Anyone who has ever struggled with poverty knows how extremely expensive it is to be poor. —James Baldwin
Blac Youngsta’s personality and charisma on camera is controversial, comical, questionable and even misogynistic, all at once. On more than a few occasions, the 26-year-old CMG artist has uploaded hilariously stomach-hurting Instagram videos (most of which have been deleted) that display his shock and merriment with his newfound tax bracket, resulting from rap money.
Then there are the controversial and questionable IG shares. To the ire of many, the South Memphis-bred recently published a picture of himself hanging on a cross, drawing comparisons to Tupac’s Makaveli cover or Jesus Christ. But these images aren’t new. In the video for “Hate Me Now,” Nas was depicted as God’s Son, getting stoned while carrying a cross on his way to persecution. So, it’s unclear as what the fuss was over when Blac used the image of him hanging from a cross.
And who can forget when Blac viciously clowned a hardworking Wal-Mart employee by calling her a “broke ass,” and “Wal-Mart working-ass,” and “dusty ass motherf**ker,” before suggesting that she can “suck a d**k and die.” VIBE doesn’t agree with the latter—at all, but who are we to judge?
Adding more squabble to his record, the rapper born Samuel Benson – along with two co-defendants – found himself tangled in a dangerous web of six felony charges of firing a weapon into an occupied/dwelling vehicle after Young Dolph’s car was riddled with at least 100 rounds of ammo during CIAA weekend in Charlotte, North Carolina earlier this year. Yet, Youngsta holds his head high and remains in jesting spirits through it all.
“I’m on a positive vibe. I believe that when s**t happens, it happens for a reason,” said Blac Youngsta during a recent visit to VIBE’s headquarters. “Because God ain’t going to put in you in no situation that you can’t handle.”
To gain a better understanding of Blac, let’s start from the beginning by peeking into the surrounding forces that are responsible for Blac’s distinctive character.
Notable philosopher Michel Foucault explained in his intriguing read Discipline and Punish how regulated space, knowledge and power can limit one’s ability to be totally free. In other words, margins and laws have a way of dominatnating communities, especially areas where poor people of color reside.
South Memphis, Blac’s stomping grounds, is nothing short of heartwrenching urban decay as well as suffocating poverty that boldly lurks in the open. So much so, that the city holds one of the nation’s highest poverty rate. According to a report by The Commercial Appeal, of the city’s more than 1.3 million residents, 18.4 percent meshed out a living with a measly $24,250 a year for a family of four, and $15,930 for a two-member family during 2015. It’s 2017 and not much has changed for the city that birthed the likes of Yo Gotti, Elise Neal and K. Michelle. Today, Memphis ranks second in poverty among metropolitan cities, according to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.
But poverty in black communities isn’t anything new. Whether it’s creating lanes in media (African American-owned newspapers) or music (HipHop, Jazz, or Blues) specifically for blacks, or stacking Blue Faces on the underworld circuit, people of color have always had to find alternative ways to get ahead, financially. Unfortunately, with poverty and drugs comes high crime rates. Republicans and Democrats are knowledgeable of why crime occurs. And this, my friend, is how space, knowledge and power controls people’s lives–even Blac Youngsta’s.
Blac may be braggadocious in his raps, but there was a time when the burgeoning O.G. was humbled by struggles of insufficient funds, vices and loose morals that plague regions akin to the South Memphis neighborhood. For Blac, though, faith is an everlasting pillar.
“God never send you anywhere where he can’t get out from. I’m strong-minded. I’m positive. Can’t nothing break me. I’m one of the last dying breed,” says Blac.
Despite his fervent discipleship, poverty once held Blac and his family by the throat. Squeezing life from their souls and leaving them with little to no options on making ends meet. And this generation of impetuous heads are far removed from their grandparents’ generation, of whom spent decades praying and believing in a God that will show them to the Promised Land.
But nah son, these kids need to eat now.
When one is faced with insurmountable odds, it’s likely that the concrete jungle will become a kid’s very saving grace. As a teenager, Blac sought the spoils of the streets, and quickly learned how to swap money for crack, which introduced him to a hodgepodge of men and women with similar street ways and vainglorious habits. What? You thought Blac learned his attention-seeking behavior on his own? These inner-city spaces, which often breed derelicts, are magnetic. The urban jungle, and people of the junble, will suck the soul out of you. It’s evident in Blac’s behavior and it’s evident in CMG’s entire music catalogue, boasting songs about drugs, guns, money and insatiable women. That’s what they were raised in.
“Everybody on CMG be on that street s**t. We from the streets. But if you ask Big homie (Yo Gotti) about me he’s going to tell you, one thing about Youngsta, he’s going to get the bag. He’s a team player. He knows how to play. He going to conduct business when it’s time to conduct business. He gon’ be an entertainer when it’s time to be an entertainer. He understands the dos and don’ts. And it just comes off the loyalty and the work I put in for it.”
Blac’s grandparents, who survived on a fixed income, raised the “Hip Hopper” rapper as well as his now deceased brother, and his sister. Living month-to-month on a fixed income is extremely hard for a family of four. To bring in extra dividends, Blac helped his grandfather cut yards in the neighborhood. Blac even worked at a local grocery store, where he would scheme for food in an effort to help feed his family. For instance, while at work Blac would use someone else’s phone to order food knowing that no one would pick up the food. With this, the store-owner, Mr. Robert, understanding Blac’s dire circumstances at home, would give the food to Blac.
When VIBE spoke with Blac back in 2016, he discussed working at Mr. Robert’s corner store. “I think I’m the strongest person in the world. Honestly man, picture yourself being young, working in the corner store, working for food.”
“He like family to me. I just haven’t talked to him,” said Blac. “He got a wife named Sheryl. They cool. The store tore down. I tried to buy the store before they tore it down. They wanted like $20,000 or something for the store. I tried to buy it.”
Blac’s business savvy comes from his education in the streets, during his days as a hand-to-hand dope boy, and being under the influence of CMG boss and shrewd entrepreneur, Yo Gotti. In fact, Blac followed Gotti around the U.S. while learning the ins-and-outs of the music business before even collecting a check.
“When you from the streets and ain’t used to having nothing, the first thing you gon’ do when you get some money is spend it. You not used to having s**t. So, my thing was: f**k the money. Show me how to get more money and keep it.”
Blac’s grandmomma may have been poor, but ain’t raise no fool. Trying to eat off a fixed income; cutting yards with his grandfather; selling drugs; working at Mr. Robert’s; and living in poverty speaks volumes about Blac’s self-didactic education, patience and outlook on longevity.
“Youngsta is a special individual and you really have to be around him to really understand what I mean when I say that,“ said Brandon Mimms, Co-CEO of CMG. “Youngsta and I have such a strong bond because we bet on each other without even knowing each other, and we made it work. He brings a different energy to CMG; he’s like a rebel with a cause. He’s a true creative artist in his own right, whether you choose to like it or not.”
Mimms continued: “One thing about Youngsta that the public doesn’t get to see is that he has crazy OCD. He’s super meticulous. He only uses plastic wear, and if he has a cup of ice from any store, he has to rinse the ice with water first.”
Since deleting many of his controversial IG posts, Blac has been more relaxed, to the naked eye. He still flashes his money, but that’s to motivate the ‘hood. He also refuses to talk about negative issues such as Dolph, and that hardworking Wal-Mart employee.
“I’m not talking about that stuff no more. I’m not in that space,” he says.
Blac is maturing, and it’s a beautiful thing. He recently signed his first artist, Yung Money, to his Heavy Camp label.
“I just signed my first artist. I pulled up in South Memphis. I gave him a bag and an Aston Martin. Gotti brought me in, and now I’m doing the same thing that he did when I came in. It ain’t too many artist on my level that’s able to give out all that money and an Aston Martin.”
CMG has also noticed growth in Blac, because Mimms and Gotti promoted Youngsta to the role of the unofficial VP of CMG.
“Well everybody know B Mimms president, so I got Heavy Camp, and big homie like the way I move and the way I do things, so he made me vice president. It’s all about the hustle. I really ain’t got to take on too much of nothing. I’m just the top player. I deserve everything I got. It probably be some little extra s**t that I don’t feel like doing an extra meeting. But it’s mainly me building my own empire and making my artist a superstar. Me showing big homie that I can take it to the next level.”
He’s already faced the trauma of marginalized space and poverty. So, we’re betting our money that Blac will take his talents to the Promised Land.