((((( 9 ))))) by Malik Crumpler

My last gig was literally my last gig. The band was a mess. We broke up after that. It musta been late ‘04 right after Enheduanna and Malcolm quit. Right after we got dropped by the record label. Back then, I had it in my head we was at war with the label, and every gig we did was a battle. How it’s a battle though when the enemy never show up?

So the gig was at Lit Lounge in the East Village. We promoted the shit out of it for two weeks, handing out and posting flyers all over the city. We’d already rocked at Lit like three or four times and turned it out. Heads love that real experimental shit. Our audience was growing.

We had sound check at 4 and was supposed to hit at 11. I got there at 3:30, early as usual. My man, Larry stayed punctual too, he got there at 4 on the dot. J came through at maybe 4:05. Wasn’t nobody else there, not even the promoter. The bar was open upstairs but wasn’t nobody down in the humid mildew stinking cave but us. Oh yeah, Pax and James wasn’t there yet either. We kept calling them but they never picked up.

The guitarist, Larry, was hella hungover as usual so since the soundman was running late, Larry went upstairs and started downing Pabst on some hair of the dog business. The bass player, my man J, was backstage blazing Dutches getting in his zone. I was pissed about James and Pax and looking at all this like, man, I need to get a real job. P.S. we ain’t had no rehearsals cuz cats couldn’t get that together either. No big deal right? Apparently, no one cared but me. Now me, back then, I’d be feeding off my nervousness cuz I don’t drink before a show. Me and Malcolm was always like that, you know. Clock in sober, clock out, and black out. So I was just chain smoking and going over lyrics in my head until the soundman arrived.

When the soundman finally got there at like 5:30 I called it. We go up there and he’s like, “No drums, no keyboards huh?” I’m like, “Nah, cats is running late.” Soundman goes in, “So who’s the leader?” Now the way we had the band set up, it’s like we all leaders, but that ain’t none of his business so I’m like, “I’m lead vocals.” That got him amped. “Alright, lead vocals, let’s go already.” At this point two options rose up in my stomach: bash his face in or grab J’s bass and slow jam his ass to death. If I was faded already I’da done both. That’s why I never get faded before the gig. I’m too sensitive and emotional ya underdig me. So I lit another cigarette and went deaf on his petty shit.

While the band set up they amps Pax flew down the stairs nose running and face all pasty. “I made it, bitch!” Pax loved calling everyone bitch. It made him feel like his idol, Rick James. So anyway, now that the drummer was there, I felt a little bit better until I seen him hit the restroom. Pax always pulled this sorta shit, but it’s usually after he set up his kit. Normally I’da got at him but that day I was already so pissed about everyone’s blatant disregard for professionalism that I didn’t wanna make my temperature rise anymore than it already had.

About ten or fifteen minutes later the soundman finished independent levels on everybody except drums. James, the keyboard player, still wasn’t there. Wasn’t no drums set up either. So I bombed on Pax, “Yo Pax, fuck up off that bullshit, you up.” I heard some fumbling in the restroom and he like, “Yo um you’re not gonna believe this shit man.” He snorted, “I forgot the fucking drum kit.”

Two months ago, I woulda went full Shining on the door and choked his ass out for that punk shit. That day I just couldn’t. I just went back up stage and let the band know. “Yo J, blood, you gon’ have to be hella rhythmic tonight cuz we ain’t got no drums.” Larry was confused, “What? How a muthafuckin’ drummer don’t have his muthafuckin’ drums?” I didn’t have an answer for Larry. I just wanted to get this shit over with, get my money, and start looking for a real job in the morning. “So dig it, you too, L. Hella rhythmic y’all, on some like Talking Heads, Rokit vibe.” Larry was still stuck on Pax, “But who does that sorta shit, man?” I told the soundman with no tolerance, “No drums tonight.” He ain’t give a shit. He get paid just to show up.

I called the first track, “Yo, Dead Angels.” A James Brown bite from “There Was a Time.” It was loop heavy on the guitar and bass with a super simple 4/4 drum line. So we got into it. J and L was grooving. J was slapping the wood on his bass to get a kick drum sound but the amp ain’t really picked it up. So I told him, “Dead that note on the One. I’ma get the audience to clap on the two and four.” Then L was like, “Yo, let’s stomp the one and three.” Great idea. We stomped that muhfucka out ‘till our heels and ankles ached.

My mic sounded great (for once); the reverb slap-back was tight, J’s bass was rumbling, L’s guitar was crisp and scratching. We had a strong vibe happening. I still wanted to fuck Pax up though. He finally came outta the restroom. So I let him have it on some shit like, “Yo J, how you feel?” J made his bass walk for two bars and let it slap like Larry Graham. “Yo L, how you feel?” L went full Wes Montgomery for three bars. Then I rapped this chorus,

Cocaine is muhfucka Pax
Yeah I know, you feeling wired
But cocaine is muhfucka Pax
So you, muhfucka are fired.

I heard J dying laughing but still rapping the chorus. L got in on it too and we all laughed at Pax. Pax high ass was rolling. Even the engineer got hip and laughed his ass off. After we got sick of that, we rushed through like three or four more jams, stomping it out. It was all good.

We got off stage and the hyper ass engineer was like, “You fucking dudes rock. That shit’ll kill tonight! But hey, don’t knock coke bros—it’s Vegan.” We left him talking to himself.

We hit the bar and L was like, “Yo, Pax really fired?” I was like, “I mean shit worked without him right?” J mumbled, “Even better.” So I was like, “Fuck him.” L tried to hand me a drink, but I turned him down “Let’s toast it.” J mumbled. I toasted with water. “Put that on God.” In unison we all toasted and shouted, “On God!” then headed backstage.

Right when we crossed that black velvet curtain, we seen Pax with a skinny blonde in a pink mini-skirt with no panties on going full Tarzan. Both of them had the zinc nose passing a skull of Patron back and forth in front of a handheld mirror with a young iceberg on it. Before we could say some shit Pax burst out, “I quit, you bitches. I got the gig with Starrise! Let’s celebrate. You sound like shit without me. You get your shit together and maybe I’ll let you open for us.” He got on his knees and beasted on Tarzan in front of all of us. Tarzan was grabbing on me and shit, I gave her no play. I got hold to that skull of Patron though. So we went in and we went hard.

Now remember, it’s my policy to never drink or smoke or beast before a gig, ever. So I still don’t really know what exactly made me hit the blunt other than maybe me being sick of Pax and putting up with the band and their bullshit. Once I hit it though, I felt fifteen again. Plus the DJ was slapping that ‘80’s House throwback shit. I couldn’t help but get in my zone. High got so good and so loose time disappeared. I ain’t even know who or where I was. I used to love that space. I was in the desert until the soundman came back like, “You’re up.” I was like, What, how? It hit me, that dank got me stuck. I dragged myself up to the stage.

Before we went on though, I looked out from the wings and saw James on keyboards, which blew my mind. When’d he set up? I didn’t remember him getting there at all. Shit, I couldn’t remember the past four or five hours. Couldn’t feel my face. A void was expanding in my torso. The audience was a pool of purple and red streaks. Damn, I must have smoked some bammer ass weed. I needed to split. Fuck the gig. Fuck the train. I needed a cab before that shit got bad. I checked my pockets, four goddamned dollars. My bank account was negative $127.00. I couldn’t do nothing until they paid us the door after the gig. I was too high to be in public. And this was that kinda high you don’t wanna waste with other people. You just wanna hide in bed with a documentary about the cosmos and zone way out. I was stuck in that dungeon. I wanted the gig over, but I couldn’t let the audience see all that. I had to deal with the deal. I cloaked up.

Whole band was leaning on they instruments, nodding, catching it and looking into the spotlight trying to snap back. We was more loaded than usual. Someone, probably bitch ass Pax, laced us with some tamper. I thought it was the label sabotaging us. I shoulda wore shades; everybody else did. Shades couldn’t hide our shit though.

I looked out into the audience and they was a pixelated mirror staring back at me, waiting for me to do me. Once I was at the mic I couldn’t make out faces cuz that spotlight’s a blinder but I could feel ’em expecting something from me I could never deliver in that state. My whole body started throbbing.

I shouted over to J, “Hey man, get Joe to sit in and y’all do Bitches Brew. I gotta hit the fuckits.” J ain’t even respond to me. He waved Joe up and they went into that sinister ass bass-line. James and L was quick to get hip. Joe waited for that creepy Voodoo shit to build and he came in copping Miles like a muhfucka.

I took off for the restroom bumping into people. Luckily wasn’t nobody in there. I was over heating. I took my trench off and just kept splashing water on my face. Red light in there was driving me crazy. I stuck my finger down my throat but nothing came up. My heart was tribal drums, head too, and that red light wasn’t no help.

Don’t know how long it took, but eventually I calmed down and listened to the band through the door. They was killing it so I started to enjoy my high until I saw some man in the mirror I’d never seen. Shit flipped me out all over again until I noticed similarities. Then all these damn questions hit me, “Why are you here? How did you get here? Whose body is this? How can we be sure this is our life? You look different? You’re in the wrong body, how’d you get in here? Get out!” My eyes locked on my reflection fractal-ing in my pupil like an infinity mirror. Millions of me rapidly multiplying. I was a detached energy inside myself. Saw and felt nothing. Only heard questions. Couldn’t make out the voice of who asked them. I was being interrogated. “What’s your name?” I forgot how to answer. “What do you call yourself?”

My name is Nine
One minus a dime
Can’t recall when I first rhymed
I lie when people ask me all the time
Tell you the truth
Been rapping since before my youth
I was a cold toddler Too Short recruit
And that’s the real
Before I lost my first tooth
I had a record deal
My big brother Malcolm’s
Raps was memorized,
I couldn’t memorize a thang
So I improvised
We kicked funny raps, back then, no pain
It was all about laughs and winning the game,
Until Kool Moe D
And the Treacherous Three
Did that flow in B-B-Beat Street
About Santa Claus not being discrete
That’s when I came alive I mean soul released–
Naw, it was the end of Beat Street, Dig it
When Melle Mel took the stage, yeah that did it.
Melle Mel was a master roaring raps rhythmic
I had to be Melle Mel so his style I mimicked
Must have been three years old back then
Had the cornrows and the biker gloves all Schwinn
Toddler jean jacket and black cowboy boots,
I never learned Mel’s lyrics, instead I rapped my own truth
Ah huhhuh huh huh,
So yeah I copped his tone and his vibe
That’s how it all started, that’s my tribe
All in the mirror rapping all day and night
With my mother’s hair brush for a mic.

My palm was on fire and my head was throbbing. On came them voices. I hadn’t heard ‘em in years. My dead homey Los was like,

“Fuck is yo’ problem, homey?”

“Tamper got me fucked up.”

“What you want, a time machine?”

“Please, man.”

“Muhfucka, if you ever get yo’ hands on a time machine you come back to October 3rd 1996 and stop me from going to that hoop game.”

“I ain’t mean it like that Los–”

“You think them police blew my chest out over a goddamn battle rap so you could be bitching out in some fuckin toilet over some tamper? Let me have ya body for just tonight and I’ll turn this muhfucka out, me and Chub or any of the homeys. Give it up and we’ll turn this muhfucka out.” That snapped me out of it. I stopped fighting the high, splashed my face again, came out the restroom and hit the stage.

Joe was so cold copping Miles’ ‘70’s shit so clean. I felt like I was right there with young Miles. His notes and the spaces he left in between felt gigantic and soothing. When J saw me at the mic finally, he put his fist up signaling the song change. The band stopped and Joe kept soloing on trumpet in all that silence. After about 35 seconds or something like that, Joe stopped and the crowd went crazy.

J let that first bass note of Dead Angels land. That shit made the whole cave shake. L and James and J got to stomping out the beat and my loaded ass was clapping so hard I saw a phoenix’s neck snap in between my hands. I threw that bird out into the crowd and went into one of the only three raps I ever memorized,

No matter what they do to us
We, free slaves can only free the few of us
In lieu of rushed
Attempts to abduct
Trust in them masters who scatters
The mind’s crust
Ask not the sun’s rays to fundraise
For that secret railroad–child hush
Uncloak me slow
I’m Madison Washington
So this ship’s cargo
Will not be sold
As sure as gods still eat gold
And fuss about how the opposite
Appropriately sits
Sniffing gold dust
And eating bold souls with silver salad forks
And silk napkins to dab them drips
Of dip that slipped down trembling lips
To hit them fancy old clothes

Burn they plantation,
Burn them wardrobes, I stay in war mode (huhn what?)
Burn they plantation,
Burn them wardrobes, we speak in war code (dig it, yo)
Burn they plantation,
Burn them wardrobes, I stay in North Star mode

Lower the mast on this ship
cloaks and hoods Rosewood all good
This the result of a nigga who refuses to code switch
This that soaked in blood Denzel getting whipped
I hit the shore all Moor with more alchemy
To unfold Glory
Dig this, stay silent as a morgue
While telepathically
Sending slave secrets into the future to telekinetically
Instigate an uprising for cyborgs
I’m post microchips
Code me
Even them muhfuckas who know me
Don’t know me
Tell me don’t show me
27 dead homies
Surround me
Not as ghouls but gods
I’m from the Town of Hoo-Rides and drive-bys we odd

You are not invited to our party
Melt Ken and lynch that bitch Barbie
Nerds be like, “Nardly.” Let ya freak flags fly
I, Gang banged for the North
Southern brains hang only in my memories, translucent corpse
We Union, so we kill ‘em with they own Confederate pitchforks
Smoke trees and laugh eating Bar B Q’ed pork
Freestyling over rhythms of chewing
And smacking
Flesh detaching
Bones scraping the teeth
I’m blacking still I reach
Angry ghost of Klansmen I killed last life
Coming back again hunting for me like
They won’t get axed again
Yeah right, I hatchet them
Don’t ask why I did it
I’m old school
You don’t wanna get the message,
Let me fax you then
I’m no fool
I’m John Brown from the Town off juice and gin
In the now where slavery ain’t got nothing to do with your color of skin
Marxin’ markin’ targets on books by Darwin
Murder eugenicists
What Sly say? “Oh, the skin I’m in”
“I’m rarely in my skin I’m a fuckin’ X-Man”
I live in my words and hex man
Fuck test, no answers no questions
I use the devil’s language to battle it
Cuz God’s talk confuses and unravels it
No clarity
The words are illusions
Cloaks for God’s vulgarities

Yeah, that dusty rhyme still locked in my mind. After I got to the end I was so out of breath my eyes and chest was burning, jaws aching. Went into autopilot. Stumbled away from the mic and lit a cigarette in the wings, I think the audience was loving it though.

All I remember from then on is quick cuts. At one point I was George Clinton yelling, “How y’all feeling New York!” The crowd roared back. “I said how you muhfuckas feelin’!” They roared even louder. I let ’em have it, “If y’all high like me, and got dead homies like me, stomp and clap to set ’em free.” Their collective stomp was pile driving the floor. James let his organ roar and strike on the claps and man that was it. I was in a smidgen of heaven. I blacked.

Next memory was me James Browning on the edge of the stage. Can’t remember what song we was doing, but I do remember that I jumped out into the crowd and started dancing and had the crowd yelling “Shit, goddamn, get off yo ass and jam!” I was letting folks yell it into the mic and all that.

When I got back on stage our set was over but the crowd was howling for more. I was drenched and all outta breath. I looked out into the blurry audience and I seen my Aunt Tee clear as my hand on the mic. She was coming towards the front of the stage in a white wedding gown staring dead at me, pissed off, shaking her head in hella disapproval. I’m like, what the hell is her problem? I try to shake it off so I called out, “Yo, Prince’s Head” to the band.

I had my head down studying the stitched patterns in my black cowboy boots stomping on the one and the three. L was just killing the guitar riff. James was smashing on the synths like Lisa or Fink. I still had my head down when I start singing the lyrics, “When I met ya sugar you were on your way to be wed…” I don’t know how I remembered those lyrics! (P.S. I’m the worst singer that ever lived. I’m a rapper you dig, but back then all of us had to start singing cuz Andre 3000, The Fugees and Kanye made the singing rapper more important than thee rapper. Facts.)

The crowd was wilding out and I was dreaming. I leaned off the stage and shoved the mic in some woman’s face on Lisa’s part of the song and she sang that whole damn verse, then we both yelled the chorus, “Head/Until you get enough/Head/Until you’re burning up…” My eyes was stinging from all the sweat, so I dried my face with my shirt. Right in the front row was my furious Aunt Tee shaking her head. She been dead three years.

I couldn’t remember all the lyrics but the audience was screaming them so I jumped into the crowd again and started pantomiming giving women head and hollering the hook into their crotches. Women seemed to dig it, the crowd was dying. I was on that part where Prince shouts, “Head/Until your love is red/Head/Love you ‘til you’re dead” and I look up from the crotch of this broad and my aunt’s right there next to me. I jumped back on stage and rapped about how important it is to give your woman head. Then the breakdown hit and I looked around at the band and everyone in the band was my Aunt Tee. All of them steady shaking their heads in disapproval. Scared the hell outta me, but see ever since I was little boy I rapped my fear away so I went in,

My father was Akhenaton
Osiris-ing ‘til Set shot him
I’m Mendes–no I’m King Tut Hip Hoppin’
So much death
before the sunsets
I do oblations
Khemet on mine
I Neter
Fuck I pods, I better
no subjugations
Half voodoo half Haitian
Half Hoodoo half Choctaw nation
3/5 human, 2/5 amazing
A wild lion grazin’
For the dialogue with God to begin
so I can finally find my father and raise him
To see the face of the fucka who erased him
Then blaze him
On my mother to snap out of it
She crazy and she proud of it
I’m proud of her for being herself
I don’t doubt her bliss
Or nothing else
I wish
She remembered how to give my cheek a kiss
But she don’t even know who I am
She look at me like her sheets she pissed
My aunts tracking me
I’m paranoid and terrified of what’s attacking me
She want me to be ashamed
All I want is the fame
But I don’t know why, honestly
So I stay high, honorably
So when my body die
Ka and Ba reunite successfully
This fame game will be the death of me
Unless I take option three
My woman wanted to marry me
I sacrificed her for the game
now I’m terribly lonely
Don’t eat so I’m boney
Broke and only
127 dollars away from being zero homie
no phony, no hero, fuck money
I been drinking rye catching Holden Caulfield holding twenties
Lenin spinning backwards
After the bullet sent him home,
So I’m off that Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds
Spitting bullets at the throne when I’m rhyming
Fuck suicide
I do regicide
When I put my voice inside
Any microphone
I’m shu, I’m breath, I’m wind,
I live to blend and never blend in
Get outta debt
I’ll neva die don’t believe in sin
I am here to heal like mercurochrome until I meet that woman
Who remembers and misses our home
Where mercury rivers flown and gold bison roamed

Next thing I remember chanting is, “God, ‘til you get enough/God’s love is all I trust.” All this religious shit just poured out me. I don’t know what I rapped about. I was flowing faster than a muhfucka, too. Then the climax hit and I picked the mic stand up and yelled into it while it was over my head, “Demons, give me what I want/Fame, until I’m burning up!”

Outta nowhere the band went into a cover of Fame, but without Bowie’s amazing intro so it just crashed in and I slammed the mic stand down on the one. Crowd loved it. A pain tore through my hand that I ain’t never felt before or since. I almost ate my face off trying to take that jolt. My ring finger was stuck in the mic-stand’s adjuster. That shit bit me so bad I almost sobered up. Audience thought my terror was passion. I tried to unscrew the adjuster, but it was stuck too. I was trapped, panicking like hell cuz every time I tried to pull it from the lock my flesh ripped. I kept on yelling FAAAAAAAAAAAAME. Everyone in the band and the crowd was yelling, “FAAAAAAAAAAME.”

Show must go on. I tried to take my mind off the sting. I tried to flip it and spit about the pain of fame and being stuck in the game. All the humiliation and shit my family, The Monk family been through. I got to the end of it and was yelling that part where Bowie be like, “Is there any wonder?” Blood running all down my forearm.

Once the song ended, I shut up and focused on getting my finger out that damn bear trap. I yanked the mic-stand up over my head, yelled “Fuck this fame” and slammed it down while ripping my hand away. The mic-stand snapped in two. The audience loved it.

I looked out into that blurry-ass audience and saw my Aunt Tee walking away with blood all over her dress and that disgusted look on her face was finally gone. I blinked and she disappeared.

I couldn’t take it no more. So, I got on the mic and asked, “Yo anybody gotta rag or bandage or something? I’m hella messed up, up here.” They cheered. “Nah really y’all, I’m hella all bad homies.” They chanted the Funkadelic hook from Cosmic Slop in approval, “Would you like to dance with me we’re doing the cosmic slop.”

I was raging so I unleashed my bloody ass hand again and yelled, “Naw y’all, I’m serious as a muhfuckin’ heart attack up here. I’m all fucked up.” I showed ‘em my trembling bleeding right hand, half the ring finger hanging off. I hollered when the air stung it, caught the hanging flap with my other hand and held it in place the best I could. They raised their beers and shots to salute my injured finger. I hollered, “Somebody please give me something for my fucking hand, please.” They kept yelling the hook, “Would you like to dance with us, we’re doing the cosmic slop?”

I threw my hand at ’em again and bugged, “Man fuck all y’all. I’m just ‘posed to die up here huh? That’s what y’all really want right?” That’s when I looked out in the audience about to cry, and I seen Malcolm and Enheduanna in their B Boy stances. What the hell was they doing here? They looked me dead in the eyes, threw up they fists and hollered, “UHURU.” I finally remembered the rules of the game. Shame on me for interrupting the goddamned show. What better place for a rapper to die than on stage? So I straightened up, threw up my bloody fist and hollered, “UHURU”; the whole band hollered, “UHURU,” we all started chanting it on the one. I ain’t feel nothing.

I rode that wave from there on out. Then out of nowhere, J went into Rapper’s Delight bass-line. That set my numb ass off. I ripped my blood soaked shirt off and wrapped my hand up with it. Of course that made the crowd go wild, cuz back then I was boney, six-packed up and all that. I started the proletariat black fist pump with Malcolm and ‘Uanna leading the chant. Ceilings low as a shoebox top in there so I banged my hand on the ceiling, hurt like hell and made some crumbs of the ceiling fall. So now I had thrown blood all over the stage, band, audience, and ceiling. It could get no worse.

I started pop-locking like it was 1985 and doing all the voices from Rapper’s Delight like it was ’79, “I say a Hip Hop the hibby to the hibby de hop… and ya don’t stop the rock.” Man, I don’t know how long we did that song for, but we did it. James went off on his solo on keys. Then I blacked and I mean really blacked out.

Next morning I woke up in a tub with my trench coat over me. Despite all that fuckery though, looking back on it twelve years later… It felt good, it felt honest, it felt important. But you still ain’t gone never catch my ass performing, even if my Aunt Tee’s on drums.

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