Thursday, April 20, 2006

Proof of Life

When I saw the MTV news bulletin a week ago saying that Proof had been shot and killed the night before, I was struck dumb. I was just coming to learn how various friends from home were professionally, creatively, or socially connected to him. My first thought was on them and the loss of their friend, the loss of a cool person whom I might have had the opportunity to meet on my coming trip home. Juxtaposed to the cold passionless details of a news update, the sense of loss echoed. Then I thought of another news update I had heard not too long before.

When Jay Dee's passing due to kidney failure was announced, I was sad and hurt by life's seeming injustice. That a man my age would be taken down by an old man's disease. And the additional tragedy of a struggling community trying desperately to rebuild itself, losing such a talented member. But then I was oddly heartened. I dared to think that maybe a page has turned, and that Hip Hop's age of untimely deaths due to violence may have finally passed. That we would embrace the sadness and tragedy of Jay Dee's untimely passing and those who were otherwise inclined would come to value their lives and to value and respect the lives of others more. Maybe in the person of Jay Dee, God had sent Hip Hop a rainbow signifying the end of the violent flood.

Khary Kimani Turner, also a Detroit emcee-poet and a contributor to the Detroit Metro Times, tells of a Proof in the midst of personal transformation. He had begun to restore control over his affairs, mending fences with well-known rivals, solidifying his business endeavors, and reconciling with his estranged wife and mother of his children. In effect, he, like so many of us in our generation, had tired of an over-extended adolescence, and was truly crossing the threshold to adulthood. A line in The Desiderata reads "Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth." It's the folly of youth, with envy, acrimony, and guns formed the brutal mixture that halted Proof's transition before it could truly begin.

The Hip Hop catalog is dotted with paeans to our better natures, to peace, respect, and community. But alongside the bevy of more visible, and more popular songs, nearly pornographic in their portrayal of sex violence and consumption, these embattled songs and artists of substance ring hollow, even disingenuous. Pleading "Stop the Violence" on one hand, many laugh their way to the bank on the tired worn out backs of "fuck that bitch" and "blast that nigga!" Ironic that a once guerrilla industry fueled by bravado, defiance, creativity, independence, originality and authenticity, now rests contentedly cowed and neutered under the wing of a corporate-controlled music industry that had written it off as a fad thirty years ago.

So before "Self-Destruction II, The Payback" gets underway, I hope folks will take a minute to think about Proof's life interrupted. A bright guy, funny and sharp-witted. Straddling two worlds, and trying to reconcile them within himself: what to leave behind and what to take from either. A guy who's own choices and the choices of those he was with, on a night of relaxation and leisure, left him with no further choices and took him from our world all too soon.

Thinking about this, maybe folks will finally figure out that it will take more than eulogizing songs, newspaper clippings, mural pieces, and blogs like this to honor him. That showing their love and respect requires a deeper and more personal commitment. Like accepting and undertaking the transition to adulthood that Proof didn't get to finish. Tending to family, working hard, making peace with estranged friends and rivals alike, developing and sharing talent, growing up, and being a man. Then, if you wonder whether you've honored him properly, and the many others so carelessly lost before him, look to the lives of those who follow us, and there's your Proof.

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