Working as a security guard at John O’Connell High school has taught me more about American schools, kids, and violence than any book. Sometimes 90 percent of your day is boring beyond words, but those last 15 minutes of school can keep you up at night.
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Yesterday was one of those days. Super mellow, we had just finished a few weeks of end-of-the-year testing. A strange kind of stress takes over the school in the last month. Kids who are not graduating start acting out. Some of the teachers are running on fumes just trying to get the more studious ones to the graduation stage. It is an odd transition into the unknown summer that lays ahead.
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Things were pretty quiet, after walking the hallway once the bell rings. All of a sudden, a call came over the radio for an administrator to come outside as a situation was escalating. I bolted outside and ran around the corner to see four of our students flat on the cement getting cuffed. A neighbor had called in, saying kids were outside playing with a gun. The police response was instantaneous. The gun was fake.
The cool mind of John O’ Connell’s school resource officer is the only reason one of these kids are not dead. Apparently, before I got there, the situation was intense beyond words. Any one of these kids could have gotten shot over a plastic pistol (that looked very real).
The one holding the fake gun was a kid I mentor for the Hip-Hop Chess Federation. When I asked him why he had it, he said he didn’t know. He was mad, embarrassed, and clear he had made a near-deadly mistake.
But I know.
I know for many African-American males, the litmus test for manhood is a blurry path. Most of the kids I see personally seem to seek it through hollow sexual adventures and violence. Many blame hip-hop for the way the kids act today. But it cannot be that simple.
Still, we cannot ignore the impact of gangsta rap. I was raised on it, and I still listen to it — probably more than I should. It was part of my ascent into manhood in some ways, but I had two parents who never hesitated to remind me that what I was listening to was a song and that life is real.
One of my favorite artists from those times was EA-Ski (pictured right). It’s impossible to do an accurate history of gangster rap in America and not mention EA-Ski. He is a platinum producer from Oakland, Calif., who produced music for Master P, Spice-1, Luniz, Ice Cube, and many others. His beats and rhymes in many ways helped define The Bay Area “mob music.”
Listen to “Blast If I Have To” here:
Recently, footage of EA-Ski was released showing him doing a serious workout, displaying crispy kicks and punches from all angles. For a lot of people in hip-hop, it seemed odd. I mean, this was the same guy from Friday that set the streets on fire with “Blast If I Have To.” So what, how he’s supposed to be a fighter?
What nobody realized is that EA-Ski was always a fighter. Only some of the realest folks from Oakland knew he was a martial arts champion before he rapped. I was able to sit down and get the scoop of how his martial arts shaped his music as well as his thoughts on how the youth see manhood.
NewsOne: How long have you been in martial arts and what has it taught you?
EA-Ski: I’ve been in martial arts since I was 7 years old. I’ve trained religiously. I always had that fighter in me. From being a kid, growing up in the era of martial arts movies. I thought martial arts was just about kicking ass because of the movies. From training, I got the knowledge and the discipline to push myself to beyond physical levels. Meaning that you go ahead and do things you really don’t want to do because of the benefits that you get from it later on. [Later,] I was a junior world champion around 17. I was a three-time heavyweight champion in point sparring.
NewsOne: I work at a school in the Mission District in San Francisco, Calif. It’s mostly Latino, but we got brothers from some of the coldest sets, like Fillmore, Lakeview, HP, Double Rock – all over. I realized early on that a lot of these kids can’t fight. Which is a good thing. Because really, I don’t want them hurting one another.
You and I come from the generation where if you had a problem with someone, you knuckled up. Somebody won, somebody lost, and if it had to happen again, it would happen again. With this generation, it seems like the kids are afraid to get knocked out. Nobody wants to look bad. So altercations might escalate to the use of guns and knives early because nobody wants to look bad. What is going on?
EA-Ski: We’re in a generation now where the kids come from a lot of broken homes. Even if our parents weren’t together, we were still surrounded by strong male figures in our lives. A lot of these young boys are taking on female emotions. They are raised by their moms, grandmas, aunts, and sisters. They are not raised with a man that taught them how to defend themselves; a man that taught you — win or lose — you put out your best.
To me, when a fight happens, there is no winner or loser. For me, I’m not concerned about winning or losing. You’re gonna know you were in a fight. That’s all I’m concerned about. [You're gonna know] that you don’t wanna mess with me no more. I’m not concerned with winning or losing.
I don’t think I’m invincible. I don’t think I’m incapable of getting dropped. I never thought like that. But what I am is a warrior. At the end of the day, if it comes down to combat and it’s man-to-man, I’m not scared of a punch. I’m not scared of anything. Are you prepared to get down like that?
This new generation is not taught that. Everything is based around “let me get a gun.” I don’t wanna get embarrassed. Let’s get the homies and let’s shoot up everything.” We’re at a point where even the best fighter has to be strapped up, because nobody likes to fight straight-up anymore.
It’s gonna take a miracle to get back to the point where men can face one another without bloodshed from guns and knives.
NewsOne: I’m noticing another trend in hip-hop, where martial arts and fitness is making a huge resurgence. This is beautiful on so many levels. I mean no disrespect to the young people today, but when I look at the baseball, football, soccer, cheerleading, track, and basketball teams today, they don’t look half as fit as the kids from our generation. I see 15-year-old kids with serious guts walking around. In my day, that was unthinkable.
EA-Ski: It’s a fast-food game now. Not just food. The music is manufactured to have no substance. Nothing is made to nourish you anymore. At some point, you have to look at yourself and say, “Is this how it’s supposed to be? What do I need to do to discipline myself?” For me, when I’m working in this industry, it’s hard to find good food. It’s set up like that, but they have to have mentors to say, “Hey look, there is a better way to do this.”
Another thing is people are no longer honest. They tell a dude in a minute, “You big boned.” No, nigga, you fat! You are not big boned, homey, I’m sorry. There is a lot of dishonesty across the board. We came from an era where we were brutally honest. That’s that gave us a lot of our character. People not have all these social networks to make themselves look bigger than what they are. There are no more standards. Nobody will say, “This is unacceptable.” Then if you say it, then you are the outcast and they want to ostracize you for being honest.
NewsOne: So tell me about the new music man.
EA-Ski: I had to lay low for a minute. I had to reinvent myself. Just like in martial arts, you can’t stay the same and be a champion. People are studying your moves. They have seen your moves. I had to take a break. I did a strong record about a year ago with me and Cube, called “Please.”
I’ve been working with artists that really know me and respect what I do. I have a record with Tech n9ne and Too Short, Freeway, B-Real, King Tee and Young Maylay. I have records that will shock people, because it’s not just features, they make sense.
Some people get features for the impact of the hype. When you hear me, Too Short, and Tech n9ne, it makes sense. When you hear the track and the way they flow, it’s an incredible record. Anybody looking to get in touch wit me can hit me on Twitter @EASKI and at www.facebook.com/thealmightyeaski.
NewsOne: I hope the young G’s take your words to heart and start training. I know how much respect you have on the streets. I hope these kids go into their own academies and dojos.
EA-Ski: I hope so to. I did that piece because I wanted people to see that it’s bigger than my music. The discipline from martial arts is what makes my music. This is why I’m able to be platinum. I want them to see more of what it takes to have focus and not to be distracted by the outside. You can be the best if you apply yourself.