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One Artist’s Journey Navigating the Country’s Highways in a Post-Ferguson America
Tour Time. My favorite two words to utter, or type, because as a musician, we all dream of getting on the road and knocking down stages in strange places, making new friends and fans, hopefully getting paid, and definitely having stories to tell for ages.
As I’m unpacking from one tour and repacking for another, I get excited at the possibilities involved with late night drives into new cities with a few of my closest homies, Dominic “DJ Organic” Khin-Tay, Mario “SkyBlew” Farrow and Chris “EyeQ” Allen. But it wasn’t until I had finalized the routing had I realized that this could turn out to be one of the more interesting trips, and not for the best reason.
Dom asked me what the tour trail looked like, and I happily read off the list of shows I had booked.
Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia, Florida, The Carolinas, Virginia….
He stopped me. His next question was a little odd, as his face showed some legit concern.
“Are there any white people riding with us on this tour?”
Driving While Black is a very real thing, and I know it all too well, particularly in the South, which hasn’t been able to shake its racist roots, particularly in the eyes of people who don’t frequent its streets or shake hands with its countrymen. Strangely, DWB and racial relations may be getting worse. After spending five years now as a touring performer, driving up and down America’s highways and byways, I always ran a loose ship, but was lucky enough to have never been arrested, pulled over or received any type of traffic violation or warning.
Until this year.
A Pew Research Center poll states that 50% of Americans feel like racism is a bigger problem in 2015 than anytime in the last 20 years. Ferguson and its fallout are to blame, and it’s probably the only logical reasoning for the number of stops I’ve faced on the road this year. In 2015, which isn’t over yet at the time of this article, I’ve been pulled over five times while out on the road, only to be left with a warning each time.
There was February in upstate New York, where I was greeted by the nicest Highway Patrol officer, who commended me on my signaling before lane changing, but pulled me over because I hadn’t given enough time and warning between the signal and the actual lane change.
There was March outside Tulsa, where I was pulled over for driving in the fast lane too long.
There was April in Arkansas, where I was pulled over for… well, you know, I don’t even know why I was pulled over there.
There was North Carolina, where I was pulled over for speeding in an area with no posted speed limit signs.
There was the time in May in Omaha, when I was pulled over for tailgating the car in front of me and not giving the proper amount of space.
There was the time in Missouri when my tour mate was profiled and followed out of a Walmart to the parking lot, leading to us being surrounded by squad cars.
These all sound like legitimate offenses, right? Well here’s the kicker. On none of these times was anyone charged or arrested.
However, on EACH of these occasions, I was
1. asked to step out of the vehicle.
2. asked if I had any weapons or drugs on me.
3. patted down and searched.
And in a new development, something I had never seen before, in real life or the movies — in the last few instances, I was:
4. asked to sit inside the officer’s vehicle, in the passenger’s seat, while my paperwork was being processed.
New protocol, perhaps? Not sure. So here I am, in a police vehicle, out of range of my friends (who were attempting to film), and behind the officer’s dashboard camera, if there is one, with nothing but my word against his to detail the events of what could happen next.
Each time I readied myself for the worst-case scenario, and imagined the police officer shoving his state-issued gun into my cheek and reeling off a string of racial epithets in my direction, and telling me that Black lives DON’T matter.
Luckily, the extent of the experience in the police car usually was limited to a semi-diet-racist line of questioning about what I do, where I’m from, why I’m on THEIR road (there was always a sense of ownership) and how much money one makes from singing rap tunes. One officer even tried to guilt me, by letting me know that he wished he could make a living traveling to new places…instead of say, stopping people from getting to these new places. In each situation, I try to cushion the blow by telling them about my past as a teacher and that I make video game tunes, but if they hear the word rap, it usually gets ugly.
In the sub-genre of hip-hop in which I operate, called nerdcore, most of the artists are white, so it makes me as one of the only Black males, stand out like a sore thumb. It’s what I call the “Reverse Eminem” situation. Whereas Em had to prove himself, being a white kid stepping into a black art form, and learn the craft to become respected, Black nerd rappers are looked at as the standard, and crowned, even prematurely, and very seldom questioned on their credibility or talent level. It’s almost the one place in the world that being Black is awesome.
But I often, as most nerd rappers’ only Black friend, have to let them know when they are out of bounds, and that leads to strange conversations.
Recently, inside a discussion group, a white nerdcore rapper was called out for using the N-word on Facebook, and instead of apologizing and never doing it again, decided he would ask all of his Black friends if they felt that he could say it, and then screenshot the responses. This is what privilege looks like, ladies and gentlemen.
In the same group I argued with a Black rapper about the police, who told me the same thing I always hear when I’m around officers: “Don’t break the law and you’ll be fine.”
Like Walter Scott, pulled over for a routine traffic stop.
Like Eric Garner, who sold cigarettes.
Like Felix Kumi, who was a bystander during an undercover sting operation.
Like Sam Dubose, who drove without a license plate.
So when Dom got a little hesitant at the thought of four fully grown Black and Brown males driving through the Southern United States, I understood.
I live below the law for the most part. I don’t even steal music…anymore. I have paid for every piece of software I use to make music.
Some people are lucky enough to have never felt the feeling of terror of seeing a police car in their rearview mirror.
Some people are lucky enough to have never been pulled over for doing something that everyone else on the road does, every single day.
Don’t break the law and you’ll be fine.
Unless you’re not.
Pray for us while we’re on the road.
Rest in Peace Sandra Bland.
Self-proclaimed “Teacher/Rapper/Hero,” Mega Ran returns to the virtual classroom, and this time, it is he who receives the lesson. Ran’s new album RNDM is being described as his most ambitious and introspective yet. Combining the fun and fantasy of popular records like Forever Famicom, which visited 8- and 16-bit classic games, and Ran’s debut The Call, a socio-political and spiritual look at America through the eyes of a man attempting to find balance in an ever-shifting world, RNDM is a hip-hop album meant to be experienced, not just heard. Guests on the record include famed composer Michiru Yamane, famous for her award-winning soundtrack to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (Playstation), as well as hip-hop royalty MURS, Joell Ortiz, the enigmatic Kool Keith and Lazerbeak of the Minneapolis collective DOOMTREE.
Mega Ran’s new album RNDM is in stores now. Follow on Twitter @MegaRan.