Saturday, August 31, 2013

How I Became a Member of Gucci Mane's Entourage For a Night

UPDATE: In October 2013, this piece was translated into Italian and published in Italian culture magazine DATSHIT.

When we arrived there was already trouble. I had called the promotion company on the morning of the concert, explaining my credentials: that I wrote for Rap Genius, had my own blog, and wanted to cover the concert. They seemed down for it. In the afternoon, I met up with two guys in an alley to get my press passes—one for me, one for my photographer.

Unfortunately, I didn’t remember either of their names when I arrived at the back entrance of the Cleveland venue. A hulking security guard and the dreadlocked head of the promotion company were standing outside smoking black n’ milds. When I tried to come in, the dreadlocked dude grabbed my pass, compared it with his own, and asked me who gave it to me. When I told him I didn’t remember their names, he laid down the law.

“Uh, you see in this business, names are everything,” he said. “And you can’t tell me a name. So this is what I’m going to have to do. I can let you in the front, in the crowd, for free, otherwise you’re going to have to wait for this dude you talked to to come out.” The security guard’s grimace confirmed the finality of his words. For this kind of joint, you needed either a name they knew or a face they recognized. I had neither.

Was this already the end? I told my photographer—Jacob Roscoe, a 16-year-old kid who owns his own clothing company in Cleveland—“don’t worry, I’ll handle this,” though I wasn’t sure if I could. Eventually, I got out my phone and showed the dreadlocked guy the number of the person I had talked to earlier. He seemed to recognize it. He told me in he would go in and find him.

10, 15 minutes passed. Nothing. When I saw the dreadlocked guy outside again, I pulled him aside and asked him what was going on. “Don’t worry, I’m not trying to finesse you,” he assured me. “It might look like I’m doing something else, but I always follow through with people. I’ll go find—op! there he is! Oats! get over here!” 

“Oats” came over and verified my face. He said, “you don’t remember my name? what were you, in a daze this morning?” I half-smiled and said “I don’t know man, I was really tired. What was the name of the other dude you were with?” 

“Polo. His name’s Polo.”

So now we were good to enter the backstage. But first, we had to go through some heavy-ass security. We got the whole shakedown—they searched our bags, patted us down, and waved a metal detector over every inch of our bodies. This was, after all, a Gucci Mane show. We might have been the most unexpected people to try to kill him, but that made us the perfect people to try to kill him. We were clean though, so we were allowed to go inside.

We got right to checking out the gig, scoping out the best spots to film and speculating where Gucci would come in from. To say that we kind of stuck out would be an understatement. We were the youngest people there by at least a couple years. And we were the only white people there, apart from two hip, bearded, and pierced dudes hired to film the event.

The opening acts came and went. About an hour before Gucci was schedule to come on, the crowd still looked dismal. With this kind of turnout, there was a chance Guwop wouldn’t even show. He had, after all, missed his last two concerts in Cleveland—just straight-up not come. But everything was unpredictable with him: that was part of his greatness. Not showing up would be consistent with his brand. He could stick his middle finger to the crowd and say “Fuck y’all, and fuck Cleveland!” and we would still cheer him on.

While we waited for him to (maybe) come, we hung around with the opening acts backstage. These were Cleveland rappers we’d heard of before—Ducky Smallz, Congrez, etc—and they were all really friendly. A lot of of them had chains and designer shit on. The girls who walked around were all beautiful in the way that would appeal to a rapper. They wore high heels and paired no-sleeved, buttoned-up shirts that showed off their cleavage with black skirts that showed off their butts. 

The last opening act finished at 11:30, and the place started heating up. The crowd, at this point, was looking good enough for him to show. It couldn’t be much longer. He was scheduled to perform at midnight. 

Of course he was late by 90 minutes. But at around 1, the guards suddenly started getting more aggressive. “Clear the hallway! Clear the fucking hallway!” they shouted. Those who didn’t jump at their word were booted out of the venue. 

We were almost about to get booted too when Jacob, my 16-year-old photographer, recognized the security guard as his study hall teacher from school. “Mr. King!” he yelled. The security guard stopped and stared. “Who the f...aww, is that who I think it is? What are you doing out here buddy!” They went in for a slap-hug. “Ay yo man, you know I love you but right now you gotta move!” he said. “They don’t want anybody in this hallway!” “No problem Mr. King,” Jacob said as we shuffled upstairs. “I’ll see you at school on Monday!”

Everyone was gathered upstairs, waiting around, when we finally heard a commotion from the stage and a roar from the audience. He had arrived. We all bolted like rats towards the balcony, where we could get a good view of his performance.

He was as big as linebacker and his personality was as big as the room. He captured everyone’s attention simply by existing. He was wearing a leopard-skin backpack with leopard-skin shoes and a leopard-skin belt—one of the top-5 outfits I'd ever seen. And not only was he here in the flesh and fresh, but he had also brought OJ Da Juiceman, another trap legend from Atlanta. They began the show by performing their 2008 hit “Make Tha Trap Say Aye.” The crowd went wild.

But enough of the balcony. When I saw that a bunch of the opening acts and the filmers had made it onto the stage, I figured we would give it a try. We walked downstairs and asked the security guard if we could come in. He told us that he had orders to not let anyone through.

Of course I couldn’t take that for an answer. I started talking out of my ass, saying words that sounded good but meant nothing, telling him that there would be trouble “from the top” if we didn’t get in. I didn’t think it would actually work, but finally, miraculously, and I have no idea why, but he just opened the door and let us in. He told us not to tell anyone. 

We were on stage. For a while, we just stood there, enjoying the concert. At one point, someone started throwing CDs on stage at Gucci, and this tub of a security guard went wild at that. He grabbed a billy club and started running around. But instead of going into the audience and pummeling the perpetrator, he took it out on us. He started shoving virtually everyone who wasn’t part of the entourage off stage. I protested: “We’re supposed to be here! We’re filming the event! We’re cool with the dudes running this!” But my words were lost on him. Everyone was thrown off stage. We stood there, deflated. “Wow, this is a bummer,” someone said.

At this point, my barely-legitimate press credentials had evaporated and we had only gotten half a story. We were out of options, and our desperation pushed us to try something drastic. We ran to the other side of the stage, where we were originally let in. I had formed some sort of story in my mind about how the camera had broken and we were coming back in after fixing it, but I doubted the security guard would buy it. But when we arrived at the entrance, the security guard had left his post for a split second, going to throw something away in the trash can a couple of meters away. A miracle from God.

I looked at Jacob. We had a second to make our decision. Getting caught in the act would ensure our expulsion from the venue. But fuck it. This was our shot. We had nothing left to lose. We darted in, and we made it. We made it.

Except this time, there was nobody on stage but Gucci’s entourage, a few of the promoters, and the white guys hired to film the event. They were all in the front of the stage, standing in the inner circle. The crazy blood rage security guard was still walking around, and I realized that we only had one option if we wanted to survive: to join that inner circle and pretend to be a member of Gucci’s entourage. 

In life, if you want to take something you’re not supposed to have, sometimes the best way to do that is just to be really fucking obvious about it. The best way to steal stuff from Wal-Mart is to just walk out with it. They figure that no one would be that brazen and stupid, but they figure wrong, because I’ve jacked a ton of stuff from there in plain view. This was a similar situation. They wouldn’t expect anybody to be standing in that inner circle, in front of the entire audience, unless they had a damn good reason to. So, Jacob and I confidently strode up there, crossed our arms, and assumed our positions in the circle.  

I was freaking out with anxiety standing there but it seemed to be working. Eventually, I looked to my left and what do you know, there’s OJ Da Juiceman standing right next to me. I figured, why not talk to him? After all, everything else had been solved this night by just saying “fuck it.” I tapped him on the shoulder and introduced myself to him. I told him what I did and that I’d be interested in interviewing him sometime. He said, “you know man, I’d love to, but the only problem is I gotta be two other places tonight. So let me give you my number and you can just call me.” So I gave him my iPhone and he wrote his digits down, along with “Juiceman” next to it. He gave me a slap-hug and took a picture with me.

At this point, I was so conspicuously on stage that people I knew in the audience started noticing me. Two friends from school who who were in the front row got my attention by pointing at me and were like, “fuck yeah!” I was like, "fuck yeah!" back. I also kept making awkward eye contact with some girl who I kind of knew from school, who had a look of confusion on her face as she kept pointing me out to her boyfriend. I hadn’t seen her since 9th grade and here I was, standing next to OJ Da Juiceman at a Gucci Mane concert in downtown Cleveland. Jesus...

After Gucci’s 7th or 8th song, he suddenly stopped. He pointed to the crowd, took his sunglasses off, and hulked away. He definitely stopped way too early, because the show promoters were all confused. They kept playing a song and saying stuff like “let’s get him back out here!” to the crowd. But he was long gone. The room deflated as the lights came on and everyone started filing out, us included. What a hell of a night...

When I came home I reeked of blunt smoke. I told my parents about the concert and went to bed.

Check out some of the video footage that Jacob took below. Shouts out to Rap Genius, Vexum Supply, and The Phat Startup. 

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Jordan Castro - Last Day Before Rehab Interview

Last week, I interviewed author Jordan Castro at a Chick-Fil-A in Ohio. Jordan is the author of two poetry books, “YOUNG AMERICANS” and “if i really wanted to feel happy i’d feel happy already,” and is affiliated with the popular alt-lit publishing press headed by Tao Lin, Muumuu House. He has starred in a movie, “Shoplifting From American Apparel,” and has written a bunch of other chapbooks and ebooks. He also has a serious drug addiction.

Jordan got into some trouble re his addiction a couple weeks ago, landing first in a hospital, then a Cleveland city jail. He bonded out and is headed to a court-ordered rehab for the next 120 days or so. This is his third time in rehab in the past 9 months, and the most serious one—if he fucks up (pisses dirty) he goes to county jail for a year. The day before he left, we went to Chick-Fil-A to hang out, talk, and eat chikin. (chicken). The video below was the result...

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Dreams and Heartbreak

I haven’t been posting anything on my blog this summer because I’ve been really busy with something else. LightHouse Ohio, it was an entrepreneurial incubator I started with two of my friends and it took most of my summer. Other than that, I spent a week in July getting <5 hours of sleep a night baking and selling gourmet cupcakes at my town fair.

I wrote this staying up late at my friend Ziggy’s house, about to go back to school and get back to this New York life. I leave on Thursday.

This summer was really good for me. I felt like I grew a lot as a person. Home always helps ground me, helps me see perspective. I’m grateful I got to spend quality time with my friends this summer, and for all the quality conversations we had. They and my family are the most important people to me in my life. 

Everything was going so great with work, relationships, etc and then my girlfriend broke up with me a week ago. It was really shocking and heartbreaking. I felt different, in the days after...sentimental, really, alone. Like driving home, everything was glass and I risked shattering it by existing too hard. Passing by all these places I grew up around, thinking about how my dad’s side of the family has lived here for generations and I was going to New York City to pursue...flashes of a dream, an environment that I need right now for what I want.

It was sad to see, this first year out of high school. Real life has descended on us like a cloak, around our shoulders. Those who are in college, catch glimpses of the cold reality that faces them. Those who aren’t, are already in that reality. Some aren’t handling the burden well. I see drugs, immaturity, lack of privilege hindering some of the people I’ve known since I was young.

But back to the breakup. When you break up with somebody, it’s like you shared this dream and now it’s gone. And you’re left with your own dream, to nurture and care for, but all by yourself. You’re climbing the mountain alone now. It’s lonely but it’s necessary for growth sometimes. You need to let your dream grow big enough on its own. One day you’ll share someone else’s dream again, one day it might end, but always with new insights and colors and ways of seeing the world. And one day if you’re lucky, you might find somebody you fall in love with forever.

For the past two years, I haven’t listened to anything other than (trap) rap, Grimes, and Lana Del Ray. Rap hasn’t been as appealing to me lately, except for the new Gucci Mane mixtapes “World War 3: Lean” and “World War 3: Gas.” Recently, I’ve just been listening to Lana Del Ray, Nana Grizol, and The Ohioans. Here is a song by Nana Grizol that I really like:

I’ve reevaluated a lot about my life this summer. I thought I completely knew what I wanted to do with my life last year, but I found out I’m still looking. I don’t know if I care about money as much as I thought I did. I did at one point, because I believed in it in a certain moral way, as an obligation to provide and to help and also—for myself and my friends—to have fun. But money doesn’t matter if you’re not doing the things you love and being with the people you love. Those two things are more important than anything. I think a better way to phrase it is, “I want enough money so that I don’t have to care about it anymore.” Whatever I want to buy, I can get...

So now it’s going back to school alone. The lonely grind. It’s sad I lost my partner-in-crime...I was going to write “but” after the ellipses, but there is no “but.” It just is the way it is. It’s a situation I have to deal with. 

I feel hopeful, and sad, and sentimental. I feel a muted excitement for the future. The times of reflection are just as important as the times of doing. Being sad teaches you to want to be happy...