Fruitvale Station

The story of Oscar Grant never dominated the 140-character headlines of today like the Trayvon Martin story and will likely never write itself into the history books or echo off the walls of classrooms in 20 years. That is not because it should not, but instead because it took place in an era before social media was fraught with link-bait headlines and it happened to an individual who was hop-scotching through the margins of society on his way to better things.

The other side of the continent is a long way from Toronto and it seemed even further in 2008. While the release of Fruitvale Station on the eve of the Martin/Zimmerman trial acted as a trigger for Oscar’s story to reemerge into headlines, given the obvious racial tones of both stories, it was a whole 5 years earlier that the event actually occurred in San Francisco.

Despite my penchant for searching Google for USA homicide reports on the other side of the continent (sarcasm for the slow ones), the story actually bubbled onto my radar from a different source.The Smoking Section is a culture blog that focuses on music but lots of sports, fashion and often political topics trickle into their content. With a refreshingly consistently dose of intelligent insights and discussion, its one of the few websites that earns daily hits no matter where the world has taken me that month.

After reading the story, there was still a ton of ambiguity about the incident. Who said what to whom? What triggered the violent ending? Who instigated the incident? Reading the article in passing and watching the horrific video, it still did not click in my brain that this was just a 22 year old man (basically the same age as me) with a kid and an upward trajectory in life. Everyday, my Facebook and Twitter streams are full of Worldstar-type links to trashy “news” about celebrities, Knockout Game bullshit and other assorted link-bait that goes in my eyelids and out of my memory almost instantly. Unfortunately, the severity of the Oscar Grant situation impacted me much in the same way. I did not see a young adult who could have been me or any of my friends, simply because of the geographic distance between us. It was far enough away that it did not hit home.

In the fall and early winter of 2008, I was spending 40+ hours a week in the studio working on the first Academic Probation project DETENTION. We had just finished IN THE TDOT and we were sure the project was going to be a smash. Triple A came to the studio with a stack of fresh beats (bangers!) and a Neumann U87 microphone. We set everything up and put the beat CD on.

Cutty Buddy (Cover)

I still remember the first time I heard the CUTTY BUDDY beat thumping through the speakers. Even though it was barely mixed, it slapped hard. Within minutes on this faithful Friday night session, I had the hook and concept down and we proceeded to bang the track out in under an hour. This is nothing short of a miracle in a hazy studio with ice cold drinks on deck. Somewhere in the process, my brain made a parallel between sharing beautiful backshots in a private moment with a lady friend and the untimely final moments of Oscar Grant’s life and with no national media buzz on the story (or a room full of yes men) it went unchecked. The track got mixed and mastered and a heinous display of arrogant lyricism got written into the history books.

With Fruitvale Station dropping and the Oscar Grant debacle coming back into the spotlight, I have had the time to reflect on the content I put into that track (and others) in the last 5 years. Its 2014 and five years ago I was definitely not as mature, considerate or even respectful as I find myself today. Listening to the clean mix, barren of overt sexual references but still complete with the Oscar Grant reference, its embarrassing to claim the track as my own even today as I type this.

I cannot deny that I knew what I wrote and although time won’t bring Oscar Grant back to pick his little girl up from school, I can admit that the controversial line was in poor taste. We’ve all heard the stories of rappers losing endorsement deals (Rosay lost Reebok for the date rape verse, Wayne lost Sprite for the Emmett Till line etc), but the real damage isn’t to the rappers reputation but instead to the listeners who absorb this content and begin to downplay similarly important historical moments as punchline material. Over time, this results in a society without empathy for their peers and the pivotal stances they take on important issues.

Fruitvale Station is an amazing film that manages to capture the trials of young adulthood (entry level jobs, girlfriends, which New Years party to hit) with the realities of the world we live in (overzealous police, beef between young adults). Not only did it bring these issues to the forefront so that we could learn from them and improve our culture but it forever immortalized a young man who was forced from his journey on Earth in order to shepherd us towards a better society as a martyr in the sky.

Rest in Paradise – Oscar Grant.

The Oscar Grant Foundation

This entry was posted on Saturday, February 22nd, 2014 at 4:35 pm and is filed under News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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