Outside of Noisey’s ‘Chi-Raq’ feature, Chicago’s South Side was a subject that escaped me. All I knew about the city’s newest rap sensation Lil Mouse was that he’s fourteen, and I’m twenty seven, and I couldn’t watch his youtube videos because they ‘may be inappropriate’. A crushing sense of irony didn’t escape me; neither did it elude the man that introduced me to Mouse’s music, Brooklyn-based spoken word artist Shane Romero; who’s latest music video is a personal message to the young rapper, placing his violent lyrics into a historical and political context.
Since 16 Shane has been writing and performing prose with a venomous vernacular that holds more in common with Akala, The Last Poets, or Langston Hughes than it does the flowery fantasy of academically-sanctioned poetics. When he’s not performing on theatre stages or providing web content for Russell Simmons, he sources funds for the Special Olympics through the ‘Hungry & Humble’ non-profit he started with his brother, and leads a programme called ‘MANUP!’ that provides poetry and creative writing workshops in the cities he visits on tour.
As beautiful wordplay and biting observation combine, Shane’s heartbreaking breakdown of the tragedies that have touched his life are vivid, as he diagnoses the ill conditions that create these circumstances; ‘We have become mice exterminating ourselves, everyone trying to get their cheddar up, but not living long enough to eat from it, we must stop feeding on this poison’, and cuts to the crux of this deep, socially engineered problem; ‘In your songs, you talk about being a shooter, having shooters, and whipping foreign cars, but you are to young to drive, clearly being steered in the wrong direction.’
Musically, the ominous score from Cill Notez swells like dark clouds brimming with thunder; and as the content draws darker and the song reaches it’s midnight hour, tales of gun violence shift from statistics to stark reality. Romero’s dramatic phrasing counts through shells in a clip, each casing communicating as they unload to finally climax in an emotive dedication to Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, and Renisha McBride; followed by a parting wish for Mouse’s future.
‘I am just hoping that you get to live long enough to see success outside of WorldStarHipHop.’
There’s no doubt that an environment requiring you protect yourself produces a perspective similar to that of Mouse; but without a political scope to put that struggle into, the new wave of gang-related rappers from Chicago may remain unaware that their footsteps tread a path plotted to keep people divided, uneducated, and making money for others as their bodies churn through the prison industrial complex. On this new track Shane Romero has humbly sought to offset the effects of that degradation; with words that moved me the same way Mumia Abu Jamal’s ‘Death Blossoms’ moved me ten years ago; Mouse Trap re-affirms why this music is so important in the first place, and uses the medium to communicate what people need to hear; not cater to what they may want to hear to lead them further towards self-destruction.