“America is wringing itself out and you’re seeing what’s actually there. This is America’s Karma. I think it’ll be exciting, like watching the Purge.” – General Steele
In 1998 Smif-N-Wessun released their second album Rude Awakening under the now defunct moniker Cocoa Brovaz. Heat from the Smith & Wesson gun manufacturer pushed them to change and they took the opp to tweak their sonic formula as well, emphasizing the “Rude” in the title. The self-produced first single “Black Trump” was built around Raekwon’s sound bite from “Incarcerated Scarfaces,” and they doubled down with a featured verse from the Wu-Tang Chef. While the track only name drops the now President elect in the title, it does feature his hotel brand logo in the video as a prop. So it begs the question of how Steele feels in the aftermath of the election. Is rap partially to blame for his popularity? Among other atrocities, the Twitter addicted neo-politician wants to federalize “Stop & Frisk,” a law enforcement practice that has undoubtedly effected many young men who have walked through the doors of the Combine where he now sits. While Steele admits that he was “scared to death” the morning after the election and that you “couldn’t hear a bird chirping” on his block, his thoughts are far from black and white.
“When you listen to ‘Black Trump’ my vocals said ‘attack mode…poisonous venom killing you slower,’ I’m talking about the shark, the vicious individual, the one that wants the money and will put his brother to sleep if he has to get where he needs to go. For many of us we’re raised with that mentality. Some call it crabs in a barrel, some call it business acumen. Whatever that is we can put it under the ‘survival’ umbrella. And Donald Trump is a survivalist and America is crooked. Who else could survive in this crooked land and world besides a crooked man? Guess who it is? America gets to see itself in the mirror now. Who can you really compare a Trump to other than the face of America? America has an ugly face. There are beautiful people in America but we find fault in these people and we bring them down to this level where ‘they’re not perfect.’ Unfortunately, America has been hiding her face in the sand for some time. Having a beautiful Black President like Obama is hard to appreciate for some people. He wasn’t perfect but I’m willing to bet these [holds up pinkies] that he was in top 5.”
He goes on to site that many Black Americans were disappointed with President Obama for not explicitly supporting racially relevant issues, but Steele is just grateful that he finally obtained healthcare.
“America is wringing itself out and you’re seeing what’s actually there. This is America’s Karma. I think it’ll be exciting, like watching the Purge.”
Exciting? I repeat the word back to him conveying my uneasiness with that description of the collective angst over Trump’s policies and attitudes towards immigrants of color, Muslims and women.
“I don’t like rollercoasters as a kid but I went on the Cyclone twice with Sean Price. It’s one of the ricketiest rides in Brooklyn. He was like ‘Let’s go again!’ [This situation] is wacky but you know what it is. When you was seven or eight the haunted house might have spooked you. But if you go in there now none of that stuff is gonna scare you. You have to go to extremes to scare the people and I think we are at an extremity now. In that regard it should be interesting to see how people respond to the first kick off of the game.”
Politicians and pundits are calling for Trump critics to “Give him a chance” (a chance he didn’t give Obama) but building bridges is perilous work. Even The Brooklyn Bridge’s chief engineer, Washington Roebling, became bed ridden with the bends from his work trying to span New York’s East River in the 1870s. Surviving a Trump Presidency may result in similar debilitating contortions but Steele is undaunted.
“Me and my family are going to figure out how we’re going to deal with this day to day. This is the Combine. This is where we still read,” he says holding up a thick folder overflowing with papers. “You can learn a lot looking at the fine print. As difficult as it is we have to get to a comfortable place where we can live out the rest of our days and not let the people we lost go in vein.”
Bucktown USA is still the land of the free. However, like the Brooklyn Bridge construction, it may take a few generations to see the plans to completion. After all, it was Roebling’s father John who handed the monumental bridged project off to him before he died. Thankfully, Steele has found willing torchbearers who want to “bring that Biggie Smalls lumberjack hunger back” to hip-hop.
“Doing this project allowed me to embrace my age. Rappers always lie about their age because we’re supposed to be younger. [But]my love is still flourishing and growing. These guys [like] Shadow The Great, they remind me of Boot Camp Clik, jumping around with their dread locks and it’s all synchronized. That’s probably how we looked running around in those clubs that are closed now; crazy, pot smoking, Timberland wearing, camouflage hoodie kids from Brooklyn. I’m glad that I could hang out with that kid. That’s another talented soul and he’s also Evil Dee’s god son. So we couldn’t have painted a more perfect picture. We’re falling in line with The Creator’s design.”