Strange, how it feels, thinking you would-be Tony Montanas may be gunning for me. Strange, and not much fun. What I notice most is the thirst. It started last Wednesday afternoon, about four hours after the first of several local promoters, musicians and gang members I know called to warn me my life was in danger. They told me you and members of your "party crew" had gone mad dog over a harsh review I'd given your new gangsta rap group in last week's New Times, and were planning to "do something" about it--specifically, as one caller from your Maryvale neighborhood put it--"they gonna lay you flat, they gonna put you down." My mouth went dry then, and I haven't been able to drink enough water since.

It's Monday morning now, five days since I last slept more than three hours straight. All day Thursday, my left hand would start trembling every few minutes, rattling on my keyboard until I could focus it still. I'm scared, and my guard is up. How long it stays there is up to you. I've relayed requests for a parlay, but you have not responded. You called New Times last Thursday to ask if I was there and what I look like, but you didn't leave a message or a number when the receptionist wouldn't tell you. "Just tell him the Big 5 Click called." What the hell is that supposed to mean, when you don't leave a number? The way I look at it, until I hear different from you, I have to assume you're looking to turn me into the involuntary winner of a wet tee shirt contest, and will take appropriate precautions.

But let me tell you, I'm sick of this bullshit. Sick of sleeping on couches and watching my back, of violent rumors and secondhand threats. Sick of always having people around me and keeping an eye on the rearview mirror. Sick of people asking me what's going on, why are there cops outside the building, and are a bunch of west-side gangstas really out to get me.

So what about it, Big 5? Are you really out to get me? Either way, I'd appreciate it if you'd let me know, because right now all I have to go on is a lot of supposedlies. Supposedly, you said this and that about putting a few extra holes in me. Supposedly, your crew is claiming responsibility for a couple of recent street shootings. Supposedly, one of you had a hand in the unsolved murder near the Roxy that helped close down that hip-hop venue last year. Supposedly, your manager told a local promoter looking to turn down the volume on this situation that it was out of his hands and there was nothing he could do. Supposedly, you all pack guns--hand pistols on the person, shotguns and rifles in the trunk. Supposedly, two of you just got out of prison, and say you're willing to go back over this. I hope that's not true.

Almost everyone who called to tell me I had trouble with you also told me I must be an idiot to write what I did. "What were you thinking?" I get that a lot. That and "What did you expect to happen?" Well, to be honest, I didn't expect shit. I hadn't heard yet what I've heard since about the Big 5 Click and the crew you run with. I have zero desire to see anyone lose blood over a concert review, least of all myself, and if I could, I'd erase my last column--especially that "sucking the glass dick" remark--to make this all go away.

But I can't, so let's take another look at what you're supposedly so pissed off about. I wrote that your performance at Electric Ballroom the night of October 18 was "wack," i.e., that it was of egregiously inferior quality. And it was. Anyone who tells you different is probably just scared.

I also said you were punks for vandalizing a dressing room, and you are. To reiterate--there are several rap groups in the Valley who have worked a lot longer than you to sharpen their skills who are having a hard time attracting national attention because the hip-hop scene here is struggling. And one of the main reasons the hip-hop scene here is struggling is that club owners are scared of hip-hop. Now, the situation for hip-hop artists in Arizona is improving rapidly, but when you throw up graffiti in a nightclub (not to mention telling people you're going to shoot a journalist over a bad review), you only serve to confirm the worst fears of local club owners and the public at large concerning the nasty side of hip-hop.

And hip-hop can get nasty. Nastier than any other form of pop music. If I'd trashed a blues, jazz, rock, country or techno group in my last column, I'd be sleeping at home tonight. Last Wednesday, just as I was starting to get scared, I interviewed Imani, one of four rappers in the Pharcyde, which is scheduled to perform at the Ballroom the night of Halloween.

"Standard question in any hip-hop interview for the next few weeks," I said about halfway through our talk, "but what's your take on Tupac?"

"Well, the first thing it says is that anybody can be hit. Unlike other areas of our society, in hip-hop, fame and fortune do not protect you. In fact, depending upon who you hang out with and how you present yourself, you can make yourself more of a target.

"The second thing is, hip-hop, like the world all over, has gotten just that crazy. The violence is embedded. It seems these days, you can be a nonviolent person, but you say the wrong thing or look the wrong way at somebody in this game and you get pulled down to his level of violence, and climbing out of there can be hard."

About 36 hours later, I was waiting at a red light on Las Vegas Boulevard as the driver of my airport shuttle van told his seven passengers that this was the second to last intersection Tupac Shakur and Death Row Records don Suge Knight drove through in Knight's black BMW before its passenger door was pocked with bullets.

"They went down there and turned left on Flamingo," the driver said, gesturing with the same excited flick of his hand he'd used a few minutes earlier to indicate the site of a new $1.2 billion, "Caribbean-themed" resort and casino going up across the street from Circus Circus. "They got about a block down Flamingo when a white Caddy pulled up and pop, pop, pop, pop! Two in the lungs, one in the leg, and one right through his hand."

My thought on that was, fuck a blaze of glory--whatever it takes, I will live to see 26. This column is no white journalist's "If I Die Tonight." I plan to read this column in print. Maybe by the time it comes out, we will have resolved our conflict. Maybe not. Either way, understand this: I just informed more than 200,000 people that several different sources have told me members of the gangsta rap group Big 5 Click and their entourage are making threats against my life. The police have the same information. If you are really after me, understand another thing: I will not be easy to find, and I will not be alone.

So what about this: What about you call again and we discuss this thing. You can yell at me, call me a cracker, a peckerwood, whatever. Tell me that a white person has no business writing about black, urban music, like you told our receptionist. Then I'll explain to you exactly why I wrote what I did, and why I think I'm qualified to critique hip-hop, and we'll see if we can reach an understanding. I'll even agree to meet you in person, given the terms feel safe.

But whatever you do, Big 5, do me a favor and reflect on this: You fancy yourselves rappers, so why not battle me with words? Any little bitch can make a threat, throw a punch, or pull a trigger. But only an artist can take someone out from the stage, using a mike instead of a gun, rhymes instead of bullets, and leave his pride bleeding instead of his body. Peace.

--David Holthouse

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