In February 2007 I posted an open letter on my MySpace blog titled 'Guns of Brixton'. The letter was a reaction to the rising gun and knife crime in London at the time. In the 16 months since I wrote that letter things have gone from bad to worse and I believe the government and the police are as clueless as they ever were. I wanted to read back my letter this afternoon and post it here for you to read, I'm going to live with it for a few days before writing a follow-up.
Guns Of Brixton- An Open Letter
I have taken the last few days to put my thoughts on London's current gun crisis into a blog. I have decided that this morning would be the best time to debut my new single, which was written two years ago and has been the first single from my album for about a year. The song is called 'Guns Of Brixton' and I think it has a lot to do with what is going on in London right now. Here are the lyrics…
Oh oh oh oh ohhhhhhh the guns of Brixton/
This is close to my chest my heart beats through the beat/
Through all seasons there'll be heat on the street/
When I've got the magic metal I don't skin no teeth/
Because it only comes out in the deepest of beefs/
We first crossed paths when I was 14/
So much power in my hand from this little black machine/
Eleven capsules of harm in my beretta magazine/
It was hard to stay calm if you saw me on the scene/
Trynna prove something as the youngest of the team/
Now I try behave because I've got to go places/
It aint quite working and Trident is racist/
There's no special division for white cases/
It's all politics/
And MPs should stand for mostly pricks/
We should call them magicians because they only pull tricks/
And why'd you even bother voting because it's all a big fix?/
You can crush us/
You can bruise us/
But you'll have to answer too/
Ohhhhhh The Guns Of Brixton/
Here it goes again it's like a reload/
Why's it called heat when it feels so cold?/
It made me a hot head if truth be told/
If truth be told/ I watch too much telly/
Barked it/ Threw it on my waste burned my belly/
Dropped it off on my cousin/
It was worth every penny when I/
Gave him a ton to hold my gun/
It would make me see jail before I see the next sun so/
Me and my buddy/ we parted ways/
We had so much in common/
We both loved to blaze/
From the same neighbourhood/
Black and misunderstood/
If you saw either one of us it meant no good/
It's like we loved the palaver/
Hoods and balaclavas/
Little bad and bold and bowed to no master/
Should'a took something else to make me see faster/
If we rolled together/ It would end in disaster/
You can crush us/
You can bruise us/
But you'll have to answer too/
Ohhhhhh The Guns Of Brixton/
Bang bang death flies from a pistol/
Faces I know in every other issue/
When South London's press/
Were all in a mess/
Because arguments end once the triggers get pressed/
I'm trynna make hits and no time for hits/
And no time for rebores and masonry clips/
But if crims got fire arms/
And cops got fire arms/
I need a fire arm because if they fire arms/
I hate to say I don't wanna be a target/
Got myself a gun and then barked it/
Bought it on the old hand gun black market/
I don't wanna get into the rights and wrongs/
But because I have had my foes moved on/
For some reason we can't all get along/
That's life for me so when I put it in my raps/
I don't appreciate my art form being attacked/
You can crush us/
You can bruise us/
But you'll have to answer too/
Ohhhhh The Guns of Brixton/
For those of you that don't know. There have been 5 gun related fatalities in 3 weeks in London, the first 3 being victims under the age of 16 all of which took place in South London. I feel like I am in a privileged (or not so privileged) position to be able to talk about this phenomenon from a direct experience lead perspective on this tragic scenario.
It's a scary situation that we are facing; it's not that I didn't think we would get here, because I had a gun when I was 14 as well. I knew it wouldn't be long before other people my age got guns. Not everybody thinks as deeply as I chose to on the subject. I bought a gun when I was 14 years old, I was doing things at that time which meant I could afford to purchase a gun, I was finding myself in situations increasingly that made me feel like I needed a gun, I was 14 years old and smoking a lot of weed, the hyper activity, the hormones and the paranoia lead me down a dark path. Shortly after getting my hands on my first gun I fired. I fired at people. This is not a hyperbole I am absolutely stating facts, I don't want anybody to think I am using artistic licence to capitalise on this tragic situation. This is an issue very close to my heart and one that I want to do everything in my power to prevent from degenerating any further. I feel that I am in a position as a rapper signed to a major record label, releasing my music with wide distribution to talk about this issue and get the street level opinion out to as many people as possible. I feel I have a responsibility and a duty to do so.
Looking back on it. I was in need of something to do. I had very few options. I couldn't play football, I didn't have the mentality for boxing (I tried kick boxing but it didn't work out), I didn't feel like there was anywhere to go. A lot of people felt that way. We'd get together with that level of boredom and the stupidity goes through the roof. We were smoking a lot of weed, which never helped me and never helped any of my friends. It's difficult to know what the right choices are when there are so many negative factors around. I was in these kids positions; just having the gun was very intoxicating. I'm not going to sit here and be a hypocrite by saying guns aren't cool. Fuck it! Guns are cool! They look cool! I love watching films with guns! I loved playing with toy guns! They're cool! Pretending otherwise is pointless and counter-productive let's be realistic from now on. The consequences are not cool. Learning what the consequences are definitely is not cool. When you have that piece of metal you can be so easily drawn into silly situations. There was a time when I was in a "beef" and I pulled my trigger. I never thought that I might kill somebody, not until I got home did I think about that potential consequence. I was doing things at that time that meant I could afford to not have my gun, I paid somebody to take my gun and hide it, I didn't do that for positive reasons, I did that because if I ever needed it again I knew where I could go and get it without it being too much of a risk in my sock drawer. Some aren't as lucky as me (I totally believe it was luck, was it clever? Not really, was it fear? I never thought so at the time. All I can think is that I was lucky to have done what I did when I did it). Thank god I can't aim properly; I shudder whenever I think about what could have happened that day. I didn't kill anybody thank god! But I truly understand that type of power! Knowing you have that thing on you. You don't respect power. You don't respect authority. I know my estate better than the Police and I know full well that I can out-run them. I am invincible when I have this gun! I got rid of my gun because I could afford to! If I didn't I could have found myself getting mad at somebody else another day and have the target connect! These past few weeks there were 3 victims! I could easily have been one of the victims but I could even easier have been one of the perpetrators.
All I can do is give my viewpoint on the issue, let you know what it was, that I think lead me down that path, what it was that could have put me in that position. I want to reply to a lot of the press coverage and I want to reply to a lot of the political agendas that are rising to the surface at the moment. I do not claim to have all the answers, I will say though that I see some very obvious problems these kids face. We need to give these kids more to do! It's a simple solution but honestly it is a simple problem! I found music, I had a child, there's a lot of kids on the Internet making music, you would be surprised the effect that has had on street violence. These kids have an outlet that challenges them, that motivates them and that keeps them competitive, but it's mental competition, there's nothing but positivity in that. Biggie Smalls said about New York in the late 80s/ early 90s "Either you slanging crack rock or you've got a wicked jump shot" the fact of the matter is that the education system does not support children (male or female) who can not get their parents to do their coursework. My experience was that when I was doing my GCSEs, I was told "This series of exams will define your life" it was absolutely too much pressure for a 14, 15, 16 year old. I was discovering girls, I was in gangs, I was committing crimes, I was doing drugs, I was drinking when I could, how was I supposed to fit all that in along with a life defining series of exams? I couldn't. When I made my decision there was no coming back, mainly because nobody was there to change it, but I'd found what I thought I should be doing, I should be the coolest boy in my school, I should make as much money as possible, I should be the most feared person in my gang. Those were tasks; those were challenges, practical ones that I applied myself too. I had friends who were talented footballers, my school produced a lot of very talented footballers, they were supported to an extent throughout the school, which to this day I see as a positive thing, but when it came down to it, the opportunities to further their gifts and their potential were not brought forward because the system had a better idea of what these kids needed to be and needed to become, so many talented sports men have fallen by the wayside because they were not motivated, they were not made to feel confident, they were not occupied. The same can be said for any one talent a child may possess. If a child is great at English he's told he's nothing without his 5 A to Cs, does that seem sensible to you? If a kid is an amazing mathematician but can not translate his gift to English, Science and Technology he is doomed. Without those qualifications he can't even get a job in a bank! The pressure, the unnecessary pressure, put on children of a certain age is cruel and outdated. That has a lot to do with teen violence, drug abuse and pregnancy (all of which are massive problems in Britain, growing ones at that). These children are not occupied, they are not inspired, they are not motivated and they are not made to believe they have anything to contribute to society. Makes me want to pick up a gun just thinking about it.
The stats came out the other day. Out of the 20 richest countries Britain is the worst place for a child to grow up! Those stats aren't a coincidence! I have to raise a daughter in this environment! Because I know these evils I feel like a hypocrite. I feel like I'm in the perfect environment to raise my child, I can steer her away from the evils that I faced. I know about bad things, I've seen it, I'm breathing, I'm healthy, I'm happy. I believe there is a lot in parenting, there should be a way to teach parenting to these teenagers, I was 19 when my daughter was born. I didn't know what I was doing. I was sensible, I gave up a life, I knew how to behave. We all know how to behave! I could pretend to be a child my whole life. But it wouldn't get me anywhere, just sitting around waiting for the lottery until it's too late. It's a cliche but it's the truth! I don't have the time to be a child. I am raising a child! That's not possible! I can't tell my daughter what she should and shouldn't be doing if I'm doing them. My philosophy is to lead by example. I had good people around me, family members and friends that made raising my child easier, I had examples to follow and I had a pretty clear idea in my mind of how I wanted to raise Paige. I want her to feel blessed because she has two parents who love her and that will guide her throughout her life. The fact that we are officially in the worst rich country to raise a child makes my task extremely difficult, there are parents less dedicated then I consider myself to be, parents with more than one child, potentially with different fathers to different mothers who will without doubt find it more difficult than I do with my one child. You create an environment such as the one you have and you continue to stack the odds heavily against that mother and/ or that father.
David Cameron said this week that "Society is broken" or something to that affect, he also said that fathers should be made to stay with their children. Honestly, as crudely as you want to read it, David Cameron should suck balls! You can't force somebody to stay somewhere. If he's there and he's making things unhappy in the home then we'll raise a future generation of psychopaths! At the end of the day I think you can live a perfectly fulfilling and happy childhood in a single parent household. I'm not saying it won't be difficult! There are times you will need a dad! But you can survive it! You don't need the 2 people you love the most in the world hating each other each day, you don't need the major male roll model in your life on the streets committing crimes, doing drugs, selling drugs etc. That is counter-productive, what does a child have to gain from that environment? I'd challenge David to stay with his kids if his wife hated him or if he hated his wife. The suggestion is absurd, a cheap quotable to maintain Dave's stagnant policy-less profile until Tony steps down, Gordon steps up and the nullified British Political system can get on with promising some shit they don't intend to deliver and more photos of MPs licking chocolate off of prostitute's foreheads can fill our front pages. I grew up without my dad. I had quite a bit of contact with him. I used to get sent to him a lot. The relationship was different though. He didn't do anything for me. My mum's kind of crazy and she loved to make me feel like it was my fault that my dad didn't do anything for me. I laugh about it now because I don't think everybody's mum is as crazy as mine! Our relationship improved as time's got on though. It's strange, me and my pops don't have a father son relationship. We're more like friends. He can't tell me things and he doesn't try. He might give me a piece of advice now and then but he's more like a friend. I can't say how he effected me, I don't know the other side, I had issues with authority, I didn't do well in school, whenever I've had a job I've always been "About to get fired", I don't even want to talk about the police. I feel like I've always had authority issues. Did my dad fit David's criteria for a dad staying with his child? If so, what good has it done me? What bad has it done me? I'd like to know what Dave makes of my up bringing.
Outside of the effect society is having on the children of Britain I feel it appropriate to draw light on something I find to be equally disturbing. Politicians such as Lee Jasper who are getting on a bit, you can hear it in his views, his opinions, he sounds like an outsider trying to merge with us, he's saying things he thinks we want to hear, he's out of touch and he's missing the mark every time. He does not speak for me and does not speak for anybody I know. The people are here, they don't agree with him! The majority of us anyway. There's an issue in that Lee Jasper claims to speak for "The Black Community" and I'm telling you that the majority of the people he thinks he represents have never heard of him. That's a dodgy situation; I can't speak for anybody but myself, because that's what I do. I would never claim to speak for somebody else, politicians who are elected into power have that right to an extent, but there was no black vote for Lee Jasper I can assure you. There is no "Black community" we don't have regular meetings and discuss Jerk Chicken recipes; there are poor areas in which black people predominately live. The way Lee Jasper pops up every time something negative happens to a black person in Britain is vomit inducing! The way that him and his best friend Ken have priced poor people out of our own city, making us feel like we're not wanted and that we can't be trusted is one of the great political disgraces in our city's history!
Operation Trident is an issue I touched on in my song and one that has frustrated me for years, what is the difference between a black on black crime and a crime? Do the officers speak patois? Yes, yes they do! There is no respect for the Police in my community, they have become a non-factor! I know EXACTLY what I can get away with and what I run the risk of getting caught doing but when it comes down to it we all know that in Brixton you arrest yourself, if you get caught you went too far that one time or you just weren't smart enough that one time. When the first child was killed 3 weeks back there was a splash in the South London Press, The Voice and The Nation, but the ripples really didn't travel too far. By the time the second murder took place the issue had spread a little further, maybe BBC LDN cared, maybe it got a headline on the main news and an inside column in the dailies, but why is it that only by the third murder was it that there was an epidemic? It's been an epidemic since I was 14! We had police men standing on Brixton high-street searching cars for guns on Friday, a nice PR exercise, they can make Brixton look like a war zone, make it look like an isolated problem and pray there's no shootings over the weekend so we can all get back to thinking about the F.A Cup 3rd round and how Jade said that Shilpa was a "Doo doo head". Poor policemen, poor politicians, 2 shootings over the weekend, the same amount of shootings there were last weekend, the weekend before that and the weekend before that. Only they seem to be a little bit interested in us this week, aren't we the lucky ones? The same problems we face are igniting in North, East and West London, Nottingham, Manchester, Birmingham, Luton, Liverpool and a whole lot more places in Britain. Either they don't know this, or they're doing a hell of a job keeping it out of the public eye. Unfortunately criminals care as much about News Night as they do about Big Brother and will not stop in their paths for a couple of dead kids in South London.
It's scary to say; but honestly I can't see it getting better for a little while. I'm still waiting to hear about the first school shooting. I'm absolutely terrified about that! I've got a lot of little cousins between the ages of 12 and 18 who are these kids, my little brother is that age! They're in college and school! I don't like funerals! I can't deal with funerals! I don't want to be put through that! I feel like it gets closer and closer every time one of these incidents happens. You just have to read The South London Press, it's like watching Channel U you know every other person you see in there "Wow I know you" "Wow I know your family" "Wow I went to school with you!", Streatham Ice Rink that's 5 minutes from my house, it's a bus stop away! It's hard to comprehend.
This is close to my chest my heart beats through the beat.
I'm not going to let this die like those kids. We have a problem and it needs sorting.
Marvin Thomas aka. Marvin The Martian
Since I wrote that letter Paul Simonon rejected sample clearance on the song 'Guns of Brixton' (a defining moment in my career thus far to be frank) and my blog has been quoted in a Guardian article on the subject. I have since taken the words and the concept of the song 'Guns of Brixton' and turned it into the lead song from my forthcoming album 'Devil In The Distance' a song called 'Goodbye'.