18Mar/09Off

Lord Finesse, Big L, & Youth Crime

Lord Finesse “Shorties Kaught In The System (S.K.I.T.S.)”

Lord Finesse “Shorties Kaught In The System (S.K.I.T.S.)” REMIX
Big L “Street Struck”
All three songs zipped in one file

Sociologist Robert R. Alford once described how the media recasts scholarly theories as dogmatic truths that influence policymaking. Legal scholar Michael Lindsey wrote scathingly about one such concept, “super predator,” which was introduced by Princeton University poli-sci professor John Dilulio in an article published in The Weekly Standard in late 1995:

… Dilulio defined his title phrase as a cohort of youthful offenders created from a moral poverty … In academia, creating drama around an issue to ensure that editors will accept it is sometimes necessary … this hyperbole did not end with Dilulio’s article … U.S. Rep. Bill McCollum of Florida introduced the Violent Youth Predator Act of 1996 … References to youthful offenders has escalated from “delinquents” to “super-predators.” Politicians, news commentators, journalists, and justice and law enforcement officials, now use Dilulio’s postulated projections as a statement of fact.
This vision of a “demographic time bomb” lurking “on the horizon,” comprised of youths who “quite literally have no concept of the future” is at once poetic, vicious, and calculated.
Dilulio does not mention music, but his “moral poverty” theory resembles studies like “The Moynihan Report” that according to Tricia Rose advance notions of a dysfunctional black culture that arises (against all logic) apart from social institutions. Rap is alleged to be this culture’s “greatest contemporary promoter”; its reception as literal autobiography, she argues, is informed by historical assumptions that black men are ” ‘naturally’ violent.”
When authored by self-described insiders, such diatribes give rise to reductive binaries that persist despite being regularly disparaged by astute critics. Scrutiny is averted from “positive” songs that encourage the conflation of real crime with its verbal representation, or romanticize a prior decade. Such stances are vulnerable to co-optation by right-leaning anti-youth pundits. Hardly harmless.
Any rap lyric can be sold through charismatic, convincing authenticity. Academic texts are no different. Obtuse works can “cross over” if peppered with panache. Tucked between Dilulio’s jargon slinging and number crunching is a stylized memoir: the kid from a low-rent ethnic white Philly ‘hood grows into the fearless researcher who is “almost killed” conducting research in a prison. To build his case and his credibility, Dilulio cites folks with unimpeachable stripes: cons, cops, and then-Philly D.A. Lynne Abraham, known as “suite and street smart.” She asserts that youth crime waves are led by “youngsters who pack guns instead of lunches,” nearly mirroring Philly rapper Jamal’s lyric “I’m never packing pop tarts for lunch, I’m packing .38 specials” on Illegal’s “Back In The Day.”
Dilulio and the Posse’s wry pastiche also brings to mind Lord Finesse’s “Shorties Kaught In The System,” a grim account of high school dropouts who prefer shooting Glocks to skelly tops from the alarmingly titled State Of Emergency: Society In Crisis compilation. The ever-virtuosic Finesse offers rhymed statistics (“eighty out of a hundred/ all they wanna do is clock dough, scoop bitches, and get blunted”) while appealing to his audience’s sense of fearful urgency and insider authenticity (“if you ain’t from the ghetto this undercover/ but in ninety-four, shit is realer than a motherfucker”). Dilulio could well have quoted him. While “S.K.I.T.S.” is not a commentary on music nor the exact type of song that is frequently championed by purists to discredit newer trends, it stands as a forceful indictment of youth culture, ripe for the picking.
Finesse is redeemable, though. He is guilty of romanticizing his not-too-distant adolescence, but he acknowledges that violence is a systemic problem. He ascribes a level of resourcefulness and intelligence to troubled youths that Dilulio does not (“It ain’t about IQ/ some of them are making more than doctors/ and didn’t graduate high school”). In real life, he served as a mentor to Big L, who appears on the hook of the “S.K.I.T.S.” remix as the contrary young voice (“I don’t give a fuck…”). On the Finesse-produced “Street Struck,” Big L credits rap with steering him from crime; Finesse’s warmhearted concern for his disciple is corroborated by L’s mother.
The sad irony is that Big L was shot to death in 1999, most likely over a dispute that did not directly involve him. His verses on “Street Struck” are poignant, empathetic, hopeful, less judgemental and ultimately more incisive than what we hear from his elder mentor on the same subject. Although the song is a departure from Big L’s typically sadistic narratives, the trajectory of his life illuminates several truths that should be more obvious, namely that kids who consume and create violent rap are (like anyone else) complex human beings who mostly wish to pursue wealth and happiness, are fully capable of discerning fictive expression from actual reality, experience stress and frustration when presumed to be less than human, and bleed when shot.
And their bleeding is not stopped by a conscious lyric, a poorly executed album concept, or bad comedy. — Thun
— Thun

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