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I Gave You Power: Do You Have What it Takes To Be the Shooter?
There’s a Superficial Power in Guns, I almost fell for its allure
Welcome to the Black Album: A series of essays using songs to reflect on politics, sex, life, patriarchy and whatever else comes up.
Song Title: I Gave You Power
Producers: DJ Premiere
Assistant Engineer: I'oreal Coppedge
Assistant Engineer: Joy Burrell
Mixing Engineer, Recording Engineer: Eddie Sancho Mastering Engineer: Tom Coyne
Writer: Nas, Chris E Martin,
When I listen to Nas’s “I gave you power” it brings me back to the first time I ever held a gun. I was 8 years-old and It was a black pistol with yellow tape at the bottom, and rust on the edges. I remember picking it up and being surprised by the weight, I never imagined it would feel this heavy. I didn’t tell anyone what I found but I didn’t need to. If a gun was in my house, it belonged to one of the adults, and they needed it. I may have been a child, but I understood the type of environment we lived in, I knew that safety was only as real as your ability to maintain it, and even then, it was fickle. The only thing a neighborhood like East New York Brooklyn could offer was chaos, and tension. And with no other support systems available, the best tools to fight against these challenges were money and power. No one in my family had money, we were as poor as the poor could get. Without the financial ability to escape our circumstances, the only other option was to capture and wield some sort of power. For my father, and many of the people around us, that power could be wielded through a gun.
“How you like me now? I go blaow
It's that shit that moves crowds makin every ghetto foul
I might have took your first child
Scarred your life, crippled your style
I gave you power
I made you buck wild”
It might sound crazy to a lot of people reading this, but all we wanted was safety, and the only viable path we saw to getting that, was with a tool capable of taking lives.
That encounter would not be the last time I held or saw a gun. In fact, it was only the beginning in what would be a cycle of violence and aggression I am lucky to have escaped. My father, in his desire to protect himself and those he loved, brought that gun home and hoped to never use it. His goal was protection, and while he focused on making sure his family was safe, I had to navigate the same blocks while facing my own fears. My father is not someone who believes in looking weak. If I told him about the anxiety I felt while trying to survive, he would have whooped my ass and sent me right back to the streets. As he saw it, “how would I survive a world run by white men committed to destroying me, if I cowered in front of one of these niggas.”
I'm seven inches four pounds, been through so many towns
Ohio to Little Rock to Canarsie, livin harshly
Beat up and battered, they pull me out
I watch as niggaz scattered, makin me kill
But what I feel it never mattered
My second encounter with a gun happened when I was in the fifth grade. I got into a fight during lunch period, and was a little too cocky about the victory. At the end of the day, my opponent and his older brother cornered me in the school yard to demand a rematch. When I said no, his older brother pulled out a gun and put it to my head. I could either fight, or die. I remember the moment I realized my life was on the line, I looked around for an adult to bail me out, but there was no one around. There were other students watching, but they were too interested in the drama or too scared to intervene. I was on my own. The brother didn’t use the gun on me that day, instead he and a few of their friends jumped me, while everyone watched. I vowed never to be so weak again.
When you’re weak, you have no control over what happens to you or the people you love. When my father was robbed on his way home from work, he felt helpless and weak, that’s why he brought a gun into our house. After having a gun pointed at my head, then getting jumped in broad daylight while people did nothing to help me, I understood fully the implications of vulnerability. I did not want to be weak, and it was imperative that others didn’t think I was either, so at the age of 10 years old, I became obsessed with what I believed was power. The ability to strike fear into the heart of others, the power to decide who lives and dies, and the status of being a shooter. If I wanted to be all powerful, I needed a gun, and I needed to have the balls to use it. If Power was safety, the gun was my ticket to it.
The next time I held a gun, I was 13 years old, and obsessed with dreams of being all powerful. Until the moment I had a weapon of my own, I was stepping into every space weak. I would go home and be physically and verbally abused by my stepmother, outside, the cops and gang members harassed me to no end, and in school I was teased for being poor. I was tired of being made to feel useless, ugly, and helpless, I wanted the power to change all of that. There was a retired hustler in my neighborhood, let’s call him Lavelle. Lavelle would talk to the boys in the neighborhood about his war stories and give us tips on how we could do better than him. He also had a small arsenal of weapons. Two weeks after my 13th birthday, he invited me to his place and handed me a pistol. I want to tell you that holding this weapon in my hand scared me, but it didn’t. I was ready to snatch back the power so many people had taken from me, no matter what it took. My body started to shake as I thought about the revenge I would exact on the cops who constantly harassed me, but were nowhere to be found when the Latin Kings would pull up to the block, I imagined the frightened look on my stepmothers face when I pulled the gun on her the next time she called me stupid, or punched me in the face, I tried to think of what it would feel like to pull that trigger. I shuddered. I remember Lavelle laughing at my reaction, and then asking me if I was “ready to become a man?” I was, or at least I thought I was. He wasn’t convinced.
Yo, I can hear somebody comin in, open the shelf
His eyes bubblin, he said, "It was on"
I felt his palm troubled him shakin
Somebody stomped him out, his dome was achin
He placed me on his waist, the moment I've been waitin
My creation was for blacks to kill blacks
It's gats like me that accidentally, go off, makin niggaz memories
But this time, it's done intentionally
As a condition of keeping the gun, I had to use it at least once, In front of him. Lavelle's backyard was facing an abandoned building, where there were always stray cats. He caught one and put it in a Sunnyvale crate. If I wanted to keep the gun, all I had to do was shoot the cat. I couldn’t. He didn’t make a big fuss about it, instead he took the gun, let the cat go and walked me home. On the way there he gave me props for not pulling the trigger and said, “ain’t no power in a bullet young blood. Go to school”
I have thought long and hard about that experience, and the way it played out. I like to believe that in his own way, Lavelle was trying to help me, I also think he was successful. My thirst for power was driven by fear and loneliness, the “strength” that gun gave me was superficial. Sure, if I had the stomach to use it, the results would be devastating, but it would not fundamentally change the feelings of pain, hurt and fear that lived in me. There is no weapon that could give me power.