to 10. I go outside and stare at the view of the sound (Sometimes for hours). I have lunch, watch my Netflix, eat my dinner, write, and then try and go to bed. The idea that I could basically do this on the dime with a cola heir’s money (and do it for the rest of my life) is more seductive than the lure of any drug in the history of the planet
The idea of escape becomes even more seductive in the context of their comeback. Ever since the Triple OG Yacht Boy signed to do the sample to “Stupid Bitch”, people in Tacoma seems to have been in a bigger frenzy than they were when the single came out. Everyone who knows me or has discovered who I am and who my brother was quiz me incessantly on the legend of Rodney Rage. I’ve done so many drugs in the last few years, it’s got to the point that I’m beginning to not know either.
No, strike that. You want the truth from me, I’ll sum it up. My brother didn’t come from a family of gangsters and crack dealers as he said in his songs. My brother and I worked for The Black Cascadia, the local paper my mother, Sandra, and her best friend, Cheryl, ran for thirteen years, doing so on a shoe string grant and commercial space helmed budget. Before that my mother was a deputy minister at the black nation collective and the campaign manager for my father’s campaign to run for 32nd district state senate seat. My father was the chief minister of the collective. After the campaign failed, he turned to drugs and alcohol and blamed my mother for ruining his campaign, a theory that many of the revolutionaries in the neighborhood believe to this very day.
I have scant memories of my father. They were usually around bars on the hill: with him wearing fatigues and lecturing me about something I was wearing, or something my mother wrote in the paper that was insufficiently nationalist. Sometimes if he was coked up or drunk, he wouldn’t even notice me. I would try to be courteous, but after a while I would just ignore him. He wasn’t a violent physical figure in my life most of the time (though the time he hit Rodney over the head with a bottle was the catalyst for my mother leaving him), He just wasn’t a figure of my life at all. He was never there, other than being the existential specter that came up in everyone conversations with us(with the declared statement and subtext being how they meant well). He was so large in everyone’s recollections and memories of him that his actual presence didn’t seem real
My childhood memories were the Black Cascadia being my, my brother, and my mother’s life. A housed tied into a rickety garage that used to be one of John Brisker’s car hideouts when he played for the sonics, it was only 2 miles away from where I lived with my father but seemingly a continent away in regard to my own safety. She and my mother ran that paper for 13 years. It was their way to continue giving back to the community. They had invested so much in helping manage my father’s state senate campaign, and when that failed and when my father and his surrogates blamed them, they wanted to let people still know that she cared about the hill.
This was my growing up, and growing up I knew nothing of DJ Rodney rage. I thought of my brother as only Rodney, or tall Rodney as the aunties in the neighborhood used to call him. My only memories of him were of him in movement, at work, and being protective: every morning when he would walk me to school, every late afternoon when he met me at the city bus, every night when he would cook for my mother when she was doing layout, finagling an article, or trying to convince a sponsor to buy space. In my mind, I can still grasp those mental pictures of him that were idyllic. Him zipping my coat on winter mornings. The saran wraps of food from Nisqually academy that he would pick and save for me. Those spring and summer days when we would load the weekly paper and my mother’s Oldsmobile and have our heads full of ideas my mother put in the paper and got from syndicated columnists. The long range free flowing conversations we would have with our mother about who should be mayor, what block was safe, or what certain figure or star was doing what that was beneficial to the community.
Those pictures were the glue of what I knew of him until I heard Rodney Rage on the radio. It started off as a monologue: the front of the garage, the door open, a little after 6:55, my mother talking to me in the garage that was her layout room and office. After an issue was in the can, she would sit in the rickety rocking chair that was gifted to her from good will, and go stream of conscious. My job, after I finished my homework, was to make her a ginger ale, a meatball sandwich and listen.
“See that song, boy” she said. A jeep drove by, dingy but with 28 inch rims and it’s top surprisingly down. It was April, not warm but the first warm enough day to open the Garage door. “you remind me of my jeep, I want I want to ride it? Something like my sounds, I want to pump it? That nigga don’t love a woman, Terrence, that nigga loves his car.”
She sipped my Ginger ale, took a bite of her sandwich, then turned her chair toward the street. To the left was a sliver of the Nisqually university cathedral. Though a hundred years from being a men’s catholic school, it still tolled that bell every hour. Even from the distance, I was transfixed by it: in the small, lower working-class division houses, that idea that college was seeable, within reach, had power. I could hear that bell, in its differences , echoes and rings, in my head for hours at a time.
“That’s what that dumb ass little boy was listening to in his car when he came up here trying to get this internship. And he got mad I turned him down. And the school got mad when I turned them down. I don’t care what the journalism department at Nisqually says, son. If the Their TA department doesn’t send me somebody who knows the culture, then I’ll look for somewhere else to get the funding.]
Another Jeep rolled by, a little fancier and with louder speakers. “There again, the same goddamn song” my mother said “Turn on the radio, Terrence. something to drown this out” I turned on the radio to a song that sounded like Betcha By Golly Wow but slower. I suspected it was some sort of remix, but my mother waved her arm when I tried to turn the dial. “I need to hear that today. Something sweet. Quiet”. Yet the song moved slow. too slow for the mental memory we were used to
“something wrong with the radio?”
“maybe the station, mama let me turn it to”
“You’s a stupid bittttch. you a stupid biittch..you a stupid ass bitch…” the words came from the speakers as if they were a shock. Worse, one of the voices sounded like Rodney.
She grabbed my hand before I could utter his name. She would do that instead of disciplining me and Rodney because of the incident and because a bit of glass was still embedded in his skull. I looked to her to try and say something. The song went on. “You a stupid ass bitch..hating on a nigga trying to get rich..I wish I could put you ass into a ditch…you as dumb bitch you a dumb bitch. all in place of “there’s a sparkle in your eyes. Candy land appears each time you smile” All sung/rapped by boys who were trying to sound with lower voices than they were. One of them who had a tone so similar to the brother I had known for 14 years.
“It’s not him, mama” I tried to reassure her. “he’s gonna come in and’
“turn it to the classic soul station.”
I turned it while I heard the front door opening. The sound of the DJ Came on. Mrs Willis’s Evening Slow Jam Hour. She had been a staple of our funding by paying for a half of page of space on our paper every year for 10 years.
“ I was so sorry we had to make the announcement about the Cascadia but we had to do it. It hurt my heart to hear Vanessa baby sing that song. The culture ain’t the same no more here. When I came up, y’all, we had “Cold Bold and Together”. “A Brighter Tomorrow.” “ Bold sold sister.” And what do we have now. Folks? What do we have now? The 11th Street assassins. “. You’s a Stupid Bitch.” “ Money, cars and hoes.” “Rape Rod” “ Put em In The Furnace.” And the worst thing about it???? It comes from Vanessa Wallace’s boy. Rodney’s Wallace’s boy. Dj Rodney Rage.A pathetic offspring from the noble black activism of his father, and I am so upset that his mother would let him..”
I turned off the radio. My mother sat in the rocking chair.
“ Can I get you some water, mama” I said. she didn’t move.
I struggled to go to the makeshift kitchen she made 11 years ago. Muscles I used to move around my house without thinking seemed painful. I labored to turn the water on and almost dropped her crystal drinking glass. I turned the water off and looked back to her . Rodney was at the gate. Even in the light of the street he seemed pale.
“You okay?” said Rodney. The streetlight came on and I could see a bead of sweat come over his face. I stuck my drink in front of her and she threw it to the side of the wall.
“Am I a bitch, Rodney?”
M y mother moved slowly toward him while he ganglyleged went back. “ momma, momma, I was gonna tell you “
“Am I a bitch, Rodney?”
They gave us us a half million dollar deal, momma. The three of us. 167,000 dollars and I would
“ Am I a bitch, Rodney”
My mother went into his room. I followed her halfway, and in the middle of the living room he looked at me. He could barely get words out. “I…I…The money. I wanted to get us out. I was gonna find the right way to tell her. The news would have got out, anyway lil bruh. I was doing my DJing with Lamon and Aubrey and we got an offer. I’m gonna give all the money to mama, this is a way to get us out.
“Under whose rule, Rodney?” My mother took one of his belts and cracked it like a whip.” And you want me to deal with you as the boss of my house. I made this house, Rodney. I did. It’s aint no 500,000-dollar mansion. but it’s stable. It’s honest. It’s doing something for my community. It’s what I know.”
“ You could still do that, mama, i buy you a house and you can still
“You could still do that. you could still do that.” My mother swayed as she mimicked him. “You’re daddy told me, I could be a journalist if I sacrificed myself to him first. My high school teacher told me I get a woolworth job if I wasn’t too uppity. My granddaddy told me I could be a loving wife and mother someday if I worked the fields hard enough and everybody told me how I could be a successful little black girl if I just did what they say and not tell about the boys that hurt me and give up my dreams and still be in that goddamm field”
‘I don’t want you to be in the field, mama.”
“Yes you do, boy. All of you. You, your daddy/
“I’m not my daddy”
“the hell your ain’t your daddy. You worse than your daddy. your daddy didn’t even think say something like rape rod.”
Rodney fell down twice befoer he went out the door. mom got a hold of the belt and started to swing “why don’t you listen to me mama. I didn’t mean bad from this.
“You wanna rape me, Rodney”
“ I spend all my life raising you to be better than that. I went to schools teaching myself to be a better parent than my momma and my daddy were and all that got me was rape rod”
“All that got me was Rape Rod”, she swing the belt and hit him “ You wanna be massa, Rodney?”
“I don’t wanna be massa.”
I can’t deal with massa no more. I can’t deal with massa no more”
And with that left. Within weeks rape rod became a household name in the pacific northwest. My mother and I couldn’t go anywhere without people talking about it. We were accosted everywhere we went with questions about him as we tried to replace our funding. At the store. At the bus stop. At the library. At the fish house. People with their pent up feelings, mythologies and second hands rumors they had heard about us, would dump them unsolicited on our feet. We could not breathe unpopulated air without hearing the maelstrom of wonder, curiosity and rage people had at the sound of our name
And as all this was going, “Stupid Bitch” got bigger and bigger and bigger. It sold 20,000 records in a month in the pacific northwest. People debated them on the radio. National interest was piqued. Broader shipping was all but set and A video was set up to be made. Reviews of the mixtape were going to be on the source and rap pages. And the night before they found him hung from a tree.
I wish I could say that your penitence about the essays you wrote at the time guided my thought process to open up to you but I cant. I’m sure of your earnestness on the subject matter, and I am sure you will write a comprehensive article on the rise, fall, and eventual rise again of the killaz. OG triple OG Yacht Boy is a hot commodity, the Killas will be flush by his use of the sample,
and your readership will be satiated by the fact that they will achieve some sort of recognition and notoriety, and my brother would be relegated to the noble role of dead homie. It will almost be an easy article to write, and I will help you write it.
I will even play the role of disgraced junkie ex black conservative for you, the one that you intimated in the information you dug about me.( You asked me to try and get inside my mind and how my actions stack up to the legacies of my mother and father as if I had failed them particular ways) But the only reason I will do all this for you is because of your readership. I know you have the largest magazine syndication in the country, and if you didn’t, I wouldn’t spit on you if you were on fire.
I know this because I’ve read every essay about that night, usually in depressive binges. Local magazine essays on ow he got beat up. Blogposts on how the crowd became a frenzy and nobody had a bead on what happened. Hip hop reddit threads how they all dispersed when the police came, with only a handful getting caught, and my brother swung from a tree. All of them testifying to how no one saw anything, and how the police case dragged till the point where I could be 20 years and it still be ongoing.
And to be honest I can’t tell you anything about his death. To pay even more of her bills, my aunt Cheryl had taken a job as a part time super of a section 8 apartment on the outskirts of the city. When we were evicted of our home, she offered us a small studio. It was the third day we were away from the paper-house, the only place I had ever knew of home, and It was my first day of being bused to school. I had taken the bus to school and home with the expectation that my mother was going to be walking with my aunt at the Y and to make a sandwich and do my work on at the table. And I got home to my Aunt Cheryl crying hysterically and my mother almost stiff as a stone on the couch.
And after that, Rodney would be something that would haunt me every single waking day. Cops would frisk me when I was at the bus stop, asking me cockamamie questions about where I was going and if I was just another black urban plant like my brother. Neighborhood kids would constantly ask me if I was going to take my brothers place in the group(and when I said know, needled me, wanted to fight, or pretended that I didn’t exist). The white kids in the school I was bussed to would grill me about Rodney or parrot what their parents told them about how he had contributed to the ruination of the culture. At school, Teachers would judge the slightest success or failure the a meta commentary on whether I was the polar opposite of my brother or his wretched infernal gene twine.
And when I came home from the bus? The parade of people in the community with different angles, narratives, and games but with one thing in common: how embarrassing we were to the community. Nationalist telling me how my mother’s revolution was inauthentic. Conservatives telling me how it shouldn’t have been a political brand at all. Church folks telling me how she should have worked from the church and ceded her power to a man. All of them telling me how insufficient the paper was to their personal beliefs. All of them giving my brother’s death the stature of some sort of mysticism that was either folkloric of retributional. All of them told me these stories for so long that I would correct them if they told a different one the week before
And everyday just felt like a battle to keep on from breaking. My mother and my Cheryl fought mercilessly. They would argue over her not wanting to go outside, her doing nothing but watching cable television, and her going into a string of curses every time my aunt would talk about their black activist . I thought I could fix it by being the perfect student, the perfect negro and the perfect son. I was obsessed with finding the right set of grades and actions, the right combination of deeds and words to let my mother know that I would never break her heart. I worked like a Spartan on my studies, my diction, and my manners to unlock that perfect moment that would make my mother come back to me.
And when I was a Junior I found it! Or at least I thought I found it! It came without me trying to find it: my junior year when I had an assignment for English class, when I decided to just parrot a riff on Langston Hughes my mother told me a handful of times. I had remembered how my mother would talk about how much she loved the panther and the lash, how he had his heartbroken by the black nationalist, went back to Harlem and ruminated on his home terf. My politics then were barely formed: I could have written something my mother riffed on Malcolm x, but on this day, this moment, I had written a crabby essay about nationalism: that verbatim riff my mother told me with an addition on how Black Fire was counterproductive and dependent on early 20th century European philosophies regarding the theater of cruelty.
I turn it in and I am a hero! I get an A plus. The teacher highlights my essay and wants to save it! The students in my class say good things about me and how good for my race my essay was. I go home to my mother, and she talks to me about it. She talks in complete sentences. And I have my in for personal contentment. I blow my English teacher away by exhibiting the repository of knowledge embedded into me, and add conservative tints to it. And I become popular in the school ! And from further essay and further essay in that realm, my reputation carries so much that I can walk around the town and even stop at star bucks. And almost no one, almost no one talks about Rodney Rage around me anymore.
This is where my black conservatism started. When I declared one, people in the school made my way to help me. I completely rebuild my persona from ghetto nerd to Joe Prep School. I find clothes at the Value village and dress suave every day. And my senior year goes off smoother than a dream! My mother and Cheryl agree to stop speaking to each other, we move out of her apartment complex to a mixed housing section 8 complex on the outskirts of the city line. And where before I had to get up 4:50 in the morning to go to school, I can get there in a 20 minute bike ride. And I go everywhere. The massive evergreens that are around almost everything in university place are so calming. And I can move freely around them. The cops even wave at me because I am known as the anti Rodney rage! I win a series of gaudy scholarships to Northern Puget Sound University, and I am happy. So happy and in my own world.
And my mother is happy. Away from the block she goes out almost everyday. First with me and then not with me. I almost have her completely back. The first week of spring quarter she buys a chair and decides to sit outside everyday. She starts to try and process her life and everything that happened to her. The week before I graduate my mother tells me I’m going to be okay and everything going to be okay. She tells me to try and find a girl. She says I don’t have to worry about her anymore. She tells me to bike to Albertsons to get some catfish and we could cook together. We hadn’t cooked together since his death-I would cook for her or we would eat dollar store takeout-but today, today we would cook and talk about books like we used to
Riding my bike to the store I feel I am so joyful. I am crying so much that I almost miss a stoplight. It was June, and the strip mall was right on the last hill leading to the series of cul-de-sacs that lead to the water, and the sunset gave a glow that seemed go draw all the good traits from the colors red, orange, yellow, brown and blue. I ride home so sure, so sure I am turning a corner. I wonder what book she wanted to talk about. I turn the corner to the apartment complex, take my bike up the steps, open the door to find her on the kitchen floor dead from an aneurysm.
But enough about sad stories about dead people, huh? You probably want to know why I became a black conservative villain? Not because of my position papers and my crack habit. No, begin at the downtown Tacoma Amtrak. Start the scene at the Amtrak. The second the last week in September. The first cold day to let you know that summer is over. It has been three months since her funeral that I half remember. I am only half coherent and the memories of the summer are blurs. The funeral. Seeing Cheryl again and being barely able to have a conversation with her. Graduating from high school. Being commended at the ceremony to cheers. Sleeping on the floor next to where she passed away. But mostly sleeping. Being allowed to stay in the apartment till I could move to my dorm, but mostly just sleeping
And on that day, that September day( so I thought) leaving the hill forever. Sitting in the line with my Northern Puget sound bags and my suit and blazer, when Cheryl finds me. Cheryl, the woman that I breezily mentioned a while back that my mother and I so breezily ditched after years of family and service; and yet there she was, carrying a bag of my old clothes and holding a box with the pictures of us and my brother and mother. “Please, I come to make peace with you. I come to wish you the best in your new life, and give you the memories of what we used to have. You were my family, Terrence. You and your mother were my only family.” The intercom comes on to mention the train will be coming in minutes and people start looking.
“I know we ended wrong, and I’m working to understand it. I know your momma was done dirty. I know she had a right to be mad, but she hurt me when she cut me off, Terrence. But she’s gone now, and I want to preserve and respect the best we had. I want to preserve the love we used to have for each other.” The line moves and her hand shakes as she struggles to open the box that I know will have the pictures of us. I want to say something but my throat chokes. The line in the train station seems to float toward the ticket man, who-realizing that he is behind the gun in getting the tickets together, and starts to sign in people frantically”
“Here, I can’t open it. But take these clothes and take this box. It has all our good memories, when your momma used to rock a camera. You remember when your mama used to rock a camera, boy. When you was little she used to make the bathroom her dark room, and you would come in and interrupt a the most inopportune times”
“Excuse me” a first class passenger in front of me said. He was wearing a brooks brothers suit and had a benevolent look of concern “ Do you know this person”
“lTell em you know me” said my aunt Patrice. She was shaking and sweaty. She was crying and from her eyes it looked like it wasn’t the first time today.
“ Do you know her” he said. The line was almost to the counter and he was in front of me. The northern train horn was at the distance, but the loud horn, the signifier to all the denizens to get off the tracks blasted so loud it hurt my ear.
“Tell em you know me, Terrence” she said holding the box out and passing the bag to me on the ground with her leg. The horn blasted again and a crowd surrounded her. I wanted to tell them that I knew her, that she was my auntie, that she was the co editor of the black Cascadia with my mother, and she had treated I my brother and my mother like family, but when the words got to brother I saw these white people looking at me and I couldn’t dare, couldn’t dear risk outing myself as Terrence Shannon’s brother.
“Son, Son, is this you” said the elderly gentleman. The ticket said T.S Shannon. And for a second I had my exit. “ Yes sir. My Name is T. S Shannon.’
“Boy your name is”
“I don’t know this woman”
The third horn blasted and I could hear the tracks under me. Aunt Cheryl held the box of our photos in front of me and-as 2 cops came to escort her-lowered her head and walked away.
A voice inside my head willed myself to say that I would soon feel good, that I would soon feel free. The train moved away and away and I started to feel a spot of lightness. I got in the car and charmed the people in it like I charmed scholarship committees and suburban class rooms. I adjusted my suit and tie jacket and felt normal. I sat down and looked at the mirror in my car and saw her face. And then my mother’s.
Harder and more diligently than I set my mind to any time or anything in my life, I willed myself on that train to not think of the voices and not even acknowledge a bit of my life existed. I built myself as a Joe college conservative superstar. I major in economics and mould myself in the Chicago school of neo conservative thought I not only criticize my father and brother’s politics, I criticize my own mothers’. I would write such pieces as “ Danny Glover should be arrested for treason in the Iraq war. Susan Sontag doesn’t understand the term freedom of speech because she has never lived in a country under attack from a totalitarian regime. Barack Obama is a radical socialist hell bent on destroying the freedoms in this country by regulating the free market”
And there I meet Helen. We were in adjoining college church groups. We bonded as outsiders who had conservative beliefs. We originally would meet over church verses over church verses, then meet and never talk about church versus at all and our need to escape the lives we had father. I the son of a black panther, she the daughter of a drunk and a hippie cola magnate, we would trade notes on variations and the gradations of liberal abandonment. mine a black panther. And because I was such a good one, the college republicans act like don’t even care that I’m black and she’s white. And in turn I saw it as a sign that racism was extinct!
We are movers and shakers in the young college republicans. We love being around each other. We bond with the feeling that we are the only people in the world that knows what each others is going through. We escape to our own little worlds where there is no pain, no memory, and nothing but kindness and good feeling to each other. We escape with each other by doing drugs. . Weed to go to bed the pills then cocaine then freebase. I was the first one to overdose. After we had graduated, we had no structure or rules, and no conservative clubs that we could bond with our friends, we had nothing but time to freebase her father’s money away. We had planned to go to grad school, and I had my dream of the university of Chicago, but our old friends wouldn’t be caught dead with us, those buddies and bros for life who had talked about how noble and wonderful we were didn’t want to even be in the same room with us. I broke down and went to a mental hospital for a month, A month later she had attempted to kill herself.
So there you have it, award winning reporter man: I am a disgraced junkie in a layered coca haze. In the past few years, I would try and get myself together to get healthy, but she’s be on the dope. She would get herself right to be with me, then I’d be on the dope. We’d promise we’d would be sober and away from each other for a year. I’d got myself a bar job to get off her dad’s money and get myself together. I would try and unscramble my brain and gather my thoughts as to what happened to me. And it worked for a while until yacht boy, and someone finding out I was his brother, and me never hearing the end of it until this moment.
That’s all your getting from me as source. Tell the story of the Assassins whatever way you want to. But don’t let it be said that you didn’t get the truth from me. It might be the first time I’ve done something that my mother would have been proud of since she died.