Mind Playing Tricks

Checking in from a cabin in the mountains in Canada where I am sequestered, trying to make some progress on my book. It’s very, very quiet here and there’s not much to do but read and write. (Which is the point. But still.) So you’ll have to excuse me if I get all philosophical on this one.

The thing is, I finally got around to reading Touré’s collection of music essays, Never Drank the Kool-Aid. [1] Touré is always a good read cause he has a gift for bringing emotional depth to every interview he does, not to mention an incredible eye for detail. [2]

What I found most striking about his book, though, was the climate of fear that pervades many of its articles. Anxiety and trepidation appear as constant threads in the last decade of hip-hop history.

Take the first article, for example. The collection is kicked off with Touré’s Village Voice eulogy for Biggie, in which he describes going to visit Big in Bed Stuy years before, and finding him “in the hallway of his building, gripping a gat, surrounded by six members of his crew, arrayed like Timberland-wearing Secret Service agents.”

He continues:

“Every time the building’s door opened up, someone looked down the three flights, to see who it was. Every time someone started coming up the stairs, Big stopped talking and called out, ‘Who’s that?’

‘N***a could be coming to blow my head off,” he said that afternoon in late 1994. ‘I’m not paranoid to the point where I’m—” He paused. “Yes I am. I’m scared to death. Not all the time, but most of the time. Scared of getting my brains blown off. But if it happens it happens…fuck it, I’m just ready. Can’t live my life in no bubble.’”

Many of the essays that follow paint a similar picture. Pac wheeled into court after he was shot, defiant, escorted by Fruit of Islam men. DMX driving recklessly around L.A. after Kurupt’s death threats, his security apprehensive. Fifty holed up in a hotel room, bodyguards posted at the door, a contract out on his life, cracking jokes and entertaining his crew.

Touré calls it the life of a hunted man. It’s equal parts corrosive fear and don’t-give-a-fuck exhibitionism.

Anyone who has ever interviewed rappers that have been through this type of shit can tell you what it looks like up close—how they never sit with their back to the door, never stop scanning the room, never seem at ease.

And, of course, there are many hip-hop tracks that are drenched in this restless brand of fear. (If you were inclined, you could make a really morbid mixtape on this theme. Geto Boys “Mind Playing Tricks On Me” would be on there, obviously.)

Young Jeezy touched on this in a recent XXL cover story. “The life I came from to here, I lost a lot of people,” Jeezy said. “A lot of friends, a lot of peers, a lot of loved ones. Things I can’t get back, a lot of sleep. I’m shell-shocked. My nerves still fucked up right now.”

“It’s like going to war,” he continued. “You come back—five, six muthafuckas get killed you know—that shit’s gonna fuck with you for the rest of your life. You can leave the Army and Marines and go get a regular job, but you still gonna get them cold sweats.”

I wonder how many other rappers feel like that. How many are walking around with clenched teeth, jumping at sudden noises, looking over shoulders, searching cars and clubs and crowds for any hint of a threat? Living their lives constantly calculating risk.

Fame must be bittersweet for some of these dudes. On the one hand, they are loved by many. But on the other hand, they are hated so intensely by a few that they become prisoners in their own lives. They survive the violence, only to grapple with its aftermath.


[1] A strong, moving body of work. Wish it included his recent Rolling Stone cover story on Jay, though.

[2] As in: the number of missed calls on DMX’s cell phone (47!).

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  • Fuck ya


  • The ON1E

    i banged her

  • Mikey Ess AKA SukedowN

    There are so many factors that affect how a rapper should act in a given ongoing life threatening scenario:

    -Level of Fame
    -Level of Maturity
    -Level of Paranoia
    -Amount of Cash
    -Drugs Used

    This may seem irreverent, but you look at the factors of the situation regarding Proof:

    4am, kids at home, he’s at a bar, strapped

    Those are facts. I’d speculate that he was probably smoking something other than the blunt and has an I dont give a eff attitude about him because of his slight level of fame achieved.

    (I didn’t sympathize at all for him, there’s a reason millions of people don’t get shot/have no chance of getting shot, they don’t put themselved in that situation)

    Then there’s a another RIP rapper, Big Hawk, who was supposedly going to a card game a little earlier, around 11pm, at his guys house. Supposedly this guy had his head on straight and his identity was mistaken when murdered. Apparantly he wasn’t strapped when he was approached.

    (I find it much easier to sympathize for an individual who doesn’t put himself in a bad situation, but rather is a victim of [alleged] circumstance)

    A guy like with such huge exposure like Biggie knew a legit threat was out on his life. He knew it, so he took appropriate measures. Biggie was smarter than most other rappers, seemed to have more of a value of his own life.

    Then there is DMX, who rolls around dressed like a cop all shermed out with a bag under the seat. Obviously the threat him at the time was less, and even if it was greater he’d probably have acted the same.

  • XRAY3000

    ..and she does it again..nice write mamma!

  • http://www.myspace.com/lone_Nigerian lone Nigerian

    good artie

  • http://www.myspace.com/geoffdilkes G Off

    Makes you wonder if they are always like that, or if they are putting on a show for the writer to show how “real” they are? I bet it’s some of both.

    Nice piece.

  • GI JOE

    see this is how it goes down.
    before being a rapper, these guys are normal joes becoming involved in street shit. somwhere down the line, a handful of these “rappers” end up in some foul shit with the streets or with rival clicks. examples: gangs, snitching, or simply being a hoe-ass nigga in the hood. but…but…
    when they make it out, the majority of people who don’t know shit about these dudes background always are like
    “OH YEAH, HE’S THE TRUTH!” “OH YEAH, HE KEEP IT REAL!” . you dont know a damn thing about that muthafucka!! Most of these so-called thugs could’ve been the most bitch-made niggas you’d ever met, but yet, you all keep sucking dick like that’s your men. damn near you bastards need to get a life and stop worryin about what the next man is doin. and on another note, if these niggas were “kingpins” on the block, why the fuck are most of’em still broke. c’mon.

  • H-Man

    Gotta die sometime!! Do ya think your gonna live forever?? Fuck it. My vision is a river of blood. Do or Die! Live like a man and God Damn it, die like one too. Til death do us part. My oath of office

  • RW

    Shit like this is the reason rap music has become completely irrelevant. We’re more interested in the drama about who’s going to shoot who next, and on what flimsy pretext. If rappers weren’t so busy clumsily trying to imitate La Cosa Nostra movies (hint: the Corleones didn’t wear Mitchell and Ness jerseys, motherfuckers!), maybe someone would have time to spend a little quality time writing some good music.

    Or not. You know what? Fuck Biggie Smalls, and fuck the whole morbid fascination with people in the music business who act like they’re trying hard to get someone to shoot their asses, and fuck us all for getting all weepy when someone finally does shoot them.

  • DJ Lucky Luke

    Yo, I’m with RW, this shit gets played out like a cheesy soap opera. Rappers dying and little girls crying their eyes out and homie’s on the block saying, “Man, that’s fucked up.” Shit, whatever beef these men incurred seeped into hip-hop and left a bad taste in our mouth. It’s only deadly out there because we make it deadly out there. I don’t start no beef and have no reason to fear another man coming to my home to kill me in my sleep or shoot up the side of my car. Hispanics and now blacks take this machismo thing too far. We don’t need that shit in hip-hop so if all the problematic ones are dying off, I think it’s better for the art anyway…