Mike Brown Soundtrack: Hip-Hop and Character Assassination

Somewhere adrift in Ferguson coverage, there was a feature depicting Mike Brown’s struggles as documented through his music. The SoundCloud still stands to this day; play counts skyrocketing since his untimely demise.

Spend a spare moment thumbing through the low-fi monologues and you’ll find a narrative unfamiliar to many Black boys in America: money, clothes, hoes, and wanting more from yourself as you figure the world out. That may read as a mere stereotype from your screen, but it is true to thousands nonetheless. It’s the same rooted context of several championed narratives of oppression by hip-hop demigods from Queensbridge to Marcy to Zone 6 Atlanta and beyond.

Despite the mutual understanding — a context thousands more embody daily — I still thank God the mainstream news never caught on to Big Mike’s efforts.

I think of Big Mike’s SoundCloud the way I think of the faux-outrage behind the Malia Obama Instagram selfie in a Pro Era t-shirt, the same way I remember the pictures of Trayvon Martin in a gold grill with a blunt in his mouth, and the same way I remember the #WhatPhotoWouldTheyUse campaign highlighting media selectivity through the juxtaposition of negative and positive images of the same person, leaving the debate wide open for what story should be painted.

The now-infamous selfie of Malia Obama in a PRO ERA t-shirt that made a corner of the media go insane.
A Trayvon Martin photo that leaked back in the heat of the case.

I even think of Waka Flocka Flame canceling his University of Oklahoma performance in the wake of the SAE chant video’s 15 seconds in the spotlight.

All things considered, I tune in to the hype machine and I’m reassured of the following: 1) Damn, they fucking hate us. 2) Damn, I wonder if they hate hip-hop even more.

If the news we consume became as acquainted with Big Mike as they did with Michael Brown in the heat of the past fall in Ferguson, the trail of his life would have mirrored the trail of his blood in the street; all of his Black man humanity spilling deeper into the hot cement. A field day would have ensued to the tune of a hip-hop hooray once again, with vultures pulling the rest of his innocence from his bones for every time he said nigga or thot or bitch or dick. This would result in the penultimate declaration of a death Mike Brown deserved even more as he bragged about his sexual exploits and playfully shooting down his enemies. The grand jury of his peers would swear he had it coming to him, like the gangbanger he was.

No angel, indeed.

At the risk of sounding like an apologist for all things wrong with the hip-hop I love, the first point should be evidently clear: nothing Mike Brown said on this SoundCloud had anything to do with his death. Obvious as that should be, there’s another layer: Hip-hop is continuously ushered back into the fold of the journalistic spin factor, made the enemy of all things right in the world, and a near-automatic qualifier in an effort to assassinate the character of a Black body in any and all cases.

In the lens of a white society, hip-hop is malleable only in sheer irony: the lowest brow of audible art forms, with a premium placement on destroying the fabric of the perception of Black folk one bar at a time. Bars are scrupulously picked through to illustrate how we all need our fathers, how we’re drug-addicted, how we need more jobs and more education, and how we hate everything in a productive society.

Fuck that shit. No more.

This is one of my favorite clips on the Internet.

Internalized indictments of black savagery are selectively reinforced by “urban” media, thoroughly lining the streets with brown bodies before a cop or a neighbor even earns the opportunity to execute them. The selectivity originates from an inner desire to confirm one’s beliefs rather than refute them. One may argue this as a function of mere human nature; in the peculiar cases of drum breaks and dark skin, it evolves into nothing more than full-bodied character assassination with half-hearted evidence to confirm the evil that must exist within all brown souls.

How many snares does it take to get to the center of a carcass?

A clip of the Mau-Maus from Spike Lee’s “Bamboozled” film.

Full transparency: I began writing this piece in the basement of Mad Planet in Milwaukee this past January as my friends performed above me. I only returned to it now, three months later, out of sheer exhaustion. It’s the type of exhaustion only brown writers feel: a specific, nagging fear that one can write the same stories of brown bodies all ending with death with the same punchline. After a while, all the text runs dry as one sprawling, bloody appeal of one’s own humanity to earlobes and eyeballs that never seem open enough to receive and heed the message so it will no longer have to be repeated. But you’re the most exhausted by writing how exhausted you are.

But someone wise told someone else that the money is in repetition.

If you are a brown person who exists in the United States in any way, every intricacy of your life is subject to a public trial before a jury of your oppressors. That trial may become much sloppier if you participate in hip-hop in any form or fashion. The flaws in your art will become the ugliest pieces of your humanity. You will be a thug even if you never were before. You will become the nigger they’re all afraid of.

You will not get a second chance. Black and brown kids don’t get enough of those.

Big Mike’s SoundCloud never permeated the mainstream in the prime of the Ferguson news cycle. I thank every God (there may be) above that it didn’t. No hip-hop head I know would have stomached that well. Hell, no Black person I know would have taken that at all. We’ve reached a point where the initial shock of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown has faded in the near-past to the point where it feels senselessly archaic to be shocked about any Black or brown child dying unjustly anymore.

When I write for the page or speak on the stage, I’m praying that I’m not writing my death certificate because my words were too loud or too Black for this country to handle. I’m still coping with the fact that it’s no longer in my control because the world will make a monster out of you in any way it may see fit… it’s just a little easier to dehumanize you over the right 808.

Even Trinidad Jame$ still has to suffer through it. But at least Marc Lamont Hill understands him.

This essay appears in print in the first issue of the o Bruxo periodical started by Rory Ferreira (milo + scallops hotel) under the Ruby Yacht label imprint.

My album “more perfect.” is now available on Soundcloud and MishkaNYC.