The George Zimmerman Trial Reminded Me of Who I Am in America
It’s easier to hide from the specter of Trayvon Martin than it is to face his dead body sprawled awkwardly on the concrete. I was trying to escape it desperately last Saturday night, when George Zimmerman was found not guilty. I was at a fashion brand’s swanky event in a nightclub in Manhattan surrounded by obligatory white kids who like rap and probably have trust funds, boozing myself into a stupor. The next morning, when outraged people took to the streets all over the country, I went to a screening of Sophia Coppola’s Bling Ring and caught up on some reading at a coffee shop. I tried to ignore the news. I didn’t want to bear to think about it because it all hit way too close to home.
Usually, instances of black folks dying doesn’t fuck me up that much. The music I listen to every day is full of references to black men shooting or getting shot at. Like Tupac said, “Niggas been dying for years…” Not a day goes by that I don’t catch a story of a young black man who has met a violent end. Sometimes it’s through gang or drug violence, other times it’s by the hand of the cops, still other times a senile neighbor shoots a 13-year-old kid for no reason. Black death is so constant and relentless all over the country that news of new tragedy has started to lose its resonance for me.
The suddenness, violence, and pointlessness of deaths like Trayvon’s is hard for me to imagine, much less understand. Sometimes it feels like it’s happening on a different planet. I didn’t grow up in the ghetto. I’ve spent much of my life in the suburbs. I’ve lived around rich white folks, I went to school with them, I slept with their daughters, I took drugs with them, and I came of age with them. When you’re a black person who’s been in the company white people as much as I’ve been, sometimes you find yourself saying, What’s the difference? Aren’t we all the same?
But any time I’ve ever gotten too impressed with the progress of the arc of the moral universe toward justice, I’ve been smacked back to reality. It always comes when I least expect it—getting pulled over for no reason or followed around by a counterman in a stank-ass bodega that didn’t even have the fucking wave cap I was looking for. In those moments, I remember, as much as I’d like to forget, that we are not the same. We are not treated equally in the eyes of the law and we don’t face the same obstacles.
“Being a strong black man (or any man) has nothing to do with what you wear or who you fuck, but whether or not you have the will power to stay true to yourself. If that means wearing a dress, then so be it.”
—Black Man in a Dress
NEVER PARTY WITH THE BRICK SQUAD…
OR YOU MIGHT END UP DRINKING AN ENTIRE BOTTLE OF HENNESSY AND ALMOST DYING
Illustration by Meaghan Garvey
As the host of Noisey Raps, the new hip-hop show on VICE’s music site, I’ve been spending a ton of time with famous rappers who like to get loco and do things poor degenerates only dream of. Getting fucked up is a time-honored tradition for musicians of all genres, but rappers, as with everything else they do, take inebriation to absurd new levels. They even invent weird new drugs and give them cute nicknames like “hokey-pokey” and “pterodactyl.” You might think, I love the hokey-pokey. This must be harmless. Then, the next thing you know, you’re being arrested for wiggling your genitals at an old lady, while the famous rapper you just made “friends” with is riding away in his Maybach, sandwiched between two gorgeous models, laughing his ass off. The thing to remember is that these guys are professionals at getting wasted. They rage day in and day out, one dust-laced blunt after another, and then they get paid exorbitant sums of cash to write songs about it. Trying to keep up with them is stupid and dangerous. Unfortunately, I had to learn this lesson the hard way from members of the 1017 Brick Squad.
It was a chilly night in October, and I had been invited to shoot Waka Flocka Flame and Gucci Mane backstage at their show at New York’s Irving Plaza. Unless you’re a geriatric or in jail, you should know that Waka and Gucci are two Atlanta MCs who make unrepentant Southern gangster rap known as trap music.
When we arrived, it looked like your typical rapper green-room scene. There were a whole lot of dudes, because—despite all their lyrics about sexual conquests—rappers love sausage fests. As per usual, a thick cloud of smoke was hovering in the air, and all you could hear was the clash of liquor bottles and the chatter of country drawls.
I’m usually disappointed when I meet rappers in person because they’re often short, meek versions of what you see in their videos. Waka and Gucci, however, look like a couple of linebackers. Their presence is super-imposing, and this was only the second on-camera work I’d done in my life. In hindsight, I should’ve taken some more time thinking about my appearance before the interview: I was wearing pop-bottle glasses and a Cosby-like Pendleton sweater. They immediately started clowning me.
The instructions my producer Andy Capper gave me were to “hang out and get some natural footage.” But Waka and Gucci took one look at me, and it became awkwardly obvious that they weren’t trying to hang with me at all. After a pretty terse greeting that resulted in Waka practically breaking my hand when he shook it, the rappers formed a smokers’ huddle on the other side of the room that I couldn’t breach. Precious time was being wasted. I had to do something quick to get in good with these guys or else I wouldn’t be asked to host anything ever again.
Like everyone backstage, Waka, Gucci, and a couple of their lackeys were passing fat blunts back and forth to one another. To break the ice, I thought it’d be a good idea to ask them what kind of weed they were burning. Gucci just looked down at me like I was a narc, handed over the blunt, and said, “You tell me.”
Now, I’ve been smoking blunts since I was 11 years old. And I grew up in the suburbs, so I’m no stranger to bongs, bowls, and weird white-people shit like vaporizers. But nothing prepared me for how high I was about to become after hitting Gucci’s burner. The closest thing I can compare it to is being pushed headfirst down a K-hole. The second after the smoke left my lungs, I couldn’t even form a complete sentence. Andy was whispering in my ear, trying to tell me what questions to ask because I was just standing there like a zombie with the microphone limp in my hand. And then everything just went black.
My Dad Told Me There’d Never Be a Black President
The biggest fight I ever had with my dad was over whether or not America could elect a black president. It was in the mid-2000s and I was about 17, serving out my last few years at a nearly all-white high school in the stifling suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio. I spent a lot of my time there dealing with way too many ignorant kids who either wholeheartedly embraced bigotry or spouted it off unknowingly. In spite of all of that, I still managed to build some valuable relationships that left me with an optimistic perspective when it came to race relations: It certainly wasn’t all good, but maybe one day it might be.
My dad, on the other hand, was understandably jaded. How can you blame a guy who can remember exactly where he was when Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated if he doesn’t think America will ever properly deal with its race-based problems? Living only two generations from bondage and being born in the midst of Jim Crow would make anyone cynical about the prospects of this country electing a black man to its highest office.
Our argument, which was a long time coming, had its genesis in Barack Obama’s 2004 speech at the Democratic National Convention (and a 2pac song). With that speech, Barack burst onto the political scene looking fresher than a motherfucker, and he spoke with elegance and force that still makes my dick hard with black power. The sentiment of his first speech on the national stage, coupled with my own ambitions and desires, left me feeling like we/I/him could do anything—especially be president. That is, until my dad ripped my head off.
We had been having bouts over this issue for months, but it culminated in an all-out screaming match right after George W. Bush got re-elected in 2005, which signified the country’s choice to continue the not so black-friendly policies of the Republicans. This was also around the time that we were being bombarded with images of suffering black (and poor white) faces in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Things seemed especially grim in those days, like no matter how far it seemed we had come as people, we were still second-class citizens.
So when I brought up my usual bright-eyed bit about how one day all of that shit would change with a black president, my dad stood up in the middle of the kitchen, in his boxers with a plastic bag over his jerry curl, and howled at me at the top of his lungs that a black president could never exist in this country. He told me, “We’d have to burn this whole fucking thing down and start over from scratch for a brother to ever sleep in the White House.” As he said that, my heart welled up with hate for all of his history that was holding me and my generation back. I broke into tears over my disappointment with the world at large, still refusing to accept that I couldn’t foster a better world than what he had known.
MM6: The rare diffusion line that doesn’t suck
Dang, VICE’s Wilbert Cooper dresses cool as hell. But it wasn’t always this way…
Getting Fresh with Wilbert
I wake up every morning at, like, 7 AM with wood so stiff it hurts and breath so bad I’m quietly ashamed of myself. The first order of business, after rubbing one out really quick, is putting on a dope record and picking out some fresh shit to wear.
The first jam of the morning is crucial because it sets a precedent for the rest of the day. Like if I listen to Sade, I’ll have a chubby until lunch time. Or if I listen to N.W.A., I’ll start an argument with Music Editor Kelly McClure about the inherent racism of candy—like why is black licorice the only flavor that taste like a hobo’s open ass? Once I get something on the turntable—lately it’s been Charles Mingus’s Ah Um—I turn to my poorly put together Ikea wardrobe for something to rock.
A lot of people think that I spend a ton of time picking my outfits, probably because they don’t spend any dressing themselves. The truth is, despite this whole “Men’s Fashion Revolution" bullshit that old people keep writing about, most dudes still look like Hank Hill when they leave the crib—dad jeans and pit-stained t-shirts. It’s not that I’m fashion-obsessed, it’s that most dudes are fashion retarded. But that’s kind of why I’m here with this column, to give you all some tips on how I get fresh so that maybe you’ll be inspired to ditch that dress-shoes-with-jeans shit you do when you go on OkCupid dates.
In a lot of ways, there is an interplay between what I’m listening to and what I wear—sometimes I want to beThe Soulful Moods Marvin Gaye and sometimes I want to be Sexual Healing Marvin Gaye. To me style isn’t about being yourself—I’m a guy who has clumpy deodorant under his arms and still watches cartoons EVERY SINGLE DAY—it’s about playing dress-up and projecting an image that you think is cool. So, I’ve picked a couple of records that I think are great and paired them up with shit that I wear. Hopefully this twee selection will inspire you to listen to better tunes and hide the fact that you are premature ejaculator. Follow my lead and in no time you’ll be the posterchild of excellence, style, good taste, and big-balled masculinity.
Jimmy Cliff’s The Harder They Come X Comme Des Garçon Shirt Shirt
A lot of boring white people don’t “get” reggae—these are the same dweebs who wear all-black all the time. That shit is lame. Everyone—even poor melanin deficient folk—should have some color in their wardrobe and some reggae on their turntable. Don’t let the bright colors and upbeat grooves fool you. Jimmy Cliff’s music isn’t some shit you listen to while you’re enjoying an ice cream sundae or eating pussy. If you have any testosterone floating in your ballsacks, you’ll be punching some form of authority before the title track of this legendary movie soundtrack is over. This Comme shirt is the same thing for me, because it takes some stones to do the whole color-blocking thing. Especially when juicing bros wearing Ed Hardy shirts will try to pull your hoe-card for standing out an looking like a “faggot.” When a hater comes at you the wrong way for wearing an extremely expensive and beautifully designed colored shirt, just put yourself in a Rasta-rude-boy-dude state of mind—minus the stupid religion and bad hygiene.
It’s Probably Not Going to Be Ok - Terence Winter’s Struggle to the Top and Why He Likes Playing with Dolls So Much
While filming the first season of Boardwalk Empire, Terence Winter spent many late nights in the bowels of Brooklyn’s Steiner Studios. He’d come here after everyone else had left, to blow off steam and mull things over, which involved naughtily rearranging the faceless figurines that inhabited the prop department’s miniature replica of Atlantic City’s boardwalk: one tiny effigy railing another doggy-style, another pair fellating furiously on a little promenade bench. And of course, this makes perfect sense. Terence is the showrunner and its creator, the guy tasked with creating and controlling every piece of the program from the big-picture story arcs to the nitty-gritty minutiae. He loves manipulating his characters into compromising positions. It’s what he does; it is his being.
Playing with dolls is nothing new for Terence, now 51. He’s been doing it since the 60s, when he was a kid growing up in Brooklyn who was obsessed with G.I. Joe action figures, even though they were too expensive for his folks to afford. But he’s always found a way to get what he wants, and when he was 15 years old he heard about a spoiled neighbor who threw out a set of G.I. Joes. Terence dug through the kid’s trash, grabbed the toys, and ended up playing with the grubby things all night long, only to blow them to smithereens with an M80 in the morning. It seemed that even at this young age he understood that life does not always have a happy ending, which is the reason the man’s stories for television—most famously, his work on Boardwalk Empire and a scriptwriting run on The Sopranos second only to show creator David Chase—resonate.
Do you have any advice for young ambitious people who are looking to make the leap from New York to LA? Perhaps some tips on how to adapt?
If anything, I had to bring it down a couple notches in terms of energy and attitude. I remember driving down Santa Monica Boulevard and a guy walked right in front of my car and I slammed on the brakes. He looked up at me, and I leaned out the window and said, “What are you, a fucking idiot?” And he gave me this look like Iwas a fucking idiot. And then I realized that if people walk in the street, you are supposed to stop for them. In New York, if someone walks in the street, you run him over.
New York is the only city where the pedestrian-vehicle arrangement seems right. If you’re walking down the street almost anywhere else it’s like you’re a hobo.
Someone once told me you can get tickets for jaywalking in LA. I said, “Get the fuck outta here.” And sure enough, a friend of mine got a ticket. Do the police have nothing better to do in that town than give people tickets?