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Straight outta EXMORE (trouble in paradise?)

October 13, 2011

A typical last-20-years rap video image, showing the crew walking towards the camera, with a lot of “N”s and “F”s being barked out in the ad-libs before the rap starts, blunts being smoked, and briefly flashing the girls, of course: big butted females in tight jeans; and then the whole crowd. Street signs from different corners in the neighborhood appear, and a white cop drives by looking and pointing menacingly at everyone. Lyrics include typical talk of gun violence, and shirts with “Free my Niggas” printed, including pictures. Towards the end, the chant of “F___ tha police”.

The police car and some of the other shirts, reads, not Compton, or even some New York City or other big city neighborhood, but rather EXMORE, a town of 1100 people, in the sleepy, peaceful looking Eastern Shore of Virginia; a place I’ve passed through on the way to and from Norfolk (most recently, a month ago), marvelling at how serene and forgotten in time this isolated stretch of mostly farmland is.

The northern gateway to the 200 mile long Delmarva peninsula area being an place formerly known as “State Road”, which had a huge interstate bus transfer station that is gone and basically  forgotten. This I recently added to my regular site here: Forgotten-milepost-clementes-travel-center The southern gateway is the long Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, isolating the area from the rest of the South.
The first “local” fixture you see coming from the bridge is the Cape Center, a store built to look like a red barn. Soon, you encounter the town of Cheriton, which along with Exmore, Onley and Accomac, have the main US13-Lankford Highway bypass the town, while a 13BR cuts through the town as the main street, with the rows of quaint businesses, many of them antique shops. (The buses used to stop in the towns, but now have either cut out the stops, or moved the agencies to along the main highway).

Then, you have the tiny village of Painter, with its general store (with a front porch) and main street next to the railroad track right beside the Lankford highway. (The track is between the two roads. Though the store appears to have been vacant for about 20 years, since the last recession apparently hit the area hard). The track then runs parallel to the highway through several towns, before veering off next to another road, to the Eastern Shore Railroad Museum at a restored old station in a similar town center. (Never saw any of that, since I’ve never been down any of the other roads).

Further up, Pocomoke City and Princess Anne, MD are somewhat bigger versions of these towns, (and you see the track again for a stretch leading into Salisbury), and four towns in Delaware (Greenwood, Harrington, Smyrna and Odessa) have the US13 split into two one way streets a block apart in town, with businesses or houses in between.

The whole thing just makes me think ♪”grrreeeen acres is the place to be…“♫

Here are a couple of sites where you can see pictures from the towns:

Among the scenes in the video are the little tiny houses and a compact country store; typical of what I have come to associate with the area. When being driven by my father, I used to like to stop in those stores (the ones on the 13, including Cape Center, and T’s Corner, the last stop in the Virginia portion of the peninsula; and which remains a Greyhound agency, so I still get to go in there), to get fireworks for the 4th of July, and to see what kind of regional products, like snack cake brands, they had. It was all so unique and different from everywhere else.

If the local brothas in VA wanted to make a gangsta rap video, you would expect it from at least Norfolk, Portsmouth or Richmond. But Exmore?

Passing through, and seeing black and white in different areas, remembering the black presence specifically around Painter, a few miles north, I wondered what race relations and the black community in general were like on this ten mile wide, 70 mile long southernmost  stretch of the peninsula. Wikipedia lists a 33% black population in the town. That would be a little more than 300 people. The video, assuming those are all locals, would therefore appear to contain a good chunk of them. I hoped they were all were getting along, (as one would think, from the idyllic picture you receive passing through, and on webpages for the area or towns), and that they weren’t still having the race conflicts that surface in other areas, or in political rhetoric in general.

So I’m wondering what exactly this video is about. It’s hard for me to make out modern rap lyrics. I usually catch only words and phrases here and there. What are these townspeople angry about? Was there some incident with the police, or just harassment in general? A whole bunch of their friends arrested, and that’s who they want freed? And if so, why? Crime? The Drug War? Is there a lot of racism in the area?
Could it be a joke? Just to highlight the unlikeliness of the whole image to the place? Like perhaps a bunch of big city dudes who just chose a small country town to make a video in? Or as one person suggested, the locals were bored and wanted their minute of fame?

Or maybe I’m making too much of it. Perhaps a lot of small towns, touching upon the last idea, have people who do something like this. “Southern rap” has taken over the genre, and is believed to be the cause of Nas’ claim that “hip hop is dead”. Though what he was referring to were the less serious stuff that is more focused on rhythm and dance, while this one is the “hard core” style he and others helped shape. But I would then think it would be from a more mainstream sort of countryside that you think of when you think of southern blacks. Like in Georgia, the Carolinas, or the racially infamous Alabama or Mississippi. Most of the places listed in the wiki article are the big cities, such as Atlanta, Houston, Memphis and New Orleans.

One of the comments to the video on YouTube even says that the area “makes Mayberry look like Compton!!”

However, noticing all the Spanish signs and Mexican restaurants, upon checking that out when I got home, I see that a lot of Mexican workers have moved into the area, to work the farms.
The main problem they are having, is driving “rogue” (uninsured, unregistered, etc) vehicles, and having accidents, killing, as it turns out, each other (either in other cars, or even walking along somewhere).

I would never imagine all of this was going on there either, from my by now semi-decade passes through the area. I guess no place is perfect.

But whether the rap is serious or a spoof, I think it’s a shame that this is the image blacks would use to “represent” themselves, even in such a bucolic looking environment. If there is legitimate racism or police harassment, a much better form of rap statement against this was The Message and the other similar raps spawned by this early “old school” hit. But it was what was known as the “mid-school”, with its rampant egoism, that began to change rap for the worst. When political consciousness was attempted to be brought back into it, in the original “new school” of 25 years ago, yet maintaining the aggressive egotism and becoming increasingly violent, it then quickly became “gangsta”, glorifying the street life rather than lamenting it as the old school messages had done.

This I discuss here:

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