by Amani Sawari
Being a rapper has a stigma attached due to the “trap” rap genre saturating mainstream music entertainment. The genre’s repetitive lyrics and catchy melody coerce people into praising negative behaviors ranging from drug use to murder and prostitution.
Growing up in an urban area myself, I made becoming a rapper my number one career choice and so did my friends. Outside of athletes, musicians were where we saw the most representation of Black millionaires, and many of us aspired towards working in one of those fields.
The deep hole dug by Fantastical Rhymes
Growing up in Sacramento, Calif., Anarae Brown developed a passion for entering into the entertainment industry. At 16, he and his friends created the rap crew OakLaSac made up of three teenage boys from Oakland, Los Angeles and Sacramento.
Their rap circle followed the examples of those artists that fueled their aspirations, like NWA, Ice Cube and Too Short. Following the lead of these popular performers, the group’s musical focus intimately intertwined with the gang activity promoted in their lyrics.
The activities that were glorified in the music that they listened to and sang themselves heavily contributed to their behavior. While the group didn’t last far beyond Anarae’s teenage years, his career carried on as a solo artist.
He adopted the stage name X-Raided for his ongoing, effortless X-rated nasty rhymes. As his career developed, the effects of his musical meditation continued to play a role in his life and the lifestyle landed him in prison. He went on to release dozens of projects with many songs recorded over the telephone while incarcerated.
Following his recent release from prison, X-Raided did his first live performance in San Francisco at the Fillmore Heritage Center’s Jonestown commemoration. At the celebratory and yet somber event in recognition of regional Black history, X-Raided performed a song about redemption. The metaphoric relationship between the first recognition of Jonestown and his first stage performance out of prison perfectly embodied the day.
The first step towards redemption was recognition. There was something special that X-Raided recognized about himself that allowed him to successfully walk the path of redemption. Prior to his incarceration X-Raided wasn’t hesitant to describe himself as a stereotypical rapper, “into hardcore hip-hop, trying to be the toughest, hardest guy, writing a lot of fantastical music in the vein of the ghetto boys.”
He described his 16-year-old self as a boy who “believed in it” in a way that was unhealthy. “I lived up to it and did all the ignorant stuff that rappers do” and, like a lot of rap fans and aspiring artists, he fell into the hole that the fantastical life dug for him, in prison.
Incarceration as a tool for realization
Like the majority of the prison population, Anarae was sentenced to time behind bars at a young age. While in prison, he grew into adulthood and used his time to critically think about the circumstances that landed him there.
There’s a level of growth that is demanded in that environment. There are two choices that prisoners have while incarcerated, to wither and stay in a childish psychology or to grow by pursuing education and striving to be a better person.
Anarae made the second choice, saying: “The inability to be a full member of our community made me hyper aware,” continuing, “Once I got to prison, though, I was like Rudolph the red nose reindeer. I was the one that couldn’t go play.
“I’m in prison and all I wanted to do was go to the studio, do a performance, go to see someone else’s show and participate in my culture.” Because he couldn’t participate directly in the culture, he studied and analyzed the culture.
With the realization that the United States’ economic development was dependent on the execution of Black people, he came to a realization that as a rapper he was participating in the degradation of the Black male image. When asked how incarceration impacted him as an artist, he began with the disclaimer, “I don’t think incarceration is necessary for that [transformation] to occur.”
He wanted to be sure to express that the idiocy that’s required to end up in that situation isn’t something that any person should aspire to however. He continued, “It was the solitude and the isolation and the adversity, so the prison served as a vessel for me to have those experiences, but other people have those experiences in other ways that are healthier.”
With the advice of elders in the hip hop community, he developed a better understanding of the universal impact of rap music, that it was so much more than beats and rhymes, saying, “When this many people are listening to you, you have the responsibility to say something worthy of being heard.”
His aspirations transformed from just being a banging rapper to wanting to be studied lyrically. “If it’s possible to be studied lyrically, why would I not aspire to that? I want someone to see my songs as a testament to what was happening in the country.”
His influences shifted from NWA and Ice Cube to James Baldwin, Langston Hughes and W.E.B. DuBois. “I started seeing I had the opportunity to become a voice for the generation. I was actually afraid to turn down that duty.” Rather than being driven by greed and fame, now his fear to relinquish this newfound responsibility was founded in love for the hip hop community.
The power of redemption
Being a musician is a powerful platform and having the ability to write lyrics and pair them with song is an incredible skill. Along with having the skill, acquiring an audience to share one’s music with others is a gift that we shouldn’t allow ourselves to take for granted.
Now there are two aspects of X-Raided’s music that he told me were essential for every song that he released. The first was that his lyrics had to be able to stand alone as text and still not only make sense, but also be worthy of reading and study. This made me think critically of many of the rap lyrics we hear on the radio today. Their words barely make any sense in the song, and they wouldn’t if they were written alone on paper.
The second check that he applied to his music was that it had to have cadence and rhythm. “It needs to work as a song so that my culture can understand, accept it and embrace it” so that the ideas could be picked up and understood by his community.
“I would like to make meaningful music that impacts people’s lives in a good way … to push people towards their greatness.”
X-Raided’s goal was to remind other artists of the power of redemption. “You can reach your full potential as an artist, shine and convey a message at the same time.” This was a key concept for me because many artists, and people working in other fields, believe that they have to compromise their message in order to reach the masses.
Our support of X-Raided shows support for the power of redemption in validating his decision to convey a meaningful message over those catchy repetitive rhymes that promote death and idiotic behavior. Today many artists aren’t communicating ideas purposefully. The ideas that they’re spreading, some not even written by themselves, aren’t intentional and have no goal beyond the beats and rhymes.
But X-Raided stresses that music is so much more than beats and rhymes. “I write to be read and to be moved by it without the music. … I want to be studied in schools and I want them to know that I meant to say what I’m saying and to communicate on purpose.”
X-Raided’s first concert, The Execution of X-Raided, will be Jan. 18, 2019, at the Fillmore Heritage Center. This New Year let’s take the time to recognize the power of redemption and witness the execution of X-Raided.
“Patience and preserving are traits my people need to show;
I’m planting seeds and spraying the water that my people need in order to grow;
Reach your full potential and teach your people what they need to know;
Exodus, exit this state of ignorance,
Let my people go.”
– “Exodus,” “The Execution of X-Raided”
Amani Sawari is the spokesperson for Jailhouse Lawyers Speak and coordinated the 2018 National Prison Strike. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or @Sawarimi or by mail to 14419 Greenwood Ave. N., Ste A #132, Seattle WA 98133. Visit her website, http://sawarimi.org.