A LONG ROAD TRAVELLED:HOW I BECAME A RAP STAR

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Some things you let go some things you hold on to. 

I have been rapping professionally for over 20 years. Most people know me from Smif N Wessun fame. Others identify me as one of the integral founders of the Bootcamp Clik. In 1993 my partner Tek and myself featured on Blackmoon’s classic debut album Enta Da Stage. Tek and I started running around heavy with Blackmoon’s front man Buckshot (Shorty) soon after their first release of Who Got The Props.

 Photo By Sun Bronx

Photo By Sun Bronx

I established a relationship with Buckshot prior to this through his sister Tracey. At the time their first single dropped and the video was released I was working at Coney Island Hospital. Also I was homeless. My mother my brothers and myself were evicted from our East Flatbush private home apartment. We didn’t really have anywere to stay. My Aunties lived in Sethlow Houses but they had a full house. My Dad still resided in Sethlow as well but no one wanted to be there because he was often deemed the bad guy. When my moms left my father we went with moms.

I dropped out of High School and took a college course. A year later I dropped out of that then I stumbled upon this program where you go to class in the early part of the day and you worked in the latter part. All this took place at Coney Island Hospital. It was cool because I was gonna get my GED and possibly get a job there if I applied myself. I did apply myself and I achieved both.

It was a bit difficult considering I was living in squalor. I would stay with friends, family, random women sometimes I slept outside or didn’t sleep at all. Other times I would sleep in the locker room at work. I got caught doing that and was extremely embarrassed. One of my co-workers was standing next to me one day and she said “Darrell is that you?”. Since I didn’t have a home I was unable to take showers as often as I would have liked to so at times I had a foul body odor.

I was the youngest at my job so I used to get schooled by old heads. My uncle Greg ‘Jocko’ Jackson was a staple at the Hospital. I honestly think he had something to do with me getting the job and I didn’t want to disappoint him.  

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A good friend of mine also attended this program but he didn’t make it thru. He failed the test and he was unable to get a job. We were very close. Prior to the program we were an aspiring rap group. I went by the name Mc Steele and he went by the moniker Don Q. He was the ladies man and also one hell of a deejay. He got it honest from his big brother Sha who would sometimes let him get on the turntables at the local club at the tender age of 8. Don Q (Thorne Pearson) was a hood phenomenon. We made a good pair. 

I structured a crew called M.O.S.T. which stood for Major Organized Sound Troopers. I was always mocking the military minded style. I wish I would have applied that mindset in school. M.O.S.T also stood for Man Of Steele but to me the crew was more important than just one man. 

Rockness Monstah (Heltah Skeltah) was part of this rap crew. We lived in the same project houses Sethlow P’s. Other members were my cousin Supreme and Tek of course who wasn’t into rapping as of yet. Tek wanted to be an engineer. His dad played for a band back in the dayand still sits in till this day so he had a bunch of recording equipment and musical instruments in the basement of their Bed-Stuy home. Unfortunately we were too inexperienced so we got frustrated and left that part alone. Tek and I were P.N.C already. Thick as thieves. We was into mad sh*t but thats another chapter. 

At the time there were a few rap groups throughout Brownsville. I wasn’t into battling but would often get challenged by local rappers. Between Rock and myself not to many could hang with us. Rock was a beast on the mic from day one. He went by the name Bummy Jab or JB Rock. With a guy like him on my side I felt unbeatable mostly because I knew he most certainly was.

My very first rap partner Chase. He was from up the hill on Chauncey St. and hustle was in his DNA. He had a vision to be a famous rap artist some might say he had delusions of grandeur, I say he was a big thinker, a great mind. He was always fly and he was very impressionable. One day he walked by me in the lunchroom and said, “you’re gonna be my rap partner” and proceeded to walk by. This took me by surprise because I didn’t really have a big reputation as a rapper. I may have spit a verse here or there but I didn’t see the vision of becoming a rap artist let alone being famous.

Chase was sick with the verses. I always thought he was way better than me plus he had style while I was still being formed. He convinced me that this would work. He got his uncle Dre to manage us. We did our first videos in the famous Coliseum in Jamaica Queens. The Mighty Shirt Kings had a spot in the Coliseum or Cå’lowwhere they specialized in custom graffiti on all sorts of clothing and they also had the early green screen where you can shoot videos. We did two videos which I am happy to say no longer exist. You will not find any copies of them floating around on the internet. This was the days of VHS and Betamax tapes. The last copy I had got ruined when I spilled juice on it. Needless to say Im glad we did it. The experience was priceless but I looked crazy hahaha. That was in the 80’s so can you imagine? 

I did manage to hold on to a photo we took there. Its one of them pics you get at the carnival. It was the two of us on a magazine cover. At the top it read Success with him holding a bag of prop money and me holding a taped up microphone.

We went by the name of The Dynasty Family because his last name ended with D (Dewberry)  and mines ended with the letter Y (Yates). Chase came up with this name, he was swift with concepts. According to him we were gonna be rich with all kind of matching vehicles. I was intrigued plus I was a young soldier glad to get off the block.

The Dynasty Family was short lived. The money wasn’t coming in as quickly as we had hoped for. We did a talent show at a bar and won $50 but Chase was hardly satisfied. The following week was for the grand prize of $100 and Chase didn’t show. I went on to do the show by myself reciting his lines as well as my own and I won the $100. I admit it was a bit degrading but I was on a path and thought it was best to move forward than to look back. 

I started to hone my skills. I began to read more to increase my knowledge and wordplay but mostly I would stay up late nights listening to pioneers like Red Alert, Mr Magic, Marley Marl, Awesome Two and Hank Love to name a few. You had to stay up late to catch most of these guys and I wanted to keep up with the latest hiphop. 

As I got better the Man Of Steele was born. Dre continued to manage me as a solo artist. The M.O.S.T was formed, that was the crew. I did a few talent shows and variety shows which were filmed mostly at BCAT or MNN. I also appeared as a guest on Bobby Simmons (Stetsasonic) video show a few times. I had a video out that Dre paid for out his pocket. Our song consisted of samples from “And The Beat Goes On” by The Whispers blended with The Big Beat” by Billy Squier, which Don Q (Thorne Pearson) created. The name of the song was “Steele Moving Strong”.

Through making frequent appearances at this one particular variety show called The Ron Alexander Show, Dre was able to secure me a record deal. I was excited but I had never seen a contract so I wanted to be careful. Dre was new at this too. He was a good guy but a novice manager but he too possessed that hustle mentality. He did a great job but we had no legal representation. We didn’t really know what we were doing but that didn’t stop us from moving forward besides it was only one song and it was gonna be on a compilation so how bad could it be we thought. 

I was attending night school at George Washington High School in Brooklyn where I met Tracey, the sister of Kenyatta pka Buckshot. She and I both sat in the back of the class obviously uninterested. One day she said, “Was that you rapping on tv?”. I think I might have replied, “no” but Im not sure. Needless to say we became good friends. Tracey mentioned that she likes to dance and at the time I wanted to add dancers to my show. She was down to do it but she always mentioned how her brother was way better than her. She would say, ”you got to meet my brother and his partner”. Then she would talk about all the dynamic dance moves they would perform. 

Dre was able to secure a show at the World Famous Apollo Theatre in Harlem NY. Wow! I was gonna be on Showtime At The Apollo.This was big time the big screen I used to watch this show all the time on my 13” television. I had to do this right. We rehearsed for days in Dre’s mother’s basement. It had wall to wall mirrors top to bottom so we could see how we looked. The dancers were on point but Tracey was adamant about getting her brother and his friend to perform with us. I wasn’t against it but they hadn’t rehearsed with us and we needed this show to be tight. I agreed to it besides I was anxious to meet this dynamic duo.

The day of the show at the Apollo we were ready. I had constructed a game plan that would incorporate Kenyatta and his partner Kasim perfectly. They went by the names KB1 and KB2. They were practicing their routine while the rest of us sat in the green room. The strategy was to have them open up the show then we would come out right behind them with the song and the girl dancers. The show was a hit but it never made it to the big tv screen.They also had talent shows that were not filmed for television. I was a bit disappointed but I just rocked the Apollo, this was a big accomplishment.

When I got the contract I asked Tracey if she thought I could get Kenyatta to take a look at it. I went to see him and gave him the contract. The first thing he said was, “first of all, this is too many pages”. I laughed while thinking howingenious he was as we combed through the lengthy document laden with rhetoric and jargon. Im not sure if he truly understood it in toll but his input was priceless. Needless to say eagerness and curiosity amongst other things led me to sign the contract. I never got any money from the deal but I did quite a few shows one of which was on the same stage with the legendary KRS ONE. Money still wasn’t coming in and I was messing up in school not due to rapping but poor decision making. I was smart I just didn’t go and I paid for it dearly but in the end it all worked out. 

My failure to excel in school led me to be left behind while all my friends graduated on time. I decided to get my act together which eventually led me to the program in Coney Island Hospital. 

 Black Moon - Buckshot Shorty, DJ Evil D, 5FT

Black Moon - Buckshot Shorty, DJ Evil D, 5FT

While I was working at the hospital Kenyatta continued to pursue his music career. He and his partner linked up with the the legendary Evil Dee and Mr Walt of Da Beatminerz who were doing all the production for the group which became known to us as Blackmoon. Evil Dee was the deejay while Kenyatta was now going by Buckshot Shorty and Kasim transformed to 5FT or The 5 Foot Accelerator. I began to attend shows with them as part of the entourage. I was still homeless so I began to spend more time on Franklin Ave where Buck lived. We would stay outside talking and building all night literally to the break of dawn. This would later create a conflict at my job. Buckshot and I began to create a stronger bond so I knew it was time for him to meet my PNC Tek. 

One day Blackmoon performed live on HBO for a Rosie Perez special. When i saw the special I was ecstatic especially when I saw Tek on stage passing out 8”x10” photos of the group. “Damn! I should be there with them”, I blurted aloud as if someone was in the room with me. By this time Tek and I had been up to the record label (Nervous Records) and had met then intern and everything man Andrew Freidman aka Dru Ha. After seeing this special I expressed to Dru Ha that I had to quit this job and I refused to miss any more shows. Dru simply said, “don’t quit your job, its to soon yet”. 

I didn’t know sh*t about unemployment nor did I care. I told him if I don’t quit they’re going to fire me anyway. He was honest with me. There were no expectations, this was going be a challenge and success was not guaranteed . I wasn’t worried because I believed in these guys. I knew where Tek heart was at and Buckshot was an immensely focused visionary while Dru was the responsible voice of reason that helped keep everything together. There was no talk of matching luxury cars or anything of that nature but we were on a path where all this could be possible if you apply yourself. We all applied ourselves and eventually all had matching luxury cars. 

Before we got to the cars the path was rigid as there were many obstacles but it did not deter any of us it only enhanced our bond. Blackmoon was being managed by the legendary Chuck Chill Out. Soon after that relationship was dissolved and Dru began to perform the duty of manager along with his other responsibilities. He and Buck created an incredible bond that would later become DuckDown Management and even later DuckDown Records currently DuckDown Music.

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Under DuckDown Management Dru and Buckshot secured us a deal with their home label Nervous Records which was mainly known for house music. When Blackmoon and Smif N Wessun came on board we changed the game for Nervous records even changed the name and added a hip hop sub-division called Wreck Records. 

In 1993 my partner Tek and myself was featured on Blackmoon’s classic debut album Enta Da Stage. In 1994 using the pseudonym Smif N Wessun Tek and I released our debut single Bucktown”  . In January 1995 we released our debut album “Dah Shinin” and in January 2015 we celebrated the 20th year anniversary of “Dah Shinin”.

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I have been rapping professionally for over 20 years. Most people know me from Smif N Wessun fame. Others identify me as one of the integral founders of the Bootcamp Clik and some never heard of me at all. Either way it has been one hell of a ride filled with ups and downs, twists, turns, failures, successes, gains, losses, blood sweat and tears. In this timespan I have written and performed on five albums and one ep as Smif N Wessun, four albums with the Bootcamp Clik, a few compilations, mixtapes, Soundtracks and countless guest appearances.

In 2000 I started the multi media company Bucktown Usa Entertainment (BTU ENT.) with Cynical Smith. We released two albums with Duckdown Records, a General Steele solo lp titled Amerikkkas Nightmare Part 2 and compilation entitled Welcome To Bucktown. In addition to that I helped develop a few artist which all had releases on BTU ENT. 

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I have been grinding in this hiphop field for almost thirty years and I am grateful for every experience the good and the bad. There are a few things I wish I could do over but the path has been designated by a power higher than me. I have learned much more than I ever imagined yet there is so much more to explore. 

I have just about come to the end of this chapter in my life and its about time to move on. There are a few things I would still like to accomplish in this game but a part of me has lost the love I once had. They say, “If you love something let it go, if it comes back it was meant to be, if not….” you know the rest.

Some things you hold on to some things you let go of. 

Thanks to all my fans, family, friends and all those who helped me be who I have become and for supporting the movement.

I love y’all

God Bless

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IS BOOTCAMP CLIK DEAD?

A few weeks ago, I tweeted, “When Sean Price died, the Bootcamp died”, which happens to be a line quoted from a new song off Rockness Monstahs' forthcoming LP. Needless to say my tweet was not received well. Many die hard fans were disturbed by this as was several family members and friends alike. I got calls, texts and direct messages from people expressing their concern. “Was this real ?, could this be true?, what did you mean?, are you okay?, do you need to talk?, etc. Some even asked if this was some sort of publicity stunt to get attention and gain followers.

I understand. I felt the same way when The Fat Boys broke up and when Grand Puba left Masters Of The Ceremony, especially when EPMD split and when De La proclaimed, "De La Soul is Dead". Or when Jay Z announced his retirement right before changing the game with one of his most critically acclaimed projects, Reasonable Doubt, not to mention when Wutang Clan and A Tribe Called Quest were going thru their rough patches. Let's not forget when Nas boldly declared, "Hip Hop Is Dead!" 

There are so many others, I have to save that for another blog, but to put things in perspective, I respect the growth and maturity of all of these individuals and also recognize the courage it takes to admit when things are not working how they used to or perhaps we have just grown up and sometimes even apart. 

Some are able to take this lesson and move on, move up and out to higher plateaus and broader plains, while others become defeated and creatively DEAD.

I think back to when Ruck began to re-brand himself as "himself", Sean Price. He tested it out on us, his friends and family. It was subtle as he didn’t seem 100% sure at first but his courage was admirable and I think being real or should I say brutally honest with himself was strikingly magnetizing and we all became his test lab audience.

We were on a road trip and Ruck had this one song he kept playing over and over, where he just spit one non stop verse and started using his birth name, Sean Price,  starting and ending the song in his now infamous chant, P! Up until then he was just Big Ruck or Ruckus other pseudonyms include The Inflicksta, Ruck The Irrational and The Wanderer. 

We were all intrigued and entertained which was common when dealing with Sean. He was always the way he was and he was one of the Bootcamp members to say, “fck that, watch what I do”.

Sht wasn’t always sweet with The Camp. We had to do a lot of work to solidify ourselves in this industry and to stay together as a family. We are a family but we are also business partners and sometimes that can create a conflict of interest. Families fight and it takes much understanding to deal with such a powerful group of talented minds. 

When Black Moon and Smif-N-Wessun were going thru legal troubles, The Fab Five (Heltah Skeltah and OGC) acquired deals with Priority Records which was the start of Duck Down Records. Dru Ha and Buckshot were constantly working their magic. We've had quite a few good relationships throughout the industry, many of which we still have to this day, it was an interesting ride, a lot of work, a lot of work.

I'm grateful I went thru it with these guys. We've had some rough times and made some stupid decisions on our part but such is the path of growth and maturity. Needless to say I got a cache of wealth of knowledge from this experience. 

We were brothers before we were a band of brothers. I think that helped us stay together longer. We made music, made money and traveled the world together.

We made HISTORY.

When Sean recorded Monkey Bars he was letting us know that he wasn’t waiting for anyone to do what he needed to do. Many of us Bootcampions were going thru some sort of something and all we could do was spectate as Sean blasted pass the finish line. He wanted to win like it was his last race. The rest of us were caught up in the street or office politics, family matters, you name it. 

Sean has a line where he says, “drunk rappers need to grab up a pen, write some ill sht ngga and let the madness began”, I’m sure that he was talking about me, lol. 

We were all at 9th Wonders' spot. Tek and I were there for the first time whereas Sean had been there before so he knew these guys. Needless to say I was drinking Gin with Joe Scudda, Tek was playing Madden but Sean was not in play mode at all, at least not till his work was done. Dru even took a sec to remind me about sticking to the mission at hand. This sparked The Triple Threat campaign.

Bootcamp has always been a brotherhood. Some brothers are more influential and outspoken than others, Sean was clearly one of them. 

He set the tone for a lot of sht and although he was fun to be around in the studio, he was about that business, family and music alike and didn't mind whooping yo ass if need be. 

We all played an intricate role but Sean was an outstanding character that became determined to be successful and carry the responsibility as one of the fathers of the BootCamp Clik. He would say things like, “Sean Price the leader of Bootcamp Clik now”, or “No disrespect to Duck Down Records, after this song I’m looking for the exit”, even to the point of pursuing his inbred label brand RuckDown Records

This all seemed funny but Sean was far from joking. He had a special sense of humor. He is to the Camp what Richard Pryor is to comedy, the self proclaimed David ruffin of rap.

Sean is one of the pillars of The BootCamp Clik, the original starting five. While Black Smif-N-Wessun (Buckshot, Tek and Steele) were out on the road, Ruck and Rock stayed home to train the troops and teach them things we thought were important back then like how to read bars, how to hone your talents and make the dopest sht. This was part of the essence, this was part of the basic training, we preached and practiced three rules: Discpline, Obedience and Patience other lessons were accrued hands on in the streets. 

We shared almost everything, considering that we didn’t have much, our brotherhood made up for what we lacked in material wealth. I was always on my fly Polo wearing sht from High School days in Graphics, some I bought some of which I stole or got on the blackmarket.

Sean and I attended the same High School so we often monitored how fly people dressed. He would later become one of flyest Polo wearing dudes in the rap game even being inducted into infamous LoLife Organization despite being a Decepticon. In High School, some LoLife and Decepticons were known adversaries. Sean was also from Brownsville where many of the original LoLife members are from so he knew the pioneers and they were already cool. 

Sean would be onstage rocking the Polo Flag with the skullcap to match. He would rap lines like, “except Tek none y’all nggas can dress”. Tek was well rounded in fashion. He perfected the Bed Stuy Fly. He knew how to sport high end fashion like it was just some regular sht. Sean and I use to style, meaning we would wear items that would catch the attention. He would always comment when I wore some new Polo to a show, I guess it reminded him of the young Darrell. I think at some point I began to look forward to that friendly competition as it became sort of a brother-hood ritual. He would say, “whats that, Lo?” and I would just give him the look. 

They say steel sharpens steel and in more than many cases it was Sean sharpens Steele and vice versa. This is what BootCamp Clik did for me and the whole brotherhood. We were there for each other when we had nothing. We built an empire from the ground up. We endured many trials and tribulations and now here we are.

This is no publicity stunt, Sean Price is Dead. My brother is no longer here in the physical form and it is a painful reality to accept. I began to express to my brothers that I didn’t want to rap anymore. In all honesty this is something that I have been pondering for sometime before Sean's passing but I will save that for another blog. 

Upon Sean's passing I was emotionally drained. I was angry at all the fake people and the fake love, I was tired of all the bullsht. We busted our ass for this spot, whatever this is. Some call us legends but we’re still right here in the hood with everybody else. Maybe this makes us special or just more vulnerable. Maybe this is why people love Sean. I know why I love Sean and why I love my BootCamp Clik. 

I am forever WWBCC WorldWide BootCamp Clik till I DOA just like Sean Price. The BootCamp Clik is the Great 8 and extended family but Bootcamp is what it always was and what it always will be, a mentality, a commitment to be and do better as an individual and as a collective. This concept will never die. What BCC has produced and released will remain on the timelines of Hip Hop history. 

The BootCamp Clik as you know it, has been transformed into something which I myself, can’t clearly state as of yet. Sean Price is no longer with us.  We are all older and have more responsibilities. Instead of lounging up the hill or on the block, instead of breaking day on Franklin Ave and Union, instead of doing 24 hour cessions in the studio smoking copious amounts of weed, instead of being on the road weeks at a time away from love ones and familiar places, we have succumb to our inherited responsibilities, taking care of the family. This is what grown ups do. 

Sean had no problem expressing his love for his family, namely his wife Bernadette and his children. He inspired men to be men. No we are not perfect but we are men, we are fathers, husbands, brothers and comrades. We are men with faults, fears, hopes and aspirations. I witnessed people gravitate to the realness that was Sean, the realness that sealed the bond of our brotherhood. We were friends until the day he died and till the day we meet again.

Sean Price is one of a kind and irreplaceable. You cannot add another member to the Great 8 to make it whole again. It is what it is. That brotherhood has evolved. We are responsible for ourselves and each other. Most of us have children, extra bills and pay taxes. Most of us are still in the hood. 

Brooklyn has changed, Bucktown has changed, BootCamp Clik has changed. Buckshot once rapped, “change is good”, in a song we did with Aaliyah (RIP) titled Knight Riders. Both of us still struggle with change and loss. We now step into a realm of Bootcamp that we didn’t foresee nor prepare for. As fathers of this brotherhood we are obligated to hold the flag, but what does that really mean? Are the brothers still strong enough to continue the mission? Whom amongst the collective can assume the leadership role as Sean Price did so graciously?

Bootcamp was never about one person but there were times when one had to be stronger for the many and we each had a turn wearing that suit. Maybe this is where we move on. We will always be Bootcamp but The Clik has to evolve in order to preserve the legacy that we sparked when we were whole. We have to be brutally honest like Sean showed us we could be. I would love to hear just one more BootCamp Clik album with Sean but it just wouldn’t be the same. I have to salute guys like the Outlaws, Bun B and Eminem because they were able to go on after losing their comrades. I pray for that strength. 

I know we are all hurting and I know that we all want to do our best, No pain no gain, what we gave to the game that won’t change but in order to sustain we must re-train. Uncover the greatness in ourselves find our personal wealth, expand and grow before we implode, expose your glow and remember BootCamp is more than just 8 nggas at a show.

 

BUILDING BRIDGES

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On 11/11/2016 I released an album titled Building Bridges under my imprint Bucktown USA with the help of my partner Cynical Smith and Vermont native Robert Ronci aka Es-K, which is short for Essential Knowledge. I also implored the creative assistance of newcomer VVS Verbal, who is a veteran in his own right. 

After tireless persistence and dedication Es-K made the connection. He would send beat after beat and I would load them into my macbook where myself and many times Verbal would get to vibe with the tracks. Verbal took a liking to the tracks and even recorded to a few them. I personally never got a chance to record to anything. 

One day, Es-K reached out to me and said he was working on a project called Serenity and asked if I would do the title song with AG of D.I.T.C. He said we were two of his favorite artist not to mention I happen to be cool with AG. What appealed to me more was the concept of the song. This was a dedication to a good friend Es-K had loss. This coupled with his honesty and persistence is what led me to make my final decision to do the song. The beat was smooth so it accommodated the concept perfect. A very heartfelt and intimate track that allowed the story teller to be clear and comprehensive. I enjoyed making this song as it was a very dear topic to me as well. It reminds me of the people close to me whom I had loss and miss so dearly.

This was to be Es-k’s first album with vocals on every song, prior to this, it was primarily instrumental projects. He went on to release cds, vinyl and cassette tapes with Cold Busted Records.. I thought this was special because not many people go through the expense of creating vinyl let alone cassette tapes which are believed to be obsolete. 

Es-K sold every piece of vinyl each cd and every cassette, save the promo pieces. I was proud of him and inspired by his genuine excitement and work ethic. This began our conversation about doing more work together. 

Es-K emailed me several beats to listen to. They were all interesting compositions, similar to the Serenity song and other stuff he did on thatproject. I had never did a full project over this jazzy style of production and I thought it would be cool to give it a try.

I figured this would be a good time to test VVS Verbal’s creative skills. I honestly didn’t want to sit there and listen all of them beats alone, besides I have a different way I like to vibe to music. I don’t really like the conventional method of playing beats in the studio, it can become tiring and misleading. Some artist like to do it that way, whereas I like to listen to music while I am doing regular day to day chores and running around.

I emailed all the beats to Verbal to listen to on his own time. We pretty much were on the same page because he picked most of the beats I was gravitating to as well. Our chemistry was perfectly in sync. Once we had selected the tracks we were gonna use, we begin to vibe to it as if it were a finished project. We discussed who we would like to go on which beat and things of that nature, so we already had an idea of who would sound good on what track. Some were more obvious than others so it all fell into place.

Verbal kicked it off. I was in one room doing interviews while he was in the other vibing and writing to the tracks. By the time I was done, he had already written a verse to at least one of the beats and I was like’ “ahhh sh*t, thats what Im talking about, getting right to the work”. All I had to do was follow the tone of the song which Verbal had set. 

As I was writing my verse to the first track, Verbal had already moved on to the next track. Once again setting the pace and tone of the song. Verbal is an extremely talented writer with an impeccable work ethic and he’s familiar with this style of beats so I had no problem following his lead.

When we awoke the following day, we decided to dedicate that entire day to writing to all the beats we had selected, sort of like a marathon. We weren’t trying to force it but I was curiousto see how far we could push it. 

I was impressed at how fast we were writing. Normally it’s difficult to write back to back without sounding monotonous or just plain boring. The melodious tracks were a change of pace, refreshing and interesting, they almost told a story before having vocals on them. 

We chose 14 beats in total and breezed through the writing process like olympic swimmers going for the gold. We completed the entire process in less than 48 hours and were thoroughly satisfied. The following day we started the recording process in The Trenches. The first day we recorded 6 songs and the rest where completed within the week. 

I wanted Es-K to digest the music slowly so I emailed only a few songs at a time. He was excited with the first batch because he didn’t think we were going to record to anything that fast and we also had chose one of his favorite beats. Little did he know we pretty much had the outline of the entire project done. 

I then begin to send the other songs and told Es-K who we were considering for features. Of course my BootCamp Clik was on top of the list. I got my blood cousins Supreme The Eloheem and (Young) Coke on a song together. I also reached out to Smoothe The Hustler thinking he was perfect for the Empire State track. Rockness was a little tough because he mostly rhymes to Monsta beats and these were clearly of a different, more laid back design. I was happy we were able to find the perfect track for him in the last batch Es-K sent. That track was selected by Verbal, also featured Ruste Juxx and was produced by Central Parks. 

We got features from Shabaam Sahdeeq, Napolean Da Legend and Shadow The Great of Loaf Muzik. Soulful singers, Stage One and Mar’rz Atomz make appearances but my personal favorites are “Just Live” featuring Buckshot and “Unforgettable” featuring Sean Price. 

I always try to get Bootcamp members on any project I am working on. Sean was special because we recorded this song only a few weeks before he passed. Of course is was a striking blow to us all. I’m honored to have recorded this song with Sean for various reasons but most of all it speaks as a testament to our friendship, the contributions he made to Hip Hop as well as all the people he touched. Sean Price is truly Unforgettable.

Click image below to Watch Video

Unforgettable - General Steele, VVS Verbal, Sean Price

 

Once all the songs were recorded, we came up with a list of titles and settled on one, BUILDING BRIDGES. We all eventually agreed this was a perfect fit and it began to grow on each of us the more we listened to the songs. Each song was crafted to perfection as all the pieces began to fall in place. We were all excited but Es-K even more so as he was impressed at how fast we were able to pull this off. He was surprised at the features and he is responsible for Shadow The Greats guest appearance. 

I checked out some of Shadow’s work with his crew Loaf Muzik on Youtube and they were pretty dope. I also had the pleasure of catching them perform live, twice and was thoroughly impressed. Shadow was a great fit because he represents the passing of the torch from generation to generation to expand the life of the culture. This is why we build bridges to form a union between two bodies of land to grow and expand.

Es-K got DMC Champion DJ Grazzhoppa to do scratches on a track, as well as cuts by DJ Hashfinger and DJ Hellfire. He also arranged production by Hellfire and Central Parks to help make the album complete. We immediately began the mixing and mastering process. Initially we planned to go the same distribution route Es-K went on his last release but eventually decided on releasing it ourselves under the Bucktown USA imprint.  

Cynical, Es-K and myself began to discuss all the possibilities. We went to work on creating the best scenario to make this project work. Es-K had quite a few really good contacts so we opted to combine our resources which proved to be favorable. 

We released Building Bridges on 11/11/16, Veterans Day which is the same day ATCQ released their album, after 18 years, not to mention the passing of group member Phife Dawg. It is also the birthdate of my firstborn son, Genesis.

Building Bridges was fun to create for me because I didn’t have any restrictions nor were there any expectations to match or better any previous works, mine or otherwise. I was just able to create freely and follow the direction of the symphonic notes composed by the conductor.  It was a breathe of fresh air for me. I have been planning my retirement for sometime now, contemplating what would be my next undertakings, I still have a few things I would like to accomplish before I move on from rapping. That is for another time.

As for now the theme is Building Bridges. What does Building Bridges mean to me? Its the start of new beginnings, its about moving on thru life, reaching for and getting to the other side, the continuation, making the connection, bridging the gap, building new relationships and mending others, it is the basic work of all of us as a community and as a people. We live everyday to find a way to make tomorrow better if not for ourselves for those whom we love. 

Some may not get to see that bridge completed but their name will be honored and adored for lifetimes to come and hopefully this project will inspire you see the potential within yourself and others to create something great.

Do Remember, Just Live because the Saga Continues Err’Day in the Empire State so move with Persistence for whats Essential, No Turning Back when you at that Redlight, Kill Everything, Good Music is Unforgettable. 

 

BUILDING BRIDGES 11/11

TourLife: Things Passed and Things To Come

Written on April 3, 2016.

As I sit here staring out the window to an open field, I began to reflect on things passed and things to come. I am currently on a musical tour with my teammates and brothers Tek, Logic and Rock. Tek, Logic and myself started in the UK where we would spend the next 6 days, 5 of which we would be performing, dubbing this part of the tour, #SmifnWessunUKTour2016. We would then meet with Rock in France where we would spend the remainder of the tour together, dubbing this part of the tour #BootcampClikEuropeanInvasion.

The first stop was Manchester, U.K. The flight was pleasant not to mention I was still a little saucy from the day before. I cracked a few jokes then pretty much slept the entire flight. When we arrived we were the very last to go through the border patrol, save these two guys who look like they were there since yesterday, other than that we were the last men standing. They had to check our work permits, then we were on our way.

Tek asked the customs agent what the weather was like and he reluctantly replied, “it’s dry”. If anybody is familiar with London then you know it pretty much rains everyday. Upon exiting we met this slim, lanky fella with reddish hair and tones. He approached us calmly and introduced himself. “I’m Tish”, he said. I immediately thought, thats a girls name but I kept it to myself. He asked us how the flight was and we replied, “cool”. 

We’re not really ones for small talk, especially after a long flight. We just wanna get to the hotel, get food and possibly some rest before the show. We were pretty hungry so we went for food at a place called the Glasshouse, located in the hotel. I kept it simple with a beer battered cod fish and fries and a shrimp in garlic sauce appetizer. It was amazing. I then went to my room to prep for tonights show. 

My room was cozy, had a nice decor and a beautiful view of the city. This was in total contrast to where and how I spent my last days prior to coming to the U.K. The view out of my bedroom window is of construction sites with condos being erected for prospective tenants. There are three separate sites directly across the street from me. I witnessed most of the process, from the demolition to the first concrete being set. One of the three is scheduled to be done by the end of 2016 while the other two are scheduled to be done in 2017. 

 Manchester, UK

Manchester, UK

 Park Slope, Brooklyn

Park Slope, Brooklyn

There is also construction being done in my co-op building as well. We're getting a makeover consisting of new walls, doors and floors. It’s a lot of work not to mention a lot of noise. I was glad to leave that behind and looked forward to the solace of whatever hotel room I would be occupying for the next few weeks. 


When I finally got to my hotel room, I got my gear together then I laid down and went to sleep. About an hour or so later the guys knocked on my door to go to soundcheck. I declined and decided to stay in my room and get some extra rest, I needed to reserve some energy for tonights show and the long trip ahead. The last tour we had, I had a rough time. I lost my voice toward the end and on occasion, battled with fatigue. I was not gonna have that problem this time.

When they came back from soundcheck, Logic gave me the rundown on the venue and what time we were gonna be leaving. He also bought me a plate of some Indian curry chicken and rice platter. I was still full from earlier so I put that aside and went back to rest. 

Tish, the road manager for the UK dates, gave each of us a copy of the itinerary. He also blessed me with a little something extra gaining immediate favor in my eyes (laughs).

He was a younger kid, late twenties, early thirties. He had a calm demeanor and although he lived in Bristol, he didn’t have the heavy English accent. He later revealed that he was born in Canada and even lived in Asia for ten years as a kid. He mentioned that his dad is a Buddhist. I thought this must be the explanation for his balanced demeanor. I initially thought he was just a stoner (laughs). He later proved to be much more.

The first show was at Band On The Wall. When you enter, you have to go through the bar, many of the patrons saw us come in and immediately got excited. We continued to the backstage that was set up for us. I was still a little groggy so I went to the bathroom put some water on my face, poured a shot of Hennessy, “10 minutes”, the stage manager yelled out. 

The show was on and it was intense. The crowd was massive and I was overcome by an immense surge of energy. I didn’t realize what it was until we arrived at the part of our set where we do a dedication to rap artists that passed away, two of which happen to be our beloved brothers, Sean Price and most recently Phife Dawg of A Tribe Called Quest

When Logic put the Tribe song on something hit me right in my chest. It became hard to swallow and I just dropped my hands and head while my body went into a trancelike (head nod), this was followed by Sean Price’s Onion Head and I almost lost it. Phife Dawg passed away only days ago. Prior to the tour, I got a text from my friend Mike informing me of Phife’s untimely death and I was immediately stricken by the news. I remember replying, “c’mon man”, in a text message.  I didn’t want to believe it. Just a few days prior to hearing that news, I learned that a very dear friend of mine had lost his long grueling bout with cancer. 

My friends name is John John or Ginsu to many of us who knew him in the street. Embarrassingly the last time I seen Ginsu was 8 months ago at Sean Price’s funeral service. When I learned of his passing not only did it hit me hard, but it opened up the still fresh wound from the death of Sean Price. Ginsu’s funeral would be held the 22nd of March, the day before we were scheduled to start our tour. 

 

March 22nd was also my god daughter, Mckayla’s birthday. Shaun, the 8 year old daughter of Sean Price, birthday had just passed on the 18th which happens to be one day after her fathers birthday. We had just did a party in New York at The Delancey to celebrate Sean Price’s birthday. It was just a party but many of his friends came out as if to see him perform one last time. 

 

There were artist and family alike. I was glad to see members of our Decepticon family like Raquel, Spanky, Venom, Skywarp and P-Wop just to name a few. These people love Sean and I could sense their emptiness without him being there as I was experiencing it myself. In addition, the news of Ginsu’s death was extremely fresh as it came just the day before. I didn’t want to party but I didn’t want to not celebrate the life of my friend with friends. 

 L,R Bo Black, Rudis, Stuck B, Cleqout, Rob, Petro, Giambi, Top Dog

L,R Bo Black, Rudis, Stuck B, Cleqout, Rob, Petro, Giambi, Top Dog

 

I thought I was gonna be able to attend for a short while and leave but I didn’t leave until much later. I had two drinks in the club but I had been drinking earlier in the day in an unwavering attempt to drown my sorrows. By the end of the night, my boy, Louie was wasted (laughs). He forgot where we parked and he needed the entire sidewalk to walk as he zig zagged up the block toward us. I wondered if this is how I look when I’m hammered. 

We headed back to Brooklyn as I peered out to the East River, blanking out the irritating sounds of my drunken friend. Cyn was a little tipsy too as she belted out, “I’m hungry, I’m gonna get some lasagne”, which slowly turned to a melodious jingle. I continued to look out the window reflecting on the nights events as we crossed the bridge. I was attempting to mask my emotions but I am not as good at it as I wanted to be, that night. Needless to say Cyn never got that lasagne as she passed out onto the couch. I cut a small piece of lasagne for myself and ate silently reflecting on the things passed and the things to come


In two days we were scheduled to go to Texas to perform at SXSW music conference which happened to fall on the exact day of Sean Price’s birthday. The plan was to do a tribute to Sean, so, Rockness, Ruste Juxx, Illa Ghee and even Bernadette were all in attendance. It was Bernadette's first time ever getting on an airplane. I may have been more excited than she was. We sat together, joked and laughed the entire flight, probably annoying a few people. 

Although we were in a jovial mood, I think we all were trying to mask how and what we were truly feeling, anger, pain, frustration, to scratch the surface. I was blasting off about irrelevant topics that only I thought was important which in turned annoyed the people I was with.

I still hadn’t seen Tek yet because he was flying in from Virginia. I admit I was a little nervous and tense, but that eased a bit when we got to the venue.

It was huge. Nas was set to be the headliner. We would be sharing the stage with him, Manny Fresh, Just Blaze, Large Professor, Yo Gotti, Dj Khaled, Trae the Truth, Dave East and a host of others. 

It was pretty chaotic as you had security volunteers trying to control the crowds of artist and entourage as they entered and exited the backstage area. They eventually found a room for us by the stage, 10 minutes later it was showtime. I wish we could’ve went over the set again, but it wasn’t time for that, it was time to go to work. 

Rock kicked it off followed by Smif-N-Wessun then Buck with some of the other Duck Down artist weaved in-between. It was a tad bit sloppier than it should’ve been in my opinion but we pulled it together for the finish. I don’t think any of us was our normal selves as I looked at my partners they all looked how I felt, misplaced, emotional and maybe even a little disheveled. We all have been through so much within the last few months not to mention days, which I admit put an emotional strain on me to say the least .

We pulled through the show satisfying the handful of diehard fans scattered amongst the collective. This wasn’t one of our better shows by no means.

When we got off stage we were ushered towards a VIP which was located one floor up. Dru Ha and Noah had purchased this amazing cake to present to Bernadette in addition to a specialized Sean Price box set. 

The plan was to cut the cake in VIP but security gave us such an issue that it was a turn off. When we got to VIP there was no accommodations. It look like where you dump the leftovers. Why are we up here, I thought, why are we being treated like we didn’t just get off that stage. At that moment I see a familiar face in Brainiac Beats. We started to kick it then I started to get restless. I suggested we leave and meet up with Mic Handz. 

Mic Handz invited us to this mini mansion he rented out for the music festival. He also had two events he was running out there. As we were leaving these guys noticed me and began to comment how much they respect Smif-N-Wessun and the Bootcamp Clik. They were a part of the few die hards that were scattered amongst the collective (laughs).

Upon exiting we were shuffled in all different directions by the security volunteers, some of which were rude, others confused, either way we finally made it out to where the crowd was and so started the melee. It was cool because we got to see a few more of the die hards and even take a few pictures with some folks who just enjoyed our performance. It took the sting out of the less responsive people in the crowd.

Tek was riding with some people I never met before as was Rock so it was just Bernadette, Illa Ghee and myself with Tank, the driver while Buckshot went back to the hotel. I had to convince Tank to drop us off at the mansion and stay for a while to secure we had a ride back. He insured me that he would stay for an hour then he had to get back to his young sons. “I can respect that”, I replied. 

The mansion was a nice sized house located in this secluded culdasac, reminiscent of the Hamptons or some exotic places in Florida . It was beautifully peaceful and serene, until we entered the mansion of course (laughs). Mic Handz did his thing this time I thought. Upon entering my eyes went straight to the back patio doors which led to a pool. I was like, “ahhhh shiiiit, Now this is living”. 

There were two women in the kitchen chefing it up, they were part of Handz’s team and they was throwing down. It was assorted bottles of liquor and weed being rolled, this was my kinda scene. It definitely was a nice spread. Handz then gave me the official tour which revealed the true luxury of the dwelling, I was proud that Handz was able to pull this off as I know it was a big move and a great look for him.

Bernadette and Illa ate food while I went out on the patio to smoke. I was too excited to eat. Shortly after, Ruste Juxx arrived followed by Rock. Tek never did show up. We ate food, drank, smoked, talked sh*t, rapped, etc., I honestly did not want to leave to be stuck up in a hotel room watching whatever salvageable programming on the television. Tank had to leave, he went well passed the hour he promised and I was grateful. I was able to finagle a ride back for Bern and I, the rest is a blur.

We had a connecting flight back to NY as opposed to the straight way in which we came and Tek was on a totally different flight. I wasn’t used to that, it felt awkward. He was flying separate from the rest of and he was scheduled to reach Laguardia before us. The rest of us had a five hour layover which meant that we would spend that entire day in transit. Bernadette is flying with us and it just happens to be her daughter, Shaun’s birthday. Unfortunately they would only get to see each other via FaceTime. 


When I got home the whole day was over. I ate some chicken and salad prepared by Cyn, smoked a spliff and had a few shots of cognac. I didn’t even unpack I just sat on the couch reflecting on the events that occurred and the ones that have yet to materialize, the things passed and the things to come.

I wanted to take my god daughter Mckayla to the circus along with Shuan and Elle’vyn, my other god daughter. Unfortunately the circus had left the city so I had to be creative. Cyn informed that she had made plans with Nicole, Mckaylas mom, which was surprisingly short notice for me but there was no other window to see the girls so we decided to have a small gathering for them. I called Bernadette to let her know the plan and bring Shaun over, “we on our way”, she replied. 

 

Each one of these young girls are special in there own right but what they share in common is that they currently lost a major figure in each of their lives, their father. Shaun's dad passed away, whereas the other two girls lost their fathers to the penal system. Both of them are currently serving time in the penitentiary. It was a big strain on me, one I wouldn’t realize until the first day we arrived on UK soil. 

Since the death of Sean I have been angry, sad and a bevy of undesirable emotions. I can only imagine what that little girl must think and feel. I feel selfish to even consider my feelings. Shaun is her fathers daughter, strong yet emotional, a sweetheart to boot. As is Mckayla and Elle’vyn, they are all daddy babies and I hurt for them having to endure this precious time without there heralded champion, DAD. 

So we had a small gathering. Moon brought Elle’vyn and her youngest son Optimus, who is definitely a daddys baby. He doesn’t mess with anybody! (laughs). Bern brought Shaun and Nicole brought the rest of the party, Mckayla, Keefie, the eldest, Brandon, Baby D and King, the baby. It was the first time any of them would meet, this was gonna be special, I thought, but wait what if they don’t like each other, all sorts of thoughts ran thru my head. I can only smile as I think back to that weekend, they had a ball and we didn’t even do anything crazy. It was just family, food and fun. I was in heaven but they was driving me nuts too. Man I had so much fun. I needed that. They were a breathe of fresh air (breathes), a break from the rap monotony. 

 

When the last parent came to get her kids I sat in silence and began to reflect on things passed and things to come, I missed them already. 

Mckayla’s birthday is actually on March 22nd which was the day before we were set to leave for the tour. It was also the day off Ginsu’s funeral service. I was an emotional wreck. I was supposed be preparing to leave for the overseas tour but I had an obligation. I started drinking early that day which basically ended the same way with me passing out somewhere thats not my home. 

I stayed out way to late now I have to scramble to get my things together. Luckily I started picking gear out weeks ago. I made good time. Oh I forgot to mention, the day before, there were terrorist attacks performed in at least two separate places, one being Brussels. I started to get calls from friends expressing their concern. “Y’all not going over there are you”, one of my friends inquired. “Nah we good”, I assured him. 

Tek suggested we leave earlier to anticipate any extra time at security. We actually got through smoothly and arrived promptly at our gate. “Now boarding Delta Flight 420 to Manchester, London ”, It wasn’t a full flight and I had a window seat in the emergency row, talk about a come up (laughs). Anyway, the liquor and my nerves began to settle and I was sleep well before the plane even took off (laughs). I was burnt out and I needed this trip outside the box. Before I passed out I took time to look across the tarmac and began to reflect on things passed and things to come. 

 

By General Tony Steele

4/3/16

 

GUILTY

Guilty! read the news headlines in big bold letters. I write this in light of the recent verdict involving the 2014 shooting death of 28 year old Akai Gurley by NYPD officer Peter Liang. It’s been two years since his death. He leaves behind several loving family members which include a now four year old daughter Akaila

I can only imagine the pain of loss the family has had to endure or the methods in which they use to cope with this tragic turn of events. What were the thoughts and feelings of Akai's friend, Melissa,  as she struggled to keep the life force from leaving Akai, after he was struck down by a single shot to the chest from none other than a police officers gun? 

What went thru Akai Gurleys mind as he felt the sting from a single bullet and what went thru officer Liang's mind as his life has just taken a turn for what could prove to be the absolute worst outcome. Are their families prepared to deal with the horror and suffering of what is being regarded as a tragic mistake?

Normally you call the police when someone is shot, injured or assaulted, but in this case, who do you call when the ones who are assumed the responsibility to protect and serve are the very same perpetrators of the crime itself. 

The single shot was discharged from the Glock 9 of rookie police officer Peter Liang. Officer Liang claimed, initially he was unaware he actually shot someone, perhaps he was in a state of shock and denial as he and his partner discussed whose phone should be used to call the Sergeant. Officer Liang was afraid he would lose his job for firing his service weapon, so saving the life of Akai Gurley seemed to be of little to no importance. "Shot In The Dark, Cop Accidentally kills man in stairwell..." reads the headline and as to officer Liangs own personal account, "he was afraid".

There were many details involving this case which led a jury to find officer Liang guilty of manslaughter and official misconduct. In light of the many shooting deaths of unarmed black and latino males involving police officers, this may seem like a victory. Others cried murder and pushed for the maximum penalty under the law. Some even say he’s being used as a scapegoat for the NYPD. He is the first police officer to be convicted in the last decade.

I find this to be a sad case in our history. Here we have two young men Akai Gurley 28 and Peter Liang, who was also 28 at the time of the shooting, meeting at the crossroads to a deadly outcome. Both young men were victims of circumstance. Akai Gurley born of West Indian descent and raised in the belly of Brooklyn, was found guilty before having a chance to prove his innocence as he lay clinging to breathe from an unsuspecting single shot to the chest. 

This wasn’t beef he had from a rival gang or a robbery gone bad. We know that living in the ghettos of Brooklyn can be very dangerous to say the least. To take a quote from rap artist Smif N Wessuns 1995 song “Stand Strong", “it gets mad deep in the streets, when you gotta watch ya back for beast, enemies even ya peeps”, the beast being slang for police.

Peter Liang, born in Hong Kong, residing in Bensonhurst and a rookie to the NYPD force, was given the responsibility of patrolling the darkened stairwells of Louis H. Pink Houses in East New York Brooklyn. Even people who live there are afraid to explore the stairways of the notorious projects. Officer Liang took an oath to protect and serve but did he really understand the responsibility of such an oath? Did his superiors use fair judgement when they assigned him that post? 

Officer Liang was fresh to the force with 18 months in, yet being a resident of Brooklyn he may have been well aware of the dangers in becoming a police officer in the current state of New York. One can also assume that officer Liang may have been thrusted into a situation he was ill equipped to deal with. If this is the case, then one can assess that not only is officer Liang guilty of the charges presented against him but it also illustrates the poor judgement on the part of his superiors within the NYPD. The NYPD is also guilty of the same charges which officer Liang now faces 15 years to life for.

What should be the punishment for an institution which has been under scrutiny for its many cases of reckless endangerment and official misconduct, which often results in false accusations, brutality and even murder of innocent men and women mainly black and latino?

Liang and Gurley were both born of modest parents who both struggled to make a better life for themselves and their families. They both met their destined fate that gruesome day in that dark, cavernous stairwell. Neither expected to be the model for similar cases to come, neither wanted to be the poster child for this advertisement. If either could turn back time…

Two families destroyed due to the negligence of the institution known as the NYPD. We can choose sides but in this instance I will remain neutral and just offer an aspect for conversation and further analysis not for judgement and condemnation. 

Akai Gurley took a bullet from Officer Peter Liang and officer Liang  took a figurative bullet  to diffuse an already volatile relationship between the NYPD and the people of the community. We endured stop and frisk, where innocent black and latinos were racially profiled and sometimes detained and brutalized by members of the NYPD. I know, not all cops are bad but each cop reflects the psychology of the institution which he or she is employed by. In addition, not every young black male is a criminal, but many have been victims of police brutality, if not first hand, then by a family member or friend.

There are deeper issues embedded in the seams of our society that makes us all guilty. In some form or fashion we have to share the blame for what this society has become or what it is becoming. Our children are afraid to play outside, the parents fear for for their children’s lives while the people who are employed to provide and ensure some level of safety are in fear of losing their lives on the job. 

Fear is the bodies natural alarm system. Many of us cannot operate under fear, then others are propelled into action because of their fear. Some fear the unknown while others are intrigued by it. Officer Peter Liang was afraid way before he stepped into that deadly stairwell. I’m sure he didn’t have intentions on killing a young black unarmed male that day but he did have his finger on the trigger and whether accidental or not he did fire the fatal shot that ended the life of Akai Gurley. 

To add insult to injury, Akai was still breathing and may have had a chance to survive if given the proper attention. This speaks to the very fabric of a damaged people entrenched in social and civil injustices, disproportionate access to information and resources, conditioned into acclimating in institutions cloaked in racism, classism and fascism.

This is clearly a case of injustice and a tragedy for the Gurley family, the Liang family and us as a people. I sincerely sympathize with the families who have to relive this tragic turn of events. Hopefully we as a people, all races can find a commonality thru humanity and realize that All Lives do Matter

Although it is said that every child is born innocent,  many of us are found guilty since birth. 

 

REMEMBER TIMOTHY STANSBURY.

 

By General 'Tony' Steele

MY TIME IN EUROPE PART3: BUDAPEST

IMG_6267.jpg
 General Steele with Dj Nadir

General Steele with Dj Nadir

Monday October 26 2015 we arrive in Budapest, Hungary. The streets are narrow and there is graffiti sprawled on every other wall. We're greeted by DJ Nadir a slim guy with long dreadlocks. He seemed a bit familiar to me. He reminded me of someone I knew back in the states. He even mentioned how he was originally from Baltimore, Maryland. He held us down while we were in Budapest. His vibe was cool, sort of laid back but very focused.

We unloaded our bags and began to walk thru what appeared to be a city within the city laced with shops and restaurants. We entered into this building and proceeded to an office to check into our rooms. These rooms were different than the others. We would actually be staying in a fully furnished duplex apartment equipped with a kitchen, 2 bedrooms and 2 1/2 bathrooms. I was excited about this because this meant we would get to cook some real food and get to stretch out a little bit because we would we spending the next 2 days here.

We were all pleasantly surprised as we entered the apartment, none of us expected this and it was exactly what we needed. We could really enjoy our time in Budapest, I thought. Some of the guys began to roll up joints as the rest of us took a tour around the apartment. We had the night off so there was no urgency to do anything. I chose my room immediately, an upstairs loft style bedroom with sky windows attached to a bathroom with a tub.

I set up shop and joined the rest of the guys downstairs. We were all pretty hungry and it was getting late. We went to dine at this amazing Restaurant Cafe Vian.  The service was good, the food was great. Tek and I had the grilled salmon while Buck had the lamb. We all enjoyed our food and voted this as the best food on the tour thus far. We left very satisfied but it wasn’t until later I realized we under tipped the waitress.  

There was an event going on later that evening that we were contemplating on attending. We decided to stay in and get some well needed rest. I never did make it to my bedroom, I just fell asleep in the living room watching videos on Youtube with Buckshot. I eventually woke up in the early hours of the morning and went to my bedroom. Buck and Tek were still asleep so I decided to take a bath.

I haven’t actually sat in a bathtub in a while and this apartment came equipped with a hug tub positioned underneath a sky window. I rarely find time to relax on the road so this was gonna be a new experience for me. I programmed my phone to play John Coltrane and sat back under the sky window allowing my thoughts to just flow. 

IMG_6302.jpg

I got out of the tub feeling rejuvenated and very relaxed. The guys were still sleeping so I went downstairs to do some writing, shorty after, Buck woke up and we started building over a joint and some tea. Afterwards he left to go to the other apartment to change clothes. Yes, we had two identical apartments but we're so conditioned to being around each other, we didn’t really need the extra place but it was perfect for us to recuperate and prep for the rest of the tour, besides that, Figub, the DJ we had with us was a little under the weather and was in need of well deserved rest.

Today was an off day and although we had a meet and greet later that evening, we had all day to do whatever we desired.  I spent most of my morning writing and recounting the days that passed. When Tek woke up and Buckshot came back to the apartment we went to get something to eat. Figub was still in his room resting while we went out to explore. We didn’t have to go far because all the eateries were literally right there as soon as we walked out the building. It reminded me of when I was a kid on Delancey Street, where they would have guys stand outside every store and solicit people to come in their shop to spend money.

The only difference, besides it being years later in a foreign country, was that they used attractive women to lure you in promising the best food experience in town. We just wanted to get some good ole American Style breakfast, you know, pancakes, eggs things like that. Then we passed by a place called Blue Bird Cafe, that had infectious cakes and pies in the window and Buckshot was magnetized. I admit he has an eye for spotting certain things which remain less obvious to most of us and although I am not a heavy dessert guy, I was also taken by the display.

We decided on the Blue Bird Cafe. We all ordered the same thing, pancakes, eggs, toast, needless to say the service nor the food was satisfactory and we all left disappointed. Buckshot was admittedly frustrated, being the particular eater he is and he was sure that this spot had the goods. "How could you f*ck up pancakes, eggs and toast?" (laughs).

The service obviously wasn’t geared for full breakfast guys like us. I say that while examining the room as other patrons have their coffee, croissants, cakes and pies. It took our food a minute to come out and then we only received the eggs. Then several minutes later the pancakes arrived as if they had to have them made at another secret location.

The pancakes were small silver dollar style which I love, with fresh fruit, which was the best part and a tiny ounce size cup of syrup. Buckshot wasn’t as pleased, he was a bit disturbed as to how late the service was, how cold the eggs were and how much syrup they gave him or should I say how little they gave him. We laughed as Buck began to rant on. Although I agree with Buck, I knew we were far away from the comfort of what we were used to and I was enjoying it all. 

We met up with the rest of the guys back at the apartment and began to map out the plans for the day. There was a meet and greet scheduled as well as dinner and radio. We had some time before our engagement so we rolled up some weed and began conversing on several topics and landed on the topic of food. Buckshot is very particular about what he eats, whereas Tek and I are a bit more flexible even daring.

We told them about our recent encounter at the Blue Bird Cafe while Buck stressed the lack of syrup. Dj Nadir and his partner began talking about their experience with various cheeses and honey. I admit my experience with cheese is extremely limited let alone putting honey on it, so while I was not totally tempted I was still intrigued. Although we joked about their weird choice of taste, we were the ignorant ones, I thought.

They were speaking about cheeses I never cared existed mostly because I was content with what I thought I already liked, but being a student of life, I began to wonder what it be like to try something outside of the box and besides, we’re only talking about cheese and honey.(smirks) 

The meet and greet was held at this bar where they had an area set up for us. We signed autographs, took pictures, sold some PNC tee shirts and a few CDs, had a few wacky drinks since they didn’t have Hennessy, overall, it was pretty cool. These were the people we would see front stage at our show the following day.

When it was time to eat we walked to a spot which DJ Nadir had reserved. It was the holiday season and they were filming what appeared to be a Christmas production on the streets needless to say the scenery was very movie-esque. When we got to the restaurant which was reserved we were disappointed. I forgot to mention that DJ Nadir is sort of a health nut and he doesn’t eat certain foods. Im not sure if he is a vegetarian but he spoke of healthy eating and the place he took us to reflected that, well sort of.

They only had a few dishes on the menu and it was more like a sushi bar with out the sushi. It was stuff like brussell sprouts and hummus which I love and thats just what I could recognize, I personally need a little more in order to call it dinner besides that I knew Buck and Tek weren't gonna eat any of this stuff.

We went to a spot called Spiler which had quick dishes like assorted hot wings, fries, fried shrimp, etc. and tons of drinks. This was a safe choice for us as it was getting late and everything was closing. We went back to the apartment, ate our food then Buck and I proceeded to go to the radio while Tek stayed behind.

When we got to the radio they had some dope old school gear that reminded me of D&D Studios back in New York City, needless to say the guys weren’t prepared. None of the gear actually worked or maybe these weren’t the regular guys who operate it so we had to wait on another guy to bring in equipment to record us.

I was a bit frustrated because they were rushing us to get there and they weren’t ready. We finally decided to work with what we had which was our best bet considering that the other guy never showed up. We made it work then retired back to apartment. 

Tomorrow night is the show at Godor and I still haven’t seen any of the sights so I asked DJ Nadir to show me around before the show.

 clockwise from top smoke & chili, wine, almond

clockwise from top smoke & chili, wine, almond

Around noon DJ Nadir came to our apartment with the cheese, honey and bread. He had three kinds of cheeses, Almond, Wine and Smoke and chili flavored. I tried each cheese without honey at first and then with and found it surprisingly good. Tek was reluctant at first but he eventually tried it. Buckshot wasn’t going anywhere near it. 

DJ Nadir, his friend Tomek and myself went out to see the sights while Tek and Buck stayed behind. They asked me where would I like to go and I responded, "I don’t know Im not from here, I just wanna see something other than the inside of my room". They took me to the Parliament and then to Heroes Square.

Im grateful for that experience because we travel to so many countries yet never get to see the sights, inner city or its Monuments. I was determined to change that this trip and I did if only for a short moment in time. We only had very little time before the show and there was a lot of traffic so we decided to head back and get ready.

Smif-N-Wessun & Buckshot, Black Smif-N-Wessun, Sean Price Tribute Live at Godor Budapest, Hungary

The show was a great turn out. The energy was electric and the fans were pleased. Another win for the home team. Tomorrow we drive to Linz or should I say later today and we have another show tonight. May the force be with us.

 

By General Steele

TONY AND EARL

I have just recently been reunited with my uncle Earl referred to nowadays as Ptah Amen. He’s only one year older than me so we’re more like brothers than uncle and nephew. He’s just coming home from completing a 22 year sentence in prison on an initial sentence of 20 years to life. He went in around the time I dropped my first album Dah Shinin’ so he never got to attend any shows or studio sessions. He was and still is a great influence in my life and I am glad to have him home. Home is where the heart is and we came a long way from 131 Belmont Avenue in Sethlow Projects where we grew up together. 

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As kids, before Steele or Ptah we were just Tony and Earl. I lived with my parents and two brothers on the 14th floor while Earl lived on the second floor at Grandmas house, where all the action was. Rule was always ahead of his time, as his asiatic attribute connotes, Intelligent Ruler God Allah. During his last prison time he officially changed his name to Ptah Amen. He is responsible for people like Supreme, Top Dog, Rockness, Lidu Rock and many of us learning the 120 or the Lessons of the Nation of Gods and Earths or simply The 5% Nation, amongst other plus degrees exceeding religious theologies. He exposed us to this very early on but unfortunately, he went to jail for a 1 to 3 year sentence.

When Ruler returned, after his first jail stint, the nieghborhood had changed. We had moved from the projects but life didn’t get any easier. At that time crack was still king and pretty much every urban black and latino family was heavily affected by this epidemic, Ruler was also a victim of this systematic trap. He was never a guy to pursue money or fame, he was more family oriented. He would hustle and then give his earnings away to his family, friends, etc., he never cared much for material things. 


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Ruler became an integral part in one of the most notorious drug crews in Brooklyn, but his entrance into the drug game was as innocent as any others and his dedication and loyalty would prove to be both his making and undoing ushering a magnificent transition of growth and evolution but not without a great deal of sacrifice and suffering. Some say no pain no gain and if that be the case then Ruler has endured more pain than the average person should have to bare. We saw a lot as kids, probably more than we should have to at such a young age but it’s those experiences that make us the men and women we are today. 

He’s my idol because of his strength and his undying love for what is right. I can only hope to possess such genuine atonement with nature. I know its odd to hear for most, considering that he is a convicted felon, and we know how young black males like to glorify jail culture, but I’ve had the honor of being around some great minds and learning the most valuable lessons from folks some would deem as degenerates of society. 

Some of my best lessons came from folks who actually lived in the harshest conditions. Many want to write off the dopefiend, the crackhead or the drunk, the convict, the war vet, the homosexual, the blacksheep of the family. Many want to condemn children for growing up as victims and making choices no child should ever have to make. Many would deny that the playing field is layered with racism, fascism, classism and all kind of isms  nonetheless we find ways to co exist with-in this social kaleidoscope. 

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Although Ruler and I stand at opposite ends of a particular spectrum we share inbred similarities not to mention the same astrological sign of Sagittarius. It means a lot for me to be reunited with Ruler at this time and just to have him free from prison bondage. Since he’s been home he’s been impressively focused. He’s always been super focused to me but I can only imagine the pressure he has, not only from re-adjusting to current day society but from personal aspirations, family and friends as well. 

 

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To rehabilitate or to be rehabilitated requires one to be willing to change or even to see reason for considering change in the first place. Ruler, Ptah, Uncle Earl has always been a beacon for change in my eyes. When you listen to my lyrics on my debut LP Dah Shinin you will hear his influence thru out as well as LPs and songs to follow. 

 

After 22 years of talking via letter or kite, by phone or on 2 hour prison visits, we finally get to build one on one, on several topics of life. There is so much I want to ask and say and there is so much he has to offer. Rule expressed his interest in sharing his experience with others which inspired me to come up with some questions to ask him pertaining to his time in prison. I wanted to have a conversation that wasn’t too opinionated or too esoteric. I chose to build on the inter-connection between Hip Hop and Prison culture. 

Ruler spoke with the poise of a scholar,  poignant and considerate. This would be the first of many deep conversations that we would share publicly. I look forward to learning about his prison experiences, how he managed to stay strong, what methods he used, the programs he was a part of, the people he bonded with, the politics of prison industry, the school to prison pipeline, religion, astrology, etc. Rule has always been a vast source of knowledge and information. As kids he studied the lessons of the 5% Nation Of Gods And Earths, The Bible, The Holy Quran, The Bhagavad Gita, Egyptology, Numerology, Spirituality , to name a few, and this was as teenagers and young adults. He was also into boxing and the arts of self defense so he studied all the great fighters as well asprinciples of the Art Of War.

 

In the streets, I witnessed Earl transition into Ruler and in prison, Ruler transitioned into Ptah Amen, not just a name change but a life transformation, an inner growth. Sometimes we go through things that make us bitter toward our experiences but Ptah illustrates a heightened evolution as if he was freed of all human burdens ready to embrace his newfound path. He once said to me during a visit, “I didn’t make a mistake, it was a trap that was set from the beginning.”  To some it may sound somewhat unrepentant but I understood it in a broader scope, being fully aware of the challenges we faced as children from home to school and within the community as a whole. Poverty and drugs was very prevalent in my neighborhood as in many African and Latino communities. Many were unable to avoid the allure and temptation of the drug culture, hence the trap is set.

Unfortunately this trap has claimed the lives and souls of young and old alike. The crack epidemic destroyed whole families like a plague offering no relief or rescue from its death grip. Former President Ronald Reagan declared a war on drugs, while oddly enough, figures in his establishment were directly responsible for the import of drugs and guns into the United States.  This war, like most wars drew many casualties. Ptah fell victim to the trap that was set and was severely punished for his transgressions.

Instead of damning the system that condemned him, he faces life with the positive outlook of an explorer on a quest for new land and experiences always open to constructive conversation as opposed to the introvert who has been conditioned not to trust, not to love and clings to every principle of survival. His energy is vibrant yet calm, his vision is clear and his mind is stable.

I understand that the transition for him is still a work in progress as it is for us all but his discipline has shaped him into a divine sculpted model for change. Ptah was a model prisoner, sharing his wealth of knowledge with many fellow prisoners, guards and civilians alike. He was respected and adored on the streets, in prison amongst friends and family which still holds true today.

I had the pleasure of attending a function with Ptah where I got to meet some of the dedicated people responsible for the advocacy of his release. Prior to Ptahs release he was denied twice at his parole hearings, which is an issue many inmates face. With the help of these volunteers, through The Parole Preparation Project, associated with the National Lawyers Guild-NYC Chapter Mass Incarceration Committee , Ptah was released in August 2015 and now gets to celebrate his first birthday, Thanksgiving and Christmas amongst his family and friends after 22 years of prison bondage.

 Adam Murphy, Ptah (Ruler) Amen, luna G. Montano and her brother

Adam Murphy, Ptah (Ruler) Amen, luna G. Montano and her brother

 

I look forward to learning from Ptah whatever he chooses to share from his life experiences as I look forward to sharing my experience with him, the way we both have with so many others over that last two decades. Welcome home Ptah, you are truly a gift and an asset to us all, thank God for bringing you back to us, Amen.

For me, it gets to be just plain ole Tony and Earl again. I love you unc’.   


BY GENERAL STEELE

FREEDOM OF SP**CH

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Permission to speak freely…denied!

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I write this in light of the case involving Latausha Nedd aka Eye Empress Sekhmet. For those unaware of this case, Latausha Nedd was arrested for making “terrorist threats” against officers in an open letter on her YouTube page. She called for open season on cops and crackers and is accused of assaulting or what they call endangering the welfare of a minor. 

In a separate case 33 year old Ebony Dickens was arrested in Atlanta Georgia for a Facebook post she published urging death to all white cops.

In the case of Latausha Nedd not only did she deny endangering the welfare of a minor but she insists her threats weren’t that serious stating that, “its just YouTube.”  A judge disagreed when she was denied bail on the more serious charges. Some argue this is a case of Freedom Of Speech others call it an outright Act Of Terrorism

Latausha’s case involved the FBI and the US Marshall in association with The Joint Terrorism Task Force or JTTF. As the investigation continues in both cases it  appears that these women have already been tried and convicted if not by their own words but by the media and the understandable fear that grips many of us in the Land Of The Free. There have been many cases to date that argue freedom of speech and/or freedom of expression. The question we have to ask as Americans is, “What are the parameters of these freedoms?”

America has often had tension with different Nations around the world specifically in the Middle East. More recently there have been many acts of terrorism committed in United States adopting the phrase Domestic Terrorism. Sadly it is not new that America has experienced many cases of domestic terrorism. For example The Wall Street Bombing in 1920, The 1963 Bombing of the 16th St Church in Birmingham orchestrated by KKK members , The Oklahoma City Bombing in 1995, the Harvard University graduate and former math professor Theodore Kaczynski aka The UNABOMBER, the FORT HOOD shooting with Nidal Malik Hasan in which FBI was aware of disturbing activity online but never deemed it a threat not to mention the South California shootings of 2013 involving Christopher Dorner, The bombing in Boston and the mass killing of churchgoers in 2015 by Dylan Roof to name a very few.

 Dylan Roof

Dylan Roof

We can examine Free Speech, The United States Constitution or The Patriot Act but I wish to appeal to the common sense and how many Americans truly comprehend the consequences of expressing your ideals and even act upon them in this current day. Do we understand the boundaries of freedom of speech and expression? How many Americans have even read the United States Constitution? and how does it even apply in this current day and to whom?

Not all Freedom of Speech incidents involve acts of domestic terrorism. There are instances where art is the assailant to crimes yet to be committed. As in the case of rapper Tiny Doo who is facing prison time for rapping about gang affiliations or Cameron D’Ambrosio who was arrested for posting a rap lyric on Facebook which was deemed a terrorist threat.. There are several more cases where rap lyrics where used to arrest and even convict in a court of law. 

 Brandon 'Tiny Doo' Duncan

Brandon 'Tiny Doo' Duncan

 Cameron D'Ambrosio

Cameron D'Ambrosio

One debate is that the people targeted are a disproportianate amount of minorities specifically African Americans and Latinos. I think we need to closely examine the margins of what actually is free speech in America. Is it what we assume it be or is it just some idealistic concept to pacify the more aggressive advocates for change in community, policy and government. Some argue that freedom of speech doesn’t exist anymore due in part to the terrorist acts of 9/11 which set off a chain of events spawning new laws and amendments. Two major results of this is The United States Patriot Act and Homeland Security.

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I don’t profess to be an expert on this issue I am merely opening a dialogue for an intelligent analysis of incidents that catapult this Government and the people into domestic strains and forces us to change the value or at least test the values that many have died to preserve namely The Constitution and the basic rights of all people and the citizens of the United States of America. There are people who believe what they do is right and they will die to protect their beliefs their ideaologies and their God given freedoms. Who can actually say who is wrong or right and what outline do we use to come to this conclusion.

Here are some of my ideas of domestic terrorism:

police harassment, intimidation and brutality

poverty

child abuse

domestic violence

drug abuse

homelessness

joblessness

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This is not to berate any form of violence or injustice committed against any living creature or any damage done to any property based on an ideology or belief of an individual and/or group. This is not to incite every patriotic nut to debate their love for their country. One can arguably say that many of us if not all want to live in a country where freedom is free and not at the cost of young lives. Many believe it is right and even honorable to die for what you believe in.

Is it possible to truly express yourself freely, without causing harm to others and what constitutes harm also how do we gauge the level of seriousness in the case of verbal and/or physical threats?  

In 1775 Patrick Henry said, “Give me liberty or give me death!”

In 1989 Chuck D of Public Enemy stated, “Our freedom of speech is freedom or death…”

By General Steele