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Behind The Fame

by Jonathan Mosby 2 years ago in humanity
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A True Story

The sky was falling. The air was cold, making the wind feel even colder as it rushed towards Dezmin’s face, along with the rain drops. The year was 2010, and Dezmin’s life was about to change forever. He had been trying to make it in the music industry, but it was next to impossible with everybody else doing the same thing. It always seemed like he was wasting his time when trying to get noticed for his talent. He was about to give up. However, today would be the beginning of the end of his life of poverty, struggle and strife—he just didn’t know it yet. He’d been on many a journey like this; after performing in some club, or competing in some contest; someone would sometimes claim to be able to help him further his career. It was followed by some meeting, in which the party suggests to Dezmin some type of business proposition. But nothing ever came of any meeting. They’d always end up lying, or trying to make themselves rich, richer, or all three! This always left Dezmin back where he was, trying to get noticed. At his last show, after he performed a song he’d recently written, he got the attention of a man by the name Wesley Adams. Mr. Adams told one of his scouters to meet with Dezmin and discuss business. Why it had to be on this day, only God knows. Dezmin’s car was in the shop, and he had to catch a bus to the meeting. That would have been enough, but as luck would have it, the meeting place wasn’t even on the bus line! He would have to walk another five miles to the meeting, in the cold rain. He had time to think as he walked, reflecting on his life. Why am I even doing this shit? And five fucking miles, bruh? Damn. What the fuck, man? How did I get here? Five fucking miles, bruh? Fucking bus. Fucking rain! Fucking cold ass rain! Why don’t you just freeze already? Damn. Turn into snow or some shit ‘cuz man I can handle snow, but this rain-being-cold-as-fuck-and-stabbibing-my-face-shit ain’t cool bruh! Damn. And the damn wind. Don’t even get me started on you, nigga. Always blowing and shit. You helpin’ the rain, ain’t you? Ya’ll in cahoots? Damn. Shit.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Aye boy, you need to getcho’ ass in this muthafuckin house and clean that muthfuckin room, ‘fore I beat that muthafuckin ass, boy!” Dezmin’s mother yelled.

She was a skinny woman, about 5 foot six with a bad attitude. Her hair was long, but she always kept it in a pony tail, and wore clothes that were always out of her price range. She liked to look good, even though she lived in the projects. Some say her anger problems started when she was a little girl, when her mother gave her up for adoption and forced her to live with multiple abusive families. Others say it was because of Dezmin’s father, who never took care of the family and forced them to live in poverty due to his drinking and gambling problems. She was abused by him too, so maybe it was both. Either way, she carried a chip on her shoulder the size of a car and begged someone to touch it. She met Jet when Dezmin was eleven, and he became the father Dezmin never had. Jet also proved to be a buffer for Dezmin, calming his mother’s daily rage with his passive and jovial attitude. She was still pretty mean, but Jet provided a balance that made Dezmin’s life a little bit less chaotic. Jet had received a small settlement from an injury he sustained on his job as a construction worker, in the amount of 35,000 dollars; they were almost out of it—most of it was spent on Cynthia. She may have been trying to get ahead, but Jet was in love.

“Don’t yell at the boy, Cynt, you scarin’ him,” Jet said. They were sitting in the living room of their project apartment home. The front door was cracked, letting in a small sliver of sunshine from outside, that shown all the way across the living room to the left side of Jet’s body as he sat on the burgundy couch, lighting his cigarette. There was a little TV that sat on top of a big TV —only the little TV worked. A picture of a man sailing in a boat hung over the TV’s, and above that was a ceiling fan that moved side to side as the fan blades swung. Cynthia was cleaning in the kitchen.

“Jet, I don’t give not one flying-in-the-sky fuck ‘bout scarin' his ass, he shoulda had it done when I told his ass yesterday!” She sat down on one of the living room chairs.

“I know ‘Cynt, but the boy just eleven. Let the boy be a kid, damn,” Jet said.

“Oh and that reminds me, Dez!” His mother shouted, “Mikuan ain’t comin’ over ’til you get all that shit cleaned up!”

Jet shook his head.

Dezmin’s room was typical for a boy his age. A bent-in-the-corner poster of a famous rap artist hung on the wall over his bed, a dresser with a large mirror on it was covered with candy wrappers, video game cartridges, clothes and toys, and the floor throughout was littered with the same. The air conditioner hung out a window and tilted a little—it was the only way it would fit. It always made a low, metallic humming sound that was undetected by day, but by night it would always soothe Dezmin as he would fall off to sleep. He was in his closet, looking for a broom when the whole shelf above suddenly collapsed. As the items began to settle, Dezmin ended up back-to-the-wall, covered in debris. Suddenly, the broom was the last to fall.

“There you are. You ready?” Dezmin asked. He looked at the broom playfully, as if to expect a response from it. Then, out of his peripheral, he saw his mother standing in the doorway to his bedroom.

“The hell you done did, boy?” She roared. “You think Mikuan coming over here? He ain’t. That shit sounded like damn bowling balls fallin’ from way in the goddamn other room!”

Dezmin sat up, displacing a few items around him, making some noise.

“Uh huh, that shit is ridiculous,” his mother said. ”Jet!!!! Come in here, and look at this shit!”

“Oh I know, I heard it,” Jet chuckled. “Bet you know now to keep that room clean, huh?”

Jet stood next to Cynthia and leaned against the threshold of the doorway, eating an apple.

Cynthia had her hands on her hips, shaking her head with an angry look on her face.

“I-”, Dezmin began.

“Ah-Ah-Ah don’t talk back. Just clean it up,” Jet said as he looked at Cynthia with a smile, “He’ll be alright. He a kid he need to learn the consequence of his actions. Ain’t nothin' wrong wit’ that. Clean it up boy!” As Jet walked away, Cynthia calmed down a little and followed him, but not before glancing at Dezmin with what seemed to be fire in her eyes. As her voice trailed off into the distance, Dezmin heard her say, “Then the nigga was in there talking to the damn broom! What in the hell is wrong with that boy? Don’t nobody talk to no damn broom!”

Dezmin finally got up, displacing the rest of the items around him, of course.

“Hey!” His mother yelled from the living room.

He sighed.

* * *

Mikuan rang the doorbell.

“You said you just got all of it cleaned up?” Mikuan asked.

“Yeah. It took a while and I never thought I would get it done. Jet helped me though,

when mama fell asleep.”

“Dang. My room always messy but I ain’t gotta clean it up. My mama don’t care like your

mama care. And my daddy don’t be carin’, he too scared of my mama.”

There was a short silence in the room. Dezmin closed his closet door and sat on his bed.

Mikuan continued, “But let’s go man. You know we gotta new candy lady?”

“For real?” Dezmin asked.

“Yeah, she new and she got like, a lotta candy. I wanted to go down there and see what kind she got. I just heard she got a lotta candy.”

“Ok. Let me get my shoes. You got your money this time?”

“Money? Man, what money? I’m playin’ yeah I got it man.”

“For real? ‘Cause last time I had to pay ‘cause you said you left your money at home.”

“Na uh for real I got it this time man c’mon let’s go down there before the big kids come.”

They walked down the street and continued talking.

“They say her name Miss Sandra and she got three dogs,” Mikuan said.

Dezmin began to imagine a dog with three heads, ferocious, all mouths salivating, barking, and itching for a chance to bite him. “They bite?” He asked.

“Nigga iown know! Why you think I’m bringing you today? I’m jus’ playin. But for real, they probably bite.”

“What? Naw man, I ain’t goin’ then. I just pictured a dog with three heads so, I’m out. ”

Dezmin stopped walking, then Mikuan turned and started laughing.

“What’s wrong man?” Mikuan asked. “They ain’t ‘gon hurt you man I was jus playin’ c’mon man.”

“Quit playin’ man. Dang,” Dezmin said.

They continued walking. They eventually got to the candy lady’s house. It was at the end of his street, a few blocks from his apartment. It looked like any other house in the neighborhood. Nothing stood out, accept from the mailbox, which was incased by a rectangular column of bricks. No body else’s mailbox looked that way. Dezmin pondered why this might be the case as they walked past it, and up the front porch steps. There were wind chimes hanging from the ceiling just above the welcome mat on the porch. They swayed gently in the wind, playing what sounded like instruments in a song.

Either the barking dogs, or Mikuan’s knock at the door disrupted Dezmin’s thoughts; it all happened so fast he could not tell which one was first. All he knew was the three headed dog was coming to get him. They both stepped back and looked at each other. Miss Sandra yelled from in the house in a raspy voice, “Who is it?”

Neither one of them knew what to say. They were both afraid of the ferocious barking that was taking place right behind the door of the screened in porch. After a short pause, which seemed to be an eternity for the boys, she asked again, “Dammit I said who is it?”

The door to her house was open, and inside a television was on. Other than that, the room was dark. The screen door area was closed, giving the inside of the house an extra-added darkness that made the boys tremble. Miss Sandra got up and began walking to the door, her flip flops dragging behind one another as she made her way out from the darkness. The boys were in the house, looking at the different kinds of candy while laughing.

“Man, you was scared!” Dezmin said.

“Naw man you was scared, hell you talkin’ ‘bout!” Mikuan retorted.

“Ya’ll gon' make up y’all mind, or what? I got people waitin’ y'all know iown let but two of y'all bad ass kids in at a time,” Miss Sandra said, walking into the candy area of her living room.

Right by her side, was a pit bull dog wearing an Elizabethan Collar; one of those cone apparatuses they put around the neck of a dog to keep them from biting people, or themselves. The dog had three legs. The boys laughed again, hysterically. When the laughter calmed a little, Dezmin said,

“Yeah ok we got the candy we want. You ready, Mik?”

“Yeah, I’m ready.”

They each paid her for what they got and ran playfully towards the front door. When they got outside, they were confronted with the big kids, aged thirteen to seventeen. They had gotten there right after the boys, and were angry and upset that they had to wait for them. A small line of them had begun from the door to a few steps down from the porch. “Damn, y'all got all the candy, huh?” One of them asked.

“Take y'all ‘lil ass home, ‘fore I take yo’ candy nigga!” Another one of them said.

Mikuan smirked and said, “Ya’ll don’t wanna go in there, man. There’s a three-headed dog in there and he will kill yo’ ass. Me and Dez barely made it through! Why you think we was runnin’ out? Ya’ll niggas ‘gon die.”

“Nu uh, he lyin!” One of the fifteen year olds said. “Prove it, then!”

Mikuan, without turning around to face the door, balled up his fist, turned it downwards and gave the door one good, loud -KNOCK- and instantly the dog began to bark ferociously. Everybody ran off immediately, screaming in fear. Mikuan laughed hysterically, and tapped Dezmin on the shoulder and said, “Aye man, you see how they ran off like some bitches, bruh?”

Dezmin was in and out of the whole situation, because he’d had a very different experience. While the bigger kids and Mikuan were going back and forth, Dezmin had noticed something strange. The was a small -bump- -bump- -bump- rhythmically making the windows on the front porch shake slightly. He put his hand on the glass and felt the beat physically. He was amazed at this, seeing as how there wasn’t any music playing in the house while he was in there. The front door still open, the only thing he heard in there came from the television. He put his hands on the bottom of the window. It felt stronger there. In fact, the lower he went, the -bump- -bump- -bump- became more pronounced. Mikuan stopped him before he could investigate further, tapping him on the shoulder.

“Yeah, like some bitches bruh,” Dezmin finally said.

“What you be thinkin’ ‘bout man? ‘Yeen see what I did to make them run off like that?”

“Yeah I know. There was just this sound coming from, I think the basement of this house.”

“So what?” Mikuan replied. “‘I’m just playin’ it’s cool. Aye maybe it’s two people doin’ it down there, you never know.”

“Nah, it was definitely music. I’m curious to know what’s down there.”

“Man ain’t shit down there bruh. You trippin’. Let’s go back to your house.”

“Ok, cool.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Finally made it up in this bitch, Dezmin thought. He walked into the building he was supposed to have the meeting in. It looked different than all other buildings he’d been in before to meet someone for business; the glass doors to the entrance, the sleek, black desk with the woman dressed in uniform behind it and the many plaques on the wall all took Dezmin by surprise. The receptionist hung up the phone and looked at him as he walked in. His face beginning to warm up, he took off his headphones and with water dripping off his brow, asked shyly, “Y-yeah, I’m here to see Damien?”

The receptionist was a looker. She had brown, wavy hair, a beautiful smile and big, beautiful brown eyes. She looked at Dezmin softly, “Right this way. He’s been expecting you.”

They walked down a long corridor, brightly lit, with few doors on either side. The first one on the left read ROOM A, the second one a little further down on the right read ROOM B, and so on down each side of the corridor.

“They’re studios,” The receptionist said, as if to read Dezmin’s curious mind. “They’re pretty big, too.”

“I see,” Dezmin said.

He slid his hand across the wall, and felt the beats coming from within them and smiled. Then his smile faded.

“Something wrong?” The receptionist asked. They had come to a series of windows with mirror tent. He stopped and looked into it, touching his cheek and upper lip lightly.

“No, nothing’s wrong,” He answered. They kept walking.

“You know, it’s not that noticeable,” the receptionist said, “your scar I mean,” breaking the awkward silence between them.

Dezmin chuckled, “you noticed it.”

“Yes, but only when you touched your face, silly,” she smiled, “I must say though, if you’re worried about that, you might have a problem with thousands of people seeing it when you perform for them.”

“Wha—?”

“Well, let’s hope so. Your song really got the attention of Mr. Wesley. As you know he’s the—”

“Owner of Embezzled Ent!” Dezmin blurted out in excitement. “Really? He liked it?”

“Yes he did,” she smiled.

“Oh wow! I ain’t even know!”

Now everything was beginning to make sense: the expensive furnishings, the plaques on the wall, and the huge facility he was in, all incasing seemingly countless studios inside it. He made it! This is the real deal he thought. The receptionist, interrupting his thoughts said,“If I may, how’d you get it? The scar, I mean.”

“It’s a long story; I will have to tell you sometime. But after I got it I was real sensitive about it. I felt real bad about myself for a long time after it happened.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Can I borrow five dollars?” Dezmin asked Jet. They were in the car just after school was let out for the day.

“Wanna go to that candy lady again, huh? You go over there a lot. You didn’t go over the last candy lady house this much.”

“Yeah, they ain’t have nothin in there I liked.”

“But this one you do huh? Now you know ya’ mama would say no.”

“Yeah, I know.”

“But I’ma let you go. Just don’t tell ya mama ‘cause if you do I ain’t admittin’ ‘ta shit!”

“Ok, I won’t,” Dezmin smiled.

“And don’t turn into no candy monster neither. Candy muncher monster boy!” He wrestled with Dezmin playfully as he repeated, “Candy muncher monster boy? Huh? With all yo' teeth fallin’ out? Don’t be no candy muncher monster boy, ‘lil man!”

He gave Dezmin the money and Dezmin hopped out of the car, still laughing. He made it to the door but before he knocked, he wanted to feel the music again. However, when he put his hands on the glass, he felt nothing. He knocked on the door. The dog barked as a tall, older boy, maybe around sixteen or seventeen opened the door for Dezmin. He’d never seen this boy before, and was curious to know who he was.

“My mama ain’t here,” the boy said, “but you can come in and just pay me for the candy you want.”

Dezmin nodded and went in. He got the candy he wanted, paid the older boy, and just when he was about to leave, Miss Sandra walked in.

“Oh no! Hell no yeen’ takin my money what I tell you boy?” She yelled, as she sat her grocery bags on the living room table. It was filled with new candy. “You gon have to find another way to buy yo weed I done told you boy! Yeen smokin’ my rent up!”

Dezmin stepped back. The older boy put his head down and smiled a little.

“Here you go, mama,” he said.

“Uh huh,” she snatched the money, “Now gon take yo ass back downstairs and make a song ‘boutcha broke ass. Gotta steal from ya mama but got songs about havin’ money. Boy bye!”

He glanced at Dezmin while shaking his head, then he left out of a door that undoubtedly led to a basement below.

“Aight now,” Miss Sandra said to Dezmin, “you can go now. Gone.”

Dezmin nodded quickly and shuffled towards the door, walking right past the silent pit bull as it's eyes followed him out the door peacefully. Mikuan was outside, waiting for him.

“‘Sup?” Mikuan asked. “You get anything for me?” He looked down and upset, but it was the kind of upset that Dezmin knew all too well. It was the sign that there were problems at home, and Mikuan was just the victim of an unrelated, or too harshly punished crime that took place there. Whenever this happened, he would always change into glum Mikuan, trapped inside his shell of pain and hurt. Dezmin said,

“Yeah, I got it all for you matta fact.”

This made Mikuan smile unexpectedly, but it quickly faded as he barely got out, “Nu uh man quit playin’.”

“No, really I did. I also got something fun we could do. I know you like pulling pranks on people, so this would be fun.”

Mikuan raised his head a little, clearly unconvinced.

“Aight,” Dezmin said. “You don’t believe me? Look, there is a homeless man on Rainey Street—a newcomer to the hood. But ‘heen gotta place to live! He just stand outside the door all day, asking for money, or taking a dump behind the sto’ that’s right there. And he mean. And I know how much you—“

“Like pranking old mean people!” Mikuan exclaimed with a full blown smile on his face. He’d tried to hold it back while Dezmin was talking, but couldn’t any longer and couldn't help but to interrupt.

“Yeah!” Dezmin smiled. “So let’s go down there. You comin’?”

“You really got all that candy for me?”

“Hell naw, but you can have most of it tho’,” Dezmin laughed.

“Aight cool, let’s go,” Mikuan said.

They got to the store just in time to see the store owner putting the homeless man outside.

“And don’t come back to my store! You go out, now!”

“Ah fuck you, sum bitch!”

The homeless man let out a large spit to the ground as the store owner slammed the door.

“This is gonna be fun,” Mikuan said. “Aye Dez, since he ain’t seen us yet we could pull a prank on him.”

“What did you have in mind?”

“Well, look—shh, get behind this tree right quick. Aight, now you see the this rock I got from the ground? I’ma throw it at him, but not hit him with it. I’ma make him think he goin’ crazy.”

“You ‘gon hit him, aren’t you.”

“Nah man look, the joke is just to make him think he goin crazy. That shit is funny as hell to me.”

Mikuan threw the rock and it bounced off the trashcan, about five feet from the homeless man. He jumped and looked around. He didn’t see anyone. Mikuan threw another rock and it hit something else. The homeless man jumped again, this time a few feet in the air. Mikuan was trying his hardest not to burst out laughing; he was uncontrollably “quietly" laughing. Dezmin was too. Seeing that dusty old man leap a few feet into the air was enough to change Dezmin’s thinking from this might have been a bad idea, to this is the funniest thing I’ve seen all week. Mikuan threw a few more things, and so did Dezmin. The homeless man’s reaction was slightly different every time, and sometimes he’d even yell or curse, which made the boys enjoy it even more.

“Aight now look,” Mikuan said. “Now let’s really scare the shit outta him.”

“Aight what.”

“Either me or you run up to him, screaming as loud as we can. Wait ’til his back is turned though. You wanna do it?”

“Why don’t we both do it?”

“Nah man that’s not gon be funny. One of us has to watch it happen.”

“Oh yeah. Well I can do it.”

“For real? I thought yo ass was too scared to do this type shit.”

“Naw man, I can do it. How hard is it to scream?”

“You gotta not laugh while you doin' it though, otherwise it’s not ‘gon be as funny. I would do it, but I wanna see it. I’m glad you wanna do it honestly. You ready?”

“Aight, yeah.”

They waited until the homeless man’s back was turned, then Dezmin lightly ran full speed across the way and just when he was about five feet from the homeless man, let out a huge, high pitched scream. The homeless man turned around to see this, and in sheer terror grabbed the nearest thing next to him and swiped it at Dezmin. Unfortunately for Dezmin, it was a broken bottle that was sitting on top of the trashcan. Dezmin, with his arms out to the side screaming, had no time to protect his face from the upper cut of the homeless man’s broken bottle swipe.

Mikuan exclaimed, “Oh shit!” As the broken bottle sliced into his best friends’ face.

After roughing up the homeless man a little, Mikuan helped his best friend limp home, blood gushing down Dezmin’s face as they walked together. A few days later, Dezmin and Mikuan were at Dezmin’s house, playing video games.

“Yo mama crazy, man,” Mikuan said, passing the bag of chips back to Dezmin. “She mean, but you can tell she love you.”

“Yeah, I guess. I just don’t think she should have kicked a homeless man’s ass like that.”

“Yeah, even I thought that was too much, and I’m a victim of child abuse! I’m just playin’, but for real tho’ she whooped his ass 'tho, for real.”

They laughed, and immediately Dezmin screamed.

“Oh shit, what happened?” Mikuan said, holding his ears. He looked up to see why Dezmin screamed. “Oh shit, damn, your stitches!”

Dezmin screamed again in pain.

“Yo stitches ain’t healed, bruh. You can’t even laugh! Damn man. That shit hurt?”

Dezmin looked at him and thought, seriously?

“It’s bleedin’ bruh,” Mikuan said.

“Dang, where?” It didn’t take long for him to get the answer to that question. He felt the blood running down his chin that was now dripping onto his Hawks jersey.

“Uh, you ‘gon have to go to the bathroom man, and look at that. That shit scary. That look like some alien shit right there!”

Dezmin stood in front of his mirror with his eyes closed, terrified of what he might see. He finally opened his eyes, and what he saw was worse than he imagined. The skin from his upper lip to below his left cheek was split back open.

After his stitches were redone, he became a lot less social than he once was, sitting by himself at the “uncool” kids’ table trying to keep his head low. Mikuan didn’t attend school with Dezmin, their friendship existed solely outside of it. MIkuan’s mother believed in homeschooling, but only did it for the financial benefit. Mikuan was fine with it; he didn’t have to study, he spent most of his days at home, watching cartoons while his mother snored loudly on the couch next to him; other days he would just walk around the neighborhood, waiting for Dezmin to get out of school. But if he was at school with Dezmin, that would make it all better. Somehow, Dezmin thought, even with the pain and social exclusion that comes with have one’s face split open, it would be better if he was here.

After school, he met up with Mikuan as usual, and after completing his homework, Dezmin would continue where they left off in their last adventure. They couldn’t do much, because of the sensitivity that comes with Dezmin’s scar, but they made the most of it. Instead of racing through the parking lot of an abandoned K-Mart building, they would play video games or just walk and talk. Mikuan was careful not to do things that would make Dezmin laugh, but this proved next to impossible—still, they made the most of it.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

A few years pass, and Dezmin is sixteen years old. A few things had changed in his life over five years: His mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and beat it, changing into a completely different person. He was arrested, tried, convicted and released for possession of marijuana, he got out and got a job, and had to pay is mother rent every month for living in her house.

“You goin' out this weekend?” Mikuan asked. They were talking on the phone one night, “You know I gotta scope out da ass man, and get fucked up! I need it. Today was not my day, bruh.”

“Yeah, I’m going,” Dezmin laughed, “I just need to make sure I can get Friday night off.”

“Man, fuck yo job! Playin’, but for real, ‘yeen had no ass in how long? ‘Yeen wanna talk to no girls ‘cuz of yo scar and shit, but then you meet Christie and fell in love wit’ da bitch. That ain’t work out 'tho. You need to get back out there, man! You keep writtin’ poetry ‘bout old pussy ain’t ‘gon help yo ass get new pussy, feel me?”

“You crazy man. Iown write no poems ‘bout no lost pussy, nigga. I dumped her!” Dezmin said.

“Yeah right. You know who you talkin’ to, right? Fuck outta here. You crazy. ‘Oh, Christie, you had the best pussy in the universe, and I feel so lost without you, oh oh oh Christie’ —face ass nigga.”

“Whatever nigga,” Dezmin laughed, “I know you ain’t talkin.’ You married to the weed over there, huh. You don’t get no pussy neither.”

“Hell yeah I’m married to the weed! I got weed pussy iown need female pussy! Iown need no bitch. This hustle is my bitch. I’m ‘bout gettin’ this money, nigga. The bitches come later. I’ll fuck a few, but iown belong to nobody!”

“Hell yeah, and you just reminded me, I need to get some ‘mo green. You got a dime on you?” Dezmin asked.

“Hell naw, I gotta re-up. But you can come by and smoke this blunt I’m ‘bout to put in the air, 'tho.”

“Aight, I’ll be over. You need to get a car, nigga. All the hustlin’ you doin’, and ain’t gotta car? You trippin’.”

“Fuck you man," Mikuan retorted, "I couldn’t smoke over yo house no way. Now hurry up, ‘cause I’m flickin’ the lighter and it’s only a matta' time ‘fore that bitch catch and when it do—”

“Aight man say no ‘mo. I’m on the way. Just gotta stop by the store and get some chips and shit.”

Dezmin pulled up to the corner store, just as he would any other day—and every time he did, he noticed that same blue trashcan slightly leaning against the ice box next to what used to be a pay phone, just as it had been on the fateful day he got his scar. The pay phone was out of order even back then, but Dezmin always noticed that trashcan and gave it a solemn nod each time he entered the store.

“Oh shit, nigga!” A voice behind Dezmin exclaimed.

Dezmin turned around to see a very familiar face. It was Terry, the candy lady’s son that Dezmin had met years before.

“Oh shit bruh how you been?” Dezmin asked.

“Man, I been here, there and everywhere. You know mama died.”

“Yeah, I heard. My condolences bruh. I heard she was sick,” Dezmin replied.

“Yeah. Shit ain’t been the same since she left. But the bright side is—”

“You buy, or what?” The clerk interrupted. “You been stand here for tree minutes! Still you no buy! Time limit, 15 seconds, each customer, mon!”

Dezmin and Terry looked at each other in mutual confusion. As they walked out of the store, Dezmin said, “Aye, so is he some kind of Asian-Jamaican-Indian guy, or—”

“Man iown know,” Terry laughed.“But listen what I was sayin’, was that my mama left me her house. You can come over any time and chill. You smoke?”

“Yeah, I was actually on my way to my homeboy house to burn it down wit’ him.”

“Oh ok. You still cool wit uh,—”

“Mikuan?”

“Yeah yeah, him. Cool, that’s what’s up I’m ‘bout to go to the crib myself. I’m buildin’ my old set up in the basement again. ‘Finna get the old team back together and make some hits!”

“Oh you ‘finna have your studio back up and runnin’?”

“Hell yeah, I ain’t had it operational for ‘bout, three years. Yeah, ‘bout three-fo years. I had to move man, shit was gettin’ hot. And you know mama ain’t wanna do nothin’ illegal. Well I was sellin’ weed to the big kids that came for candy. Ain’t no 17 year old ‘gon go to the candy lady every day, nigga. But I had told them if they wanted to do business, they would have to buy some candy first, to make it look official. Then, I’d make the drop—I had already put the bag somewhere when mama wasn’t lookin’, and then they put the money where the bag was and that was it.”

“Oh damn. Smart,” Dezmin said.

“Hell yeah, bruh. But it ain’t really work out ‘cause one of the niggas robbed her house to get my weed and my money. Blasted on his ass, 'tho. Kilt’ dat nigga.”

“Oh shit!” Dezmin exclaimed.

“Yeah, the nigga ain’t die,'tho.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah! The nigga survived, and took my ass to court!” Terry shouted.

“What? Naw man iown believe that bruh!”

“Yeah. And won!”

“And won?”

“And won, bruh.”

“Damn, bruh,” Dezmin said, shaking his head.

“Yeah, and so a lotta legal shit happened, I had to move, then I had to do some time. And when I got out, mama had died. Shit fucked me up, bruh. But that’s when I learned she left me her house. Shit was super bitter sweet, bruh.”

“Man I can’t even imagine.”

“Shit was crazy. But that’s why I’m ‘finna kill these niggas in the game! I got a lot of shit to talk about!” Terry said.

“Yeah, you do!”

“You wanna come over? You ‘member back then I was rappin’ then too? You saw the set up, didn’t you?”

“Naw, I was real young,” Dezmin said, “but I knew you was doin’ music down there tho.”

“Hell yeah.”

“But aye, Mikuan wanted me to stop by his crib 'tho, we bout to burn it down.”

“Tell his ass come through too, shit! Ya’ll can smoke over my house bruh! And I got the pack in so you know ya’ll niggas ain’t gotta go no where else for ‘ya green, right?”

“Yeah, Mikuan sell too, so...”

“That’s ok too!” Terry laughed, “We prolly get our shit from the same connect!”

“Prolly,” Dezmin smiled, “this a small ass world.”

* * *

Dezmin knocked on Mikuan’s door and when it opened, a cloud of smoke rushed out and passed him.

“Nigga, you late!” Mikuan said, through the cloudy haze.

“Damn bruh!” Dezmin said, as he walked in.

The smoke cleared a little, and revealed five older men sitting in the living room. One of them was Mikuan’s father, who had allowed his son to smoke in the house on the condition that he gave him weed in exchange. Mikuan’s mother had run off two years earlier with a younger man, and ever since it’s been a gathering spot for his fathers’ friends.

Dez!” One of the people said, “whatcha know good, homie?”

“Aye! Whats up bruh?” Another one said.

“What up!” Another said.

Dezmin gave a nod to the men as Mikuan motioned to him.

“Aye Dez,” Mikuan said, “Let’s go in the back.”

The door closed and Mikuan sat on his bed.

“I just ain’t wanna be out there with all them,” Mikuan said, licking his blunt. He lit it, blew out a cloud of smoke and continued, “Iown really know them like that no ‘mo.”

“Oh, I feel you. But Buster was out there. And Jim and Lou. We know them, so I’m confused,” Dezmin said.

“‘Cuz man, they changed when mama left. When she was here she used to bitch all the time and nobody liked her ass. Me and daddy and them kinda became close back then. It was us against her. But now that she gone, these niggas just went crazy!” Mikuan passed the blunt to Dezmin.

“Damn, for real? What happened?”

“Man, all I’ma say is them niggas turned on me, bruh. I ain’t seen daddy friends in a minute, but the last time I saw them was when mama was here. Back then, we just avoided mama, and daddy ain’t never stand up to her, so when she left, daddy I guess decided he was gon’ let his nuts drag all over this muthafucka.”

“Yeah,” Dezmin coughed, “he has been a lil’ more opinionated since she left.”

“Yeah, but last night showed me I can’t trust na-one of them niggas. I was in my room, smokin’. Daddy gon’ knock on the door and say we need to talk. Den he ‘precedes’ to tell me since I sell weed, I gotta share the profit! Nigga you already gettin’ a check from the government! Hell you want from me, know what I’m sayin’?”

“Yeah,” Dezmin coughed.

“So he told them niggas they had a smoke spot! Daddy told me he was doin’ me a favor by not takin’ my money. Said he just wanted some weed. What? Nigga ain’t you got money? Guess he don’t wanna pay me, ‘cause this his house or some shit. Iown know man. But—aye pass the weed, nigga.”

“Oh, my bad bruh,” Dezmin said, passing the blunt back.

“Yeah. Always holdin’. But that’s how it is in here now. Them niggas smoke my shit, and then wanna joke and laugh wit’ me ‘bout the past and I’m ‘pose to be cool wit’ it? Hell naw! And them other niggas agree wit my daddy, bruh. ‘Bout havin’ to pay daddy for livin’ here. Fuck all them, bruh. They the reason my money low now! And they reason I gotta re-up! You know how much I lost today? Guess.”

“Iown know. I know at least ten dollars.”

“Uhh bruh.. I lost 85 dollars cuz of them niggas. ‘Err time daddy smoke, he wanna smoke again. Like at least fo’ blunts today, man. That’s why I said nigga you late, weed gone, bruh. Pissed me the fuck off.”

“At least you got one last blunt, ’tho.”

“Naw nigga I pinched dis’ from the weed I had to give daddy! But I’m so mad right now, I had to smoke one.”

“I feel you, bruh,” Dezmin said.

“I jus wanna go out there and BAOW! all them niggas man!”

“Yeah I know, but I may have a solution to your rage, bruh.”

Mikuan ashed the blunt and tilted his head back.

Dezmin continued, “You remember the candy lady son? His name Terry. He got a spot— her spot actually, she died—and he got it set up over there. I ran into him at the sto’ tonight.”

Mikuan looked surprised, “he out? I heard he went to jail.”

“Yeah. Hey wait how you know and I ain’t know?”

“I don’t know man, I guess we don’t talk about the candy lady son that much. We knew the candy lady was sick, 'tho. We talked about that ‘member?”

“Yeah,” Dezmin said. “But anyway he out now and back in the hood. He wanted us to come kick it wit’ him tonight.”

“Us?”

“Yeah, he remembered you, I think. Anyway he got a studio and want us to come through and we can smoke over there he got weed and I was gon’ get a dime, so—”

“Yeah, cool.” Mikuan said.

“Everything ok, bruh?”

“Yeah, it’s cool. Let’s go.”

* * *

“Thought ya’ll niggas wasn’t comin’,” Terry said, as he opened the door. He raised his hand to give both the boys dap, but Mikuan refused to lift his hand. Instead, he gave Terry a nod.

“You still got the shelves up huh,” Dezmin asked. He was looking at where the candy used to be sold in the living room.

“Hell yeah, I ain’t never really move nothin’ around up here. I be in the basement. It’s down here c’mon.”

They walked to the door beside the kitchen. Dezmin looked at Mikuan.

“C’mon.”

“Yeah,” Mikuan said. “Cool.”

They walked down the creaky, wooden narrow staircase that led to the opening of the unfinished basement. The floor was concrete, and the only things in the room were a long blue sofa in the corner that extended to meet a black dresser that had computer cords jumbled upon it; a screen was right beside the dresser, unplugged and next to a CPU that was lying on its side, next to a chair. Dezmin and Mikuan made their way over to the sofa and sat down. Terry sat in the chair.

“I see you still gettin’ shit set up,” Dezmin said.

“Yeah, I’m gettin’ the rest tomorrow. You know anything ‘bout Pro Tools?”

“Hell naw,” Dezmin answered, “What’s that?”

“It’s a uh, goddamn, it’s what you use to record me rappin'.”

“So it’s a computer program?” Dezmin asked.

“Yeah, I had another engineer but that nigga m.i.a. I know how to use it a lil’ bit, but I ain’t never sat down, and goddamn, really fucked wit’ it fucked wit’ it, know what I’m sayin?”

“Oh. Well, that’s cool I can learn how to use it. I really been wantin’ to put some shit down,” Dezmin replied.

“Oh for real?”

“Yeah bruh. I be writtin’ these poems and sayin’ them—I think they raps, man. I been writtin’ poetry since I was seven, but I ain’t never tried to like, record my shit. But lately I been gettin’ this feelin’ like I should be recordin’ somethin.”

“Oh that’s what’s up bruh!" Terry exclaimed, "We both got somethin to get out then! Hell yeah!”

“Hell yeah, man I done came a long way, bruh. Been through a lot.”

“Tell me about it, bruh.”

“Yeah, I know. But man my situation was crazy", Dezmin said, "My mama was diagnosed with breast cancer. She beat it, 'tho. But when she was in the middle of the fight, that’s when she totally changed. She found God, bruh.”

“Oh damn, bruh. So she got religious.”

“Yeah, and it was a big change for somebody like her. Like, if you knew who she was, you wouldn’t believe what she’s become. Nice and friendly. I don’t know how it happened, but iown believe in no miracles. Somethin’ musta’ happened to her brain or somethin’.”

“Yeah, iown know 'tho. God real, bruh,” Terry said.

Dezmin shook his head, “Man, I done had this conversation wit’ a lotta niggas. If you can’t prove it, the shit never happened. Right, Mik?”

Mikuan had situated himself at the far end of the sofa, with his head in his arms. He lifted his head in response, “Yeah. Can’t prove it, ain’t real bruh.” He then put his head back down.

Dezmin looked at him, confused.

“Yeah,” Dezmin continued, looking back at Terry. “The shit never happened. You know how many documented, proven miracles exist? Zero. I find it funny there were so many miracles before the invention of cameras.”

Terry was smiling, shaking his head the whole time Dezmin was talking.

“Man naw. But I ain’t ‘gon throw God in yo face 'tho,” Terry said. “I know He real ‘tho.”

“It’s cool,” Dezmin said, “ I respect your beliefs. I ain’t gotta problem wit’ it. But wit’ my mama, I considered myself lucky ‘cause I didn’t have to deal with her bein’ mean. She told me she love me a lot more than she ever did, and I got away with murder with her. Jet, my step dad been wit’ her through it all. The whole atmosphere of the house changed. Jet was nice while she was mean, but wit’ her bein’ nice all the time, the shit just felt weird.”

“Damn,” Terry said.

“Yeah, bruh. So I stayed away from home as much as I could. I had started smokin’ and got arrested for possession. They paid my bail, but told me I had to get a job if I wanted to keep livin’ there. They called me a man, since I was big enough to go to jail, and said there’s somethin’ in the bible ‘bout if a man don’t work he don’t eat, or some shit. So they said I could come back home, but would have to pay for my own food. Then it got to the point when they started askin’ me to chip in on the rent. Then that became mandatory. And they used the same bible verse every time I would say somethin’ about it.”

“Damn. That shit crazy,” Terry said as he pulled out a bag of weed from one of the dresser drawers. “You do got a lot to talk about.”

“Yeah, that’s why I can’t wait to get to this shit, bruh. I been bussin’ freestyles all day, nigga.”

“Oh yeah? Let me hear ya then.”

“Right now?” Dezmin asked.

“Yeah, you say you can rap, right?”

“Well, if you call it that once you hear it. Like I said I grew up writtin’ poetry. I just say what I wrote in a rhythmic style. You can call it rap if you want.”

“Das what rappin' is nigga. Aight then, go!”

Dezmin began to rap, and Terry nodded his head as he prepared the blunt.

“Sick as it comes, I live in the slums, with the victims of one the richest and slickest corporations um… degradations, humiliations, drama on a global scale that affect entire civilizations, race to race wars, make a way for us to revert back to slaves ‘fore what reason, do we work as the seasons, change, yet our life always seem to stay the same/That same hunger you feelin’ to get in the game, they feelin’ too, so for you to get to the top you gotta not only not flop, but climb to the top of disdain, where below you, you see niggas hatin', cuz they lame.”

“Oh shit, nigga!” Terry exclaimed, “Damn!”

Mikuan had lifted his head during the rap, but put it back down after Dezmin finished.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“I understand being sensitive about your scar,” the receptionist said. “You can tell me about it later. I know you’re focused on this meeting right now anyway, as you should be.”

After what seemed like forever, they made it to the end of the hall a door that read OFFICE 1. The receptionist keyed in a code, and the door opened.

Have a seat in here, and Damien will be right with you,” she said. “And congratulations.”

Dezmin didn’t have time to respond, as soon as she said congratulations the big door closed shut and locked back. He looked around the room. It was completely different from the sterile, hospital-looking corridor he’d just left. The room was painted black and carpet was the same. The walls were littered with plaques and platinum albums. There was a paper weight that read “Embezzled Ent” and a picture of two men smiling and shaking hands on an expensive mahogany desk across the room. There was a big, empty swivel chair and behind that, lush purple curtains hung over the windows concealing the gloomy day outside. On the wall to the left, hung a long picture that looked to be drawn by a child. It was written in crayon and read:

Friend

F- fearlessly brave

R- randomly fun

I- incredible times

E-endless possibilities

N- never give up on me

D- destined to be friends forever

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Aight man, I’ma holla at you,” Dezmin said, as he left Terry’s house. They got a little bit down the street before Dezmin asked, “So, what was all that about back there?”

Mikuan shrugged and looked in the opposite direction.

“C’mon man, for real?” Dezmin said, “You were actin’ strange the whole time we were there.”

“It’s nothin, man. Let’s just go, bruh.” Dezmin stopped walking and grabbed Mikuan’s arm just hard enough for him to stop.

“Naw man for real whats up, bruh? You still trippin’ off that shit ‘bout yo daddy? ‘Cause man, you ‘gon have to let that shit go. I’ma be recordin’ music bruh, and I need my homeboy to be right there wit’ me.”

“Naw, not in that house, man,” Mikuan began to walk again.

Dezmin caught up to him, “See? That’s what I mean! What’s your problem, man?”

Mikuan rolled his eyes and said, “I just don’t like him, man. That’s all.”

“For real? C’mon man, don’t tell me you jealous! He ain’t ‘gon take ya friend, man!”

“No, it ain’t that, it’s just,” Mikuan stopped walking, “aight if you really wanna know, I’ma tell you.”

“Please do!”

“Man, aight. But only ‘cause you ain’t gon shut up about it. You ‘member John?”

“Your big brother? What he got to do wit’ this? I thought you never see him.”

“I don’t now, but I was there then.”

“There? There where?” Dezmin asked.

“That night, when Terry got robbed.”

“What? Wait hold up, what?”

“Yeah, my big brother said he was lookin’ for a place to hit a lick, and somebody had told him ‘bout the candy lady house where Terry was sellin’ weed. He brought me along to be the lookout. When I heard the shots, I ran as fast as I could, all the way home. The nigga that got shot, that was my big brother’s homeboy, like you my homeboy.”

“Oh damn. I never knew,” Dezmin said.

“Yeah, and I wanted to keep it that way. I knew I shouldn’t have went out wit’ him that night, but I was excited to see him after a long time. He said we were just going to hang out.”

“Oh,” Dezmin said. “But what that got to do wit’ now? Terry don’t know. And besides, he ain’t even see you that night! You was outside!”

“Yeah, but he ‘gon find out eventually if I keep goin’ over there,” Mikuan replied.

“How?”

“Iown know, but I just don’t feel right bein’ over there. If he find out, he might think you shady by bein’ associated wit’ me or somethin. Look, I know how much this music shit mean to you, bruh. I seen you when you was rappin’. You serious ‘bout it. So I can’t go wit’ you when you go.”

“Why not?”

“Hell naw, man. Just can’t. I don’t belong, that’s where you belong. That’s why I was trippin’. And plus...”

“And plus what?” Dezmin interrupted.

“Well, I already don’t go to the same school as you, and you be workin’ so—if you ‘gon be at the studio, we really ain’t ‘gon hang out no ‘mo.”

“Naw, man. Never that. You just need to stop bein’ scared like a lil’ bitch, and c’mon wit’ me man.”

“Naw,” Mikuan laughed solemnly. “I think I’ma just stay where I’m at.”

“But it wasn’t your fault, man.”

“I know, man. But I just can’t go, bruh.”

“Aight whatever man. I’ma go 'tho. You can just sitcho’ mopin’ ass in the house all day, gettin’ raped by yo daddy and his friends if you want, ‘cause that’s what they doing every time you give them niggas ‘yo weed.”

“I guess I will then,” Mikuan said. “You gon’ do great things ‘tho man.”

“Whatever bruh.” Dezmin said, shaking his head.

Dezmin began going to the studio everyday. After work, after school and on weekends. Soon, there was no time to hang out with Mikuan, and even though they talked on the phone, soon that stopped as well. “Guess he was right”, he thought. Dezmin became more focused on his music, and he was liking the progress he was making. He started competing in open mic contests, and Terry was always with him. Dezmin taught himself how to use Pro Tools, and how to make beats. He would get out of school, or off of work and go to the studio, smoke a blunt and get right back to recording. He followed this routine through senior year. Some of Terry’s new friends joined the recording cast, and when Dezmin became of age he performed at night clubs with them.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“What’s goin’ on man?” Damien asked, as he came in the door. Dezmin had made himself comfortable on the leather couch, sitting back lost in his thoughts of the past. He stood up quickly, and reached his hand out to shake Damien’s.

“Nothing much, just glad to be here,” Dezmin said.

“Sounds great.” Damien said as he walked over to his desk and sat down. “Now, let’s get down to business.”

Damien held Dezmin’s demo in his hand as he sat down in his chair. “Now, you know we only accept the best, right?”

Dezmin nodded, “Oh yeah, for ‘sho, I already know!”

“Good. Because you wouldn’t be sitting right there if Mr. Wesley didn’t think you had what it took to be in the same league as the other artists on this label. You see that?” Damien pointed to one of the plaques on the wall. It was Franko Bank.Co’s platinum plaque for the song

“Cash B4 Ass”, which was still in rotation even though it had come out a few years earlier. “We sold five hundred thousand in three days. Three days! You know how many labels doin’ those kind of numbers? None. And see that one?” He pointed to another plaque. It was R&B singer Tamika Foxx’s platinum-selling song “Get Gone.” “We sold 1.2 million within the first six days of release.”

“Wow.”

“Yeah, but we don’t boast and brag to the world about our company; everyone knows about us. Instead of boasting, we give back to the community. You see that picture, with the crayon drawing? I spent some time with a sick little girl in the hospital. Her family couldn’t afford the operation that would save her life. The label paid for it. When she recovered, she drew that and sent it to me.”

“Oh wow.”

“Yeah, you gotta give back to the community man,” Damien said. “But back to you. I’m sure you want to be up there on that wall with one of those platinum plaques too!”

“You already know! I’m ready.”

“Great! Well there’s a few things I wanted to say about your demo. I know you didn’t see me, but I was there at StreetBeatz when you performed last week. You did your joint, I think it’s called “The Cry of a Poet”, right?”

“A Poet’s Cry, yeah. Oh you were there? I ‘preciate that, man. I really do.”

“Yeah, that one. You said some thought provoking stuff man. You got a nice flow, too. I guess that’s why you call yourself Dizzy Dez, right?”

“Uh huh. I wanted to make niggas think, you know?”

“Yeah, but they don’t be thinking, man. That’s not how you sell records anyway. You gotta have something special about you. You gotta be able to walk into a room and everybody know you’re there. You gotta have a presence, you know? And I think you got one.”

“Thanks man. I never thought about any of that before.”

“That’s why I’m here. Now, you came in at a good time because next year, we are doing a new addition album; it’s an album where we sort of introduce new acts on the label. Are you familiar with the last few new addition albums?”

“Yeah, I liked the New Addition 8 one the best. They all hot though.”

“Yes, yes they are. We’re doing the tenth installment next year. So it looks like you are just in time to be on that one.”

“Man, thanks so much! I always wanted to be signed to Embezzled, ever since I started making music!”

“I can tell. You mentioned Mr. Wesley on your demo tape.”

“Oh yeah, I wrote that song when I was on house arrest.”

“Oh ok cool, cool. So you ready to make some hit records?”

“You already know!”

“Ok, take a look at this contract and get back to me. You got an entertainment lawyer, don’t you? If not, we got one. A few, actually.”

“Nah, I got one in mind. Thanks though.”

“That’s cool, that’s cool. Just saying I’m here to help. You seem like a smart guy, so you know how important it is to understand the terms of your contract.”

“Yes I do.”

Damien handed Dezmin a general recording contract and typed something in on the computer. Dezmin looked over it, but didn’t understand what it meant. To him, it was just a bunch of fancy words, roman numerals and letters.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Dezmin got off of work and headed to the studio. He’d been recording music with Terry for about three years. They’d performed at many clubs and competed in many contests. They never won anything, and Dezmin was beginning to feel like he was wasting his time. He’d moved out of his mother’s house, and moved into an apartment complex on the other side of

town. He visited his mother and Jet often though, because he decided to stay at his job, which was only three blocks away from where his parents lived. He took of his coat and sat down on the sofa in Terry’s basement. Terry, who was listening to a song he previously recorded, saw Dezmin come down the stairs. Terry had given Dezmin a key to the house a few years earlier so he could always record his music, in addition to learning how to use the programs that would make it come to life. He’d gotten better at using Pro Tools, and even taught himself how to play piano. He made some beats that were used on Terry’s projects, as well as a few other people’s projects that worked with Terry. The more passionate he got, the more beats he made, the more songs he wrote. He was in the process of making an album when he wasn’t recording songs with Terry and his friends. However, after coming home from an open mic show, he was severely discouraged. At the show, another up-and-coming rapper stole the show with his antics, instead of his music.

“Man, this shit here crazy,” Dezmin said, rubbing his head.

“What happened?” Terry took off his headphones, noticing that Dezmin looked upset.

“You aight?”

“Nah man,” Dezmin said. “I just came from a show.”

“You lit that bitch up like you always did, didn’t you?”

“Nah, well yeah, hell yeah you already know but— there was this otha’ nigga man.

Jumpin’ around the stage and shit, bruh.”

“Jumpin’ around the stage?”

“Hell yeah, bruh. Nigga call himself DeF i Ant. Lame as hell, man. I come spittin’, and they feelin’ my shit. Then this nigga come out wit ‘bout fifty otha’ niggas on the stage, throwin’ ones and got bitches booty shakin’ and shit. Where did he get all that? It’s a fuckin’ open mic show, bruh!!”

“Hell naw,” Terry laughed. “He might already be on a lil bit, tho’.”

“Hell yeah. Gotta be. Everybody forgot about my shit when he performed. Shit, if I had bad bitches and money to spare, I’d throw that shit, too! But how a nigga ‘posed to come up in the middle of that, ‘tho?”

Terry shook his head, “Iown know, bruh. Just gotta keep goin. Keep grindin’.”

“For what, bruh? If people like that wack ass shit, ain’t no hope for hiphop, man. Not real hip-hop anyway. Why do those type songs flood the airwaves, but songs about positive, uplifting shit don’t? You ever thought about that? Why ig’nant ass shit sell like it do?”

“Nah I ain’t never thought about that. I just go hard and do me,” Terry replied.

“I feel you. But what if there are some people at the very top and they control who gets to be famous. They control who gets to be broadcasted to everybody.”

“Now you talkin’ ‘bout that conspiracy shit, bruh. Iown know if I believe that, man.”

“It’s the only thing that makes sense, man. I been thinkin’ ‘bout this shit. Case in point: You remember my song A Poet’s Cry, don’t you?”

“Yeah. That shit go hard,” Terry said.

“Undeniably, right? So tell me why a nigga with a song called "Buss it Wide Open" won at open mic tonight?”

“The big booty bitches—”

“The big booty bitches, right. And the money, can’t forget about the money. Why would a rapper spend so much money on a open mic show? It’s almost like he was paid to be there.”

“Why you say that?” Terry asked.

“‘Cuz man, I saw regular niggas like me, then I see this guy. Somebody is backing him. This shit happens all too often, bruh. That’s why it’s always that stupid ass shit that always ends up on the radio.”

“That’s just what the people like,” Terry said.

“Maybe. But what if someone controls the trends. You think they wouldn't have a reason to control them?”

“Again, conspiracy shit, bruh. No proof, no reason to talk about it.”

“Well isn’t that ironic,” Dezmin laughed and shook his head. “Ok I feel you, you don’t believe in any of this stuff. But I’m going to do research on this. I’m tired of failing when I know I got good music. Somethin’ must be goin’ on in the system.”

“Aight then, you do that, “Terry laughed. “I’ma keep listening to my shit. You heard this one, yet? I just did it last night. I know it ain’t mixed yet but you ‘gon do that later.”

* * *

Dezmin closed his front door to his apartment and locked it, feeling even more frustrated than he was earlier. He turned on his living room light, and sat on his sofa. He took off his shoes and put his feet up on a small table in front of him, sliding his laptop closer to him delicately with his hand on the charger cord. It came out anyway.

“God dammit!” Dezmin yelled.

He stretched the rest of the way to get his laptop and opened it. Hours passed, and Dezmin didn’t even know it. He watched countless videos on YouView about corruption in hip-hop and heard many testimonies by the rich and famous about what goes on behind closed doors. He wasn’t sure if he believed any of it or not, but the one common thread that linked all his research together was a group called “The Founders.” Everybody in the videos either mentioned them, expressed they didn’t want to talk about them, or denied their existence altogether. From what Dezmin saw though, it seemed The Founders were real. It also seemed like they had a symbol—a lightning bolt with an eye above it. It was in all the music videos in one way or another, and artists wore necklaces of the symbol every time they performed, or were seen in public. Dezmin was familiar with the symbol, but didn’t know what it meant.

Countless video testimonials, articles and pictures later, he was beginning to think there seems to be, at the very least, circumstantial evidence to The Founder’s existence. He dug deeper and discovered, allegedly, that The Founder’s have a motto: Paucis de Multis, latin for “the few over the many”. The more videos he watched, the more he remembered music he liked that bore the symbol, and songs that even mentioned The Founders blatantly.

“You’re gonna have to ultimately sell your soul,” one of the celebrities on the video said. “You have to give up so much to be famous.” Dezmin kept researching until the sky turned light blue; it was then that he realized he hadn’t slept at all the whole night! He took a shower, fixed himself some breakfast, but just as he went to eat it, his phone rung. It was his mother, who wanted to invite him to one of her many after-church Sunday brunches.

“You gotcha’ clothes on, baby?” His mother asked. The sounds of cars passing by and wind whipping the microphone was louder than her voice. He absolutely hated Sunday brunch with his mother. All they did was sit around and talk about what God did for them. He would always end up playing on his phone, which made him look rude, and it always ended with his mother saying “I’ll pray for you, D D.” That always irritated Dezmin, when she would say that. He’d told her countless times that he was an atheist, and didn’t believe what she believed. Yet, she seemed to ignore him because every time he was around, she tried to convince him of her beliefs. Still, he never asked her the normal questions atheist’s ask Christians, out of respect for her.

“Yeah, but I mean—”

“Well then come on,” his mother said. “I’ll be outside in ten minutes.”

“Ten minutes hold up, since when did you pick me up?”

“I was already on your side of town and I figured why not. I’ll bring you back, you know I’m not gon’ leave you stranded somewhere.”

“No, mama, I know that. I’m just saying you never did this before.”

“Uh huh. When is the last time you came to brunch?”

“Not too long ago, why?”

“You always too busy. You come to like what, two of them in a month? You ain’t that busy.”

“I know mama but—”

“And that’s why I’m picking you up today. No excuses. And don’t tell me you been up all night either, ‘cause I didn’t believe you the last time you said it.”

“Mama, for real? For real.”

“Seven minutes!”

She hung up the phone. Dezmin groaned and quickly finished eating his breakfast. When he got to his mother’s house, he walked inside and was greeted by his mother’s friends. He spoke but was still taken aback by how much his mother had changed the house around. Even though he’d seen it a thousand times, it served as a constant reminder of his mother’s new personality. The curtains hanging in the living room were a bright white, the hardwood floor had been replaced by a light blue carpet, and the walls were also repainted. Crosses and pictures of Jesus hung over the fireplace, where beer cans and ash trays had once been. The stifling smell of old beer and cigarettes was replaced by the loud smell of flowers, glade plug ins, and scented candles. It always made Dezmin feel uncomfortable. He hated her, sure, but sometimes he missed the way his mother used to be; the mother who was mean, but wasn’t trying to force him to believe in fairytales. He sat down at the living room table and set himself on trying not to think about pulling out his phone. One of the ladies there, Miss Berta, dressed in church clothes wearing a big hat with a flower on the side said to Dezmin,

“You gettin’ older every time I see you!”

“Thanks?”

“Uh huh. That’s my baby right there. So D D, did you get that bible I sent you?”

“Yes, mama I did.”

“Did you find it useful?”

His mother had asked that question to him so many times before, and every time she did, Dezmin spared her feelings by telling her he is still working on it. Actually, he never opened the bible once, and always forgot about it after being reminded by his mother. Any other time, he would have had no problem telling her he was working on it. But not today. He sat up in his chair, knowing what he was about to say would piss everybody in the room off. But he didn’t care. He was tired of pretending. He was tired of failing. He was tired of the corruption taking over the only place he wanted to be. He was tired of the world that had lied to him all his life.

What the hell, he thought.

“No, actually I didn’t. Well, I did if you count the time I used it as a coaster. Or the time I chucked it at a bug that was near the ceiling. Yeah, you see, it was out of reach and I had nothing else near me at the time to throw. I guess we all find the bible useful in many ways, right? So, to each his own I guess.”

Everybody’s mouth was still open when Cynthia said, “wa-what?”

“Is he crazy?” Miss Berta asked.

“What done happened to your boy, Cynt?” Another asked.

“He’s possessed!” Another said.

“Boy I’m have to pray for you!” Cynthia said. “I didn’t raise you to be disrespectful like that and you know it!”

“But that’s just the thing, mama, it’s not disrespectful. I’m sick of hearing you say that, honestly. What if you’re the one being disrespectful? Besides, prayer doesn’t work, it’s just a—”

“Now you shut your mouth! You can let satan make you think God ain’t real, but you not ‘finna bring that mess up in here. Uh Uh no, baby. You go on I’ll let you know when it’s time to go.”

“So now, so-so now I’m the devil. Right. Oh and I’m crazy too! But you... believe in a man in the sky, and I’m crazy? You believe that people can die and come back to life, but I’m crazy, right? Whatever.”

He went into his old room and sat down on his bed. He could still hear the conversation down the hall, “Girl, that ain’t nothin’ but the devil, girl.”

“Was he baptized?”

“You know he talk just like my grandson. It’s that rap music, that’s what the devil usin’ I’m tellin’ ya!”

“Yeah I hate that he do that kind of music. He’s my only son, and he’s walkin’ the path straight to hell!”

Dezmin got up and closed his door. He sat back down and thought of all the memories he’d made in his room. It wasn’t long before he thought of Mikuan; he got up and opened his closet. His mother had turned it into a storage closet, but there was a panel she didn’t know about. Dezmin lifted up the panel and there was a small box. Inside it, was a picture of him and Mikuan, some candy wrappers, and a note from Mikuan asking if he was going to the candy lady later. Dezmin had put the box under the panel a few years earlier, after he and Mikuan fell out, to remind him of the good old days when everything was alright. He closed the box and wondered if Mikuan was doing okay. He wondered if he might be in jail, or worse. His thoughts were interrupted by his cell phone ringing. It was Terry.

“Aye man, just wanted to let you know they opening up a new spot.”

“New spot?”

“Yeah man for open mics. It’s called StreetBeatz and they also host free-style battles there too! It could be another outlet for us, and plus they doin’ a grand opening where the first winner will get a thousand dollars and they never have to pay to perform there again!”

“Oh for real?”

“Yeah man, think about it. That can be our platform! Our spot that we become known in!

We’ll be in that bitch every night! I know we’ll get on then!”

“Yeah, but can’t only one person win?”

“Yeah, but that don’t matter, ‘cause you’re part of the team, ain’t you? I Eat—”

“You Eat Ent., yeah you right. Shit, that’s what’s up then I’ma be through there. When is the grand opening?”

“In a few weeks. Everybody gettin’ ready now ‘tho.”

“Cool, cool. I’ma be over tomorrow so we can start puttin’ together ideas for what songs we gon’ do.”

“Aight, bruh.”

“Yeah.”

Dezmin hung up the phone just when his mother walked into his room.

“Dang mama, knock much?”

“I don’t know what your problem is boy, but come on I gotta take you home I got some errands to run.”

“Ok.”

It wasn’t until Dezmin got home that he realized he was unbelievably sleepy. He opened his door, excited about what Terry had told him, but by the time it closed behind him, he had fallen on his sofa, fast asleep. When he woke, it was nighttime. He yawned, turned on his TV, and started flipping through the annoying informercials and mindless TV shows. After laughing at the woman using the Shooken Weight, he grabbed his laptop. When he woke up again, it was morning. His laptop was still open, but had died many hours before. He opened a drawer in the kitchen and got out a bag of weed. After he rolled it up, he went out on his patio and sat down.

His neighbor, who was an old man, was sweeping his patio. “Morning!” The old man said. Dezmin gave him a nod as he lit his blunt. StreetBeatz, huh, Dezmin thought to himself, I gotta really come wit it man.

"Come wit a plan, that’s better than, all I did before," Dezmin began, "money taller than a four—story buildin’ the pressure is building I can’t take it no more! This bein’ broke shit, focus man, focus! These niggas be trippin’ I be gettin’ the feelin’ Ima have to kill em all, like abortion clinics. Distorted, mimicked awards was given to these wack ass rappers who shoulda never been born or mentioned. Yeah, yeah, shit like that. I like that.” He was lost in thoughts; he didn’t even realize the blunt went out.

He put it down and looked at the time.

* * *

Dezmin walked down the stairs of Terry’s studio. He was surprised to see a lot of people down there, with the room cloudy with weed smoke, since Terry had an almost paranoid way of thinking when it came to protecting the house. Dezmin made his way through the crowd and saw Terry at the computer, listening to a song, rolling up a blunt.

“Damn, you got it thumpin’ in here, bruh!” Dezmin yelled.

Terry took off his headphones and said, “Huh?”

Terry motioned Dezmin to follow him upstairs.

“Yeah. So I figured the more the merrier, basically,” Terry responded.

“I feel you, I feel you. But how you know they ‘gon keep they word? You know all them niggas?”

“Nah, but I know some of them. The other ones are friends of friends who wanna shot at the grand opening.”

“No, I get that, what I’m saying is how do you know they won’t like, win and forget all about you, you know what I mean? ‘Cause I know you trust me, but can you trust them like you trust me?”

“Hell naw, bruh. I just really want to win this shit. And if they can help, cool. Think of it like a back-up plan. If we lose, and one of them win, we can still perform with them as they crew!”

“I feel you. I just don’t know man. Just ‘cause they eat, don’t mean we eat, just sayin’.”

“Well keep in mind I said back up plan, bruh. I plan to win that shit, and I know you do too, so we ain’t really got nothin’ to worry ‘bout.”

“Yeah, that makes sense. Our shit do go hard as fuck, bruh,” Dezmin said, shaking hands with Terry and pulling him into a quick hug.

“Aight cool. So why don’t you come on back down there wit me and rub some elbows?”

“Rub some elbows? Nigga we broke! Two ashy ass elbows rubbin’ together don’t make shit but a fire!”

“You crazy man,” Terry laughed as he left to go back downstairs. Dezmin stayed behind, thinking. Then he noticed the bump-bump-bump sound coming from the basement. It was making the kitchen window vibrate. He stepped over to it, put his hand on it, and smiled. Then he went back downstairs.

***

A few days later, Dezmin was in the studio with Terry.

“Mic check, one two, one two,” Terry said, as he adjusted the mic stand.

“I think we good, bruh,” Dezmin said. “Do a run through.”

“Never actin’ we scrappin’ and pappin’ my niggas familiar...They lackin’ we snappin’ the coke we deliver..”

While Terry was rapping his verse, Dezmin started thinking about The Founders. He thought about how much influence in power they must have. He wondered why they always seemed to support dumbed down music. He looked at Terry, who was standing next to him. Why we always gotta rap about dumb shit to get on? Like this type of music. Terry aight, but he don’t see how this type of music is contributing to the problem. I know he only knows what he was brought up on, but there’s gotta be a better way, man. Hip Hop needs more substance. I’m so tired of the same old song and dance. But he don’t see it that way. He think it’s real music. What dope, man? You don’t deliver dope. Or coke. You don’t have an expensive car, and you’re not fucking models in them. Why is this stuff cool to talk about? What benefit could The Founders have from only backing this type of music?

“How that sound, bruh?” Terry said.

“Huh? Oh yeah, that was cool. Just let me go back from the beginning and listen to it.”

On the inside, Dezmin shook his head and continued to listen. When he got to the end, he said, “Yeah, that’s whats up. Just gotta mix it and it should be good to go.”

“Aight, cool. Aye how you be mixin’ this shit? I ain’t never sat down and watched you I wanna see how you do it.”

“Oh, ok cool. Well I gotta line up your stacks a ‘lil bit and put a fader at the end of the song and—”

“Fader?”

“Yeah, it steadily decreases the volume at the end of the song, so that it just doesn’t stop abruptly. And as far as the stacks go, I’ma put some plugins on them—once I highlight them, of ,course. Ok, see, look right here,” he pointed to the screen, “your ad-libs you just did were kinda off. Just gotta make them match the words you said above it, right here. See?”

“Oh yeah, yeah I see.”

“Yep. Then I’ma add a one band EQ to it and finish off with a seven band EQ. Then it’s off to the vocal leveler, compressor and finally, a gate—to give it a final polish. ”

“Umm..”

“You’re confused," Dezmin said, "Ok cool, no problem, what are you confused about?”

“Can we go back to what a fader was again?” Terry asked.

Dezmin sighed.

Dezmin spent the next week recording new music for his album. The grand opening was fast approaching, and Dezmin was finding it harder to wait. When he wasn’t recording or writing songs, he was on his computer researching The Founders. It had become an every day thing; he’d come home, practice a song, then watch a few videos displaying celebrities talking about fame and how it ultimately paid their bills, but ruined their lives. Why are all these people so sad? Dezmin thought, “They have the world at their fingertips, money in the bank, cars out the ass, and yet they still seem to be empty on the inside. Well, I’m not going to be like that. When I make it, I’m going to change the game. And fuck The Founders. They could found this dick.

He was becoming increasingly upset at the hold The Founders seemed to have on Hip Hop. I just want to do good music, and be happy. Is that too much to ask? Apparently so.

Feeling a sudden spark of inspiration mixed with anger, he got on the bus and left his apartment on one of those days, into the warm, summer rain. He was headed to one of the places he’d performed before. It was a place called Authentic, a battle ground for artists brave enough to show their faces, let alone their lyrical skills. It was where he honed his delivery, eventually becoming generally respected by his peers. It was a place he would go to blow off steam, and James, the owner of the building was a friend of Dezmin’s; the atmosphere there was unique. People battle rapped, but it never got violent, because James had one rule: respect each other. As long as you did that, you could say whatever you wanted. It was all for the love of the art. The building was once a fast food restaurant, but it had long been abandoned. James took out the chairs and tables, fixed it up, and put a sign on it. Dezmin had been going there for about a year, and he knew it was the perfect place to be at a time like this.

“Yo!” James said, as Dezmin walked up.

“What’s up, bruh!” They shook hands, “What you been up to man?”

“Business as usual, you?” James answered. “I haven’t seen you in a while. You aight?”

“Nah, not really. Just need to blow off some steam. I see everybody still here.”

“Nah, son. You remember Antonio? Niggas robbed him and killed him, yo.”

“What? Tonio, Tonio?”

“Yeah, that nigga came up on some money. Started flashin’ what he bought.”

“Damn. Stupid ass nigga man, damn bruh.”

“I know man. And you know he had a scholarship, right? Nigga won 100,000 on the Fantasy 5 and lost his damn mind.”

“Oh, for real? Damn. Wait a minute, where was I at during all of this? I’ve only been gone a few weeks!”

“Shit change quick, yo. You know Tim Tim got a contract offer from SquadTight, right?”

“Yeah, I was here for that one," Dezmin said, "he wouldn't stop using it in his freestyles. You seen him lately?”

“Nah. I don’t know how he doin’ or nun.”

“I see. Well, good for him. He’s usually like number 44 out of 60 on the board. He aight.”

“Yeah, I agree,” James said. “But you might have some new competition.”

“That’s perfect, you don’t know how perfect that is for me right now.”

“I feel you, but this nigga comin’ wit it in there. It’s actually a good thing you came, ‘cause you’re gonna have to reassert your dominance here, number 8.”

“What, I thought I was number 6?” Dezmin said, suprised.

“Nah, son. See, shit changin’ already. When we did our weekly vote, you got moved two spots. It was a fair vote.”

“Nah, I know, I know. I’m just sayin’, damn.”

“It’s all good, ‘tho, right? ‘Cause you’re here now, and I feel like you might have somethin’ to say tonight. And plus, I believe in you, yo.”

“Thanks, man. But I don’t need no sentimental shit right now. I’m bout to kill this shit!”

“Aight,” James laughed. “You go head and kill that shit then, nigga!”

“Kill what shit?” A figure approached from the darkness toward the front door. James looked at Dezmin, and Dezmin looked back and understood.

“What’s up, man!” James said, outstretching his hand.

The figure stepped into full view, showing his semi-flashy watch, expensive jeans, and Treeland boots. He had on a tank top, and tattoos that could barely be seen wrapping around his dark skinned arms. He was muscular, and had on dark shades that drew attention to his fresh hair cut.

“What’s up, J!” He said, shaking James’ hands and hugging him.”

“I was just talkin’ to my boy Dez here. I told him he might have some new competition,” James said.

“Oh really? Sup, bruh,” he looked at Dezmin. Dezmin nodded back.

“Yeah,” James continued. “You just started comin’ here, but you never met Dez, he—”

“I know who he is,” he said, “I heard about him.” He looked at Dezmin, “I just never seen you in action. Number 8, ‘tho, that’s what’s up. You know I’m comin’ for you, right ‘tho?” He outstretched his hand to Dezmin.

“Oh I already know!” Dezmin shook his hand and laughed. “It’s all good! I love the competition!”

“Is that so?” he said. “I’m Kev, by the way.”

“Cool, I’m Dezmin. But they call me Dizzy.”

“I know, and hopefully I will find out why tonight. See you on the inside.” He looked at James, “Aight J, let’s get it.”

Kev went inside and the door closed.

“What you think?” James asked Dezmin.

“I don’t think nothin’, I wanna see him rap.”

“Aight then, c’mon. It’s ‘bout that time anyway.”

They went inside and James stood at the front counter, facing the crowd. He grabbed his mic and got everyone’s attention.

“Aight, listen up! It’s ‘bout that time! You know the rules, the opponents stand behind the counter during the battle. No throwin’ bottles and shit, Eric. Each turn will be 60 seconds each, and there will be four rounds. Then we vote. Winner gets his spot moved on the board.”

James put a long, rectangular piece of paper called “the leader board”, over where the illuminated menu used to be, right above the cashiers’ stations. Every week each rapper’s name was written on it after all the votes for best rappers had been tallied.

“Aight? Aight, now we got Dizzy—,” James said. The crowd roared. Dezmin looked at Kev. Kev looked forward, smiling. “And Dizzy will be facing, Kev!” The crowd roared again, almost as loud as they did for Dezmin. In fact, they were so close, Dezmin couldn’t tell the difference.

Kev walked over to him and asked, “You sure you wanna do this?” Dezmin didn’t respond. He just smiled and looked onward into the crowd with his head held high. James flipped a coin and it landed on tails. Kev went first.

“Ayo, I can already tell that you suck, and your pimp game is wack, I could fuck his bitch for 5 cents and still get change back! Yeah, you might have made a name for ya self, up here at Authentic, but you fake, look at his knock off shoes, they ain’t even authentic! You earn it, I spend it, you burnin’ desendin’ to the fiery depths, wit out help, in this rap hell prison! Listen, you’ll never be mentioned, never be hotter than me, only time you ever was, was locked in ya mama’s car, trapped in your car seat! In mid-summer then wonder why you gets no respect. Man I done already won, and this shit ain’t even start yet! I don’t give a fuck who you wit, I’m slick, i’ll murder all ya boys, and the gun they found later? No fingerprints. You say that you dope, ok yeah right— why when this nigga saw me outside he was like a deer in headlights! I bury ya body and then bomb ya wake, nigga I'll spit until I split the firing pins wait, yeah the gun broke but I guarantee it'll be the last time this schoolboy ever ‘gon see a Spring Break!

The crowd went wild.

“Aight, aight, that shit was tough!” James said on the mic. “Let’s keep it going, let’s keep it going. DJ, spin that shit!”

Kev glanced at Dezmin. I am about to murder this nigga, Dezmin thought looking forward with a grin on his face.

Dezmin started off calmly, “See I ain’t even gotta talk, I’m in the top ten, but you just got here, tell me—how long you been stuck at 37?”

He began to get louder, “See Dizzy Dezmin got mac elevens, that’ll send yo ass, on a Quick Trip to Heaven, wit’ out, givin’ you gas, reverend close the casket of this soulless bastard who’s falsely reppin’ it’s like—” The crowd cheered so loud, Dezmin had to pause. Kev looked unfazed, while some of the people in Kev’s crew were starting to bob their heads. When the noise subsided, Dezmin continued,

“Falsely reppin’ it’s like, he’s mimicking all that he sees, wit all his might, but don’t gotta clue—to the mysteries of this mic. Alright my nigga yeah you went on a shopping spree, but I don’t really think that counts, when you got it at Dollar Tree! You gotta be kididn’ me, you the hardest? This nigga cracked open a fortune cookie, and even it told him he was garbage! Yeah you fuck my bitch, and gotcha’ nickel back, but meanwhile I was fuckin’ bitch, and I charged that hoe five stacks! You poser you, in your Treeland boots, hey, Earth to Kev, it ain’t 1992! Do the math, oh and, you stupid son of a bitch, I’m a grown ass man, I am not from the class of ’06! So getcha’ facts straight before you claim to know me, you could call me a peaceful nigga, as long as you refrain from bein’ phone--y!”

The crowd roared louder than when both rappers where originally introduced. Kev looked back and discovered one of this boys bobbing his head—he knocked his hat off.

“Oh shit,” James said, “I think we ‘bout to make history tonight, y’all! Time for half time!”

After the first two rounds, James would take a ten minute intercession, to make sure tensions weren’t building, and that everybody was cool. Kev and his crew went outside to smoke. Dezmin and James were behind the counter, leaning on it talking while everybody else talked amongst themselves.

“You know he pissed, right?” James asked Dezmin.

“Hell yeah, I know. And not just the normal pissed. He might try to fight. Or worse. How long he been comin’ here again?”

“About two weeks. I explained the rules to him and I never had a problem with him, until now. This is the first time he’s ever stormed out during break. I’m gonna go talk to him.”

“Yeah, you do that. Matta fact I’ma come wit’ you.”

“Nah, son. Trust me. It’s cool just wait right here, I’ll be right back.”

James made his way out the door.

“You aight, man?” James asked Kev.

Kev was standing on the side of building with this crew, smoking. He turned toward James. “Yeah, everything good, bruh. Just wanted to come out here to hit this blunt.”

“I feel you, but you kinda stormed out and I just wanted to make sure that, you know, you was good. It’s all sport here.”

“Nah, I know. I’m straight bruh, just wanted to hit this shit right quick. I’m ‘finna get my second wind and go and there and finish his ass off—you know I had to save the best for last, nigga!”

“Oh aight, cool,” James said. “I just wanted to make sure y’all niggas wasn’t ‘gon shoot up the place or nothin’, I ain’t got no metal detectors so—”

“Nah, it’s cool man,” Kev laughed. “I’m a passionate competitor, not a sore loser. ’Specially when I’m not losin’ in the first place!”

“Aight then, coo—”

“I wouldn’t say that if I were you,” Dezmin said as he walked up on them.

“You know these the last two rounds, right?”

Kev passed the blunt to one of his crew and looked at Dezmin, “Yeah, but you gave it all you had just now. I know that, everybody know that.” He blew out the rest of the smoke and said, “You right where I want you, ya dig?”

“Aight then, come wit it then!” Dezmin said, shaking Kev’s hand.

“I will. Just let me finish hittin’ this blunt—aye pass that shit nigga! I’ma be in there, ‘tho.”

“Aight cool,” James said walking back into the building. Dezmin nodded to Kev and followed, and when it was time, the rappers were behind the counter again, facing each other with the crowd cheering next to them.

“Now y’all already know what time it is!” James said on the mic. “We got the last two rounds, and tonight’s show is playin’ out like a movie in this bitch! We might see Number One come outta nowhere and challenge the winner of this battle!”

The crowd roared. Dezmin looked at James, concerned. Kev looked and James too, and laughed. James continued, “But let’s get it started!” James flipped a coin, and it landed on heads. Dezmin would go first.

“Ok fuck it, I’ll be first, it’s what I’m used to anyway—when I’m through witchu’ niggas ain’t even ’gon know you existed, like Hughes or Hemingway! New nigga takin’ my spot? I ain't havin' that, that's ‘gon get ya Captain Crunch(ed) and ya Adam's Apple Jack(ed)! Man the flow so cold chicken soup won't help, they know me as the shit, you? The nigga no one felt! To y’all he may appear cool, but I know his type so I don’t feel dude, yo character similar to a flea market bruh—aint nothin’ real in you! You say you clappin’, where ya tool? You say you jackin’? Nigga who? The only one who could vouch for that, is a piece of fuckin’ tissue! What the fuck is your issue? You know who I am? You winnin’ is never possible, gone and move to Neverland! Little boy, little punk ass bitch, I bet this nigga hollow out matches to fuck bitches, ‘cause even regular condoms don’t fit!” The crowd cheered and overpowered Dezmin again, and they kept cheering, "Di-zzy, Di-zzy" over and over again. Dezmin looked at Kev. James looked at Dezmin, then grabbed the mic and said, “Aight, aight y’all, c’mon let him finish, let him finish.”

The crowd quieted a little, and Dezmin continued, “You ain't tellin' me shit, I'm so out of this world I make telescopes squint, don’t make me blow ya brains all over ya office, I told you bruh, mind your business!” The crowd cheered as Kev got ready to rap.

“Aight," Kev began, "you had your fun, now it’s time to get real, this nigga look like a broke ass rapper, who never got a deal. But I’m different, is it ‘cause of my clothes I’m fly and you can’t stand it? 1,000 rubies on my wrist, guess you caught me red handed. You'd think I’m tryna spell IVERSON when the beef all done— ‘Cause you'll be on the IV, in the ER, SON! I ain’t with the laughin’, let this nigga make a funny move, and I'm shootin' more times than Kobe do when he don't wanna lose! And I doubt if he survive all the poppin and pointin’, ‘cause after I give him these shots, I'm followin' up like a doctors appointment! Two choppas that shoot for 60 seconds each I let one pin him down, you been here for a while, right? So you should be used to these one-minute rounds! I’m cocky ‘cause I speak ether, did more dirt than cleats, and I beat up beef, like Rocky in the meat freezer— Either the knife, or I’ma let the hammer clap, I think I’ma just let this pest decide, (pesticide) ‘cause that's how I handle rats!”

The crowd cheered and James said on the mic, “Aight, aight! You both came wit’ it tonight! Now let’s take a vote. How many say my man Kev won?” The crowd yelled. Kev looked at Dezmin confidently. James continued, “Aight, aight. how many for Dizzy?” The crowd cheered louder. Dezmin looked at Kev and nodded. James continued, “Oh shit looks like we got a winner! Give it up for Dizzy Dez!” The crowd cheered and chanted again as Kev and Dezmin shook hands.

After the place cleared out, the only ones left inside were Kev, Dezmin, and James.

“You pretty tough, I’ll admit that,” Dezmin said, shaking Kev’s hand again.

“Oh I know. I’ma eat you alive next time, ‘tho,” Kev said.

“I respect that, bruh. Come wit it then!”

“I gotcha, bruh. Aye J, can I holla atchu’ for a second?” Kev asked James.

“Yeah, yeah, what’s up,” James said. Kev looked at Dezmin.

“Nah, it’s cool I gotta make a phone call anyway, I’ll be outside,” Dezmin said.

When he got outside, he called Terry.

“Aye bruh,” Terry answered. “‘Sup?”

“Shit, just got done with this battle.”

“Oh. Yo ass still go up there, nigga? I’ll never understand why.”

“Yeah, yeah I know. No real awards, money, or prizes given. Heard you the first million times you said it. But bruh, it helped me ‘cause I was about to go crazy man. But listen, I called you ‘cause I wanted to know if you could pick me up. I caught the bus down here and it’s too late to catch it back.”

“Caught the bus? Nigga ain’t you got a whip?”

“Yeah, but I’m low on gas bruh. I was trying to save the little bit I had for work this week ’til I get paid Friday.”

“Oh I feel you, but you might have to wait a ‘lil bit. I got company.”

“No! I already know what that mean! Damn! C’mon man.”

“‘Yeen have no ‘bidness down there in the first place, bruh. I’ll be there, ‘tho.”

“Man yeah. How long?”

“We’ll I’d ‘prolly be done by now, but I’m on the phone ‘wticho ass,” Terry said. A girl in the background giggled.

“Whatever man, just hurry up. I gotta take a shit and you know how much I hate public restrooms.”

“Why don’t you ask one of them niggas down there to take you home?”

“Really?”

“Yeah, you said it’s like a family in there, didn’t you?”

“A rap family. These niggas broke too!”

“Ain’t nobody got cars? Damn that’s fucked up.”

“Bye man, see you when you get here.”

Dezmin hung up the phone, frustrated. He didn’t want to wait on the other side of town late at night like that. James and Kev walked out the door and James locked up.

“What’s wrong, bruh?” James asked Dezmin.

“Fuckin’ ride, bruh. I forgot I came here on the damn bus man.”

“Oh shit,” James said. “You need a ride?”

“You got a car? I thought you usually walk to your grandmother’s house down the street when it’s late like this.”

“Nah, son. She put me out a few weeks ago. I stay ‘wit this bitch I met on the chatline.”

“Oh damn for real?” Dezmin laughed. “I don’t mean to laugh, it’s just that so much happened since I was last here, man.”

“It’s all good homie. I get it. Fat, ugly hoes be on the chatline, so she must be fat and ugly,” James said.

“What? I didn’t say that!”

“Oh. ‘Cause she fat and ugly.”

“You crazy man,” Dezmin laughed. “So how you gettin’ there, then? Is it close by too?

“Nah, son. Kev droppin’ me off.” Kev had already gotten in his car, and had pulled up to the front of the building while they were talking. “Ask Kev, yo. See what he say.”

“Damn. Aight. Only ‘cause I gotta take a shit. Any other night, none of this would have happened. Damn!” Dezmin said, now irritated. He just had to have a girl over tonight of all nights? He really didn’t want to have to ask Kev for a ride after beating him in the rap battle.

Kev rolled down his window and said to James, “Aight, c’mon.” James looked at Dezmin while walking towards the car. Dezmin sighed. He walked around to the other side of the car and asked, “Aye man, you think you could give me a ride home? I hate to ask, bruh.”

“Nah, it’s cool man. Just as long as you know I’ma use this in the next battle,” Kev said with a smile.

“Fine, run it,” Dezmin said.

Dezmin used James’ bathroom when Kev dropped James off. Then Kev got on the highway to take Dezmin home. After a brief, awkward silence, Kev said, “ Damn, James.”

“What happened?” Dezmin asked.

“That bitch in there fat as hell, bruh!” Kev said. “I saw her through the widow when you went in. Bitch look like a giant egg rolling over to open the door. The blinds were closed, but I could still see her shadow, and that’s what she looked like. I just wanted to tell somebody that, ‘cause it was killin’ me bottling it up inside!”

“Hell naw,” Dezmin laughed. “But hey, fat bitches need love too!”

“But they gotta pay!” Kev laughed, as he switched lanes.

“Hell naw,” Dezmin said shaking his head. “Quagmire references…But yeah man, I ain’t mean no hard feelings tonight, man. Like, for real—I respect you as a rapper, you know.”

“Yeah, I feel you, bruh. It’s all G. I’m tryna battle that number one dude. Nobody got in my way, really, until you.”

“Yeah I heard you been climbing fast. I gotta tell you though man, once you get in the top ten, that’s a whole different league altogether. Everybody in the top ten battled number one at least once, and lost, but nobody under that was fuckin’ wit us. So the top ten kinda became like, its own body, made up of the dopest people out of everybody else in there.”

“I feel you. That’s why I’m tryna break into that bitch and beat number one, ya know? I know I can beat that nigga, ya dig?”

“Iown know man,” Dezmin said. “Number one got tongue twisting abilities. It’s like a whole separate art of rap the way he does it.”

“Then why the nigga ain’t got signed yet? Why the hell he in there wit’ us if he that good?”

“Iown know. Maybe niggas don’t like all that fast talkin’ shit. Shit that make you think. You be listenin’ to the radio, right? Do you hear tongue twisting?”

“Hell naw,” Kev said.

“Exactly. The radio is where you hear all that bullshit. All that dumbed down, poorly written garbage. Shit stupid as hell, bruh. And Number One didn’t want to sell out. I don’t either, and I know you don’t either.”

“Hell yeah. True, true.”

“Then there’s artists like me and you, who got skill—we get overlooked too! It’s almost like the stupider you sound the most likely you are to make it. I haven’t heard one song on the radio that showcased well thought-out lyricism, or even attempted to! Fuckin’ garbage, manGarbage is gold, I guess.”

“Yeah, that’s what it is, bruh, You know, you sound a lot like my entertainment lawyer. Accept he doesn’t mind benefiting from the ignorance you were talking about.”

“Oh for real?”

“Yeah, I got an entertainment lawyer last year when I thought I was about to sign a deal with DopeMan Ent. My lawyer told me the deal was sour, so I backed out of it. That’s when I learned about 360 deals.”

“360 deals?”

“Yeah, it describes a business relationship between an artist and a music industry company, Like DopeMan. The company agrees to provide financial support for the artist, including direct advances as well as funds for marketing, promotion and touring. The artist agrees to give the company a percentage of all of their income, including sales of recordemusic, live performances and any other income.”

“Oh, damn.”

“Yeah, and that shit end up fuckin’ you in the end, ‘cause you gotta pay everybody. DopeMan was talkin’ about givin’ me a 75 thousand dollar advance. After I paid everybody, I’d have like 20 thousand, and if my record didn’t sell, I wouldn’t even have that! And that’s if I had anything left over from the advance at all!”

“Oh wow, damn.”

“Hell yeah, and thanks to my lawyer, I didn’t take that deal. They made it look so good ‘tho. But I woulda been more fucked up than I am now, so I’m grateful. But my lawyer always talkin’ about how music is dumb and profitable. He be tellin’ me I gotta dumb it down too, then I’d get better deals. I just want to be myself, ya dig?”

“Yeah, I feel the same way,” Dezmin said.

There was another moment of silence, then Dezmin asked, “Aye you know bout the grand opening?”

“Yeah, you talkin’ ‘bout StreetBeatz?”

“Yeah.”

“Yeah I heard about it. It’s all over social media. How could I not?”

“Oh yeah thats right,” Dezmin said. “I don’t be on social media like that and sometimes I forget how fast news travels. I’m still stuck in the 90’s. When you either called someone with some news or saw them and told it to their face.”

“Oh really,” Kev said. “How old are you, man?”

“Not that old,” Dezmin laughed. “I just don’t know how I feel about social media beginning to be the stand-in for meaningful human interaction. People live and die online nowadays. I mean I used AOL back in the day, but it didn’t take over my life. I mean I remember being excited when a new version of AOL came out, I watched Dragonball Z with my friend regularly, and spent a lot of time at the candy lady house. I’m just a nineties kid, I guess. And I miss those days.”

“Yeah, the nineties were classic, bruh. Man, back then, I was just gettin’ outta high school, and I was super fresh. I had my lil’ african medallion on, wore Adidas and everything, man. I graduated class of ’93. Box haircuts, Sega Genesis games, pagers and expensive jewelry was all I was thinking about. Oh and the bitches, can’t forget the bitches.”

“You crazy man,” Dezmin laughed, “So you class of ’93. I’m class of ’03. Man, when I got out of high school, 9/11 had already happened, everybody was waiting for the PS3, I had the best polyphonic ringtones on my cell phone, and New York’s “The Clear Album” was the soundtrack to my life. Especially that outro, man.”

“Yeah I feel you. So you’ve only been out of high school for a few years. Damn. Now I’m starting to feel old.”

“Nah man,” Dezmin laughed. “You ain’t that old, you still got time to make it. How long you been rappin’?”

“‘Bout thirteen years,” Kev said. Dezmin’s mouth dropped. Dezmin closed it immediately, trying to play it off.

“Oh really, that’s what’s up,” Dezmin said. “You ever work with anyone famous?”

“Nah, not really. I was supposed to open up for someone, but it never materialized. I did shows here and there, but most of my money come from my side hustle. But I wanna change that. I don’t want to have to hustle to live. I want my music to take care of me. And that’s why I also will be performing at the grand opening.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah. I know it’s only a thousand-dollar prize, but if I win, I know I can perform there without having to pay, and eventually somebody will see me rap and hopefully I can take off from there. It’s been a long time coming, man.”

“I feel you,” Dezmin said, “I’m performing too.”

“Oh for real? Well, you better bring it! My lawyer says it’s a good move to try out. He says if I win, there’s people he can plug me in with immediately. That’s why I’ve been coming to Authentic, to brush up on my skills. You may have beat me tonight, but you won’t be so lucky that night!

“It might be a close call,” Dezmin said. “But I know whoever wins, will deserve it. It’s gon’ be a lot of people there. I hope everyone can fit in the building!”

“Yeah, they will,” Kev laughed. “I heard the building used to be a Wall-to-Wall-to-Another-Wall-mart. It’s pretty big.”

“Oh for real? I haven’t been up there yet. My homeboy just told me about it not too long ago. He’s performing too.”

“That’s whats up, bruh.”

Kev pulled into Dezmin’s apartment complex.

“It’s the third building on the left,” Dezmin said.

“Aight, cool. Yeah I used to fuck wit’ a bitch that stayed over here. That was back in the day, ‘tho. Good luck, man!”

“You too! And thanks for the ride, bruh. Now go on home and erase everything in your rhyme book. You gon’ need all new material to fuck wit’ me!” Dezmin said, as he got out the car.

“Yeah, right, ok I’ll get right on that. I’ll holla atcha!”

Kev pulled off and Dezmin walked up the stairs to his door. Damn, a lot of people really depending on this contest, Dezmin thought. He walked in the door, sat on the sofa and cut on his PlayInThisStation 3. He put a CD inside that had instrumentals on it that he produced. He was bobbing his head, walking around his living room rhyming.

“You got guns? I keep three, you’ll never defeat me, slam a nigga on the ground, now he ain’t even gotta go to StreetBeatz! I take a—”

Dezmin’s cell phone rung. It was Terry.

“Where you at man?” Terry asked.

“Oh shit,” Dezmin said, “My bad bruh. I got a ride.”

“Man, you did what?”

“Damn! I forgot to tell you. Yeah one of the niggas there dropped me off.”

“Bruh. What. The. Fuck.”

“I said my bad, man. You up there?”

“Nah, man, I’m still at the crib,” Terry said.

“Then why you trippin’? You ain’t even have to go nowhere!”

“‘Cause man, the bitch that was here left ‘cause I told her I had to come get yo ass!”

“Oh! Well hey, you may be able to catch her if you run, nigga!” Dezmin laughed.

“Whatever bruh. Fuck you man, that’s fucked up.”

“Nah, man. It ain’t…she ain’t have no ‘bidness bein' there anyway!”

“Whatever. Damn. Oh wait, you know what? I still got Tiffany number. She be on that late night tip shit. I’m finna hit her up. Aight nigga holla,” Terry said, hanging up.

Dezmin shook his head and got back to practicing.

***

The grand opening was two days away, and Dezmin was feeling a mixture of anxiety and excitement as he headed to Terry’s house to rehearse. The air outside was hot; the wind he felt barely cooled him at all, his tank top ruffling against it inside of his ’97 Camory. When he pulled up, Terry was already outside, taking out the trash. Dezmin pulled up in the driveway, along side him.

“What up, bruh?”

“Shit, just takin’ out this trash. Come on in the track already set up.”

“Aight, cool,” Dezmin said, as he turned off his car and got out. He went inside and looked at the computer. He saw a list of songs and one of them was playing. He sat down and clicked on another song with the mouse. He sat back in the chair, trying to decide which song was good enough to be used for the grand opening. Terry walked in, bobbing is head, rolling a blunt. The song that was playing was one of Terry’s.

“That shit go hard huh?”

“Yeah, hell yeah bruh,” Dezmin said as he turned down the music. “I’m just tryna see which one we can use.”

“Yeah. Aye turn that back up! I love that shit!”

Dezmin turned it back up but was lost in his thoughts. As Terry continued to roll the blunt with the music playing in the background Dezmin thought, “How can I just, destroy this contest?

I need a different kind of sound. The songs I wrote are good, but they feel old to me. I wanna give Streebeatz something fresh... What if I wrote some brand-new shit? Damn, but only two days left. I’ma have to go home and pick a beat and write a song fast.”

“Aye bruh,” Terry said, interrupting Dezmin’s thoughts. “You think I should do a hype song, or a song about the bitches—it’s gon’ be a lotta bitches there!”

“Nah, do a hype song. The bitches can come later,” Dezmin said.

“True, true. Aye go to the internet right quick, I need to check my e-mail.”

Dezmin stayed at Terry’s house for a few hours. They talked about making it, having the money that celebrities have, and living their dreams; on the inside, Dezmin was being bombarded by his own thoughts, struggling to stay focused. While having the conversation with Terry, an inner conversation was taking place at the same time. Dezmin thought, The money and the women are great, but what about The Founders? What do they have to do with hip-hop? And why is no one speaking up about this? It’s clearly having a negative effect on rap music. Why are celebrities so angry, mad, or depressed all the time? If I made it, I’d be happy. Why aren’t they?”

Dezmin asked Terry, “Do you think being famous changes who you are as a person? And if so, why be famous if you’re not even yourself anymore?”

“Iown know man, shit, probably the m—“

“Oh yeah, the money. But it seem like money ain’t the end-all be-all for everything, either. Look at Franko Bank.Co. He got all the money in the world, and he still acting crazy. And he’s so rude. No humility. But this is the very definition of swag, is it not?

“I guess so,” Terry said.

“It’s that bullshit, is what it is. There’s no authenticity in hip-hop, with the exception of a small few, and in this order: New York, InkCredible, 2Glox, Smallie-Biggz, Hot-Sauce, Mc Nash, Slickk Mouth, GutterBred, MC CutStones, Rap Sheet, Darren Da 6’11, and XMD. All these people rap with a unique passion that seems to be rare in mainstream Hip-hop today. And I’m sick of ignorance being the status quo; I’m tired of this black mixture of a cloud called greed, bitterness, hatred and selfishness that hovers above our heads, causing us to succumb to its evils. And so willingly, too. Well, not if I have anything to say about it. If I ever make it, I’ma play dumb for a while, rap about that stupid shit to get on, til’ I get my foot in the door. No one is going to speak up about this, so I guess it’s going to be me. And when the time is right, I will make sure everyone knows how much this system needs to change.”

“Damn, bruh,” Terry looked at Dezmin. “I just realized today that you are one crazy son of a bitch.”

***

Dezmin yawned as he sat up in his bed. He looked at his phone, and jumped in the shower. The contest wouldn't be until later that night, but Dezmin and Terry had planned to go down there and get a look at the place they would be performing in. When he and Terry pulled up to the place, they got out and looked around. It was indeed an abandoned Wall-to-Wall-to-Another-Wall-mart—the stations where shoppers used to return their carts after shopping still dotted the parking lot. However, the building had been re-painted a bright red color with black trim around the top. A plastic banner hung where the Wall-to-Wall-to-Another-Wall-mart sign used to be. It read “Grand Opening”, while the sliding glass doors below it had “StreetBeatz” painted on it in the same color scheme as the building. The wind suddenly rustled, as if to emphasize the stakes of the situation. Terry walked up to the door. It was locked and it looked black inside. He put his hands on the glass, attempting to peer through the darkness. Dezmin walked up behind him.

“You see anything?”

“Nah, bruh. It’s pitch black up in that bitch,” Terry replied.

“Damn,” Dezmin said, “guess we can’t go inside then. I gotta go to work anyway I’ll just come up here tonight. Let’s go so I can drop you off at home.”

“Aight, cool,” Terry said.

Dezmin worked at a warehouse on the other side of town. He’d been there for a few years; his boss, Mr. Mulligan was a no-nonsense boss who always gave everybody a hard time.

He was a tall, skinny old white man who took his job very seriously. The job was simple; remove boxes from the trucks on one side of the warehouse, and load them in trucks on the other sideof the warehouse. Dezmin didn’t mind the work, he just got bored easily on the job, so he wore his headphones to make the time go by faster. Mr. Mulligan was obviously never okay with that, so Dezmin had to hide them whenever he worked. He would only put them on when he was deep inside a truck in the darkness, putting boxes on a conveyor belt that had been stretched into the truck. Dezmin pulled in the parking lot three minutes before his shift. He ran to the door, and when he opened it, Mr. Mulligan was right there, with a clipboard in his hand staring down at Dezmin.

“Excuse me, I’m tryna get to the clock,” Dezmin said, startled.

“Oh of course,” Mr. Mulligan said, looking at his watch, “You do that.”

Dezmin ran and clocked in. “Man, what is that guys’ problem?” He walked over to his station, thinking about the grand opening.

“Yo!” A voice called.

“Keyshawn!” Dezmin responded. “What’s up, man?”

“Chillin’, chillin’. Aye you work first shift, now?”

“Nah man, I asked Mr. Mulligan to let me work it today, ‘cause I got plans tonight.”

“Oh, for real? No wonder I didn’t see you today. Well, sucks for you! I’m out this bitch!”

“Aight then man, holla!” Dezmin said.

Keyshawn jogged off to the exit.

Dezmin got in the truck and began to unload. When he was far enough inside, he put his headphones in, and began to freestyle as he worked. He did this like he would do any other day. Jamming to his beats deep inside his last truck, Dezmin didn’t notice that Mr. Mulligan was standing behind him. Mr. Mulligan had gone outside to stand next to the trucks, looking inside each one to ensure safety guidelines were being met by all employees.

Unbeknownst to Dezmin, Mr. Mulligan had come back inside and stood behind him, clip board at his side waiting for Dezmin to notice him. When Dezmin turned around, he snatched his headphones out and said, “Oh shit” under his breath.

“No need to hide them now,” Mr. Mulligan said.

“My bad, my bad,” Dezmin said, wiping the sweat from his forehead.

“We talked about this before, haven’t we?”

“Yes sir, we did. And I—”

“Broke the rules, time and time again, right?”

“Well, yeah but I—”

“Must have forgotten about the random inspections that take place under my watch, right?”

Dezmin wiped his forehead again and turned away from his boss. Mr. Mulligan continued, “Today is employee evaluation day for you, Mr. Bouregard. Come with me to my office.”

Once at the office, Dezmin sat down across from Mr. Mulligan.

“Give me a second,” Mr. Mulligan said, while typing something on his computer.

Even though Dezmin had been working for the company for some time, he’d never seen his boss’ office. The area were the offices were located always looked like they could be props in a stage play. Situated in the corner of the warehouse, it looked like a replica of the inside of an office building. The walls moved when people walked throughout the structure; it had no ceiling save some metal bars across the top. It seemed funny to Dezmin that each office had a door, because someone could just climb up and over into another person’s office with relative ease, seeing as how the metal bars were placed so far apart from each other. Mr. Mulligan’s office was bigger than the rest of the other offices. In it, he had a large, sleek metal desk, and the walls were covered in plaques, and newspaper clippings. One clipping read “Up and coming package company ships its one millionth box.” A plaque with a golden cup on it read, “To Fogwire and Lunton: For 25 years of excellent service.” Mr. Mulligan’s phone rang, interrupting Dezmin’s thoughts. Mr. Mulligan put a finger up as he began his conversation. “I just want to get this shit over with”, Dezmin thought, I got a show tonight and I’m tryna think about that and yo ass got me in here. Damn. Old ass man. Yea, I said it, you old, nigga! Damn. Wait I just remembered—how many write-ups do I have? There was the time I didn’t show up, then the time I was an hour late—fuckin’ wit my mama, then the time when—shit. I think I got more than four. Damn. Shit man. He’s about to fire me. That’s what I’m in here for. Fuck, man. Then I’ma have to move back home and shit, man. Hell no, bruh. Shit man .

“I’m sorry about that. So, back to you, Mr. Bouregaurd,” said Mr. Mulligan, hanging up the phone. “Do you know what we pride ourselves with here at Fogwire and Lunton?”

“Yes, sir. Being number one in everything we do,” Dezmin said, sitting up as straight as he could.

“That’s correct!” Mr. Mulligan said with a smile. “And do you think you’ve been living up to that motto during your time here as an employee?”

“Yes, sir, well, no; I listen to my music sometimes, but it’s just a—”

“Very dangerous safety hazard, isn’t it? Why, what if someone needed to alert you of some kind of danger? You’d be in la-la land, unaware of your predicament!”

“I’m sorry, sir, my bad.”

“Your bad indeed, Mr. Boregaurd. Now, I’m sure you know about our write-up policy here, correct? And you know the penalty for having four of them, right?”

“Yes, sir,” Dezmin said, with his head down. Damn. Here it go, Dezmin thought.

“Do you know how many write-ups you have accumulated, Mr. Bouregard?”

“No, sir.”

“What? You haven’t kept up with them? How serious are you about keeping this job?

How can I expect you to live up to the motto if you think job security is unimportant?”

“It is, sir. I just have a lot going on right now.”

“Oh really? Like what?”

Dezmin thought, Why in the hell does he want to know? Just fire me, already, damn. Whatever. Might as well try to stay as long as I can, considering this is my last day. Maybe I can appeal to his emotions. Fuck it, it’s worth a shot.

“Well, for one, “Dezmin began, “I have a very sick mother who might die any day now. She has stage-two breast cancer.”

“Oh my,” Mr. Mulligan said, sitting back in his chair. It squeaked a little.

“And my father hasn’t been any help, either," Dezmin continued, "when I get off of work, I go check on mama before I go home. She can’t feed herself so I do it. She’s very weak, you see. And I don’t just feed her, I clothe and bathe her too. She also can’t go to the bathroom herself, so I bought her some adult diapers— and I change her like I would an infant child.”

“Oh my gosh,” Mr. Mulligan said, touching his chest.

“Yeah, and don’t even get me started on my father. His drunken rampages know no bounds. Just yesterday he killed a cat, but it wasn’t just any cat. It was a cat that had taken kind to my mother. It would sit on the windowsill as mama sat motionless in her bed, staring blankly at the TV screen. The cat would occasionally crawl on the bed with her and lie down on her lap and purr. Daddy came home and, well, his favorite team lost the basketball game, so he wanted to take out his anger on someone.”

“Really? All because of a game?”

“Yes, sir. It was his favorite team—so much so, that he bet a large sum of money on the game they played. When they lost, he lost—and big time. He came bursting through the door, eyes redder than Hell itself smelling like a brewery; I was changing mama’s diaper. He cursed and yelled, and blamed mama for being a burden. I don’t know why—seeing as how I use my paychecks to help her.”

“Doesn’t she get any kind of government assistance?”

“Yes, sir. But daddy gets the money, and he blows it gambling all the time.”

“Oh wow.”

“Yes, sir. But mama’s back in the hospital now, she was admitted a few days ago, so she is in the hands of professionals now.”

Mr. Mulligan said after a short pause, “That’s good, that’s good. Well, in light of the situation, I must say I sympathize with you. I take care of a sick relative too.”

“Oh yeah?” Holy shit that worked! I might just be ok after all.

“Yes indeed. Although I must say, it has never stopped me from following the rules and being productive at work.”

“Oh.” Shit.

“So this is what I will do. Technically, I’m supposed to fire you—that’s what I was planning to do. However, I will give you one last chance—on one condition.”

“Name it.” Please don’t say fuck you, please don’t say fuck you, man.

“You can continue to work, after you take a class on the importance of safety here at Fogwire and Lunton.”

“Oh, ok cool, I can do that.” Thank Goodness!

“The classes are once a week, and the course lasts for three weeks, each one being four hours long. They are held here, down the hall from my office in room 119. The classes take place during whatever shift you regularly work, because the manager of that shift is the one teaching the class. Now, Thomas is your shift manager, so he will be the one you report to when you go to these classes.”

“Wow. Three weeks, though?”

“Yes, Mr. Bouregard. At least this way, you can keep your job without me seeming to show favoritism, which some may still argue I’m doing with you in this situation. I’m just covering my bases, as we all should. Is any of this a problem? You could just resign, or I could fire you like I originally planned.”

“Oh no, sir. I will do it. I am very appreciative of your empathy. I will do whatever it takes to continue working here. This is an excellent company.” You fucking douche bag.

“Good, that’s good that’s what I want to hear,” Mr. Mulligan smiled.

“Ok. Now you said the classes are once a week. When does the first class start?”

“Today. Well, tonight, actually. Since you usually work night shift. Yes, looks like you’re going to be in the 8pm to 12am class.”

Oh shit. Gay sex is starting to look really good now. But seriously, this is bad.

“So you go ahead, and we’ll see you back here at 8pm. It’s just noon now, so you have time to change your plans, if you have any.”

“Yes, sir,” Dezmin said, standing up.

***

“So are you gonna go?” Terry asked Dezmin.

“That’s just the thing, man. I can’t go to the class. Not tonight, anyway.”

“Do you gotta go to all the classes?”

“I’m not sure. It was kind of implied, though. I’m on thin ice with this job, so I probably shouldn’t miss even one of the classes.”

“Damn, bruh,” Terry said, shaking his head.

“Yeah, I can either go to the thing tonight, or go to the class. Damn. Why now, bruh? Shit!”

“I don’t know what to tell you, bruh. Gotta have a job, gotta eat, man.”

“Hell yeah, bruh. This shit crazy.”

“Well, you think about what you ‘gon do, and I’ma be right back. I gotta go pick up somethin’.”

“Alright, bruh,” Dezmin said, giving Terry dap.

As Terry made his way up the stairs, the receding squeak of his footsteps on the old wood echoed throughout the otherwise silent basement. Dezmin sat on the sofa, head back, looking at the grey ceiling. He’d never noticed it before; it reminded him of the kind of ceilings he would see in huge, popular retail stores, looking unbelievably dusty. Then he turned his head to the left and looked at the computer equipment. “You think I should go to StreetBeatz tonight?” He asked the computer monitor.

“No man,” the monitor said. “You need that guaranteed money!”

“Ah fuck this guy,” the left speaker said.

“Yeah, you tell him, lefty Don’t let him shit on your dreams!” The right speaker said.

“You should always follow your heart,” the keyboard said.

Dezmin looked at the mouse and asked, “what do you think?”

“I don’t know man, I’m a computer mouse. I’m not even real, man—none of this is. You might need to see a therapist. But do go to StreetBeatz, though.”

“The mouse is right!” Dezmin exclaimed standing up. “About StreetBeatz, and the therapy!”

Dezmin left Terry’s house, headed home to practice. He felt more comfortable practicing at home; it’s where he could be uninterrupted for hours at a time. However, Dezmin felt like he’d been at home for five minutes by the time it was time to go. He put on his best clothes, and headed off on a date with destiny. The music was loud when Dezmin walked inside of StreetBeatz. There were people around him in all directions, standing at music-themed kiosks talking to one another. It looked like comic-con, but the hip-hop version. Gold chains, sagging pants, expensive shades, jeans, and shirts were being worn in different varieties by everyone in sight. Dezmin glanced down at his clothes; even though they were his best ones, they made him stand out like a sore thumb. His attire, consisting of a crisp white t-shirt, a thin gold chain, blue jeans and red sneakers, had earned him a few disapproving looks as he made his way through the crowd.

“Aye! ‘Sup nigga!”

It was Terry. He’d approached from the left unexpectedly. “Oh shit bruh, what’s up!?” Dezmin responded.

“I had came in right after you and I was trying to get your attention but ‘yeen hear me apparently!”

“Oh yeah my bad! Damn its loud in here! You pulled out the Versace shades, didn’t you?!”

“Huh?! Oh these! Yeah my nigga, gotta look fly tonight!”

“Yeah! Seems like everyone is wearing shades in here tonight! Nobody’s outside though!”

“What?!”

“Never mind! Aye where do you sign in at in this bitch?!”

“I think its over there!”

Terry pointed to a table that had two people behind it in uniform. Their shirts read EVENT STAFF and their clothes were the same color as the color scheme of the building. Terry and Dezmin made their way to the table. Once they saw it was a line, they lamented and cursed, just like the people in front of, and behind them. Eventually, once it was Dezmin’s turn to sign in, he was shocked to find that the woman behind the table was his ex-girlfriend. He didn't notice it before, because she was mostly out of view, save for what she had on. They didn’t split amicably, and the wounds were still as fresh as they were the day she threw a rock through his car window, and he ran over her cat that she loved so much. The apathy they shared was so much so, that Dezmin couldn’t think of anything else to say when he saw her but,

“Hey, I was just thinking about your cat today.”

“Sign in and and fuck off,” she said, with a loud whisper.

Dezmin smiled and grabbed the pen, “You know,” he began as he was writing, “maybe if I win, I’ll buy you a new one. Put this whole thing behind us.”

“Really?” She said with a smile.

Dezmin didn’t even look at the paper has he finished the last letter of his name; he looked up at her and said, “Naw bitch I’m playin’ witcho ass you better buy ‘yo ass a new cat, just like I had to pay for a new window, bitch!” After he said this, he walked away immediately, giving her no time to respond. It was already time to serve the next person in line, even though they were laughing uncontrollably. But Dezmin knew how important she took her job, so he knew she wouldn't cause a scene. He felt vindicated as he walked away, even though he had no particular plans for the direction he was walking. It didn’t matter. He was walking on air. Then the lights and loud music suddenly shut off. After one second, they came back on, but now they were strobe lights, flashing in different colors, making everyone polka-dotted with balls of dancing lights.

“All artists,” a female voice said over the speaker system, “please report to the staging area, we are about to begin.”

Everyone was looking up intently, waiting for her to finish, “If you paid for your slot, head to the stage. If you did not, head to the back of the stage, behind the red curtain.”

Dezmin made his way to the stage, and once on it, he followed the crowd of those who did not pay for their slot. The stage was huge. It was roughly one hundred and fifty feet across, with a giant red curtain traversing the length of it. There was more stage behind the curtain than in front of it. In front of the curtain, there was a ten foot section in the middle of the stage that was marked with black tape in the shape of a square. To the left of that, about ten feet away, was a DJ booth. Behind that, there was a section of red curtain that was split in two places, so that someone could walk through. The female voice over the loud speaker was now visible, and she was standing next to the black square, with the microphone in her hand.

“Alright, alright everybody listen up!” She said. The crowd got silent. The only thing that could be heard was the air conditioning system humming. She continued, “You all are here because you think you have something the world needs to see. A talent, a skill, a passion that you believe is good enough to make you a super star. Well, if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere! Once you square off in the square, you could walk away 1,000 dollars richer and the ability to perform here, for free! You never know who is in the building, so do your best—but I don’t have to tell any of you that, right?” The crowd erupted in various words of agreement. “Ok then! Let’s get this started!” She said, while looking at her clipboard. “Looks like we have Alex X against Da Rage. Where are you Alex X and Da Rage?”

Two men walked forward from the crowd in the front of the curtain. Meanwhile, Dezmin and all the others back there were watching a monitor of what was going on out front. Dezmin sat in a chair, with his hand on his chin, deep in his thoughts, with his eyes glued to the screen. Suddenly, his phone vibrated in his pocket. He took it out and looked at it. It was his shift manager calling him. Shit. I almost forgot about that shit. He put his phone away, ignoring the call. He cut his phone off. After a few intense battles, it was finally Dezmin’s turn. It was then that he realized that he hadn’t seen Kev all night. Must have gotten cold feet, Dezmin thought.

“Calling Dizzy Dez and HopShot the square!” The female voice said.

This is it. I hope me losing my job was worth it. I can’t lose this. Failure is not an option. Ok let’s go.

“DJ, spin that shit!” The female hostess said.

Dezmin took one look at the crowd and his stomach dropped. Outside, he appeared unfazed, but internally he was trying to hold himself together. Ok, gotta focus. This shit is easy, you trained for this, man. The deciding factor on who would go first was determined by a coin toss, unless one didn’t pay—in that case the one who paid goes first.

“Ah skippity hip hop—I flippity flip flop on you like your grandma’s floor, in her kitchen boy! You know you suck when ‘yeen even have the money, for certain/ That’s why I’m in front with the crowd, you? Behind the red curtain! You worse than, shit I don’t even know/ It’s like if I said you suck, I feel like I’m disrespectin’ a hoe! But I don’t treat women beat women sleep with them eat, then in a moment I’m out, memory of me ce-mented in them/ you keep, zero women ‘cause in your bank it’s the same number/I’d hate to see you at a country club, you’d be a real bummer! The summer, is on but in here it just got hotter, faster/why are you even here, dogg? You think yo presence really matter? You think you can best me in this battle? Hope you didn't bet your rent on this, ‘cause if you did I got bad news for you—tomorrow you’ll be homeless!

The crowd went wild. “Alright alright! HopShop that was tight, that was tight! Now we got Dizzy Dez! DJ, spin that shit!” The female host said.

**Want More? 2000 likes and I will post the rest of the book.**

humanity

About the author

Jonathan Mosby

Born and raised in Atlanta Ga, Flow brings an introspective flavor to hip-hop. Beginning in 2003 with beat making, and 2005 with protools, there has been an exponential growth in both productivity and creativity. Won't let me say more smh

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