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Where I’m From: Jeezy’s Macon is Complicated

If just a few people can get past the initial and arguably intended fear factor of “Where I’m From” and think about the economic connection of Aldean’s side of Macon and Jeezy’s side of Macon, and the still ongoing one-sided struggle for resources and economic development, then Jeezy did some killer work – because the next logical step is to ask “why”.

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Hawkinsville native, Jeezy, released a video earlier this week for his recent single, “Where I’m From” about his second home, Macon.

In VICE’s “Noisey” era of parachute journalism, southern trap music is just one genre to get the Brooklyn golden touch, widening interest in it. As such, it’s brought a dichotomy of young white folks into the fold of those interested in trap watching. Some use it to fuel their own caricatures of southern black life, while others want to explore the one place to which their privilege does not give them access.

Watch the video now.
Watch the video now.

But, the large majority of both sides are not interested in what Money’s looks like when the cameras from Brooklyn leave the gravel lot. Still, they’re watching, listening, and if you open Pitchfork on any given day, they’re probably talking at great length about it.

“Where I’m From”, using Rolling Stone as its vehicle, is the latest video to give those lucky enough to be born into a neighborhood without blight, crime, and drugs a look into a world they fear, pity, and pretend to understand: the trap.

 

It opens with a scathing state of affairs for the forgotten quarters of Georgia’s Central City scrolling across images of buildings and houses most in Macon have driven by, a malnourished dog most have seen, and a group of young black men standing around a white Camaro that some have sped up to get away from.

The scroll reads, “Ranked as one of the most dangerous cities in the state of Georgia… A city full of gangs, guns and drugs… Macon is known for being heavily populated with Crips.”

Before the token high hat begins, a man standing in front of a corner store steps forward and in an unmistakably middle Georgia drawl says, “Er’day. Seven days a week. Bibb County. Bitch, I been bangin’.”

As soon as the Duncan Street and Napier Avenue road signs flash up on the screen, the high hats ting, and Jeezy’s voice tells us it’s time for a refresher about where he’s from. And just like his Thug Motivation days, the song begins with a slight crescendo, and then doesn’t slow until the end.

“Where I’m From” is a shoutout ballad. It’s Jeezy telling the stories, one by one, of the hardest and smartest characters he knew coming up in middle Georgia. He spits one liners about who they are while lamenting that the only options they had and those like them today have is to learn to either “shoot a basketball or a gun”.

Notably absent, are the staples of modern rap videos: the girls, the money, the cars, and well, the rapper himself. “Where I’m From” goes out of it’s way to be raw, unbrushed, and authentically Southern. But, even more to the point — authentically Macon.

It’s authenticity though, begs its own questions, ones far harder to address than the arguments that rap glorifies violence or that Macon has a gang problem—which no one is denying, by the way.

The first must be done in an analogy. I am admittedly culturally unfamiliar with a voice of southern black identity. I’m a white guy from Monroe County.  But being that, I am familiar with one who contends to be a voice of southern white identity.

In the early days, Jeff Foxworthy was just pointing out the funny quirks of his family. And after doing so for a couple of years, he became very rich. One has to wonder if his jokes turn from being funny because say, it’s his brother, to offensive because he is now just a wealthy man mocking a caricature of fantasized monolithic poor white people.

What does this sort of caricaturing of poor people do to help them? What does it do to help break down mythical monoliths of people based on those caricatures? And lastly, is there a degree at which you’re actually putting the butt of the caricature in harms way by filming a quirk that happens to be illegal?

The second question is bigger than Jeezy himself.  We’ve seen coverage of “Where I’m From” over the past week that compares it to Jason Aldean’s music video for “Gonna Know We Were Here” and ponders the existence “Two Macons”.

Aldean
Still from Jason Aldean’s video also shot in Macon.

While Jason Aldean’s video depicts a very different set of people—mostly white students from a private high school jamming to Abercrombie clad Aldean on Cotton Avenue—it is not a different world. In fact, it’s two sides of the same coin that necessitate each other.

The drastic disparities between the economic success of North Macon and economic failure of well, East, West and South Macon is a story in a middle Georgia vacuum, but is unique in many ways to Southern cities.  It’s the story of one city in a constant struggle with itself.

Almost 40% of the people living in the census tract containing the corner of Napier and Duncan – the corner featured in the opening of Jeezy’s video—live at or below the poverty level.

In stark contrast, the percentage of people that live at or below the poverty level in the census tract surrounding Windsor Academy, whose halls were featured in the opening of Jason Aldean’s video, is only 0.8%.

Both contain roughly the same amount of households and people yet yield two wildly different economic stories, but they’re not “two Macons.” They are still one Macon. The former’s distress is dependent on the latter’s success and visa versa. And has been for quite some time.  They are intrinsically connected.

Macon has never had the thriving black middle class that Atlanta had. The black middle class in Atlanta tempered race relations and demanded a more fair distribution of resources during the Jim Crow and succeeding eras. It, in many ways can be attributed as an incubator for the founding of the Civil Rights Movement and Atlanta’s succeeding era of economic prosperity.

Macon’s recent past, while parallel to Atlanta’s in many ways, diverges drastically in this area. Without the City Too Busy To Hate’s middle class, the move to private schools and the flight to North Macon in the ‘50s to avoid integration ripped precious resources away from school systems, and thus, economic viability of entire regions.

While not a part of their identity today, Southern schools like Windsor were created in part, to ensure that kids never had to go to schools like Northeast or Southwest.

The same of course happened in Atlanta, but the middle class was able to fight for and keep resources that would have otherwise been denied.

And so, Macon’s recent history is marred, not by two Macons with differing narratives, but by one Macon battling for precious resources, and one side of town clearly winning.

Still from Jeezy's "Where I'm From"
Still from Jeezy’s “Where I’m From”

Jeezy’s “Where I’m From” is uncomfortable, but that’s the damn point. It’s what’s left after decades of losing resources, support, and economic and educational advancement. When almost half of your neighbors are dirt poor, and your high schools struggle to graduate roughly half of their students, sometimes life gets uncomfortable.

The problem for Jeezy is that as a member of the moneyed hip-hop elite, he may have crossed that Foxworthy line and dabbled a bit into voyeuristic trap watching and caricaturing a group of people who are far from monolithic and whose needs are much deeper than gang affiliation or drug use.

After the high hats fade out and the song ends, a man looks right in the camera, with his boys behind him, and says “…Shout out to Young, for goddamn giving us the opportunity, to let the whole world watch.” He exudes pride.

The lives of those in and affected by the Macon trap are not monolithic. They are filled with violence and religion, pride and shame, and just like the lives of those in the Aldean video, only happen once. But Aldean’s side of Macon is seen on billboards and in music videos. The other side is not, but it should be. It’s what gave us artists from Jeezy to Little Richard and Otis Redding. That’s what makes “Where I’m From” refreshing despite the complicated questions it provokes.

If just a few people can get past the initial and arguably intended fear factor of “Where I’m From” and think about the economic connection of Aldean’s side of Macon and Jeezy’s side of Macon, and the still ongoing one-sided struggle for resources and economic development, then Jeezy did some killer work – because the next logical step is to ask “why”.

If they don’t, then sure, Two Macons will dominate the narrative and the one-sided struggle that hinders the growth and rehabilitation of Macon proper will continue while one side keeps on trap watching and the other side keeps trapping.

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7 Comments

  1. Eddie
    November 21, 2015 at 3:52 am

    What an insightful article. Kudos to the writer. I made it out of Macon. I pray the young men the video either make it out or make a decision for the straight and narrow.

  2. November 22, 2015 at 12:24 pm

    Don’t you think your weekly publication could feature a subject that may perhaps highlight the positive aspects of Macon, GA? Perhaps featuring individuals who are actually improving Macon-Bibb neighborhoods, making a living (legally), being responsible parents, being responsible citizens etc etc etc… Do you really believe having a cover story featuring a rapper and his video of drug dealing & smoking weed will in any remote way improve anyone’s circumstances or living conditions? How about doing a follow up story of the same folks in that goofy video explaining what the true cost is paid for slinging drugs and hanging out on the streets smoking weed.

    • November 23, 2015 at 8:38 pm

      You should read the article Gordon.

  3. Demon
    November 24, 2015 at 2:37 pm

    I used to deliver sale papers to those stores in that video. & None of those guys were nothin’ but nice to me. You smile & say “Hey” & they’d smile & say “Hey”. Being a nice person doesn’t sell (T)Rap music!!! LOL

  4. November 24, 2015 at 3:15 pm

    Gordon you’re the main reason why our conditions haven’t and aren’t improving because u only see what you See better thank God you havent had to live my life!

  5. Buffalo
    November 24, 2015 at 6:51 pm

    Excellent piece. I can relate more to the video than most would think. I grew up in East Macon, I’ve sold drugs, I’ve carried a gun… I have got to survive. I am very proud of this darker side of Macon. It sucks living in poverty &, do what is necessary to survive & support your family.
    I’m a thug, I’m a heathen & a hoodlum, I’m white trash, I’m a criminal, I’m a fucking Outlaw but I am also a damn good man as are the fellows in Jeezy’s video. Pretty shitty the way Macon’s so called elite have interpreted all of this.

  6. November 25, 2015 at 5:07 pm