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Reflecting On Troy Ave & The Aggression That Many Young Black Men Carry

VIBE staff writer Darryl Roberston shares his personal experiences about life in the ghetto.

“Give it up, D,” Baby Love said with his left hand around my neck. He used his right hand to press the blade of his knife into my neck. Not hard enough to draw blood, but hard enough to make me believe that he would.

I went into survival mode and left the near death situation alive. I fought the guy off, however, he got what he wanted from me. And fortunately, the next time I saw Baby Love -- exactly one week later -- I didn’t have a gun. Had I'd been packing that day, anything could’ve happened. Because of my life and surroundings during that time sometimes I carried a weapon. However, that particular day all I had were my fists, a 4X4 and one of my partners from my ‘hood. From that day on, Baby Love and I had an understanding; I was a man to be respected. And while I didn’t have any further incidents with the goon, other problems lingered in my life. I became more aggressive, and my heart turned colder.

This isn't an uncommon occurrence in the ghettos of the world, though. Children who come from dysfunctional homes and poverty often experience mental and physical abuse -- and witness violence on a regular basis. I was twelve-years old the first time I saw someone take a bullet. The incident left me paranoid and defensive. I've even seen men get tied up and thrown in the trunk of a car until they gave up money. Seeing such atrocities and knowing that it could very well happen to anyone living in my neighborhood didn't leave me with any desire to show weakness.

This is how petty issues such as looking at someone the wrong way, accidentally bumping into someone or walking down the wrong block can lead to senseless violence -- especially in low income Black and Hispanic communities. From my experiences in marginalized areas, disrespect isn’t tolerated because of the distrust that plagues ghettos. We've seen simple words lead to deadly incidents, so we develop a shoot first, ask questions second mentality.

In our deteriorating communities, we've seen our childhood friends and neighbors lose their lives over nothing--LaQuan McDonald is but one of many examples. On top of this, the police patrol our 'hoods and harass us, and racially profile us -- an issue that Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor recently addressed. All of this produces internal aggression, and ultimately leads to outbursts of violence, and paranoia.

For years there's been a connection between crime and poverty, yet it seems that nothing is done to combat this connection. So, in areas where children are undereducated or uneducated, underemployed or unemployed, the crime rates are significantly higher than other areas. Add to that, the high rate of untreated mental health issues among Blacks, and there's a proven recipe for disaster.

This is nothing new. In fact, the first census (1890) that measured the African American generation born after slavery juxtaposed crime and poverty and blacks. The same juxtaposition was made among white immigrants living in tenements.

No one wakes up and says, 'I want to sell drugs for a living,' or 'I want to commit crime for a living.' There's a myriad of social, community, family, neighborhood, mental and even government issues that contribute to crime in America, especially in Black neighborhoods.

Along with the aforementioned factors, the 'hood is filled with young men who are clueless to the fact that there's life outside of the ghetto. And I know this because there was a long period of my life when I had no idea that I could go to college and pursue a career as a writer -- and history professor. Yes, I knew universities existed. But no one told me that I could go to college. And no one where I'm from went to college. So, college wasn't real to me. Nor was it for people of my background, I thought.

For years I believed that I'd be confined to a life as a drug dealer, a prison number or just a regular man holding down a 9-5. It took a life-changing event—which I’m not comfortable discussing here—for me to decide to pursue a real career outside of the streets. My thought process in doing this was gradual. My way of thinking didn't change overnight. It also took me going to jail, losing friends and associates to prisons, and death, to fully change my way of thinking.

To a ghetto kid who doesn't see a promising future, respect amongst his peers is paramount. Respect makes those irreverent to America, relevant in their ‘hood. Even myself. Prior to my transformation, I was nothing more than a gun toting ‘hood cat ready to die for my respect.

Which brings me to Troy Ave and the fiasco at New York City’s Irving Plaza on May 25th. This unfortunate incident left Ronald McPhatter, a.k.a. B$B Banga, dead and three others wounded—including Troy Ave. Also, the Brooklyn rapper has been charged and indicted on charges of attempted murder and criminal possession of a weapon -- likely destroying a rap career that he built from the ground up.

Now, in no way am I defending Troy Ave’s actions because this is a horrible situation for everyone involved. However, I do understand Troy Ave’s mindset. He’s just a regular ghetto boy who has yet to get rid of his way of thinking that tells him not to accept disrespect under any circumstance. His entire life, Troy -- like many other rappers and regular 'hood kids -- live with an unbending attitude picked up from their environment, poverty, government rules, police harassment and lack of education (often inexperienced teachers are hired to teach at underfunded schools with marginalized students). Troy Ave isn’t the first rapper to get in trouble for not being able to shake his way of thinking after making it out of the 'hood.

Back in 2001, Jay Z plead guilty to stabbing record executive Un Rivera, and received three years probation. Shyne received a ten-year sentence for assault, reckless endangerment and gun possession back in 1999. Fourteen years ago, Styles P served eight months in prison for stabbing a man, and the list goes on.

As stated earlier, violence and crime are results of issues such as poverty, lack of resources, psychological and physical abuse among other issues. Money and resources can fix or alleviate most of these issues. This is one of the reasons why rappers talk about selling drugs -- because their parents are underemployed or unemployed and can't make ends meet. So, they look to the drug trade. But that's another story.

What one has to understand is that some rappers really are from the streets. And their aggression comes from a real place. The important thing to take from the Troy Ave situation is to understand that he wasn't born a "gangsta." No one is. It's your environment that shapes who you will become. What do we expect from a child from the ghetto?

Since finding my passion for hip-hop journalism and academia, I've learned that there is no in-between. I can't walk the tightrope between chasing my dreams, yet holding on to a destructive thought process that I picked up from my 'hood. I have a purpose to fulfill now. Fulfilling a purpose is worth much more than showing my old neighborhood that I'm still the same knucklehead Darryl from South 5th Ave in Laurel, Mississippi.

The same goes for rappers who come from similar backgrounds as I have. Once a rapper inks a record deal, or becomes nationally known from his independent label, he's now in a position to exit the lifestyle that he or she used to live. And that's the goal: to get money, get out of the ghetto, and develop a new way of thinking about life, and be an example and motivation other ghetto kids of America.

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The 25 Best Latinx Albums Of 2019

As we inch closer to the end of another memorable chapter in music, the Spanish-language gap gets bigger by the day. To anyone who believed reggaeton's second coming or Latin trap was a trend were gravely mistaken as artists across the diaspora found success on the charts and in the streaming world. Artists like Bad Bunny, Rosalía and J Balvin continued to thrive off last year's releases while dropping memorable singles (and joint projects). Others like Sech broke the mold for the marriage of hip-hop and reggaeton with Panamanian pride. Legends like Mark Anthony and Ivy Queen reminded us of their magic while rising artists like Rico Nasty, DaniLeigh and Melii provided major star power and creative visuals for their tunes. Latinx music has continued to push boundaries and the same goes for our list.

Enjoy our ranking of the 25 best Latinx albums of 2019.

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Pictured (L-R): WurlD and Sarz
Courtesy of Management

Meet Sarz and WurlD: The Nigerian Producer-Singer Powerhouse Showing Africa’s Sonic Range

There’s a slow infiltration of sultry, soulful, lo-fi music in afrobeats—and the latest from Nigerian producer Sarz and his fellow countryman and singer-songwriter, WurlD, is just a taste of how the scene is evolving. Before landing at No. 1 on Nigeria’s iTunes Albums Chart, I Love Girls With Trobul was a long time coming. Backed by Sarz’ fresh instrumentals, WurlD flexes his songwriting chops to talk about all things love and lust in this eight-track EP. The project is a cohesive narrative of the ups and downs people face when grappling with relationships.

On the origin story of how this project came to be, the duo notes that a mutual friend of theirs made the initial connection for them to explore working together. Sarz, born Osaretin Osabuohien, then sent over a few beats, with WurlD delivering with 2018’s “Trobul” in less than 24 hours. Sarz says he was so in love with the song that this collaboration needed to go beyond one track. They both describe the foundation of the EP as “seamless,” and for WurlD, this was one of the few times he made a decision to work on a project with someone without overthinking it. It just felt right.

I Love Girls With Trobul is the duo’s take on balance while pushing the culture forward. WurlD comes with his relatable, minimal lyrics (he’s also worked with the likes of BOB, Trinidad James, Mario, Walshy Fire and more during his time in Atlanta) while Sarz (a chart-topping producer who’s had Niniola and Wizkid grace his beats) delivers trendsetting instrumentals. There’s a song on I Love Girls With Trobul for everybody—for those on the continent and in the diaspora alike.

“Mad” is the newest music video to drop from the EP. A continuation of the storyline that the collaborators showed us in their previous single “Ego: Nobody Wins,” we take a look at the dysfunctional insecurities of a relationship between WurlD, born Sadiq Onifade, and his love interest (played by Bolu Aduke Kanmi). The relatability of the visual and the song will surely get you in your feelings.

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VIBE: Sarz, what kind of sonic journey did you intend to take listeners through in this EP?

Sarz: I was trying to make something that suits WurlD’s sound, makes him comfortable enough to express himself, and also isn’t alien to the afrobeats space. I was also trying to push the narrative with the sound because that’s what I’m known for. I’ve always been that producer in Nigeria that doesn’t really follow trends and does stuff that other producers use as a template to make music. This is just one of those projects where it doesn’t sound like anything else in the afrobeats space right now. This time next year, you’ll hear so many songs that sound like songs off this project.

How would you describe the creative process of working with each other?

WurlD: We had to trust each other—I was very open. It was all about both of us meeting in the middle. There were times where Sarz would advise me to tweak the conversation in my lyrics. Another thing we focused on was bringing Africa along as much as possible. He’s Nigeria at its core. I learned how to create music in America, though I was born in Nigeria—so I know the culture. I lived there until I was a teenager. We understood each other and I was open to the idea; we were both determined to do whatever we needed to do to make the best project. One of our biggest challenges making this was that we were both in different places throughout the process, so the ongoing support we got from “Trobul” kept us alive. We recorded the first series of songs in L.A., the body of it in Atlanta and we then finished it in Lagos earlier this year.

Sarz: We had to go back and forth with ideas because his musical background and experiences are different than mine. There were certain songs that we had to go back and forth with to make it more relatable and right for the project.

Why is a project like I Love Girls With Trobul needed in the popular African music scene now?

Sarz: From my end, I feel like when you’re genuine with your art and speaking your truth, people will always gravitate to that—because there’s someone out there that feels the same way you feel. I don’t know who’s out there who feels the same way, but judging from the reviews and feedback we’ve been getting, there are so many people that we’re touching right now with this.

WurlD: I like the idea of collaboration. I wanted to shine a light on the importance of collaborating with producers. Living in the States for so many years, I saw this happen every day. I noticed how there are different ways to collaborate and how in general there’s not a lot of love for producers. I hope this inspires other producers to put more value in themselves.

Wurld, what inspired you to be so vulnerable with the stories you share in the EP?

WurlD: I feel like when I’m creating music is when I’m the most vulnerable. Music is communication—people go through things. I like the idea of empowering people through words where a sad song can actually lift you up. If it’s done in a happy space, you don’t feel so sad after all. I can’t really explain how I balance that but it’s a free, caring space. I care about the listener. I understand how difficult it is to empower yourself through a heartbreak. It’s being vulnerable, but it’s to be free and accept a loss. I understand the need for people to feel empowered to get up and keep going, so that makes it easy for me to tap into my vulnerability and to keep the audience lifted.

Sarz, what inspired you to conjure a sinister, dark sound with “Mad”?

Sarz: There’s nothing like that in the African space right now. That was the last record we made, and I felt like the project needed a little edge. After working on a few records, “Mad” was the standout one. We just knew this is what we’ve been looking for—it was just me trying to make a global soundtrack. I feel like anyone, anywhere in the world can relate to “Mad,” even though it’s afrobeats.

Walk me through its music video. What should viewers keep in mind while watching?

WurlD: We wanted to stay close to the conversation of the song. And “Mad” goes through different emotions with an afro-dance element. The key part in the record is how I’m dealing with my issues and I’m dealing with yours, but at the end of the day we get mad and we’ll make up. This is an everyday situation. We fight, we come together. And we wanted to highlight that in the video. With “Ego,” we were disconnected. With “Mad,” we give it a try when you break up to make up. The making up part is not easy, so there’s a lot of highlighting the highs and lows of those emotions to get past what made you mad. The dance elements highlight African culture and we wanted to keep it simple, stylish and straight to the point.

Sarz: With this project, we were really just trying to do things how we feel. And the project itself sounds like a story from the first song to the last. We wanted to try and keep that visually and interpret it as much as possible so people understand that journey with the visual.

What’s next from the project?

WurlD: I feel like this project we created is the first of its kind coming out of this region in Africa. We hope to inspire and show the rest of the world the necessity of range. Africa is not just one thing, and there’s so much more that we have to offer. We’re planning on doing more visuals because we feel strongly that these records deserve A1 narratives and visuals that push the culture forward and shines a light on African art.

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Jenny Regan

NEXT: Kemba Makes The Song Cry On His Painful Masterpiece ‘Gilda’

Kemba doesn’t look like the stereotypical rapper. He's not loaded with expensive jewelry, a large entourage, "exotic" women, and stylish clothes. The budding MC is reserved. Remember the quiet, artsy, yet cool kid in high school who didn’t put on a thick shield of toughness, but you knew he’d fight when invited to? That’s Kemba, the seemingly reticent kid moving to the beat inside of his headphones.

It’s a dreary Thursday afternoon near the end of September. Exactly six days prior to this date (Sept. 28), the Bronx native released his sobering album titled Gilda, the follow-up to 2016's Negus album. But even in the face of album release parties and the fame that comes with having a record deal, the Republic artist refuses to put on the clichéd mask of a rapper.

The regular degular kid arrives solo, and on time, at VIBE’s Times Square office. Despite his mother’s death still fresh on his mind, Kemba seems to be in great spirits. He’s generous with posing for pictures, calmly standing where the photographer asks him to. While Kemba is totally alert, his eyes hold a glare that shows he’s pondering some valuable lessons recently learned.

One listen to Gilda, named after his mother who died of a stroke, and it’s clear that the bubbling MC is adept at sorting through thoughts and unearthing lessons from deep-rooted pain.

“I’m just getting into the habit of speaking about things and not holding anything in,” Kemba says when asked about extracting lessons from discomfort. “I haven’t had a lot of revelations yet. I’m still getting accustomed to recognizing my thoughts, and feelings, sharing my thoughts, and looking at the feeling wheel, and identifying all of the things that that situation makes me feel.”

Kebma began his rap career as YC the Cynic. With Eminem being a big influence on his early rap style, Kemba’s lyrical ambition is evident on early mixtapes like 2010’s You’re Welcome and 2011’s Fall Forward, where he’s rapping over a mix of industry instrumentals and original beats. Kemba was also doing a lot of open mics around the Rotten Apple, tapping into his gift of wordplay and building his fanbase through an old-school path of impressing local crowds. His burgeoning career leveled-up after being discovered by Queens MC, Homeboy Sandman, who introduced Kemba to Hot 97 radio personality Peter Rosenberg.

But as Kemba found his footing in the underground scene and came into his own as an artist, he decided to trade in his YC the Cynic tag for a handle more befitting to the picture he wanted to paint of himself.

“I try to separate myself from constructs. I never really had pride in my name [YC the Cynic]," Kemba recalls. "I always felt detached from my real name. So I just wanted to choose something for myself.”

“I wanted it to sound youthful, like it had african roots to it, and to sound strong," he continues. “And I really just searched a bunch of names. I went through names for about a year. Like YC the Cynic, you hear it, and you can think of the type of person that would have that name. I just wanted a name that, to where I could do whatever [musically].”

Fast forward to 2019, Kemba’s departure from the battle rhymes on Gilda is his best project to date. The album moves through a series of revelations, family issues, and takes listeners on a journey of a young man trudging through hardships.

One week after the release of Gilda, Kemba sat with VIBE for a discussion about regrets, finding meaning from traumatic situations, and controlling his narrative.

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VIBE: Gilda sounds like a project where you’re exposing a bunch of lessons that you recently learned. Kemba: I feel like it led to that. It started with me examining my life in a way that I haven’t before. It started with me not being able to process my mom’s death. At some point I started to write again and it was like, “Oh shit, this is how I feel.” But I didn’t know that until I wrote it. This is the only way I’m going to find out about myself, so let me just do this. Let me think about my childhood and write. And then at some point that became me examining myself, reading back what I wrote. I’m going to therapy now, and I’m figuring out different ways to understand myself. But that started from me realizing there was more to it than writing.

I sense that you have some regrets about the relationships in your family? It’s hard because a lot of the relationships in my family are so broken. There are a lot of family members that I love and talk to on a regular basis, but there are still some that I do not know if it will ever be repaired. And I realized that as you get older it becomes harder to link with people, and you look up and it’s been a year since you saw them. Just spending time gets really hard as you get older. But that’s the goal.

Do you wish you spent more time with your mom? I think my mom is like a whole different relationship. I wish I would’ve been there with my mom. And I did spend time with my mom. I wish it would’ve been more quality time. Now I know the difference between spending time and quality time. I wish I’d known more about her, her history, and her upbringing. So yes, there are regrets.

Has your family heard the album? A lot of my family has heard the album, and I’m pleasantly surprised that the acceptance has been as good as it has. I imagine that a lot of the people that it was about didn’t hear it. But everybody that I heard from said they were proud. Some cried at some point and said they love me. And that’s a good of an acceptance that I get from them. There’s this theme of controlling your narrative throughout your music too. How young were you when you realized that that’s important?

There's a lot of talk of controlling your narrative in your music. Most 23-years-old are not thinking about controlling their narrative. When did this become a thing for you? I can’t remember when I had that idea that that was important but I do know that in general that if you don’t control your narrative someone else will. There’s a laundry list of evidence, from the history to America to the history of hip-hop, where people don’t really stake claim, and they get the value to the point where the story is up for grabs. Like right now, for as long as I have lived it’s been recognized that Kool Herc is the Godfather of Hip-Hop and as the story goes on the story gets misconstrued. And other people take claim. So controlling your narrative is super important.

Are you into activism? Your album Negus gives me that feel. That’s how I came up. I came up being part of a community organization called Rebel Diaz. They showed me the way of the social activism. We lead and organize a bunch of marches. We went down to Ferguson,down to Baltimore for Freddie Gray. I was doing that a lot, but music took more and more of my time. But I would love to get back to that. Those are my brothers. I look to them for advice often.

What will Kemba’s story read like? I’ve thought about it. I don’t know the exact answer. I just know the things that I love to do. I want to be a part of making incredible art as long as I live. Making my own art, and helping people with their art. Whether that means creating music, helping other people create music, or just executive produce projects, producing, writing for people. I just want to be involved in art, and more involved in social service.

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