A two-SUV caravan, one white, one black, crawls down the street. People hang from the open doors, perch on the bumper and hood -- there're at least twelve people attached to the first truck alone, including the huge man with braids and bling sitting on the roof. The caravan is surrounded by another fifteen or so people, waving placards and yelling along with the music booming out of the lead SUV.
If we hadn't been in a parade, we would have gone to jail. Fortunately for me, I was smack-dab in the middle of the Annie Malone May Day Parade with rapper Ruka Puff and his crew from Riverfront Records. Ruka is there to promote his song "Angry," a crunky, booming song that's so good I could hear it over 30 times over the course of the parade and not claw my eyes out. If Ruka has a fault, it's the overbearing machismo of his music (something he shares with most crunk -- hell, most hip-hop). Instead of love odes, you get a song about "running a train." If you don't know what that means, ask your mom.
Ruka may be the biggest rapper in St. Louis -- literally. For most of the parade, Ruka sat on the roof above me, with one ankle, as thick as my neck, hanging in front of me. He's Bonecrusher big and was clad in a tent-like Sean John tracksuit. If there's any rapper in St. Louis bigger than Ruka, it would have to be one of his hype-men, Jay Biggz and May B Krunk. (I think all three use stage names.) Hype-men, for those of you unfamiliar with the lingo, are the fellas you see at rap shows who stand next to MCs and bellow certain words along with the rap to add emphasis. I'm going to see if Biggz and Krunk do any freelance hyping; I think I could use them in everyday life:
"Cheeseburger, hold the tomatoes." "... Tomatoes!"
In the words of my friend Rich, a parade is "a group of people who say, 'We go up and down this street every day. But today, we do it with style!'" The Riverfront Records crew certainly had its style in place, with street dancers stopping to breakdance for the crowd and free posters being handed out. The amount of support that Ruka was able to round up for the parade would put most bands to shame -- could you get thirty or so of your closest friends to dance in the streets for a few miles for you?
No, I didn't see the shooting or the face-slashing. I felt perfectly safe rolling down Natural Bridge Road -- although now, after the shooting of Fox 2 cameraman Larry Washington, it's pretty clear that journalists are fair game to someone. In fact, when you throw in the gunplay at the J-Kwon video shoot last month, it looks like we might have someone on the north side who hates cameras and isn't afraid to show it, or at least wants every news source in town from the Post to my column to read like the Evening Whirl. Not that I'd mind -- much love to the folks at the Whirl. What I would mind, though, is being shot -- although it'd make that week's column a breeze. So let's increase the peace, huh?
The May Day parade goes through some pretty desperate neighborhoods. Still, people were lined up for blocks and blocks, and even amid the burned-out buildings, they were having a good time. Drinking Hip-Hop H20, which I'm pretty sure is St. Louis' only music-themed bottled water (and tastes like nothing, which is better than how Pimp Juice tastes), and watching the crowd react to Ruka both perched on the roof and booming from the stereo, it becomes pretty apparent how important hip-hop is to St. Louis right now. It won't last forever, but, like the parade, it's quite a ride.
A few weeks ago, I asked y'all to let your hate out and vent to me about the local music scene. And your spleens did pour, with comments like "the local scene sucks because every fucking yuppie little pussy in a band thinks that if they play the Creepy Crawl once they are entitled to something other than a kick in the ass 'cause they sucked" filling my inbox.
OK, that letter was exceptionally angry. But one letter in particular caught my attention, because in this sea of hate, this little missive was a beacon of love. A plea for peace. It was from John Moynihan (also known by the substantially more bad-assed moniker Johnny Vega$) over at Magee's. From his vantage point behind the bar, Moynihan sees not only problems, but also solutions.
"I work at a bar where on Wednesday night we have loud-ass rock bands and cheap-ass beer. On Thursday night we have a loud-ass hippie band (Jake's Leg), and cheap-ass beer. These two crowds have more in common than you would think. Both sides like loud rock, both sides like drinking, both sides really like pot, and they all love Johnny Cash!
"It's time to put up a united front as a music community. Every rocker's got that copy of American Beauty stashed in their underwear drawer next to that tie-dye bandana their mom thought would be a 'cool gift,' and most dread-heads have some kinda Ramones compilation or the first Danzig album covered in candle wax or resin stains. Come out of your caves and mingle: Pomade doesn't stain too bad, and patchouli smells okay without the B.O.
"So hippies, don't be afraid to talk to that skinny kid with a vintage Aerosmith shirt under that gas station jacket, and rockers, odds are that there is a beautiful girl under all those dreads. So let's light up and all get along."
Illegal drugs: Can they save our scene? Moynihan seems to think so. Kids, you heard the man. Toke up and make up.