Let me talk about Brooklyn for a second. The drilling scene in Brooklyn is contradicting itself, just like Brooklyn. Isolated and loud in equal parts. Serious and darkly comedic. Full of laughter, life and deep pain from losing your neighborhood and being alone in a changing community while still losing friends to gun violence.
Brooklyn is changing: robberies and murders have given way to expensive rents in gentrified neighborhoods. As in Chicago, the music reflects the pain of the people in the neighborhoods who have been disenfranchised and over-controlled. In these cracks in the neighborhood, you’ll see talent bursting on stage and making an impact in the only way Drill can. But in Brooklyn talent was put into bondage. The sadistic NYPD prevented Bobby Shmurda and his GS9 crew from ever building on “Hot N * gga” and “Computers”. Pop Smoke was harassed by the NYPD prior to his assassination; Along with rappers like Casanova and Sheff G, Pop was banned from Rolling Loud New York, an annual hip-hop festival, in 2019. Brooklyn talent has been discriminated against, but we’re looking for the next star to break through.
Rapper 26AR is working to become the next star. The former hooper speaks to me about basketball at Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn, knowing this profile is for SLAM Magazine. “When I didn’t have any problems, I always played ball. If I stayed focused and stayed out of anger, I would have come a long way, ”he says.
All his life, 26AR was either a head-turner or had trouble with the law. He was sculpted by the Street Courts in Crown Heights and honed his skills in Brower Park. “My game was noticeable,” he says. “That’s why I love Kyrie. Kyrie is my favorite player. ”AR was a prototypical New York Guardian. His grip was dangerous. He played with speed and an attitude reserved for the cockiest guys in your neighborhood.
At the same time, 26AR is eager to talk about what it has overcome. When he was 16 years old, he was involved in a gang conspiracy case. They didn’t just try the senior members. They attacked everyone and sprayed everything in sight. The racist criminal justice system took advantage of 26AR’s connections, and AR decided to take on the guilty guilt. Using unfair conspiracy and gang laws, they sentenced him to four years in prison. In addition to the usual torture that prison brings, prosecutors have not allowed 26AR to continue dreaming – the irony of sending a young child to prison and not letting them try to improve themselves while there was. “I don’t remember the first night I was locked up, but I got into trouble while I was there,” he says. “I did a lot of things too.” AR played chess obsessively and became more disciplined on its own. He also got help from Coach Mo.
Maurice Ballard founded the nonprofit Game of Life program to help detained youth. As a basketball coach, he met many young men who needed guidance. Do you know that the Jadakiss quote about brothers in the north is better than Jordan but never got that break? That might sound like a cap, but people like Coach Mo dedicated their lives to helping children at risk pursue their dreams. He knew 26AR was special before starting to work with it. “I knew he wanted to change his life,” says Ballard. “As a kid on my basketball program, to develop a relationship with him every day and learn more about him and his case. AR called me and asked if I could bring him lemonade or sneakers or something he hadn’t had in a long time. He became someone who was always on my mind. So I started writing letters to the judge and making ways for him to be released and we could find some schools for him. ”
Mo wanted to give 26AR a second chance. When the legal system turned its back on AR, Mo decided to help the boy and not give up. AR is grateful: “He did a lot for me in prison. He put together a documentary for me, and the DA [District Attorney] just synchronized it. ”
As a rapper, 26AR is clearly inspired by Brooklyn drill stars like Bizzy Banks, with the rumbling production heard under the deep voice of Pop Smoke. He raps with the flair with which he was hopping: the play on words flows dynamically, and you don’t know what’s next. When he spits, he raps with a legato that rolls down a hill and is followed by a boulder.
26AR is also growing as an artist. It started out with raps that should shake your head, but now it’s backed by the same maximalist production that tops the charts where it might end up next. He also itches. He did it the other day. He still thinks that no one can guard him. Just like a New York Guard turned rapper.
Jayson Buford is a music journalist / critic based out of Brooklyn. He has written for Rolling Stone, GQ and Pitchfork. He’s a lifelong Knicks fan and has a Wu-Tang tattoo.
Portraits by Johhny Lewis. Follow him on Instagram @johnnyysilk.