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Fly Guy, Ozz and Camelot, members of Ominus Jam Patrol

Livin' in North Park ain't no trap, when you're chillin' to the music and you live to rap!

Fly: "I'm still not used to in livin’ here, ’cause in L.A. we had us six or seven stations." - Image by Jim Coit
Fly: "I'm still not used to in livin’ here, ’cause in L.A. we had us six or seven stations."

Late one morning during spring vacation. Fly Guy and Ozz and Camelot, three members of the rap group Ominus Jam Patrol, sit back relaxing — chilling out, they say — on the sectional couch in the North Park apartment where Camelot, a burly, blue-eyed blond with an ivory pendant dangling from his left ear lobe, lives with his mother. If Camelot were on stage at the Palisade Gardens, where he sometimes performs, he would have a microphone in his hand and a speaker by his side. Behind him would be a DJ with headphones on, intercutting and dovetailing music from two different records. The rapper and the DJ would be urging the crowd onto the floor to “turn this party out.” Camelot might point out the DJ to the crowd by directing a swatch of rap toward him:

Ominus Jam Patrol. “We are tryin’ hard right now to establish ourselves. Some guys just don’t wanna work at it."

Now the tables keep on turning.

And the DJ’s fingers burning.

Switching hard with the little black disc.

While I ask one time

In the middle of my rhyme

DJ switch that mix!

At home, it’s the record player. Camelot, snapping his fingers, rises from the couch and puts on Arcade Funk's “Search and Destroy.”

Ozz: “Only a certain amount of moves you can do, twistin’ and turnin’, until after a while you beginnin’ to see the same thing."

Ozz, a muscle-bound and brooding sixteen-year-old whose furrowed, worried brow could belong to somebody four times his age, slides across the couch to sit next to Camelot. The two young men’s feet pick up the beat of the synthesizer bass line reverberating a funk beat on the stereo. From the first words, the duo’s shoulders bob rhythmically. Camelot takes a solo, then the two trade lines and Ozz solos — his voice rolling up from deep down in the solar plexus. Then they take lines together Ozz’s bass buzzes resonantly. His lines slice percussively into Camelot’s surly tenor enunciations. The rise and fall of lines produces a quasi-melody, but like all rap, the emphasis is on rhythm. Their hands, always moving (to keep people’s attention focused on you, Camelot says), execute peculiarly graceful motions as the two rappers demonstrate several stanzas of “Freak Rock,” the rap they wrote together:

Camelot had always hung around the Palisade Gardens Roller Skating Rink on University Avenue, a mile from the apartment. His grandfather has been rink operator and part owner for thirty-nine years.

Everybody in this place

Get up off your seats

Clap your hands and strut your stuff

To the freak rock party beat.

’Cause we’re the Ominus, Dominus,

Takin’ it, makin’ it,

Switchin’ it, groovin’ it,

In-your-town doin' it,

Ominus Jam Patrol.

The late morning light through the living room window picks out sun-bleached streaks in Camelot’s shoulder-length hair and highlights Ozz’s mahogany-dark cheekbones. At the other end of the couch, tall, scrawny fifteen-year-old Fly, grinning and stamping his huge feet, claps out the beat.

Your doctor, your lawyer, your business employer.

They’re people with college degrees. Well, I stake my name and my claim to fame

In social-rapology.

No one who has turned on a radio or television in the past year has not heard rap, the rhymed, rhythmic storytelling that bips along staccato-fashion on top of heavily funk-inflected, often polyrhythmic music. (Until recently, the music for rap consisted of instrumental breaks of records or the completely instrumental B sides of twelve-inch singles. More and more rappers have begun to use computer-programmed synthesized music, especially written and recorded for them.) With break dancing, graffiti, record scratching (a DJ’s technique that turns the turntable arm into a percussion instrument, creating percussive sound effects by spinning a record backwards and forwards while carefully keeping the needle in its groove) and mixing (an interplay between two records on two turntables), rap is one aspect of “hip-hop,” or the “urban culture movement.”

Hip-hop grew up during the Seventies in the tough and, at that time, gang-ridden South Bronx neighborhood portrayed in the gang warfare films Bronx Warriors and Fort Apache: The Bronx. (The term comes from the chorus of the Sugarhill Gang's 1979 hit, “Rapper’s Delight”: “To the hip-hop, don’t stop/Don't stop that body rock.”) Once the urban culture movement took hold, young South Bronx residents began attending clubs and discos where free-lance DJs, toting portable sound equipment and cardboard boxes stacked with records, sponsored parties that promoted break-dance groups and rappers. The DJ displaced the gang fighter and became South Bronx’s new cultural hero. Gang fighting dissipated. “Instead of fighting, gangs said, ‘Let’s rap against each other an’ save us some broken bones,’” Camelot says.

Of the three Ominus Jam Patrol members, the only one who seems to have come into his full growth is seventeen-year-old Camelot (Ronnie Williams), who heads the group (“I’m sworn to fun,/Proud and true,/The hynotizing king leader/of this crew/I’m down by law,/ the vanilla man,/ and, this is where/I make my stand”). Six feet tall, the senior at Garfield continuation school walks as clumsily in among the living room furniture as he does down University Avenue. He walks as if he does not yet believe the tall, heavy-boned body is his. His is a poignant swagger, a touching try at dash and cool.

Ozz (Derrick Flynn), when the group met the evening before, had been more talkative. This morning, chin on his hand, withdrawn from the conversation, he studies the brown shag carpet as if it had some message for him. Pulling at the cuffs of his fingerless red bicycle gloves, he mumbles an explanation. “I gotta few things on my mind. Some problems in the neighborhood last night.”

Camelot — he took his name from tales of King Arthur — had always hung around the Palisade Gardens Roller Skating Rink on University Avenue, a mile from the apartment. His grandfather has been rink operator and part owner for thirty-nine years. From his father, who in his teens and twenties was a professional drummer (and is now a professional psychic), Camelot inherited a drum set. Four summers ago a friend suggested he and Camelot write a rap. Camelot put together a rhyming story about what was happening to him as he “was going up through life.” From then on, he says, “rap just stuck to me.” On the street, in parks, at school, at Purple Rain in Normal Heights, and at the Palisade Gardens, Camelot was rapping. “It gave me a little thing,” he says. And then in 1984 Camelot and twenty-five other local rappers entered a rap contest. Camelot won seventy-five dollars and was named San Diego's number-one rapper. Winning, he says, just blew him away.

Rap left its isolation in East Coast neighborhoods and came to national attention in the summer of 1979 with “Rapper's Delight.” The music has gone from pre-1979 homemade cassette tapes passed around on the streets to twelve-inch records from independent producers, and now has reached LPs. The records of Kurtis Blow, Whodini, Run-D.M.C., and the Fat Boys have begun to go gold — without shaking off any raw outlaw attitude or rancorous edge. And it’s “not near to dying out,” Camelot says. In fact, to people he associates with, he says, “rap is the trend they’re more and more turning to. Rap is a fad that’s staying around.”

New rap expressions and words — like the word “fresh,” for what is original and different; or “def,” meaning cool, okay, superior; or “toy,” indicating the amateur or inadequate — “generate,” says Ozz, who likes, he notes, to “hear a word / put out come ’round. A word of mine may go around for six months and then someone come to me with it. Rap, it circulates like rumors.”

San Diego has plenty of rap battles going on, Camelot says. “Like if I was coming to your part of town and saying, ‘I am the baddest rapper, and you’re a sucker DJ,’ that would be a kind of insult and we'd have to have…”

“ . . . A verbal battle.” Ozz, who speaks more slowly than Camelot, finishes the sentence.

“And if you won, you’d be the baddest then,” says Camelot.

Ozz says there are verbal battles up at Hoover High, where he is a senior. “Like when someone bites your lines — that is when you hear someone say a line that was yours — then you get in a battle about that. You make up a rap about that person.”

“Sometimes,” Camelot says, “battling just starts off with some basin’, some casin’, some name-callin’ back and forth. If you are in a bunch of people, the other guy, he will say something funny so everyone laughs. Then you have to come back with something better than that. In rapping you have to try to outdo yourself. If you were to start rapping on me, I would have to try to prove myself, come back and say something better.” Ozz has never been bested. But Camelot has, several times. “I was doing this concert with other rappers, and outside in the parking lot we was rapping back and forth before the show. This guy, he came back on me and blew me away.”

“It's a humiliation,” Ozz nods. “A humiliation.”

“He just devastated me,” Camelot declares, “up in front of all these people. Afterward I went home and started writing things down, thinking I’ve got to best this guy.”

Rap may not be dying out, but according to the group, breakdancing is. “Six or seven months ago,” Fly (Darrick Flye) figures, “that’s all ever’body was doin’. This man [indicating Ozz], was wavin’ and poppin’.”

“Only a certain amount of moves you can do, twistin’ and turnin’, until after a while you beginnin’ to see the same thing. Like lookin’ at the same ol’ picture at the wall, same ol’ TV show on television ” Ozz complains.

Camelot turns to Ozz and shrugs, “But you can rap about so many different things.”

“Drugs,” Fly grins.

“Gangs," Camelot says.

“The economy," Ozz puts in.

“‘The stress and the strife,/Stay away from the freebase pipe’ and all that, and little fantasy things is always good," Camelot says. “Like I had this rap that goes . . .’’ he sets the beat with his right foot and hits hard on the first syllables of each line . . . “ ‘When I die,/Bury me deep,/ Plant two turntables by my feet/Put the music close to my head,/So when you close the casket/I can rap the dead.’ "

Rappers, Ozz says, are respected at school. “The word gets around pretty fast that you a rapper. People will come to you and ask you to say a rap. Even a few teachers know that I rap. But I do not broadcast it, I try to let the people come to me. I am not trying to be flamboyant or anything, just calm, cool, and collected." He yawns and stretches.

Camelot, returning to his theme of “making it," says, “I feel personally myself that if I was given a chance to make a record, that there are so many ideas I have that the general public would appreciate. But it is a matter of us being in the right place at the right time."

Now seems like the right time to the three-year-old group. Until recently, according to Camelot, punk has been the strongest musically inspired cultural influence among his age group in San Diego. “Punks," he says, “they got their own culture. The Mohawk haircuts, the paint, ripped Levi’s, different colored hair. It’s the trends."

“Most of the people I know just purely love music, period," says Fly.

“It’s so much power in music. You get two and three boxes and put them together. Like down in the park on Saturdays and Sundays, people get together and see whose box is the loudest, see whose can blast the loudest," Camelot says. “ ‘Let’s see who can bump the hardest.' If everybody went to the park without radios or nuthin’, it’d be just like . . .’’

"... Sittin’ there like zombies," Fly says.

On a typical afternoon, they say, they sit around “talkin’, checkin’ out the scene, the girls, listenin' to 98.5."

“In that," says Fly, “you don’t really have a choice, the station. That’s what I'm still not used to in livin’ here, ’cause in L.A. we had us six or seven stations."

“Down here it’s just like one station," Camelot agrees.

“Well," Fly gazes at his wide palms, “maybe we got one and one-half, ’cause 90 is all right sometimes."

“We are tryin’ hard right now to establish ourselves," Camelot says about Ominus Jam Patrol, adding that the group has been going through a lot of “people changes." “Some guys," he frowns, strain pinching his voice, “just don’t wanna work at it. It’s hard work. This is what I explained to this man here," Camelot indicates Fly, fidgeting in his seat at the corner of the couch nearest the door, “when he said that he wanted to learn "

“Rappin’ is time-consuming if you want to be good," Ozz puts in. He began rapping early in 1984. Rapping, he believes, is a skill that a person learns, like reading or writing poetry. “It’s about self-discipline. If you just lag and run around and do this and that and just have a few lines, you ain’t gonna be nowhere, ’cause other people are just gonna take that extra time. This man right here," Ozz nods toward Camelot, “he practices a lot more than I do. I am in no real big hurry. But I am not taking it like it’s easy. It’s not easy. It’s hard to do. In rapping you run out of things to think about. You have to get ideas. You have to read, build up your vocabulary.”

Ozz occasionally raps at the skating rink, but not for money. Asked if he, like Camelot, would like to make it professionally as a rapper, Ozz modestly admits, “I have a mind to, most definitely."

I’d like to try," interjects Fly. “I could put together a devilish rap. I’d like to see new places. The farthest I’ve ever been is to Phoenix, Arizona."

But Ozz, who spars with a friend to keep himself in good physical condition, also considers becoming a boxer. At least, he says, “I’d like to learn the techniques of boxing." He points out that Muhammad Ali was a rapper as well as a boxer. “When he fought in Manila," Ozz says, “he jus' put a little thing, a little rap together about what happened to him."

“Muhammad? ‘Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee’? Whew," Fly grins. “He’s the original. He used to be my idol, Muhammad Ali, before he got fat and old."

“He was the thrilla’," Ozz nods.

Ominus Jam Patrol claims to be one of the few mixed-race groups (Ozz and Fly are black), and Camelot believes, the first. “If we hurry up and get a record," Camelot theorizes, “it’s going to be black and white. It’s going to be like what Michael Jackson runs. If you see a photo of his concerts, you see black, white, Mexican, Oriental, all of the races together. It’s a collage."

Rap rises out of black urban culture, where to be verbally apt, verbally stylish, is a status-granting masculine trait. Rap has its roots in the informal verbal dueling known variously as sounding and signifying, woofing, playing the dozens, Joning, screaming, cutting or chopping or toasting, the kind of verbal gaming that sounds through black neighborhoods. Rap roots go back to apocalyptic and didactic black preaching, to call-and-response church services, prison poets and toasters, to so-called “race" humor, to the poems of the Last Poets and Gil-Scott Heron, to white-bashing films like Superfly and Shaft and, more recently, Beverly Hills Cop, to radio DJs, the basic get-down funk of James Brown (whom some rappers revere as the Godfather of Rap as well as of Soul, citing Brown tunes such as “Get Up, I Feel Like Being a Sex Machine" and “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud").

Asked if most rappers aren't black, Camelot winces as he forms his reply.

“ ‘It's a white man rappin'?’ some people ask when they hear me, but then they come over and say, ‘Congratulations' "

Camelot takes some flack because so many of his friends are black and he dates black women. His critics, he says, tell him, “You’re a Wanna Be, you wanna be black. But I say," Camelot raises his voice and makes a fist, “Hey, I'm white and I’m proud. It’s just what I like to do." But sometimes the criticism gets to him. “I’ll sit there and think, ‘Maybe they’re right.’ ’’

Camelot looks to Ozz as if for an explanation, and Ozz suggests, in a deliberate pace and soothing tone, gazing directly into Camelot’s wince, “It could be a part of jealousy, too, because you’re so good."

The three young men watch smoke spiral up from a burning cigarette in the ashtray on the coffee table. The living room is so still that even with the nattering argument brimming off the television soap opera that Camelot’s older sister is watching, even with the windows closed, traffic on University, a block away, can be heard.

Camelot, who has explained that his parents are divorced and that he visits with his father, who lives in Louisiana, breaks into the silence with the observation that he sees “different races getting along better in California than down in the South. It’s like 200 years ago there. I’d be casted out from my family for hanging out with these guys. If they're cool. I’m gonna kick it with them. If they was green I'd hang with them.”

“Yeah,” the group choruses. “Yeah.”

Fly is a sophomore at Hoover High. His teachers say he has a high IQ, but Fly makes barely passing grades, because, he admits, he often skips school. Fly taps his outsized feet — he is wearing the popular Velcro-fastened “kicks” or tennis shoes — while he talks. Fly has been rapping since Christmas, and he loves it. As much, he figures, as basketball. “Whenever you ain’t got nuthin’ to do? Rappin’ brings up your mood. It’s cheerful, an’ makes you feel like you’re doin’ somethin’, makin' your own music.”

It’s a jungle out there, hah-huh,

I say your rent is due, your money is due.

You're losin’ your job and you’re sad and blue.

You make a loan at the bank And you move to the city.

But the sun goes down and life ain’t pretty.

You thought you were movin' to the City of Dreams,

But you became the victim of a moneymaking scheme.

It’s a jungle out there!

I said there was once a lad but he was young

And he led a life that wouldn’t last too long.

He played hooky from school.

He chilled with the crew.

He played with the girls but he made bank too:

He was a pimp, a thief, a drug distributor.

He shoulda went to school

And learned to use a computer.

It’s a jungle out there!

I once knew a girl.

Her name was Bunny,

The things she did at night Were not at all funny.

She's a lady of the night She sold delight Her mind was loose.

But her skirt was tight.

On the boulevard It's a pitiful scene.

But what’s even worse.

She was only fourteen.

I am going to tell you a story About a friend of mine.

His name was Joe And everything was fine.

Till he met with a friend That ruined his life.

And the name of his friend Was a freebase pipe.

Joe had to steal to support his habit.

He would play you like a fool.

Then run like a rabbit.

I begged Joe to stop But Joe, Joe wouldn't.

I know’d Joe was quick.

But he couldn't dodge a bullet.

So Joe made a lick late one night.

But the victim had a gun And took Joe's life.

It’s a jungle out there!

“I did that,” Fly explains, “just thinkin' about different situations you come across every day. Like, about the girl named Bunny? It's really about my stepsister. She lives up north. What's happenin’ to her is the same ol’ same ol’ that happens to anybody else. She's nineteen now and she’s got a kid and she’s on the county… People my age like rap because it’s true.”

The Ominus Jam Patrol does a little graffiti, just a few pieces on alley walls, but no large-scale writing. What they do, they say, is usually quickly “bombed,” or painted over. On the West Coast, perhaps because there are fewer older, ruined buildings and far less mass transit, more trees, more grass, better weather, hip-hop has concentrated less on graffiti and more on break dance and rap.

Until he was twelve, Ozz lived in Philadelphia. “It was rowdy and wild — people robbin’, killin’. My mama didn't want me followin’ all that, which is why we moved. “Eighty, ninety percent of the kids that live there [on the East Coast] can do breakin’, rappin’, and graffiti. They see graffiti as part of breakin' and rappin’. But I don't see all that as a necessity, as something that you have to be qualified in.”

Fly echoes Ozz with a similar story about his parents’ move, four years ago from Los Angeles. “We moved down here from West L.A. to keep me out of trouble. There was lots of gangs, rapes, killings, an’ my mom didn't want me to grow up around that. When we first lived there it was middle class, and then our neighborhood started getting worse and worse. It’s pretty wild now, an' we never even go back.”

North Park is no South Bronx, an area considered worse than the worst of Harlem, and without Harlem’s cultural and political resonance, a neighborhood where abandoned buildings, gutted by arson and vandals, lean crazily against each other on rubble-strewn lots and fifteen-story low-income housing projects harbor drug dealers. But Camelot, and Ozz and Fly, both of whom live three or four blocks away from Camelot’s apartment, don’t think much of the neighborhood. They say North Park has changed in the last four years. “People moved in and people moved out,” Fly taps his fingers, beating out the words.

“Things are changing in the city, without a doubt,” rhymes Camelot. “Rent is higher,” says Ozz.

“This,” Camelot indicates the modest but comfortable apartment, “costs my mother [who drives a shuttle bus at the airport) four hundred something.”

Camelot and Fly insist that North Park has the highest crime rate in the city. “This is because,” says Ozz, “from across town they come over here and steal.”

“They don't steal from their own neighborhood,” complains Fly.

“It's because it’s more kicked back here,” replies Camelot.

“It’s laid back,” Ozz says. “Compared to Southeast,” Camelot interjects, “I wouldn't even consider North Park a poor neighborhood.” “Compared to where I come from in L.A.,” Fly says, “this is not poor.” “Compared to Philadelphia,” Ozz puts in, “this is not bad.”

“It depends where you go. The farther south you go, the better it gets,” Camelot tells the group. All nod agreement.

“Allowing immigrants to come into our country, that's a problem,” Ozz says, noting that North Park has “filled up with boat people.” Fly, suddenly looking troubled, asks Camelot and Ozz, “You heard about what happened to little Rod? Marie’s brother? He got run down. The guy didn’t even slow down. Rod went to the hospital. Now he got both his legs in a brace.”

“He didn’t stop?” Ozz asks.

“He didn't even slow down,” Fly responds. “Little Rod was laying in the street, right up there at Thirty-eighth and University.” The group gets quiet, looks down again at the carpet.

“People don’t really see what’s happening today,” Camelot insists. “If I could, I would put a disguise on Reagan and have him walk around with us and meet the people we meet, he wouldn’t like it none. He caters to the rich. He’s not really bending over backwards to help people on our level. Look at the thing with Ethiopia, who’s trendin’ over backwards? The musicians are. Reagan isn’t giving a couple of mill. And he doesn’t pay much taxes.”

Camelot launches into the rap he calls “2000 AD,” his “message rap”:

Hold it, hold it, hold it, Ronald Reagan,

Can’t you see We’re on the verge Of having World War III?

I want to live to see 2000 AD.

A nuclear bomb under construction.

In reality it’s self-destruction How do you expect us to act or live When everything’s been made radioactive?

And then who will you be leading When all of us are dead and bleeding?

A child is bom in prosperity.

In knowledge of the ways of technology*

Little child, hold your breath,

’Cause you’re headed

For a fate worse than death.

“Since you all mention Reagan, that reminds me of a dream I had a week ago,” Fly says. “A lot of people want to shoot Reagan, cause him some problems. I would like to sit down with Reagan and smoke a joint with him, you know, and just talk to him, find out what kind of neighborhood he’s from. Since he’s setting all the rules. I’d like to find out where he came up. Take him around the neighborhood, show him what’s up.

“In this dream I just chatted with him. We talked about how he was cuttin’ some of the budget from the old people for the defense program. We got in the car and took him to my elderly family, to my grandmother and their friends, showed him how they scuffled, showed him her check.’’ Camelot and Ozz laugh derisively.

“I don’t call myself a politician,” Fly continues, “but you shouldn’t take from the old people. He’s going to be well taken care of for the rest of his life. What if he was on social security?” Fly asks. “And as an actor he made all that money. Ever see any of his movies, Ozz? They were all shitty. How he made all of that money, I don’t know.”

Camelot was once a member of PBI — Playboys Incorporated. “That’s one of the few gangs,” says Fly, “where you’ll really find all races. Except there are no Orientals in it.”

“They not too many pure-bred whites in there either,” Ozz says.

“True,” continues Fly. “PBI’s mostly black, Mexican, and a few Filipinos.”

“But in East San Diego,” says Camelot, “It’s not primarily white, black, or nothin’. It’s everybody. So quite naturally everybody can join the social clubs.”

“PBI ain’t one of the rougher gangs, it’s really not,” says Fly. “As far as being in a gang, PBI’s a piece of cake.”

“The harder gangs, like ESP — East Side Pirue — the Lincoln Park Bloods, if you was to walk through Lincoln Park,” says Camelot, pointing at Fly, “they’d kill him. They’d probably kill me, too.” The trio laughs, harshly. “I know a lot of members out of the different gangs where I go to school. It’s a meltin’ pot inside school. If you was a Blood and I was a Cuzz, we’d be kickin’ it together in school. But as soon as you leave school. . .”

Fly goes on to explain, “Each neighborhood distinguishes theirself by different colors. Like him and me, if we were to walk through Lincoln Park and we got on our blue, we’d be a target.”

“ ’Cause,” Camelot carries on, “they’re red and green. They got the red rags, the green rags.”

“Around your head,” Fly says.

“Stuck in your pocket,” says Camelot.

“But,” Fly insists, “I wear what I please, whatever I come across in the drawer or the closet.”

Gang life “is the easiest thing to rap off of,” says Fly. “That’s why I don’t.”

“In gangs,” Ozz puts in, “Ever'body’s a king in his own little world.”

“A lot of the girls are in gangs too,” Fly says despairingly. “Like the PBI have the PGI. But girl gangs down here ain’t that bad. They are bad in L.A.”

Fly has never belonged to a gang. “Never,” he says emphatically. “That’s not my style. Usually gang members are people who don’t go to school, who get high, hang out, can’t find a job, don’t want to get a job.”

“It gives them some self-security,” says Camelot, who admits that he was trying to be accepted, trying to be something he was not when he was a gang member. A tough guy. He got out of it only when twice his life was in danger. The last time he was jumped by a Mexican gang. “They caught me,” he says, “and my friends did not come back and help me. They supposed to be my homeboys and help me and here I was, sitting with a knife to my stomach and a gun to my head. After that I burned my rag and I said I am not gonna claim the PBI. People don’t care about you. . . . But you gotta fight to survive.”

“Gotta let them know what’s up. Let ’em know there be no gang bangin’,” Fly cuts in. “Like if you wanna fight me ’cause you don’ like me, let’s go for it, but if you want to fight me because of a color of a rag, I ain't got time.”

“As long as you with your home-boys if you in a gang,” Fly says derisively, “you on top of the world. I know people in gangs twenty-five years old still in the gangs, still in the streets, stealin' cassettes, anything they can do to make a buck. They say they can’t find a job, but they really not lookin'.” Fly has worked at McDonald’s and for three years sold newspaper subscriptions. “I just turned the age now,” he says, “where I can go out and find me a job.”

Fly’s father is a maintenance man with American Business Maintenance. His mother is a branch specialist at the downtown branch of Security Pacific Bank. He has an eleven-year-old sister, “Already,” he adds, smiling, “she be a stone homegirl ” His parents keep a close eye on the two young people. “They always be somebody home,” says Fly, “because my father works at night and my mom in the day.”

The talk turns to drugs. “That’s another great subject to rap about — the veg-outs, the Sherm-heads,” Fly says.

Camelot remarks, “It’s kinda bad to see. You gotta sit down and think, ‘Why are they doing this?’ ”

“They know the symptoms,” Fly says, “and the aftereffects.”

“But it overcomes them,” Camelot tells him. “Overcomes.”

“They let the drugs take control,” says Ozz.

“Consider yourself livin' in a neighborhood like this” Fly (who says that his maternal grandmother is a preacher) continues in a steady preaching rhythm. “You're not rich. You’re lower middle class. You get a $500-a-day habit. You gonna do anything you can do to support that habit.”

“Sherm,” the group says, is a Sherman cigarette cut into three sections, then dipped into PCP, perhaps some fingernail polish and embalming fluid, and then smoked. “The chemicals” Camelot speaks ominously, “go straight to your brain. Suddenly you got no control over your mind. If your brain says, ‘I can jump through that window,’ then you go right ahead and do it.”

It turns out that Ozz's worry over “some problems in the neighborhood” was caused, he tells the group, by a Sherm-head. The night before, the head telephoned Ozz’s girlfriend. He threatened to kill her if she did not go out with him.

“Embalming fluid preserves dead people,” says Fly. “That’s good enough for me to stay off it. Gorilla piss, that’s what it is.” He goes on to admit that “if you was to get your hands on some embalming fluid, you could make yourself some nice money. A Sherm stick this big,” he indicates perhaps an inch, “that’s ten dollars. That could get everybody in this room fucked up.”

None of the three much likes school. “I like all the activities,” Ozz says. “I don’t like readin’ too many books and writin’ too many essays and book reports.”

“Where am I gonna use dissectin’ a frog in my life? They say everything pertains to somethin’. I learn my math and English but the rest of it, the dressmaking and this and that, I am just not cut out for it,” Camelot says.

But rap, because its rhymes and rhythms make memorization easier, should be used more in school, the group believes. Camelot says that one of his teachers suggested he take all the spelling words and turn them into a rap. “I did it,” he says, “and it worked. That's because rap will stick in a person's mind.”

Fly’s grade point average is a D or D minus, he says, because he does not go to class. “There's so many more things more exciting than school. You name it. I just kick it."

All three young men claim rapping forces them to read more. Ozz has been working his way through Donald Gaines’s books, some of which he says, “ain’t that spectacular.” The late black author had a short, troubled life. Currently Ozz has been reading about a pimp, he says, and a prostitute. “The guy who wrote it [Gaines] was a pimp, so he is talking about situations that happened in his life and time.”

Fly, who says to the group, “My great-grandfather was brought over here on a boat,” thinks that writing raps and hearing them performed would be a good way to teach history. Lately he has been reading about Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. “I was comparing them,” he says. “Malcolm was violent. He said, ‘When the white man strikes you, strike back.’ Martin Luther King said, ‘When that happen, turn the other cheek’."

In an easy, laconic tone, Ozz directs to Fly, “If you gonna start trouble. you gonna get trouble.”

Camelot adds, “Whatever goes around, comes around.”

“But King’s my hero,” Fly continues, “remaining calm.”

“Stayin' cool,” Ozz snaps.

“Especially where Martin King was, in the Deep South,” says Camelot.

“Medgar Evers was powerful, too,” Fly tells the group, “and they really blew him away.”

Black history. Fly says, should be taught along with what he calls “the regular history. . . . Like the guy who discovered the South Pole. They gave the white guy the credit. It was documented on Channel 15 that the black man jumped off the boat to find out if everything was safe, and then when they were sure it was, the whites went and put up the flag and got the credit.” “The world’s a trip,” Camelot says wearily. “It’s not gonna get better, neither. People aren’t gonna work together.”

“It's greed,” Ozz sums up the conversation. “Greed.”

“The world’s not all fame and glory. It’s either you’re rich, you’re middle class, or you’re poor,” Camelot points out.

“Like on TV, when they show Hollywood, people on the East Coast, they say, ‘Ah, we want to go to Hollywood, to see the bright lights, the big stars.’ They think that is all that’s there,” says Fly.

“Hollywood,” Camelot says, “it’s supposed to be the capital of the world. But they don’t show the pimps, the prostitutes, the killings.”

“Right now,” Camelot offers, “we’re trying to work out a record about L.A. About things that happen outta our eyes. ‘Sundown on Sunset,' is what we call it. It’s talkin’ about when the sun sets down, the lights get dim . . .”

“The freaks from below, start to take control,” adds Ozz.

Talking about how he imagines his life after high school. Fly hesitates. “You don’t plan to, but usually in a neighborhood like this when all you got is your diploma — and fifty percent of the people around here don’t even have that — the service is about all you got to look forward to.”

Camelot’s grandfather went to college; Fly has an aunt who went to junior college. “A lot of my family went to college ” says Ozz, “an uncle and an aunt. I think if I went it would be another thing I could develop for me. If I wanted to get in the navy or army, I would get a higher rank.” Fly says that he used to think about going to college “every day until recently.” Now, he believes, “the only way I could see myself going to college is gettin’ a scholarship, and they don’t just pass them out like they used to.”

“Rapping gives you a way out,”Camelot responds. “Especially if you are good at it. It could kick you up from where you are, and put you on a different level, away from the street scene. Now little kids in the neighborhood, they come up to me, they say ‘Ron, teach me to rap.' Kids they used to wanna be a doctor, a lawyer, a basketball player, and now they say, ‘I wanna be a DJ, a rapper.’ It’s become a profession, somethin’ that gives a goal in sight.

“That’s what I'm striving for, that’s why I got Fly here involved in rapping. I am going to make it in music, that’s my goal. My father made it, so I am going to make it. I have the talent. It’s a matter of getting it in the right perspective.”

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Fly: "I'm still not used to in livin’ here, ’cause in L.A. we had us six or seven stations." - Image by Jim Coit
Fly: "I'm still not used to in livin’ here, ’cause in L.A. we had us six or seven stations."

Late one morning during spring vacation. Fly Guy and Ozz and Camelot, three members of the rap group Ominus Jam Patrol, sit back relaxing — chilling out, they say — on the sectional couch in the North Park apartment where Camelot, a burly, blue-eyed blond with an ivory pendant dangling from his left ear lobe, lives with his mother. If Camelot were on stage at the Palisade Gardens, where he sometimes performs, he would have a microphone in his hand and a speaker by his side. Behind him would be a DJ with headphones on, intercutting and dovetailing music from two different records. The rapper and the DJ would be urging the crowd onto the floor to “turn this party out.” Camelot might point out the DJ to the crowd by directing a swatch of rap toward him:

Ominus Jam Patrol. “We are tryin’ hard right now to establish ourselves. Some guys just don’t wanna work at it."

Now the tables keep on turning.

And the DJ’s fingers burning.

Switching hard with the little black disc.

While I ask one time

In the middle of my rhyme

DJ switch that mix!

At home, it’s the record player. Camelot, snapping his fingers, rises from the couch and puts on Arcade Funk's “Search and Destroy.”

Ozz: “Only a certain amount of moves you can do, twistin’ and turnin’, until after a while you beginnin’ to see the same thing."

Ozz, a muscle-bound and brooding sixteen-year-old whose furrowed, worried brow could belong to somebody four times his age, slides across the couch to sit next to Camelot. The two young men’s feet pick up the beat of the synthesizer bass line reverberating a funk beat on the stereo. From the first words, the duo’s shoulders bob rhythmically. Camelot takes a solo, then the two trade lines and Ozz solos — his voice rolling up from deep down in the solar plexus. Then they take lines together Ozz’s bass buzzes resonantly. His lines slice percussively into Camelot’s surly tenor enunciations. The rise and fall of lines produces a quasi-melody, but like all rap, the emphasis is on rhythm. Their hands, always moving (to keep people’s attention focused on you, Camelot says), execute peculiarly graceful motions as the two rappers demonstrate several stanzas of “Freak Rock,” the rap they wrote together:

Camelot had always hung around the Palisade Gardens Roller Skating Rink on University Avenue, a mile from the apartment. His grandfather has been rink operator and part owner for thirty-nine years.

Everybody in this place

Get up off your seats

Clap your hands and strut your stuff

To the freak rock party beat.

’Cause we’re the Ominus, Dominus,

Takin’ it, makin’ it,

Switchin’ it, groovin’ it,

In-your-town doin' it,

Ominus Jam Patrol.

The late morning light through the living room window picks out sun-bleached streaks in Camelot’s shoulder-length hair and highlights Ozz’s mahogany-dark cheekbones. At the other end of the couch, tall, scrawny fifteen-year-old Fly, grinning and stamping his huge feet, claps out the beat.

Your doctor, your lawyer, your business employer.

They’re people with college degrees. Well, I stake my name and my claim to fame

In social-rapology.

No one who has turned on a radio or television in the past year has not heard rap, the rhymed, rhythmic storytelling that bips along staccato-fashion on top of heavily funk-inflected, often polyrhythmic music. (Until recently, the music for rap consisted of instrumental breaks of records or the completely instrumental B sides of twelve-inch singles. More and more rappers have begun to use computer-programmed synthesized music, especially written and recorded for them.) With break dancing, graffiti, record scratching (a DJ’s technique that turns the turntable arm into a percussion instrument, creating percussive sound effects by spinning a record backwards and forwards while carefully keeping the needle in its groove) and mixing (an interplay between two records on two turntables), rap is one aspect of “hip-hop,” or the “urban culture movement.”

Hip-hop grew up during the Seventies in the tough and, at that time, gang-ridden South Bronx neighborhood portrayed in the gang warfare films Bronx Warriors and Fort Apache: The Bronx. (The term comes from the chorus of the Sugarhill Gang's 1979 hit, “Rapper’s Delight”: “To the hip-hop, don’t stop/Don't stop that body rock.”) Once the urban culture movement took hold, young South Bronx residents began attending clubs and discos where free-lance DJs, toting portable sound equipment and cardboard boxes stacked with records, sponsored parties that promoted break-dance groups and rappers. The DJ displaced the gang fighter and became South Bronx’s new cultural hero. Gang fighting dissipated. “Instead of fighting, gangs said, ‘Let’s rap against each other an’ save us some broken bones,’” Camelot says.

Of the three Ominus Jam Patrol members, the only one who seems to have come into his full growth is seventeen-year-old Camelot (Ronnie Williams), who heads the group (“I’m sworn to fun,/Proud and true,/The hynotizing king leader/of this crew/I’m down by law,/ the vanilla man,/ and, this is where/I make my stand”). Six feet tall, the senior at Garfield continuation school walks as clumsily in among the living room furniture as he does down University Avenue. He walks as if he does not yet believe the tall, heavy-boned body is his. His is a poignant swagger, a touching try at dash and cool.

Ozz (Derrick Flynn), when the group met the evening before, had been more talkative. This morning, chin on his hand, withdrawn from the conversation, he studies the brown shag carpet as if it had some message for him. Pulling at the cuffs of his fingerless red bicycle gloves, he mumbles an explanation. “I gotta few things on my mind. Some problems in the neighborhood last night.”

Camelot — he took his name from tales of King Arthur — had always hung around the Palisade Gardens Roller Skating Rink on University Avenue, a mile from the apartment. His grandfather has been rink operator and part owner for thirty-nine years. From his father, who in his teens and twenties was a professional drummer (and is now a professional psychic), Camelot inherited a drum set. Four summers ago a friend suggested he and Camelot write a rap. Camelot put together a rhyming story about what was happening to him as he “was going up through life.” From then on, he says, “rap just stuck to me.” On the street, in parks, at school, at Purple Rain in Normal Heights, and at the Palisade Gardens, Camelot was rapping. “It gave me a little thing,” he says. And then in 1984 Camelot and twenty-five other local rappers entered a rap contest. Camelot won seventy-five dollars and was named San Diego's number-one rapper. Winning, he says, just blew him away.

Rap left its isolation in East Coast neighborhoods and came to national attention in the summer of 1979 with “Rapper's Delight.” The music has gone from pre-1979 homemade cassette tapes passed around on the streets to twelve-inch records from independent producers, and now has reached LPs. The records of Kurtis Blow, Whodini, Run-D.M.C., and the Fat Boys have begun to go gold — without shaking off any raw outlaw attitude or rancorous edge. And it’s “not near to dying out,” Camelot says. In fact, to people he associates with, he says, “rap is the trend they’re more and more turning to. Rap is a fad that’s staying around.”

New rap expressions and words — like the word “fresh,” for what is original and different; or “def,” meaning cool, okay, superior; or “toy,” indicating the amateur or inadequate — “generate,” says Ozz, who likes, he notes, to “hear a word / put out come ’round. A word of mine may go around for six months and then someone come to me with it. Rap, it circulates like rumors.”

San Diego has plenty of rap battles going on, Camelot says. “Like if I was coming to your part of town and saying, ‘I am the baddest rapper, and you’re a sucker DJ,’ that would be a kind of insult and we'd have to have…”

“ . . . A verbal battle.” Ozz, who speaks more slowly than Camelot, finishes the sentence.

“And if you won, you’d be the baddest then,” says Camelot.

Ozz says there are verbal battles up at Hoover High, where he is a senior. “Like when someone bites your lines — that is when you hear someone say a line that was yours — then you get in a battle about that. You make up a rap about that person.”

“Sometimes,” Camelot says, “battling just starts off with some basin’, some casin’, some name-callin’ back and forth. If you are in a bunch of people, the other guy, he will say something funny so everyone laughs. Then you have to come back with something better than that. In rapping you have to try to outdo yourself. If you were to start rapping on me, I would have to try to prove myself, come back and say something better.” Ozz has never been bested. But Camelot has, several times. “I was doing this concert with other rappers, and outside in the parking lot we was rapping back and forth before the show. This guy, he came back on me and blew me away.”

“It's a humiliation,” Ozz nods. “A humiliation.”

“He just devastated me,” Camelot declares, “up in front of all these people. Afterward I went home and started writing things down, thinking I’ve got to best this guy.”

Rap may not be dying out, but according to the group, breakdancing is. “Six or seven months ago,” Fly (Darrick Flye) figures, “that’s all ever’body was doin’. This man [indicating Ozz], was wavin’ and poppin’.”

“Only a certain amount of moves you can do, twistin’ and turnin’, until after a while you beginnin’ to see the same thing. Like lookin’ at the same ol’ picture at the wall, same ol’ TV show on television ” Ozz complains.

Camelot turns to Ozz and shrugs, “But you can rap about so many different things.”

“Drugs,” Fly grins.

“Gangs," Camelot says.

“The economy," Ozz puts in.

“‘The stress and the strife,/Stay away from the freebase pipe’ and all that, and little fantasy things is always good," Camelot says. “Like I had this rap that goes . . .’’ he sets the beat with his right foot and hits hard on the first syllables of each line . . . “ ‘When I die,/Bury me deep,/ Plant two turntables by my feet/Put the music close to my head,/So when you close the casket/I can rap the dead.’ "

Rappers, Ozz says, are respected at school. “The word gets around pretty fast that you a rapper. People will come to you and ask you to say a rap. Even a few teachers know that I rap. But I do not broadcast it, I try to let the people come to me. I am not trying to be flamboyant or anything, just calm, cool, and collected." He yawns and stretches.

Camelot, returning to his theme of “making it," says, “I feel personally myself that if I was given a chance to make a record, that there are so many ideas I have that the general public would appreciate. But it is a matter of us being in the right place at the right time."

Now seems like the right time to the three-year-old group. Until recently, according to Camelot, punk has been the strongest musically inspired cultural influence among his age group in San Diego. “Punks," he says, “they got their own culture. The Mohawk haircuts, the paint, ripped Levi’s, different colored hair. It’s the trends."

“Most of the people I know just purely love music, period," says Fly.

“It’s so much power in music. You get two and three boxes and put them together. Like down in the park on Saturdays and Sundays, people get together and see whose box is the loudest, see whose can blast the loudest," Camelot says. “ ‘Let’s see who can bump the hardest.' If everybody went to the park without radios or nuthin’, it’d be just like . . .’’

"... Sittin’ there like zombies," Fly says.

On a typical afternoon, they say, they sit around “talkin’, checkin’ out the scene, the girls, listenin' to 98.5."

“In that," says Fly, “you don’t really have a choice, the station. That’s what I'm still not used to in livin’ here, ’cause in L.A. we had us six or seven stations."

“Down here it’s just like one station," Camelot agrees.

“Well," Fly gazes at his wide palms, “maybe we got one and one-half, ’cause 90 is all right sometimes."

“We are tryin’ hard right now to establish ourselves," Camelot says about Ominus Jam Patrol, adding that the group has been going through a lot of “people changes." “Some guys," he frowns, strain pinching his voice, “just don’t wanna work at it. It’s hard work. This is what I explained to this man here," Camelot indicates Fly, fidgeting in his seat at the corner of the couch nearest the door, “when he said that he wanted to learn "

“Rappin’ is time-consuming if you want to be good," Ozz puts in. He began rapping early in 1984. Rapping, he believes, is a skill that a person learns, like reading or writing poetry. “It’s about self-discipline. If you just lag and run around and do this and that and just have a few lines, you ain’t gonna be nowhere, ’cause other people are just gonna take that extra time. This man right here," Ozz nods toward Camelot, “he practices a lot more than I do. I am in no real big hurry. But I am not taking it like it’s easy. It’s not easy. It’s hard to do. In rapping you run out of things to think about. You have to get ideas. You have to read, build up your vocabulary.”

Ozz occasionally raps at the skating rink, but not for money. Asked if he, like Camelot, would like to make it professionally as a rapper, Ozz modestly admits, “I have a mind to, most definitely."

I’d like to try," interjects Fly. “I could put together a devilish rap. I’d like to see new places. The farthest I’ve ever been is to Phoenix, Arizona."

But Ozz, who spars with a friend to keep himself in good physical condition, also considers becoming a boxer. At least, he says, “I’d like to learn the techniques of boxing." He points out that Muhammad Ali was a rapper as well as a boxer. “When he fought in Manila," Ozz says, “he jus' put a little thing, a little rap together about what happened to him."

“Muhammad? ‘Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee’? Whew," Fly grins. “He’s the original. He used to be my idol, Muhammad Ali, before he got fat and old."

“He was the thrilla’," Ozz nods.

Ominus Jam Patrol claims to be one of the few mixed-race groups (Ozz and Fly are black), and Camelot believes, the first. “If we hurry up and get a record," Camelot theorizes, “it’s going to be black and white. It’s going to be like what Michael Jackson runs. If you see a photo of his concerts, you see black, white, Mexican, Oriental, all of the races together. It’s a collage."

Rap rises out of black urban culture, where to be verbally apt, verbally stylish, is a status-granting masculine trait. Rap has its roots in the informal verbal dueling known variously as sounding and signifying, woofing, playing the dozens, Joning, screaming, cutting or chopping or toasting, the kind of verbal gaming that sounds through black neighborhoods. Rap roots go back to apocalyptic and didactic black preaching, to call-and-response church services, prison poets and toasters, to so-called “race" humor, to the poems of the Last Poets and Gil-Scott Heron, to white-bashing films like Superfly and Shaft and, more recently, Beverly Hills Cop, to radio DJs, the basic get-down funk of James Brown (whom some rappers revere as the Godfather of Rap as well as of Soul, citing Brown tunes such as “Get Up, I Feel Like Being a Sex Machine" and “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud").

Asked if most rappers aren't black, Camelot winces as he forms his reply.

“ ‘It's a white man rappin'?’ some people ask when they hear me, but then they come over and say, ‘Congratulations' "

Camelot takes some flack because so many of his friends are black and he dates black women. His critics, he says, tell him, “You’re a Wanna Be, you wanna be black. But I say," Camelot raises his voice and makes a fist, “Hey, I'm white and I’m proud. It’s just what I like to do." But sometimes the criticism gets to him. “I’ll sit there and think, ‘Maybe they’re right.’ ’’

Camelot looks to Ozz as if for an explanation, and Ozz suggests, in a deliberate pace and soothing tone, gazing directly into Camelot’s wince, “It could be a part of jealousy, too, because you’re so good."

The three young men watch smoke spiral up from a burning cigarette in the ashtray on the coffee table. The living room is so still that even with the nattering argument brimming off the television soap opera that Camelot’s older sister is watching, even with the windows closed, traffic on University, a block away, can be heard.

Camelot, who has explained that his parents are divorced and that he visits with his father, who lives in Louisiana, breaks into the silence with the observation that he sees “different races getting along better in California than down in the South. It’s like 200 years ago there. I’d be casted out from my family for hanging out with these guys. If they're cool. I’m gonna kick it with them. If they was green I'd hang with them.”

“Yeah,” the group choruses. “Yeah.”

Fly is a sophomore at Hoover High. His teachers say he has a high IQ, but Fly makes barely passing grades, because, he admits, he often skips school. Fly taps his outsized feet — he is wearing the popular Velcro-fastened “kicks” or tennis shoes — while he talks. Fly has been rapping since Christmas, and he loves it. As much, he figures, as basketball. “Whenever you ain’t got nuthin’ to do? Rappin’ brings up your mood. It’s cheerful, an’ makes you feel like you’re doin’ somethin’, makin' your own music.”

It’s a jungle out there, hah-huh,

I say your rent is due, your money is due.

You're losin’ your job and you’re sad and blue.

You make a loan at the bank And you move to the city.

But the sun goes down and life ain’t pretty.

You thought you were movin' to the City of Dreams,

But you became the victim of a moneymaking scheme.

It’s a jungle out there!

I said there was once a lad but he was young

And he led a life that wouldn’t last too long.

He played hooky from school.

He chilled with the crew.

He played with the girls but he made bank too:

He was a pimp, a thief, a drug distributor.

He shoulda went to school

And learned to use a computer.

It’s a jungle out there!

I once knew a girl.

Her name was Bunny,

The things she did at night Were not at all funny.

She's a lady of the night She sold delight Her mind was loose.

But her skirt was tight.

On the boulevard It's a pitiful scene.

But what’s even worse.

She was only fourteen.

I am going to tell you a story About a friend of mine.

His name was Joe And everything was fine.

Till he met with a friend That ruined his life.

And the name of his friend Was a freebase pipe.

Joe had to steal to support his habit.

He would play you like a fool.

Then run like a rabbit.

I begged Joe to stop But Joe, Joe wouldn't.

I know’d Joe was quick.

But he couldn't dodge a bullet.

So Joe made a lick late one night.

But the victim had a gun And took Joe's life.

It’s a jungle out there!

“I did that,” Fly explains, “just thinkin' about different situations you come across every day. Like, about the girl named Bunny? It's really about my stepsister. She lives up north. What's happenin’ to her is the same ol’ same ol’ that happens to anybody else. She's nineteen now and she’s got a kid and she’s on the county… People my age like rap because it’s true.”

The Ominus Jam Patrol does a little graffiti, just a few pieces on alley walls, but no large-scale writing. What they do, they say, is usually quickly “bombed,” or painted over. On the West Coast, perhaps because there are fewer older, ruined buildings and far less mass transit, more trees, more grass, better weather, hip-hop has concentrated less on graffiti and more on break dance and rap.

Until he was twelve, Ozz lived in Philadelphia. “It was rowdy and wild — people robbin’, killin’. My mama didn't want me followin’ all that, which is why we moved. “Eighty, ninety percent of the kids that live there [on the East Coast] can do breakin’, rappin’, and graffiti. They see graffiti as part of breakin' and rappin’. But I don't see all that as a necessity, as something that you have to be qualified in.”

Fly echoes Ozz with a similar story about his parents’ move, four years ago from Los Angeles. “We moved down here from West L.A. to keep me out of trouble. There was lots of gangs, rapes, killings, an’ my mom didn't want me to grow up around that. When we first lived there it was middle class, and then our neighborhood started getting worse and worse. It’s pretty wild now, an' we never even go back.”

North Park is no South Bronx, an area considered worse than the worst of Harlem, and without Harlem’s cultural and political resonance, a neighborhood where abandoned buildings, gutted by arson and vandals, lean crazily against each other on rubble-strewn lots and fifteen-story low-income housing projects harbor drug dealers. But Camelot, and Ozz and Fly, both of whom live three or four blocks away from Camelot’s apartment, don’t think much of the neighborhood. They say North Park has changed in the last four years. “People moved in and people moved out,” Fly taps his fingers, beating out the words.

“Things are changing in the city, without a doubt,” rhymes Camelot. “Rent is higher,” says Ozz.

“This,” Camelot indicates the modest but comfortable apartment, “costs my mother [who drives a shuttle bus at the airport) four hundred something.”

Camelot and Fly insist that North Park has the highest crime rate in the city. “This is because,” says Ozz, “from across town they come over here and steal.”

“They don't steal from their own neighborhood,” complains Fly.

“It's because it’s more kicked back here,” replies Camelot.

“It’s laid back,” Ozz says. “Compared to Southeast,” Camelot interjects, “I wouldn't even consider North Park a poor neighborhood.” “Compared to where I come from in L.A.,” Fly says, “this is not poor.” “Compared to Philadelphia,” Ozz puts in, “this is not bad.”

“It depends where you go. The farther south you go, the better it gets,” Camelot tells the group. All nod agreement.

“Allowing immigrants to come into our country, that's a problem,” Ozz says, noting that North Park has “filled up with boat people.” Fly, suddenly looking troubled, asks Camelot and Ozz, “You heard about what happened to little Rod? Marie’s brother? He got run down. The guy didn’t even slow down. Rod went to the hospital. Now he got both his legs in a brace.”

“He didn’t stop?” Ozz asks.

“He didn't even slow down,” Fly responds. “Little Rod was laying in the street, right up there at Thirty-eighth and University.” The group gets quiet, looks down again at the carpet.

“People don’t really see what’s happening today,” Camelot insists. “If I could, I would put a disguise on Reagan and have him walk around with us and meet the people we meet, he wouldn’t like it none. He caters to the rich. He’s not really bending over backwards to help people on our level. Look at the thing with Ethiopia, who’s trendin’ over backwards? The musicians are. Reagan isn’t giving a couple of mill. And he doesn’t pay much taxes.”

Camelot launches into the rap he calls “2000 AD,” his “message rap”:

Hold it, hold it, hold it, Ronald Reagan,

Can’t you see We’re on the verge Of having World War III?

I want to live to see 2000 AD.

A nuclear bomb under construction.

In reality it’s self-destruction How do you expect us to act or live When everything’s been made radioactive?

And then who will you be leading When all of us are dead and bleeding?

A child is bom in prosperity.

In knowledge of the ways of technology*

Little child, hold your breath,

’Cause you’re headed

For a fate worse than death.

“Since you all mention Reagan, that reminds me of a dream I had a week ago,” Fly says. “A lot of people want to shoot Reagan, cause him some problems. I would like to sit down with Reagan and smoke a joint with him, you know, and just talk to him, find out what kind of neighborhood he’s from. Since he’s setting all the rules. I’d like to find out where he came up. Take him around the neighborhood, show him what’s up.

“In this dream I just chatted with him. We talked about how he was cuttin’ some of the budget from the old people for the defense program. We got in the car and took him to my elderly family, to my grandmother and their friends, showed him how they scuffled, showed him her check.’’ Camelot and Ozz laugh derisively.

“I don’t call myself a politician,” Fly continues, “but you shouldn’t take from the old people. He’s going to be well taken care of for the rest of his life. What if he was on social security?” Fly asks. “And as an actor he made all that money. Ever see any of his movies, Ozz? They were all shitty. How he made all of that money, I don’t know.”

Camelot was once a member of PBI — Playboys Incorporated. “That’s one of the few gangs,” says Fly, “where you’ll really find all races. Except there are no Orientals in it.”

“They not too many pure-bred whites in there either,” Ozz says.

“True,” continues Fly. “PBI’s mostly black, Mexican, and a few Filipinos.”

“But in East San Diego,” says Camelot, “It’s not primarily white, black, or nothin’. It’s everybody. So quite naturally everybody can join the social clubs.”

“PBI ain’t one of the rougher gangs, it’s really not,” says Fly. “As far as being in a gang, PBI’s a piece of cake.”

“The harder gangs, like ESP — East Side Pirue — the Lincoln Park Bloods, if you was to walk through Lincoln Park,” says Camelot, pointing at Fly, “they’d kill him. They’d probably kill me, too.” The trio laughs, harshly. “I know a lot of members out of the different gangs where I go to school. It’s a meltin’ pot inside school. If you was a Blood and I was a Cuzz, we’d be kickin’ it together in school. But as soon as you leave school. . .”

Fly goes on to explain, “Each neighborhood distinguishes theirself by different colors. Like him and me, if we were to walk through Lincoln Park and we got on our blue, we’d be a target.”

“ ’Cause,” Camelot carries on, “they’re red and green. They got the red rags, the green rags.”

“Around your head,” Fly says.

“Stuck in your pocket,” says Camelot.

“But,” Fly insists, “I wear what I please, whatever I come across in the drawer or the closet.”

Gang life “is the easiest thing to rap off of,” says Fly. “That’s why I don’t.”

“In gangs,” Ozz puts in, “Ever'body’s a king in his own little world.”

“A lot of the girls are in gangs too,” Fly says despairingly. “Like the PBI have the PGI. But girl gangs down here ain’t that bad. They are bad in L.A.”

Fly has never belonged to a gang. “Never,” he says emphatically. “That’s not my style. Usually gang members are people who don’t go to school, who get high, hang out, can’t find a job, don’t want to get a job.”

“It gives them some self-security,” says Camelot, who admits that he was trying to be accepted, trying to be something he was not when he was a gang member. A tough guy. He got out of it only when twice his life was in danger. The last time he was jumped by a Mexican gang. “They caught me,” he says, “and my friends did not come back and help me. They supposed to be my homeboys and help me and here I was, sitting with a knife to my stomach and a gun to my head. After that I burned my rag and I said I am not gonna claim the PBI. People don’t care about you. . . . But you gotta fight to survive.”

“Gotta let them know what’s up. Let ’em know there be no gang bangin’,” Fly cuts in. “Like if you wanna fight me ’cause you don’ like me, let’s go for it, but if you want to fight me because of a color of a rag, I ain't got time.”

“As long as you with your home-boys if you in a gang,” Fly says derisively, “you on top of the world. I know people in gangs twenty-five years old still in the gangs, still in the streets, stealin' cassettes, anything they can do to make a buck. They say they can’t find a job, but they really not lookin'.” Fly has worked at McDonald’s and for three years sold newspaper subscriptions. “I just turned the age now,” he says, “where I can go out and find me a job.”

Fly’s father is a maintenance man with American Business Maintenance. His mother is a branch specialist at the downtown branch of Security Pacific Bank. He has an eleven-year-old sister, “Already,” he adds, smiling, “she be a stone homegirl ” His parents keep a close eye on the two young people. “They always be somebody home,” says Fly, “because my father works at night and my mom in the day.”

The talk turns to drugs. “That’s another great subject to rap about — the veg-outs, the Sherm-heads,” Fly says.

Camelot remarks, “It’s kinda bad to see. You gotta sit down and think, ‘Why are they doing this?’ ”

“They know the symptoms,” Fly says, “and the aftereffects.”

“But it overcomes them,” Camelot tells him. “Overcomes.”

“They let the drugs take control,” says Ozz.

“Consider yourself livin' in a neighborhood like this” Fly (who says that his maternal grandmother is a preacher) continues in a steady preaching rhythm. “You're not rich. You’re lower middle class. You get a $500-a-day habit. You gonna do anything you can do to support that habit.”

“Sherm,” the group says, is a Sherman cigarette cut into three sections, then dipped into PCP, perhaps some fingernail polish and embalming fluid, and then smoked. “The chemicals” Camelot speaks ominously, “go straight to your brain. Suddenly you got no control over your mind. If your brain says, ‘I can jump through that window,’ then you go right ahead and do it.”

It turns out that Ozz's worry over “some problems in the neighborhood” was caused, he tells the group, by a Sherm-head. The night before, the head telephoned Ozz’s girlfriend. He threatened to kill her if she did not go out with him.

“Embalming fluid preserves dead people,” says Fly. “That’s good enough for me to stay off it. Gorilla piss, that’s what it is.” He goes on to admit that “if you was to get your hands on some embalming fluid, you could make yourself some nice money. A Sherm stick this big,” he indicates perhaps an inch, “that’s ten dollars. That could get everybody in this room fucked up.”

None of the three much likes school. “I like all the activities,” Ozz says. “I don’t like readin’ too many books and writin’ too many essays and book reports.”

“Where am I gonna use dissectin’ a frog in my life? They say everything pertains to somethin’. I learn my math and English but the rest of it, the dressmaking and this and that, I am just not cut out for it,” Camelot says.

But rap, because its rhymes and rhythms make memorization easier, should be used more in school, the group believes. Camelot says that one of his teachers suggested he take all the spelling words and turn them into a rap. “I did it,” he says, “and it worked. That's because rap will stick in a person's mind.”

Fly’s grade point average is a D or D minus, he says, because he does not go to class. “There's so many more things more exciting than school. You name it. I just kick it."

All three young men claim rapping forces them to read more. Ozz has been working his way through Donald Gaines’s books, some of which he says, “ain’t that spectacular.” The late black author had a short, troubled life. Currently Ozz has been reading about a pimp, he says, and a prostitute. “The guy who wrote it [Gaines] was a pimp, so he is talking about situations that happened in his life and time.”

Fly, who says to the group, “My great-grandfather was brought over here on a boat,” thinks that writing raps and hearing them performed would be a good way to teach history. Lately he has been reading about Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. “I was comparing them,” he says. “Malcolm was violent. He said, ‘When the white man strikes you, strike back.’ Martin Luther King said, ‘When that happen, turn the other cheek’."

In an easy, laconic tone, Ozz directs to Fly, “If you gonna start trouble. you gonna get trouble.”

Camelot adds, “Whatever goes around, comes around.”

“But King’s my hero,” Fly continues, “remaining calm.”

“Stayin' cool,” Ozz snaps.

“Especially where Martin King was, in the Deep South,” says Camelot.

“Medgar Evers was powerful, too,” Fly tells the group, “and they really blew him away.”

Black history. Fly says, should be taught along with what he calls “the regular history. . . . Like the guy who discovered the South Pole. They gave the white guy the credit. It was documented on Channel 15 that the black man jumped off the boat to find out if everything was safe, and then when they were sure it was, the whites went and put up the flag and got the credit.” “The world’s a trip,” Camelot says wearily. “It’s not gonna get better, neither. People aren’t gonna work together.”

“It's greed,” Ozz sums up the conversation. “Greed.”

“The world’s not all fame and glory. It’s either you’re rich, you’re middle class, or you’re poor,” Camelot points out.

“Like on TV, when they show Hollywood, people on the East Coast, they say, ‘Ah, we want to go to Hollywood, to see the bright lights, the big stars.’ They think that is all that’s there,” says Fly.

“Hollywood,” Camelot says, “it’s supposed to be the capital of the world. But they don’t show the pimps, the prostitutes, the killings.”

“Right now,” Camelot offers, “we’re trying to work out a record about L.A. About things that happen outta our eyes. ‘Sundown on Sunset,' is what we call it. It’s talkin’ about when the sun sets down, the lights get dim . . .”

“The freaks from below, start to take control,” adds Ozz.

Talking about how he imagines his life after high school. Fly hesitates. “You don’t plan to, but usually in a neighborhood like this when all you got is your diploma — and fifty percent of the people around here don’t even have that — the service is about all you got to look forward to.”

Camelot’s grandfather went to college; Fly has an aunt who went to junior college. “A lot of my family went to college ” says Ozz, “an uncle and an aunt. I think if I went it would be another thing I could develop for me. If I wanted to get in the navy or army, I would get a higher rank.” Fly says that he used to think about going to college “every day until recently.” Now, he believes, “the only way I could see myself going to college is gettin’ a scholarship, and they don’t just pass them out like they used to.”

“Rapping gives you a way out,”Camelot responds. “Especially if you are good at it. It could kick you up from where you are, and put you on a different level, away from the street scene. Now little kids in the neighborhood, they come up to me, they say ‘Ron, teach me to rap.' Kids they used to wanna be a doctor, a lawyer, a basketball player, and now they say, ‘I wanna be a DJ, a rapper.’ It’s become a profession, somethin’ that gives a goal in sight.

“That’s what I'm striving for, that’s why I got Fly here involved in rapping. I am going to make it in music, that’s my goal. My father made it, so I am going to make it. I have the talent. It’s a matter of getting it in the right perspective.”

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