Five Years Since ‘Cold Day In Hell’, ‘Now or Neva’: The Motivational Qualities of Rap

On this day in 2011, Freddie Gibbs and LEP Bogus Boys dropped the two most important albums of my life that I no longer listen to. This is why.

LEP Bogus Boys (L-R: Count, Moonie)

Any time I need to feel a jolt, I turned on “Rob Me A N*gga” by Freddie Gibbs and Alley Boy. Gibbs’ verse, with its menacing bravado, takes me to a place that only a home invasion on wax ever could. He’s calculated, poised and ready to take what he knows belongs to him.

In my terms, that most likely means a job promotion.

On this day in 2011, two mixtapes dropped that forever changed my life: Cold Day In Hell by the aforementioned Freddie Gibbs and Now Or Neva, the (unfortunate) last full project from the Chicago duo, LEP Bogus Boys.

For some reason, rap that speaks of violence touches a place within me that is all about motivation. It speaks to drive and passion, the desire to rule. The desire to survive by any means necessary. I can relate, even though I can’t relate.

And even when I’m now in a space to find common ground more than ever, I can no longer listen to it. Outside of “Rob Me…”, no other song grabs me in the way that it used. Part rap business and personal maturity, I’m saddened that I no longer feel the rush of it all. I’m heartened, however, that I could see its greatness beyond the alleged banality of its lyrical content.

Homicidal rap means a lot to me. My first introduction to hip hop began with Wu-Tang threatening to sew your a**hole shut and shove food into your mouth. Gunshots replaced snares. Home invasions were the crime of normalcy. A skit with a imaginary evening newscast lamenting the death of another innocent bystander? A bonus. Police sirens? Of course. This was my music of choice, my daily soundtrack. Motivation on a highly metaphorical scale that possessed no common ground.

I grew up in the suburbs of Washington D.C. where sidewalks were somewhat nonexistent and street lights were few and far between. It was scarily quiet, only noise you heard were deer and the occasional police car. I really mean occasional because the only time we saw police officers were if they lived in the neighborhood (which many did). Every house looked the same, every lawn was cut to perfection. Nothing happened. Seriously.

But we were five minutes away from our area’s more rough parts. Parts that we were told not to visit. We were a stone’s throw from southern Prince George’s County, where the murder rate skyrocketed in the early part of the 2000s. And the news tried to scare you but also helped to instill this separatist attitude that allowed for you to feel immune to everything. Even if you were one major road away.

So in a very twisted way, as a Black person that did not grow up in the city, you felt disconnect from every terrible thing that “affirmed” your Blackness. Your plight isn’t the same, even if you experienced racism from neighbors or second glances from those same police officers that lived in your neighborhood. Your parents moved you here so you didn’t have to relate to what they saw growing up. Yet you feel like something was missing because you didn’t.

Let me be hard for the sake of keeping up appearances. White people think and fear that I should be. Some Black folk wonder why I don’t possess the genes in order to channel that.

So I can’t relate to anything that Freddie Gibbs or LEP Bogus Boys rap about. But there is this connection and commonality: that will to win, that desire to be better, that angst for disrespect, that yearn to own your world, that thirst for family, that pain of loss and regret. Those fun nights and sad days. Those spastic wins and long-term disappoints.

Either in drug trades or a 9-to-5.

The ironic part is that when my life felt apart, when the struggle was insanely real, I drifted away from the sound that encapsulated my young adult years. This happened for two reasons.

First, all of my favorite artists from that era died an untimely but necessary hip-hop death. LEP signed a major deal right after Now or Neva and subsequently broke up without warning in 2013. Unfortunate since Chicago’s rap scene was as hot as it could be and many people gave them credit for their part in its resurgence.

My fall out with Freddie Gibbs is a bit more complex.

While his follow-up project to Cold Day, BFK, was the tape that catapulted Gibbs’ to beyond the blogs status, it just happened to be the first Gibbs project that didn’t woo me. This was around the time that he aligned himself with Young Jeezy, a move I wasn’t too hype about. Once he left Jeezy’s label, his next album, ESGN, was a throwaway. I was accustomed to a certain sound from Gibbs and trap-beat-out-the-bando Gibbs was not that.

He got me back with his collaboration with Madlib, Pinata. So much so that I was ready to say that Gibbs was back. But yet, even with a solid album, the damage was done and whatever good graces he had with me from that album didn’t matter. I had moved on, fronting like I hadn’t but knowing that I had. So as I listened to Shadow of A Doubt, his last full release, I was invested but not by much.

Then that rape charge happened.

Gibbs was ultimately acquitted of all charges, so it’s stored in the back of my mental Rolodex never to be seen again. But as a woman and a survivor of sexual assault, I still feel weird about the entire thing. I even feel weird to wear my Freddie Gibbs apparel.

Second, I believe it all comes down personal growth. For some reason, I started to have no desire for music that goes *blaow-blaow!*. Nothing about it appealed to me and honestly, the new sound of trap beats, drug deals and love for the co-co doesn’t do anything for me. It doesn’t sound like survival, it sounds like a stunt.

Even when I was homeless, working odd jobs, trying to survive and following the food-or-light bill narrative, I fell back in love with R&B. I wanted to feel potential, love, light. I didn’t want to be reminded of what I was going through nor what I could be if I didn’t get my life together.

I was unfairly able to disconnect. I could fall back into my suburban roots with shame. I was able to be different, able to say that I never had to live that life. Feeling a twisted sense of pride because I could turn off that music and never experience it — or what it speaks to — ever again.

That hurts me the most.

“Last night I wrote a letter to the government and it read “you don’t know who you fuckin’ wit”/Got killas on deck like a C.O./Got n*ggas checkin’ in everyday like a P.O/ I finna give ’em hell, I finna give ’em hell/ These motherf*ckas should’ve never let me out the jail…” — Moonie of LEP Bogus Boys, “Amerikkka’s Worst Nightmare

I should love the music for what it is, those motivations should not go anywhere. But I also listened to that music when my life was the most put together, when progress happened and dreams were on the front line. I couldn’t listen to Gibbs when my father was in the hospital or I was insanely drunk from the night before. I couldn’t give LEP a play because the anger mirrored my own for what was going on in my life. My escape wanted to be soundtracked by happiness, by a way out. Their music didn’t give me that. I feel like I should see as the drive towards a way out that way but I can’t.

I still for the tinge for it now that things in my life are getting back into order. Cold Day In Hell gets a play every now and then, still taking me to that same place of motivation and desire. Honestly, I haven’t listened to LEP since they broke up, a dissolution that still hurts me to this day. Those dudes were meant to win but ended up being casualties of the game that enabled them to survive.

But as I sit and write this, Moonie’s verse from “Amerikkka’s Worst Nightmare” flows throughout my office. My heartbeat is intense, taking me back to those moments when I could relate the idea of letting people know that I wasn’t to be ignored. It feels good, feels right.

Maybe it’s time to go back to the metaphoric motivational hip hop roots.

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