"The Jones Men" and Mike Mictlan’s "Clapp’D"

Last week, I posted about Run The Jewels’s “Early.” Today, I want to take a minute and write about Mike Mictlan’s song “Clapp’D” from his album Hella Frrel (2014). In some ways, the song reminds me reminds of “Early,” at least in the way that Mictlan speaks about the stereotypical views that the media creates in regards to certain individuals. Mictlan begins by commenting on the fact that the “ghetto” gets fetishized and represented as a “middle class circus at a lower class zoo.” Essentially, he speaks about cultural tourism where individuals take what they want from a specific community and appropriate for their own entertainment or benefit. He continues by rapping, “Not everyone from the hood is a killer or a dealer or a villain/ everybody in the hood wanna do something better/ for their life and their children.” These lines really stick out because they work to shatter the perceptions of a lot of individuals in regards to people who live in the space that Mictlan raps about.

41f1mflmyfl-_sy344_bo1204203200_Thinking about the lines above, I couldn’t help but go back to Vern E. Smith’s The Jones Men (1974), a book that chronicles inner city Detroit and the heroin epidemic that arose there in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The book arose out of Smith’s reporting for Newsweek, and it focuses on a multitude of characters (dealers, addicts, and police) who exist within the urban decay caused by “white flight” and containment on Detroit during the twentieth century. Amidst this blight, Smith places everyday working individuals who counter the dealers and addicts that make up the majority of his novel. In this way, Smith counters white society’s preconceived notions by representing the city as a place where all individuals struggle to survive.
One such instance occurs when Foxy Newton goes to a do-house with his white girlfriend to cop a hit of heroin. The narrator describes an area in decay, with an expressway passing nearby that leads to the suburbs: “On the back side of the place the rusted wire fencing had a gaping hole right in the center. Foxy Newton helped the girl through the hole and started around to the front. The seventeen buildings stretched barracks-like across a gnarled landscape of thirteen acres; most of the windows had missing screens and peeling green paint around the edges” (10-11). The Wilmont Housing Projects exists as a militaryesque structure in the midst of crumbling down. Instead of just showing Foxy and his girl heading to the do-house, the narrator points out that other people live in the building.
Waiting for the elevator, the pair stand with a woman and little girl. Appearing to be coming home from the store, “[t]he black woman wore  hairnet and a starched white dress. She had heavy circles under her eyes and carried a bag of groceries. The child had bright ribbons in her freshly combed hair and looked dressed for Sunday School” (11). The passage above shows that the woman works hard to provide a better life for the little girl. She has “heavy circles” surrounding her eyes, indicating a lack of sleep and hard work. Their dress also represents an idea of respectability. Both appear dressed as if ready to go to church.
After getting their fix, Foxy and the girl head down the elevator. On the fifth floor, a man and his son enter. The man exclaims, “You hear that ringin’? Know what that is, don’t you? These Junkies. They run up in here to these dope houses and then cut the elevators off while they run in there and buy that stuff, and the bell just rings all the time and the fuckin’ elevators take forever to get here” (18). The man then looks at the girl and concludes, “I gotta live in this” (18). Like the woman and girl earlier, the man and his son exist within the same space as addicts like Foxy and their dealers. Both the woman and the man appear to be working hard to make the best life they can for the children within the environment where the live. However, due to conditions out of their control, like “white flight,” the removal of industry, and the proliferation of accepted vice activity, they have a hard time.
Mictlan’s lines from “Clapp’D” reminded me of these scenes. We cannot pigeonhole individuals based off the place they live, what they do for a living, or anything else. “Capp’D” is a powerful song, questioning our perceptions and arguing for gun control. Take a second a view the video above. What do you think? How would you teach these texts together in a class? Let me know in the comments below.
Smith, Vern E. The Jones Men. Greenbelt: Rosarium Publishing, 2014. Print.
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