The first time we ever heard the song Bird Flu was two summers ago out of the speakers of our neighbor’s radio 2 porches down. Even as someone who pays little to no attention to rap the song stood out for its particularly problematic chorus “we sellin’ scramble, coke and smack.” While some music writers and fans may wax poetic about how great the song made them feel we can recall exactly how we felt the first time we heard it: afraid.
It’s not that we scare easily. We’re not the guy on Nextdoor reporting ‘suspicious activity’ and we’re not fortifying our house with alarms and whatnot. We wouldn’t even say we’re afraid of our neighbors. But the song, and the fact that our neighbors identify so much with it is a clear reminder that if any neighborhood dispute ever arose these neighbors are, in fact, drug dealers, most likely with gang ties either formal or informal and very likely to be armed. Again, this is our home we’re talking about. If anything ever did go wrong, there’s nowhere to run or hide from here. We’re not sure where you live, but on our block the possibility of being terrorized by violent criminals is a very real concern. “Being in the game” has nothing to do with it. For a true life example of how bad these sorts of neighborhood dispute can get, check out this post from Prince of Petworth.
(We were not wrong in these assumptions. Recently the house in question has been raided twice by the warrant squad in full riot gear and battering rams, and drug arrests of two of our neighbors have been made.)
If Bird Flu was the sound of the streets, it is also an anthem of everything that is wrong with this city. It’s not possible to write a song like that without having lived the experience firsthand. Sure, you could try… but you’d end up sounding as corny and benign as the Beastie Boys did early in their career. It’s not possible to separate Lor Scoota’s life from his music. If he says in the song he was moving weight, he was moving weight. If he says he was carrying a gun, he was carrying a gun. The song’s appeal has everything to do with the singer’s street cred. There’s a reason the cleaned up ‘purple, orange and black’ version of that song never made a hit on its own.
And Scoota was carrying a gun, by the way. In this song he serves notice that he was in the habit of carrying a gun constantly. He was arrested with one at the airport a while back which had the serial number ground off. He also had a handful of domestic violence charges against him including a no-contact order. Personally, we don’t believe a serial woman-beater deserves much in the way of community support, catchy hooks notwithstanding. If you consider yourself a feminist, ally, or just someone who cares at all about the general well being of women, maybe sit quietly and think a while about whether or not you want to be the type of person willing to excuse violence against women because the perpetrator has earned some small measure of notoriety.
Indeed, Scoota was no stranger to the law, having racked up, by our count, 9 charges since he turned 18 in 2011, some of them drug charges. We can’t speak with certainty about the disposition of all those cases, but it hardly matters. The system is only as good as it is. You can’t plausibly claim that there’s no justice when a cop gets off, but when a rapper gets off it’s because he was squeaky clean. He wasn’t. Those 9 charges, which are a lot for any person to collect in 5 years and which are in addition to any possible juvenile charges Scoota may have had, are just the shit he got caught doing. It wouldn’t be very likely that these were the only 9 crimes he ever committed and happened to get caught every single time. This is someone to whom we think crime was a way of life. Of course this is just one writer’s opinion. We don’t need to meet the burden of proof of a court to make up our own mind, thank you very much.
And lest you think Scoota was maybe some kind of lovable outlaw, some latter-day Billy the Kid or something we kindly invite you to pull your head out of your ass. Billy the Kid was certainly an awful person to be around, just like our neighbors have been and just like we imagine Scoota himself probably was. He wasn’t selling your cousin heroin or beating up your sister or waving his gun at you, but if it had been you you might feel differently about it, no?
But in death as in life a lot of otherwise sensible people do seem to think Scoota was some kind of lovable outlaw. One of them is Nick Mosby.
Thirteen months ago in the aftermath of the riots Nick Mosby brought Scoota along with fellow street rapper Young Moose on a speaking tour of Baltimore High schools. In the resulting news article Mosby, a fool, is quoted as saying these guys aren’t role models but the fact is that they have been negative role models since the moment they broke out. Giving them a dais and the legitimacy of appearing with a sitting councilman is presenting them as a role model, whether you want to admit it on the record or not. Mosby asked these guys where they saw themselves in 5-10 years. We said at the time-to Mosby, on Twitter- that was laughable, and that in 5-10 years they would either be dead or in jail. He didn’t see it that way. One year later Scoota is dead and Young Moose is in jail. Another panelist, dirt bike rider Chino Braxton, was shot twice and survived and Mosby is (thankfully) on his way out of office. Young Moose’s brother, also, was recently murdered by the way.
The guy who wrote that Prince of Petworth post to which we linked above would have been a good example of someone to take on a high school speaking tour. We say again that we doubt Mosby would want his own young daughters absorbing the messages of Moose and Scoota. We doubt that you, Gentle Reader, would want that for your kids.
You can talk all you want about how Scoota was at a peace rally right before he was killed, or how he read a book to school kids once but are these reflective of the way he lived his life? Or are they public relations fodder because he knew he was in the public eye? Do you think Scoota, who once assaulted a high school teacher, was an avid reader in his life? Do you think he was committed to nonviolence and had put down his gun and come to Jesus? He wasn’t, and he didn’t.
There’s a wide gulf in Baltimore between people’s words and actions. That much is true of everyone; black and white, rich and poor. In the social media age everyone is hard at work spinning their own narrative every hour of every day but little of it has anything to do with the truth. In the Sun article about the speaking tour the author says Scoota and Moose ‘acknowledge an imperfect route’ to whatever ‘success’ they had achieved. Beg your pardon? What does that mean, exactly? An imperfect route? It means they were terrorizing their fucking neighborhoods and were dealing large quantities of narcotics. That’s not ‘an imperfect route’ it’s a goddamned life of crime. What’s more, it’s not clear that either Scoota or Moose have achieved real success by any measure. As far as we know they were self-releasing music, not exactly the fast lane on the road to riches. A little radio airplay in your hometown market and an Instagram of you with two or three actually famous rappers doesn’t amount to much in the great scheme of things.
Then there’s the question of Monday night’s vigil on Pennsylvania Avenue. There are many who are quick to draw comparisons between it and a recent vigil for the victims of the Pulse nightclub mass shooting. Why, they ask, was the police presence so much heavier on Monday?
Well, 2016 is a dangerous time to be a rapper in Baltimore. Besides Scoota and Moose’s brother, the last twelve months have also seen the killings of FMG Twizzle and G-Rock. Of course, we’ll never know all the details of what these guys were doing on a day to day basis in their personal lives, but to an outside observer there do seem to be some patterns present. There’s a difference in being struck by bullets and struck by lightning. We’d even wager that the police know quite a bit more than the Chop does- the Chop being merely a-guy-who-reads-the-news-often.
We weren’t there, and so we can’t say firsthand what happened. But here’s the thing: all the firsthand accounts we’ve seen so far have been either from cops or from activists who have demonstrated unreliability over the last year. Were bricks and bottles thrown at cops? We don’t know, but it seems reasonable to believe something was thrown, as we did see shit thrown last April at Mondawmin. That day, as now, neither side was really in the right. You can resent and criticize the police all you want but you cannot throw shit at them. Period. Did a cop raise a gun at a dirt bike rider? Maybe. But it seems more likely it was a beanbag gun. Why were the cops in riot gear at a peaceful vigil? Maybe because it’s the kind of peaceful vigil which includes dirt bikes, which the Orlando one probably did not.
But if you really want to know why the police came ready for trouble it’s because the likelihood of trouble starting was high. Grief does not preclude violence. After all, it was less than a month ago a West Baltimore man shot his father in a church at his own brother’s funeral. To assert that there were no drug dealers, no gang members, and no armed people in that crowd is either disingenuous or foolish. The police know, and the whole city should know that it only takes one half-assed gangster goddamned fool like Meech to turn up in a highly volatile crowd, discharge a gun, and cause utter chaos.
We would urge you strongly to read up on Meech if you haven’t. It seems to us that Sunday’s assembly had more in common with last May 4 than with either the Orlando vigil or Mondawmin. We even got to see the return of damn fool Catherine Pugh to the streets, this time with her puppet Kwame Rose in tow again. Thankfully, Scoota’s vigil ended with no one hurt and only three arrests.
After the vigil, once the police had left, the streets were not so safe. A few hours later and two blocks north a 16 year old kid was shot in the chest well after the city’s youth curfew. He was the second child shot on Pennsylvania avenue after midnight this month. Had he, his assailant or both been at the vigil earlier? We’d be surprised if they had not.
There are at least three official funeral related events scheduled to take place soon. All of them represent a volatile combination of grief, pain, hatred, resentment, ignorance and anger which could, if not very carefully managed, boil over into further chaos.
At this moment we still feel the same way we felt the first time we heard Bird Flu: afraid. We doubt that this is the last violence the city will see related to Scoota. We’re afraid his death will have little consequence other than to escalate the already out-of-control spiral of violence in our city.