In order to answer that question I gotta go back, way back. I tend to think of myself as the product of a hodgepodge of many, often conflicting, backgrounds and experiences. As a second generation kid to African….well, Ghanaian immigrants (I’ll explain why that matters later), but back when I was a young buck, I was just “African” and that was not the thing to be.
Grew up in the DMV, or what my generation called “The Area” (pronounced Urea) back in the day. And by “DMV”, I mean DC, “Murrland” and Virginia.
Things were different back then. During the 80’s (and early 90’s) there was a clear social hierarchy for those of us who lived in ‘urban’ areas. DC was, of course, the de facto gatekeeper for the areas inside (and just outside) the 495 Beltway.
Though not as well known as cities like Chicago, New York or Miami, Washington “Chocolate City” DC cultivated a proud and unique urban culture for decades. A culture, a style of music and that unmistakable DC twang, that eventually came to be emulated by portions of the two states surrounding it; namely Prince Georges County, better known as “PG County” and to a lesser extent Montgomery “Mo” County (both in MD). As Alexandria was just across the river, they held it down as best they could for VA.
Growing up in PG was like having an older cousin in DC that was a little bit cooler, pulled more broads, had better hands and ‘went harder’ than you. In fact, a lot of folks in PG actually had cousins in the city and wouldn’t hesitate to LET YOU KNOW. Even so, the tension was real and sometimes spilled out into the mother of all social scene’s, THE GO-GO. A local genre worthy of its own write up, GO-GO music was as much of a social experience as it was musical. Every week, without fail, crews from various neighborhoods in the city and PG would arrive at a Show en masse, prepared to rep their home turfs. But lets backup for a second.
After a brief period of white flight during the late 70’s, the demographics of PG county began to change. Within a few years it had emerged as a predominately African American county, one of the largest in the country in fact. Of course, there were still enclaves of multi-racial communities here and there, but by the mid 80’s PG was unapologetically BLACK. Many African American’s were drawn by stable, well paying government jobs in the region. Other black professionals were drawn by PG’s proximity to the city. African immigrants, primarily from Ethiopia, Ghana and Nigeria, along with Trinidadians, Jamaicans and Haitians from the Caribbean also flocked to the region with the hope of pursuing the American Dream.
But like anywhere else in the world, life can vary greatly depending on ones zip code. The crack epidemic and all of the violence that it entailed had, by now, begun to ravage the city…spillover into PG was inevitable. By the early 90’s, there were parts of PG whose reputation for violence had even come to rival DC’s.
Enter the GO-GO scene, where the most go hard dudes would congregate in the Pit (same idea as a mosh pit) participating in the usual Call and Response activity with the bands who were on the line-up. Sometimes, and not unexpectedly, things got violent. All manner of beefs were either settled or kicked off in the Pit, and the detailed results of those confrontations would not only make their way through the streets, but also through the hallways of every connected school in the region. By lunchtime on Monday, dozens of schools would have already been debriefed on the weekends activities…a pretty amazing feat actually. In the event that beefing crews attended the same school, fights or worse would ensure on school grounds. More often than not, the most violent acts occurred elsewhere and by the early 90’s, the violence had reached epidemic levels.