they say conversation rule a nation

After listening to a Pop Smoke album that I’m probably too old and definitely too suburban for, I had some questions for my friend Marquise: the most well-versed person I know in all things hip hop. An attempt to understand the history behind one lyric led to multiple days of texting that made me revisit books I’ve read and documentaries I’ve watched to try to make sense of it all. Kease’s responses are in bold.

Question. GDK? What does that mean?

So if it had a “K” at the end you can assume it means “killer”. The GD I can assume stands for Gangster Disciple. Not a hunned, though.

The K part? History. CK, BK. Crip Killers, Blood Killers. Remember the shoe British Knights?

No, I do not.

They would have BK on them so hella crips started rocking them. Even today, niggas still wary of it. That’s why you see things like “thicc” because Crips refuse to write “CK”. But of course dumb kids on the internet caught it and thought it was “cool”. This ain’t exactly valuable knowledge, though.

But it is. You hear references to this type of history throughout rap. “I think I’m Big Meech, Larry Hoover”. Those rhymes come from a presumption that the listener is going to understand it. There’s this whole Malcolm Gladwell podcast that gets into imagery in country music and it points out that country composers and emcees both use specific imagery that only people from that world would get. And gang history in hip hop is similar in that way. And if you don’t know the history — its start as self-defense, the influx of drugs, mass incarceration, movements like Thug Life — you’re sure as shit not gonna understand what’s going on now with the BLM movement.

I always loved that line from you on the ship that you’d tell corny dudes when they tried to trash hip hop. “That they were not well read enough to appreciate it”. It’s true. More people should put it like that too.

Thank you. But how many of them know about the Iran-Contra Reagan shit?

Because emcees do. I feel like I only started to learn this country’s history with my very, very, late arrival to hip hop listening.

The misconception that I see people having about everything going on is that Black Lives Matter and the associated protests are solely about slavery and Jim Crow.

As if red lining didn’t exist. As if the crack epidemic didn’t exist.

Exactly. Because what I hear from black people is that these protests are as much, if not more, about what’s happened SINCE ‘68.

Killing Fred Hampton, Angela’s trial, Assata in exile, the influx of drugs, going from 300K incarcerated to 2 million in three decades.

Ain’t no chemist live in the hood playing around with baking soda and coca. That was brought to the hood.

What’s the line from Straight Outta Compton? “You get AKs from Russia, cocaine from Colombia and ain’t none of us got a passport.”

I don’t think non-blacks in this country realize that if you removed everything that happened before 1970 people would STILL be in the streets burning shit down.

Man-, I’m so ready to move from this country.

But I’d argue that we’re the only country prepared to fight this. Any time I try to talk to my Colombian family, even my mixed cousins, they’re just not having the discussion about what it’s like down there. Can hardly find any literature on it. You walk into a bookstore in Gabon and find way more stuff on Freemasonry than Black Liberation. The diaspora follows the lead of Black Americans.

So we’re on the front lines basically?

And if there’s a chance at a sustainable future, racially, environmentally, it HAS to happen here. My Colombian family knows what the words “Black Lives Matter” mean now. When I did that concert in Gabon on the history of protest music, the building was called the John Lewis American Corner. If we don’t do it, then it’s not gonna happen.

I really think a second civil war is coming.

I’d argue that we’ve been in one for at least the past 35 years.

I mean like real real war. Shooting. Left vs Right vs the State.

But I feel like those kinds of claims are just a corny way of saying “the government might start killing white people too”. Because the militarization of the police in the War against Drugs reads on paper like an act of war. SWAT teams created in the seventies to respond to hijackings and hostage situations a few hundred times a year were being deployed forty thousand times a year by the 2000’s, throwing grenades and pointing rifles for a few grams of coke or weed. A whole motherfucking bomb on a residential neighborhood in the MOVE attacks.

But when the Right starts more constant domestic terrorism? The Alt-Right with inroads in a rural America that’s forty percent armed? Imagine what can happen in a place like Southern California where most of the water comes from Trump country Northern California.

But we’ve been sanctioning white domestic terrorism. The Bundys forcibly took that Oregon Wildlife refuge and stayed out there for six weeks. Saying that a civil war is coming to me feels like it’s ignoring the fact that white supremacy and income inequality have already violently torn up the foundations of the country. You don’t need to attack half the population when hurricanes and viruses come in and take care of all the poor people for you.

What the fuck are we supposed to do about the virus. How do we help minorities? We’re dying at such a higher rate. What the fuck do we do about that?

It’s gonna take the rest of our lives because it’s multiple generations’ worth of pillaging and plundering. The hood isn’t too different from the reservations in that way. Crime goes rampant, people don’t live long. When you start reading that Nazi Germany used our systems of native reservations and Jim Crow as models for what ended up being the Holocaust,the whole conspiracy is the one that’s right in front of our faces. The one that’s written in our constitution:that we’re supposed to have a subclass of people. And until enough people say it, which is happening for the first time in American history, we will remain blind to the fact that racism isn’t a problem in the system but it is, in fact, the system.

So you suggest almost completely rewriting our system? You think it was intended that way from the jump or evolved into that? Because seeing the backlash scares me. Seeing the lynchings that are getting called “suicides”.

I just think government sponsored white supremacism and our dying planet are more effective at genocide than an armed and dangerous minority.

And the former is even scarier because it’s got a fifty-year head start on any aspiring alt-right organization.

How you think humanity gonna end? Actual question. I think it’s gonna be disease that’ll catch us personally.

Well, it’s not mutually exclusive. Climate disaster includes all of the above. Humanity will never be more ingenious than nature. And this planet will make us pay more than any government or some organization lurking in the shadows will. Hurricanes are bigger and stronger, droughts are longer, mosquito-borne diseases going farther and farther North. The scariest theory is the one right in front of our faces. We have destroyed the natural balance of the planet and there might not be a way to save it.

The beauty in all this is that everything we’ve always known to be broken, this pandemic has finally put out there in the open. People are no shit demanding Universal Health Care and Livable Wages and the Green New Deal. The mistake will be in trying to work with self-identifying conservatives in this country. It’s a third of the electorate that is coming off the best three years of their lives and nothing’s going to change their mind. But the real evil comes from those that are complacent. Howard Zinn taught us you can’t be neutral on a moving train. And we’re seeing people take to the streets because they’ve chosen the direction we need to go.

Yo. Yes. I feel like this is really it.

I know. It has to be.

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Bryan Rincón

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