Changing a toxic culture
As a young man growing up in The Bahamas, like many others, I became attracted to the allure of what you would call the gangster lifestyle. It’s difficult even for me to understand the exact reasons why, but like many of our young men today I was “caught up”. Fortunately for me I was able to recover and help many over the years to do the same and become beacons of hope in a very dark landscape not only in The Bahamas, but everywhere I travel.
The culture for men is toxic and tragic. This is particularly exacerbated by the music world and specifically the hip-hop and to some extent the reggae music genres because there is extreme glamorization of the gangster lifestyle. The biggest problem with this picture, is the people who are glamorizing it are not the ones who have lived it and have been victimized by it. For example, what is referred to as gangster rap was not started by gang members for the most part. The group “NWA” consisted of one of its prominent members who had a gang affiliation, but the other was a college student and the other was non-affiliated.
Another prominent proponent of “thug life”, Tupac Shakur went to school for theater and arts and had no gang affiliation. He ended up losing his life by adopting the gangster lifestyle even though it was not his background. One of the prominent members of the Bloods gang stated that Tupac would be alive if he stayed in his lane rather than getting involved in gang business. He did not grow up as a gangster. He took on the gangster image to boost his appeal and sell records. James McDonald, formerly known as “Mob James”, is quoted as saying that many gang members were offended when Tupac tattooed himself with Bloods tattoos because they felt he was using it to boost his image. He ended up in an altercation with gang members which had nothing to do with him, and not understanding or appreciating the consequences.
Another prominent gangster rap figure Suge Knight was also a former college student with no gang membership during his youth, yet he intentionally aligned himself with gang members and promoted his organization on the backs of gangs for the purpose of selling records. “Mob James”, who was one of Knight’s closest allies, stated that his 30-plus year involvement with the Bloods gang was all a waste. Most of his colleagues, even his brother, were dead to promote a farce. Most of the men he grew up with were either dead or in prison and very few had anything of value to show for it. Most were broke and scarred for life. Many other prominent rappers have been accused of trying to align themselves with gangs to boost their image when they never grew up that way. Many are called “studio gangsters” because they do their gang-bangin’ in the studio and not on the streets. So, we have countless impressionable young men aspiring to be like their favorite rapper who is promoting a fake image while living in a gated community far away from the streets they sing about.
The problem is that the commerce of the image game has led to a very toxic culture among youth who quote various rappers and look up to them, even believing the image they present as authentic. Another rapper who caught flack for false imaging is Rick Ross, another former college student who once worked as a corrections officer, which is frowned upon in the gang world. He was apparently threatened by gang members because they felt he was using gang members’ names in his records, and they apparently attempted to extort money from him for profiting from gang association. After promoting himself as a street hustler, he was angered and denied that he worked as a corrections officer until photos were produced of him during his tenure. If he went to college and worked as a corrections officer, why hide it? Why not say this is where I came from but I like singing about street life – at least it would be authentic.
These are just some examples of a faux gang culture that popularizes crime and violence for commercial purposes. If you were never a gang member, why not just say it and admit that it is an exercise in commercialization of a culture for economic benefit? Why not tell young men you are not advocating this lifestyle because it is ultimately not beneficial and that it is all in jest or like a movie character or portrayal? I do not need any social scientist or college professor to tell me that this glamorization of gang life has produced untold tragedy and misery. I can start with guys I knew and hung around with on the streets and tell you it is not a pretty picture. I can cite statistics from my time as a street evangelist and counsellor to at least several thousand gang members that the results of this lifestyle is pure hell. One of the young men I worked with here in Nassau says he lost over 100 friends to the streets. Many of the young men I worked with, I have seen on the news being branded as hitmen, killing or being killed. It is indeed toxic and tragic.
Why does music have to be about killing, gang-banging and destructive activities? Some say they are just being real but when we check their background they were not even from the streets. So what are they being real about? Making money off of dead gangsters and dead young men from the streets? My hope is that the music world, particularly hip-hop, can use the vehicle of music to promote something that will improve the neighborhoods, get young men into college and give them a future full of hope rather than a parade into the prison system and the graveyard. Too many of our young men are aspiring to crime over college. There are some who are doing this and my hope and prayer is that more will join the fight, otherwise we are in for one hell of a ride for our young men. I know of several men who are actively working to change the situation locally and internationally, if only they can receive the support and publicity.
• Pastor Dave Burrows is senior pastor at Bahamas Faith Ministries International. Feel free to email comments, whether you agree or disagree, to firstname.lastname@example.org. I appreciate your input and dialogue. We become better when we discuss, examine and exchange.