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Locked up

Some of you 24/7 keyboard freaks already know I’m a Mysonne fan. So it should come as no surprise that I’m hyped he’s been released from prison. (Almost as hyped as Jae Millz. But not quite.) XXL’s own BFred did an interview with Mys earlier this week and he had some interesting things to say. Most notably, The General charged hip-hop magazines—and prison issues in particular—with glorifying jail:

A lot of that stuff is bogus. A lot of these dudes will be in jail and they talking about “Yo, I’m holding it down” or “I’m doing this, I got people who love me.” Come on, that’s not the reality of it. They not telling you that they wake up in the morning at six o’clock for count. They don’t tell you that when you go visit, they gotta strip search you and look inside your rectum and all that. They don’t tell you the negative parts…I think the editors need to take the time when they interview somebody to listen to what they talking about.

He continued:

The most fame you can have in jail doesn’t amount to the smallest fame you can have out here. The smallest peace of mind, the smallest bit of freedom doesn’t amount to nothing. It’s like you trying to glorify controlling a closet. A man is locked in a closet and he’s trying to make you believe that he’s holding it down in that closet. He’s got that closet on smash. And since you’ve never been in the closet, you don’t understand that he’s in a fuckin’ closet…When I was young, they glorified it so much that it made us feel that if we didn’t go to prison, then we wasn’t tough, you wasn’t a real dude.

This seems to be a common complaint from rappers that have actually done hard time, though it’s usually directed at studio gangsters rather than the media.

Rappers may boast about dominating the cell block or the yard, the argument goes, but they won’t depict the horrors that go on. Nobody wants to talk about the sexual assaults, the dehumanizing beatings, the shackled existence, the depression. 

Tupac said as much in his Riker’s Island interview in Resurrection:

I know when I was young, I couldn’t wait to get to jail, straight up. I mean, I was scared and everything, but I felt that’s part of being a man. Now that I’m here, this is not the spot. I know everybody that comes out says, “This ain’t the spot.” This isn’t the spot. Somebody tells you when to get up, when you can shower, do this, do that. They can speak to you any way they want to, and you’ve gotta accept it. You can die here, know what I mean? Yesterday, a dude was murdered…I’m telling you, it’s dirty. It’s filthy. It’s like you’re an animal.

Saigon expressed similar sentiments when I interviewed him a couple of months back for Pound, Canada’s hip-hop magazine:

I used to sit in jail and watch these videos and feel like these dudes were profiting off my pain. That shit used to make me sick to my stomach. I lived that life, B, and I’m in here paying for it with years of my life that I’m never gonna get back. And these dudes go to the studio and they glorify it. Not only the fact that they frontin’—but you’re glorifying it. You’re making it look—you’re not giving these kids the harsh realities of this lifestyle.

In the past year, numerous high-profile artists have been incarcerated and/or released, attracting truckloads of attention to the link between rap and prison culture. 

Beanie Sigel was freed last August. Pimp C got out just before New Years. Cassidy was released in March. Lil’ Kim finished her bid earlier this month. C-Murder was let off house arrest last week as he awaits a retrial on his case. DMX was briefly jailed for missing court dates for (surprise!) traffic charges. DJ Quick was recently sentenced to five months.

The growing presence of rappers in custody likely has more to do with trends in the US judicial system than with hip-hop per se. The prison industry in the United States is expanding at a furious pace—in 2003 the population surpassed two million inmates, half of whom are young black men.

One has to wonder about the rappers that find themselves caught in this ever-widening net. Will those that make music about jail shed light on all aspects of life in the pen, or will they sex up their stories ala 50 Cent’s “21 Questions” video? 

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