Double standards conflict with equal standards.
Joseph Taheim Bryan just recently produced a movie titled Equal Standard (2020). It’s subject matter is about the long standing history of conflict between the police and people of color. A much needed tale in these times where life inspires art. His work was getting recognition as an executive producer and writer, he was on his way. But he, like others, felt a connection to the streets he once frequented. Unfortunately on Thursday, August 19th, on his way home, Bryan was fatally wounded in his vehicle in Long Island City, New York.
This situation made me realize how desensitized we as a community are to death. The first few days it’s “Rest In Peace” and social media pics, then a few months later, it’s life as usual until the next death. The fact that Taheim made it out of struggle into a more comfortable life makes his passing even sadder because of his potential to impact others.
I have seen the same thing with a very close friend, Draws, in Queens Bridge houses. He literally lived and died Queens Bridge projects. In his last days he wasn’t in the street, he was trying to transition into music and other ventures. The one day he decided to go back to his old neighborhood and hang out was his last day alive. He died in Queens Bridge at the hands of someone he watched grow up. I’m sure this story is consistent with many others in every major city, but the question is why? I’ve realized the streets might not love you as much as you love the street. Some grounds are good for walking on but aren’t secure enough to build on. It’s not necessarily the people or the place, it’s mostly the mentality! Because if the same area is filled with better mentalities, it becomes a better environment.
Case in point, my father grew up in Brooklyn, New York’s Marcy projects. When he moved he had a good job and a family to raise and provide for. He didn’t have to go back and take care of the whole Marcy, nor was he blamed for those who didn’t follow their goals. I know people who relocated from Queens Bridge to other states and sold drugs. Lucrative endeavors for some may have accumulated millions and they rarely came back to Queens Bridge. They also didn’t give back to the community, but they are spoken of in terms of endearment. Yet, rappers who moved on are criticized for these very same reasons! The contradictions are disturbing.
Let me be clear and I hope everyone reads this: People don’t owe you just because they know you. They owe their children, and in some cases, friends and family who were there for them. They owe their fans or their profession, not the expectations of people who share the same residential district they once lived in. Why does the violence many work hard to elude, and escape, seem to claim people who made it out of the concrete jungle?
I’ve heard of people saying I don’t come around as much anymore. My answer is so what! Should I cancel my flight to England, Spain, Germany, Barbados, Australia, Italy, Switzerland etc., to come sit on the block with the people saying that or should I board the flight? I don’t even live close enough to come to my old neighborhood often. Are they paying for my gas or toll? Are they securing a parking spot for me? There have been times I went to my old neighborhood and a person asked me am I still rapping. The fact that they ask is a clear indication that they don’t support or pay attention which is cost effective. But if I ask, “Are you still standing on the corner with a pack?” How would they feel or respond? Even when you’re in the mud, one step forward is better than standing still.
I remember I visited a person in jail from the same community and the person in jail asked about a friend who was home driving trucks. He spoke of the guy driving trucks as if driving trucks was beneath him. This goes back to my early sentiment about mentality. Ignorance is what would make a man who would have to strip naked and squat immediately after this visit think that his situation is better than a man who is home driving trucks and getting paid very well doing so. It’s the mentality. The same mentality that makes people love us when we are doing things for the neighborhood, yet resent us when we are busy with life. It’s like the old saying, “damned if you do, damned if you don’t.” The support is never as great as the expectations. And the things some expect are never as consistent as the things they are willing to do.
Artists aren’t responsible for your community that you live in every day. You are! You want artists to use their resources to benefit you, but what resources are you using to benefit the community or the artist? Nipsey [Hussle] loved his community and gave to his community. He deserved to be here to see his children grow and his dreams fulfilled. The marathon continues, but he will never get to cross the finish line in this life. His family will and we as a people can try to applaud when people make it to the victory instead of resenting the winners. Havoc of Mobb Deep once said, “No matter how much loot I get I’m in staying in the projects…forever.” Years later he had a song called, “I Ain’t Going Back.” His mentality changed!
I want every aspiring person to absorb these words like dry soil does water. You don’t get as far as you get to end where you started! Rise above your situation and live your best life. You can’t take everyone with you. That’s the reality of life. When keeping it real goes wrong, we end up with brothers dying in places they could’ve inspired more by being alive. We also create apprehension among others who start to second guess why they frequent places they don’t have to be. We shouldn’t love people more when they die than we did when they lived and thrived. We should love them for who they are, for what they represent and for what they mean to us as a people. Because keeping it real has gone wrong many times and the pattern must change so we can all keep it real the right way.
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Our children and the future generations should not inherit our present adversity. Taheim’s youngest child will never get to have deep conversations about life with her father who was capable of having those conversations. But she can walk in the path he made to help guide her through life easier. My condolences to his children siblings, and family. His spirit and impact lives on.
Cory “Cormega” McKay is an accomplished rapper and original member of Nas’ The Firm super group. Cormega helped blaze a trail for others in the independent production market after being signed to Def Jam Records in the ’90s.