Legends of the Fall

A conversation in Purgatory

The rapper and the politician's son are in a doorless chamber. Its walls, ceiling and floor are bare, polished steel. There is one window, which looks upon a milky, swirling mist, and one piece of furniture -- a long, gray leather couch. The two men sit on opposite ends. The rapper is scratching in a notebook.

"Excuse me," says the president's son. Waits. "Hey."

"Whassup?"

Blog Image IMG_0780.JPG
Blog Image IMG_0780.JPG
Dale Stephanos

"I was, uh, I was wondering -- do you know where in the hell we are?"

"No, but I know this ain't hell. It's too chill."

"What do you mean?"

The rapper waves one hand around the room. "About this here?"

"Right."

"Well, check it: I got me a pen that never gives out of ink, a pad that never gives out of paper, and a sack that never gives out of weed. That ain't hell."

"So this is heaven, then."

The rapper's mouth curls. "Nah, man. If this was heaven, we'd have us some bitches. I was strictly solo, until I looked over and saw your dazed, white ass sittin' there."

The president's boy looks at the backs of his hands, spreading and closing his fingers. "Where were you, right before you ... came here?" he asks the rapper.

"Yo, I was on the Strip."

"The Strip?"

"Vegas."

"Oh."

The rapper puts down his pen.

"It was right after the Tyson fight. I was rollin' with Suge Knight in his BMW, when these crazy niggas in a white Caddy crept up on us, and straight-up started blastin'. It was like Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop!"

The rapper jerks his body, a gruesome marionette. Then he starts writing again, asks, "What about you?"

"Plane crash."

"Oh, shit."

"I was the pilot."

"Oh, shit." The rapper smiles wide. "People must be trippin', yo. All them vultures pickin' over your bones, talkin' 'bout the little white boy with the famous salute. Symbol of a nation's grief, now a tragedy his own self."

The president's son gets up, goes to the window. Stares into the mist. "Apparently you know my name."

"Better question be, do you know mine?"

"I recognize you. You're a gangster rapper."

"Wrong. I was the gangsta rapper. Get your shit correct."

"Sorry."

The president's son taps a finger on the windowpane.

"Yo," the rapper calls out. "Your daddy and I got something in common."

"What's that?"

"We was both assassinated."

The son tenses, turns to face the man on the couch. "My father was assassinated. My uncle was assassinated. Martin Luther King and Malcolm X were assassinated. You weren't assassinated. You just got shot."

The air grows cold as the rapper locks eyes with the president's son and whispers: "You don't know me, bitch. You don't know what I represented, or why I had to die. You don't know shit, little prince."

He points to a tattoo across his stomach.

The president's son reads it: "'Thug Life.'"

"That's right. The only one I was born to have."

The rapper opens a cigar box marked "Phillies."

"Let me tell you what time it is," he says. "I'm the nigga America made me, born from the womb of 400 years of hate and evil. One angry young black man who's the wrong nigga to fuck with."

He splits the cigar down the middle with one slow cut of a sharp thumbnail.

"Comin' up, I wasn't havin' no fast-food-joint or high-rise toilet scrubbin'. Back then, the only niggas showin' me love were the homies slingin' rock on the corner, so they little brothas and sistas could eat."

"Don't forget the gold jewelry," says the president's son.

"Oh, I don't. Or the Karl Kantis and the Versaces. But ain't that the American dream?"

The rapper peels the cigar apart and shakes out its tobacco innards.

"Anyway. I played the crack game, right? Making bank. Defendin' my corner. Pullin' drive-bys."

The president's son watches, arms crossed, as the rapper pinches marijuana from a Ziploc and sprinkles it into the cigar wrapper.

"A lot of my homies went to prison," the rapper continues. "A lot of my homies got shot. One died in my arms. All the usual bullshit. Still, it was enough to twist a nigga's mind up. I just tried to maintain.

"Then once I went platinum -- shit, quintuple platinum -- the script got flipped. Two niggas went to war inside me. The weak one, he only wanted peace and comfort. The strong one was a soldier. He peeped around, saw all the money and the women and the power and said, "Wait -- where are all my niggas? Where are my niggas from Watts? From Bed-Sty? Where are my niggas from East Orange, D.C., Baltimore? Where are my niggas from the projects? They still doin' the ol' same nigga shit. Why? Because they can't rap or play ball.' That shit ain't right, yo."

The rapper finishes twisting up the weed, strikes a match on the zipper of his baggies, and fires up the blunt.

"So," he says, exhaling, "I kept livin' the life. You know -- still runnin' with mad niggas, keepin' it real, packin' steel, gettin' high, rappin' "Life's a bitch and then you die.' Yet because I was so public, I knew some crazy motherfucka was gonna blast my ass, because I was gamblin' with my life, every day, just like the rest of my niggas."

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