Hip Hop Culture for Grown-Ups
Words by Tony Grands
Freedom fight or fashion fail, you decide…
If you live in Los Angeles, you’ve undoubtedly seen its numerous vendors – sprawled from El Segundo to Watts – pacing in & out of traffic trying to sell stationary motorists their stolen toys, bunches of incense & body oils, illegally burned audio CD’s (as if people still buy compact discs), & more importantly, their Trayvon Martin merchandise.
Yes, Trayvon Martin merchandise.
In case you’ve forgotten who he is (since all the outrage has subsided), Trayvon Martin’s the 17 year old kid who was murdered by George Zimmerman, the self-appointed Neighborhood Watch Captain of a Sanford, Florida suburb. Zimmerman was found not guilty, & the rest is, unfortunately, history.
The shameless hustlers peddle t-shirts & hoodies with the infamous image of Trayvon’s hooded head on them for upwards of $10-$20 dollars a pop. Some of these sidewalk salesman also offer the potential customers an opportunity to take a gander at the
pirated bootleg movies they have available if it seems like the clothing doesn’t grab the impromptu consumer’s eye. The proceeds from the sale of the Trayvon haberdashery are undoubtedly going into someone’s pocket, & I’m willing to bet the Martin family sees zero percentage of this profit. I’ve overheard random people on the street talking about how audacious & unsettling this reality retail is, & last Saturday my children pointed out to me that “they have hats to match the shirts.”
One has to wonder if this is just a lowbrow attempt at making a few bucks off of the family’s dismembered memorial or a legitimate nod to the legacy of a boy who accidentally became a martyr. Like most L.A. natives who have become numb to sidewalk sales pitching, I see it as a quick way to make a fast buck by pimping & pandering a ghost. But the same thing was done to Malcolm X’s image in the late 1980s/early 1990s, when Spike Lee & the rap groups like X-Clan & Poor Righteous Teachers made Malcolm a household name for the second time in history. Swapmeets in urban America began using Malcolm’s face to sell shirts & hats like they’d procured Betty Shabazz’ permission. Nobody complained about it back then, but then again, the Internet wasn’t around yet. It goes without saying that any honestly-earned dollar is still a dollar indeed, but at some point it seems like self-imposed lines of respect & dignity should be drawn by the hustler in the proverbial metropolitan sand.
Compton Hip Hopper The Game (who is apparently scared to get married) has taken it upon himself to up the ante in Trayvon Martin fashion as he’s decided to forego buying any clothing with Martin’s likeness & instead had the image emblazoned upon his flesh. The rapper (whose real name is Jayceon Taylor) took to social media Monday, August 19 to reveal that he’d chosen to forever pay homage to the slain teenager with a tattoo of the immortal image of Trayvon staring innocently into a camera with his hoodie on. Is this body “art” a genuine Trayvon acknowledgment or is it a well-timed flail at attention to get his name back on the minds of a vastly forgetful, unforgiving Hip Hop community?
If Game really wanted to offer his celebrity to the cause, rather than publicly boasting about body mutilation he could’ve held a fundrasier for the aptly distraught Martin family, similar to what Nas did for the Young family. Or he could’ve organized a platoon of rap heavyweights to record a tribute album dedicated to the preservation of Trayvon Martin’s life & memory. Let’s not forget that The Game once paid for a tattoo of a butterfly on his face as a tribute to his grandmother, & after what seemed like a few days of cyberbullying, covered it with an “LA” insignia. Will he eventually cover this one too? Maybe not, actually, because he also has Eric “Eazy-E” Wright etched into his flesh as well. Only time will tell, I guess.
In the meantime, makeshift vendors will continue to hawk their wares as long as people continue to buy them. The sad part is that I believe most people that buy the unlicensed Trayvon Martin gear are doing so out of genuine respect for the boy’s tragic demise & eventual injustice. I can only hope, though, that those same people protested & rallied when the rest of the world did, because t-shirts have don’t equate to activism.
Dear America, do not be discouraged, for the fight for truth & justice continues. Just be cautious of whom & where you purchase your uniforms from.
Words by Tony Grands