American Tragedy

The Life of Tay–K 47

American Tragedy

"Though African Americans and Hispanics make up approximately 32% of the US population, they comprised 56% of all incarcerated people in 2015." – NAACP Criminal Justice Fact Sheet.

Fuck a beat, I was tryna beat a caseBut I ain't beat that case, bitch I did the race

Tay–K 47 is a 17-year-old recently profiled by New York Times. His last appearance in a newspaper came from The Star Telegram, a newspaper circulated in Fort–Worth/Arlington, Texas. It's likely Tay–K will never see life as a free adult male.

Pop a nigga then I go out my wayDo the dash then I go out the way

Tay-K is no stranger to the penitentiary. As a child, he saw his father serve time—in fact Tay–K moved to Arlington after his father was released. In his first and only interview since his song"The Race" became a bonified hit, we learn that Taymor himself has been incarcerated before, too. The interview is recorded over a prison telephone.

"The Race" has more than 28 million YouTube views in the two months it's been released. The video saw little to no promotion. Taymor is the first rapper from the Fort Worth/Arlington video to even approach that level of success.

Tay–K is candid in his interview, connecting very naturally to a fellow Arlington resident who runs a YouTube hip-hop channel, Say Cheese TV, describing exactly the childhood you might expect. You learn very quickly that Arlington is a Crip heavy neighborhood, that Tay–K's mother was a devoted Crip and that Tay–K's father and him do not have a relationship.

Rob a nigga shoes, rob a nigga laceWe tryna see a hunnit bands in our face

Tay–K is very familiar with Chicago's rap scene. In fact, he mentions an underground Chicago rapper, Young Papi, in his hit "The Race." He notes that Young Papi's a shooter too, apparently either understanding via word of mouth or through the authenticity of Young Papi's lyrics and environment.

Working in the music industry in various capacities ranging from intern to major label salaried employee since 2009, I had never heard Young Papi mentioned. In 2014, I DJ'd a drill music themed party at Oberlin College exclusively featuring rappers from the Chicago area (like Young Papi). While crafting a two-hour set, I don't remember coming across Young Papi once.

The culture that Taymor was and continues to be exposed to is a far cry from contemporary popular American culture. The Wu-Tang Clan became famous in part for their slang terminology. At this point, an inner city can speak in code and avoid interpretation almost entirely by a typical American.

Gang signs are a whole different sign. A sort of sign language exclusive to the streets.

We also learn that Tay–K's favorite rapper is Soulja Boy. Soulja Boy, who's been largely forgotten since his series of strange hits in the late 2000s. Soulja Boy is an unlikely pick, having been either wholly disavowed as being terrible and a strange cultural artifact by higher brow music critics.

Radically different.

I woke up too moody, who gon' die today?Shoot a fuckboy in his motherfuckin' face

It's entirely possible that Taymor will not see his 18th birthday as a free man. It's entirely possible that Taymor will never be a free man again.

It's a well proven fact that the greatest predictor of a child's income as an adult is their parent's. Other predictors include qualities of the school district and education level of the nuclear family. Speaking statistically, Tay–K is noteworthy only for being famous; his story is a terrible reality for inner city youth–especially youth of color.

Gotta go dat way, you get robbed for your rackadesGotta go dat way, boy you not gon' be happy

While statistics are impossible to gather, I would venture to argue that the majority of American's don't understand the horror that is the American Penitentiary system. The for–profit industry's roots are bloody and while huge advancements have been made, the overall theory that's as old as America herself remains. Prisons intend to punish much more directly than they do rehabilitate.

In fact, the prison system still allows for indentured servitude, charging inmates for basic goods and sometimes paying less than two dollars an hour for legitimate labor.

More cultured Americans may be aware of the horrors of the American Criminal Justice system thanks to Kalief Brower's suicide. Brower committed suicide after serving three years at Riker's Island in New York City–without conviction. He was charged with stealing a backpack, and he spent three years in jail without trial, repeatedly being beaten, and eventually being changed enough to take his own life after release. Those close to Kalief describe him as a generally cheerful and driven young man before incarceration.

I'm Lil Tay-K, I don't think you want no actionYou want action, you get turned into past tense

We have a real problem in America. Based on one's circumstances upon birth, they may be forced to face an intensely difficult life from the moment they're born. 13 Reasons Why is a hit Netflix series that chronicles the suicide of a white teenage girl who's problems revolve around bullying and romance gone awry.

When Tay–K was 13 Reasons' antagonist age, he was more than likely fraternizing with murderers, serious drug dealers, and his parents were unlikely to provide a sense of structure so important to one's success as an adult.

If you were to ask Tay–K if he would trade places with any character from 13 Reasons, what do you think he would choose?

Tay–K was arrested in New Jersey after evading Capital Murder charges in Texas. When extradited, he will see a trial that may end with him being sentenced to death. He is 17 years old. He is being tried as an adult.

Fuck a beat I was tryna beat a caseBut I ain't beat that case, bitch I did the race

Tay–K's story is not Tay–K's, but the story of hundreds of thousands of African American men since slavery was ended. A life wrought with unfavorable challenges from the very beginning, leading to a life of incarceration, and then to a death.

We have a problem in America. Tay–K deserves better. Everyone who's ever been Tay–K deserves better.

We have a problem in America.

See it in my mothafuckin' face
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