MNR: Jeff Houses’ Greatest
“I speak in codes man, tú sabe? Always cállate. Bendición to mi madre. Even though she never did nothing for me, acknowledge me, as I run down my life story.”
Black Rob “Life Story”
You don’t know…how crazy it is…outside. I died inside so many times. Oh, I cried. Oh, I cried…Thomas Jefferson Houses and #eastside Harlem lost a legend in the rap game. RIP to 1st half (15th St. & 1st Avenue) Jefferson Projects legend Black Rob, AKA Bacardi Rob, AKA Robbio, AKA Banco Popular. BR is widely known for his 2000 smash hit “Whoa,” which went on to win a Source Award (when they existed AND mattered) for Best Song. His debut album Life Story was hailed a classic. It reached #3 on the US Billboard 200 (THREE, MF!!!) and #1 (DON’T GET NO HIGHER THAN THAT) on the US Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums. It is CERTIFIED RIAA PLATINUM. Although Rob never matched the acclaim or sales of Life Story, he went on to release six more albums, including The Black Rob Report (my shiznit). Not only was Rob a member of the home team, but he was also our #1 representative. He didn’t put Jeff Houses on the map, but he damn sure provided a bright ass light to shine on the P’s. BR grew up in Jeff with my big cousin E. Bradley; they were cool with one another. Rob had it tougher than most kids in the P’s, he was really from one of those deprived households. Cuzzo said the kids used to pick on him when they were small (cousin included). Rob took his share of hard knocks, but he stuck with his craft. We love BR so much because he always repped the P’s and the Town to the fullest ; he had crazy love for Jeff and the entire Spanish Harlem. He also introduced the world to fellow #eastside representative G. Dep, who hails from the other side of 3rd Avenue in [James Weldon] Johnson Houses (FREE MY NIGGA). This was before he introduced Dep to Puff (NO COMMENT). The hood remembers the Eastside Sopranos. Fuck. We just lost X, and it hurt. I still hadn’t gotten over that one. But this loss touched home. Literally. Rest in power Black. Love, infinite.
As of last Friday, I’m no longer working virtually. I’m back in the building (happily). Earlier today, I noticed the flags are at half-mast. Respectfully, I could give a fuck about who they’re actually at half-mast for. In my heart and corrupted mind, they fly at half-mast for X and Rob. Champagne tears for our two soldiers no longer here.
Since March 16 (the Atlanta spas shootings), America has endured at least 50 mass shootings. A mass shooting is defined (by CNN) as a shooting with four or more casualties, excluding the shooter. That’s 50+ mass shootings in just over 40 days. I WANT Y’ALL TO MARINATE ON THAT FOR A MINUTE. LITERALLY.
Ok. I’m back. It rips me apart at the seams when I think about how we are so desensitized and apathetic toward tragedy in our own country. We live in a country that has averaged more than one mass shooting a day since mid-March, but I’ve yet to have heard it mentioned in any casual conversation I’ve had with others. Outside of the news and the people and areas directly affected, it’s almost like they never happened. We typically just think to ourselves of how sad these shootings are, and quickly move off the thought. At most, we ask a loved one if they’ve heard about the latest shooting, agree that it’s a sad situation, and progress to the next topic, happy it didn’t happen in our community or affect any of our loved ones. It’s crazy. I’ve been saying for years that I live in one of the “safest” places in America, NY metro. I’m in Bergen County on the Jersey side of the Hudson, minutes away from my childhood home base of uptown NYC. I say that we are the safest because outside of the crazy sections of the boroughs, much of Paterson, some of Jersey City, and Newark (Essex) area, violent crime rates are very low. Tri-state, along with California, is the toughest place in America to purchase legal firearms. It is also the epicenter of America’s melting pot; damn near every race, religion, and culture can be found somewhere in NY metro, as well as a very prominent LGBT community. This means that we grow up together. We live together. We work together. It all equals increased tolerance toward the next person. I’m not acting like we live in a utopia; I’m simply saying that we are naturally more tolerant towards others through familiarity. This isn’t the case in a lot of areas, especially below the Mason-Dixon Line (with love to the Hali and VA) and much of the Midwest, meaning there are few relationships built outside of “comfort zones.” This natural segregation almost certainly breeds contempt when ignorance, propaganda, and misinformation are prevalent. The hate is organic.
THE OFT-OVERLOOKED MENTAL HEALTH COMPONENT
To me, the best part of the movie The Joker (outside of Joaquin Phoenix’s brilliant performance) was the mental health component. It showed Fleck’s gradual dissipation, fueled by the lack of availability of sufficient mental health resources. Initially, his social worker seemed to be apathetic, and it was made apparent that she was grossly overworked. Later, Fleck lost access to mental health services altogether, as cuts in budgetary funding meant he could no longer be treated. Not only did he lose the ability to consult with mental healthcare professionals, but he also lost medical coverage and was unable to attain the prescriptions and the meds he needed to remain “regular.” These losses coupled with his personal shortcomings and hard luck led to his demise and the rise of The Joker. Of course, Gotham City is a fictitious, uber macabre society. But damn it, the more I look at the real world, Gotham City isn’t far off.
That’s my parallel to the problems that exist in America today. Many Americans fall through the cracks of society, underserved in the aspect of mental health. Couple that with the ease of purchasing legal firearms outside of the aforementioned areas, and we have a true shit storm on our hands. The solution is multi-faceted and complicated. But honestly, we’ll never see the end of this. Second Amendment fanatics and their influence ensure that we’ll never have real gun control like damn near every other advanced nation. There is entirely too much money being passed over AND under the table for real action and change to take place. The NRA may be crippled, but they’ve already served their purpose. We live in a nation full of gun zealots. Some have mental health issues. And, at the rate of about 1.16 times a day the past month or so, we’ve seen the tragic results of this bitches’ brew. Smmfh. “This world is getting colder.” – Bryson Tiller
“I rap for listeners, blunt heads, fly ladies, and prisoners, Hennessy holders and old school niggas…”
“I reminisce on park jams, my man was shot for his sheep coat. Choco blunts’ll make me see him drop in my weed smoke.”
Nas, “Memory Lane (Sittin’ In Da Park)”
Today, 4.19.2021 marks the 27th anniversary of Nas’ debut album Illmatic, considered by many to be the greatest album in the history of the genre of rap. Its brevity (nine tracks + one interlude; 39:51 in duration) didn’t detract from the album’s brilliance or impact. In fact, it’s closer to today’s standard of album length. Illmatic was the first album to be produced by a team of “super producers,” including Q-Tip of A Tribe Called Quest/Ummah fame, DJ Premier, one half of the legendary duo Gang Starr and widely considered to be the best record cutting DJ ever, Pete Rock, one half of the legendary group Pete Rock & CL Smooth, fellow Queens native Large Professor of Main Source fame, and then newcomer L.E.S., Nas’ childhood pal and fellow Queensbridge representative. It’s as simple as this: Illmatic sounds like nothing that came before it and sounds like damn near every other great album that came in its aftermath in the mid-‘90s. It was a blend of the aforementioned production, Nas’ amazing multisyllabic flow, and his candid assessment of life in inner-city NYC. He didn’t necessarily make you love or hate the hood. He told you how shit went, and let you make that decision for yourself. Every track is classic, so I won’t run down or rank ‘em. I will admit that his bars “And I switched my motto. Instead of saying fuck tomorrow, that buck that bought a bottle coulda struck the lotto” gave me hope as a fifteen-year-old depressed Black boy. I still ponder the thought to this day. The video for “The World Is Yours” forever inspired me when its ending revealed that its total perspective came through the eyes of a young child looking out of his project window; that was some deep shit. To this very day, I’m still intrigued by the lyrics of “Memory Lane.” I think about the homies I’ve lost in the trenches and how special they were to me as well as the world. That’s the epitome of legendary music. It invokes and inspires thought. For me, the homies live on when I listen to his lyrics in that song. Bendiciones to the GOAT Nasir Bin Olu Dara Jones. Blessed born, Illmatic.
“I left a half a hundred in your commissary. You was my nigga when push came to shove. One what? One love.”
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