By D. Kevin McNeir – Senior Editor Washington Informer
When rap music first began to attract attention back in the 1970s, many people assumed that the Bronx-born phenomenon would soar for an instant before exiting the scene and disappearing into obscurity.
Five decades later, the musical genre developed by creatives including DJ Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash has evolved into a powerful force in the music world: hip-hop.
However, the more historically accurate roots of rap music can be traced back centuries ago when the griots, or historians of West Africa, presented their poetic musings to villagers over the simple beat of a drum.
As rap music grew more popular, DJs moved into the background as MCs rose to prominence including Kurtis Blow who became the first rapper signed to a major record label, Mercury Records, in 1979.
By the mid-’80s, the lyrical content of rappers had begun to transition from relatively simple rhymes and raps to content that offered more critical examinations of society – more vocal forms of protest that focused on the plight of social injustice. The music of Run-DMC, A Tribe Called Quest and Public Enemy soon dominated the scene and their faster raps which sampled new forms of technology broke new grounds.
However, many critics of rap music would be unable to accept the next development of hip-hop when rappers from the West Coast, like Too Short, N.W.A. (Niggaz with Attitude) and Ice-T, took over the stage. They came from economically depressed areas in Los Angeles and Oakland and their lyrics often reflected their personal experiences. Pimping, liquor, gang violence and other aspects of urban life would be prominently featured in their music much to the chagrin of more conservative-minded Americans.
In fact, one of N.W.A.’s most popular singles, “F— Tha Police,” a response to police brutality, landed the group on the FBI’s radar and led to the labeling of hip-hop, gangsta rap in particular, as America’s real “public enemy number one.”
It’s from this historical backdrop that today’s rappers in hip-hop have emerged, hoping to make their mark in their communities, in the music industry and on the world. But while ensconced under the same umbrella, hip-hop, the artists often have perspectives that remain diametrically opposed.
Sneaky Bandz Uses Rap to Provide Hope
One young hopeful, a third-generation resident of Paradise at Parkside Apartments in Northeast, continues to garner attention and a growing fanbase — hailed as a well-respected rapper and guided by Pleasant Service LLC’s music mentorship program via a mentor/protégé relationship with Whop Craig aka Wisdom Speeks. The mentorship will also assist Sneaky Bandz in distributing basketball shoes to children in the Paradise community.
But while his past includes experiences with the juvenile justice system, poverty and violence, the rap artist known as Sneaky Bandz has taken an approach to his lyrics that differs from many of his peers.
Despite once being a contributor to the pain and trauma that have risen to new heights in D.C., he recently transformed his music and said, “I’m aiming to elevate my community and inspire other youth to get on a track towards a better and more positive future.”
“When you see the news about so many young people being arrested and committing violent crimes, it’s crazy,” said Sneaky Bandz, 22, the fourth of seven children who matriculated at Friendship Collegiate in Northeast.
“Some things may be really hard – even impossible – to change, especially if they’ve been going on for a lot of years,” he said. “But if someone like me can let go of negative influences and do better, then everyone can. Being cool means nothing. We’ve got to go to school and get an education.”
“Young people also need to return to playing sports as a means of improving themselves – maybe as a way of going to college. But that’s tough to accomplish when you live in a place like my neighborhood where the resources are so limited. We don’t even have playgrounds and we don’t have sports leagues for youth,” said Sneaky Bandz who once actively participated in sports and whose penchant for gym shoes led to the name he adopted for professional purposes.
As for his career, Sneaky Bandz said he’s on the lookout for more promotional assistance so he can expand his reach to a wider audience.
“The music that attracts most fans in the district is hardcore drill rap but that’s not my style,” he said. “I want to show the younger generations both sides and help them see that they have a choice. I want to be remembered for something positive — to be a role model. I don’t want to be the dude from the hood that went hard.”
Wisdom Speeks remembers the first time the two met and said he knew the young man had potential.
“We connected immediately, we got our music on, and I took him with me to New York City to meet with Darryll Brooks and his team from I Hear Ya Entertainment,” he said. “What Darryll has done for the industry and the Peace Project concept in D.C. have long been something that I supported.”
“It’s all about bringing some real music back into the industry that promotes peaceful and positive efforts of artists,” he said. “I’m committed to being a trailblazer for gifted youth like Sneaky Bandz because he’s the future – the kind of rapper who, like me, has adopted a ‘GMO’ philosophy in both their lyrics and presentation – no guns, no murders, no opps (oppositions).”
Unlike earlier rappers including Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G. who allegedly believed time on this earth would be limited, Sneaky Bandz said despite his circumstances, he’s never thought they he would die young.
“I made some bad choices that I would later regret, but I never really let someone else persuade me to make those decisions,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to live as long as God allows. Now, I’ve become even more determined to prove the naysayers wrong and to take a different path in my life.”
“I have a gift from God, and I want to use my talents to help young people no matter whether they’re Black or white. I want my music to touch minds, hearts and souls,” Sneaky Bandz said.