Standing in the middle of an L-shaped housing complex, consisting of 14 houses, I was a bit apprehensive. The environment was completely different than the suburban area I am from, or the Jersey City area I live now. The sky was a deep gray covered in clouds and fear that it would rain made me a bit more uneasy, but as I spoke with the man before me, I grew more and more comfortable in the environment. It was a place he referred to as “The Jungle” or more simply, home.
This man was a rap artist from South Central Newark named King Braize. He stood about 6’3” with a very long beard, very common among Newarkers. The 24-year-old has lived a life well beyond what many of us can imagine in a very short span. Living in the tough streets of Newark and being drawn into gang culture put him on a one way road to danger, but now, being a father and artist with a message, he had to serve as a good example to his children and those in the community.
We stood in the middle of the complex in the grass next to a rather vacant parking lot as he told me his story. He had been rapping since he was 3 years old, and pursuing it seriously as a career since he was 12. When he was 9 years old, he was absorbed into gang life. Shocked at this revelation, I noticed that Braize appeared to be older than his 24 years. He had seen a lot and experienced a lot, causing him to grow up a lot faster than others.
“All this here…is mine”, said King Braize, pointing toward the 14-house complex. His protective nature of this area and those who live in it can be heard in his music. He often takes a stand on issues that he feels should be exposed to his listeners.
Two years ago, King Braize released a song called “I Am A Gift”, in which he tackles the lack of substance in hip hop at the time, expressing his dislike for rappers obsessed with material items rather than the process it took to get those things. In recent years, King Braize’s view on hip hop has changed with the emergence of acts such as J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar, who, like him he feels, focus on lyricism rather than flashy gimmicks.
Braize has a very honest approach to his music, taking from his own experiences, and laying stories out on a track for his listeners.
“Everything I rap about, I am about,” said Braize. “You’ll never hear me rapping about an expensive car. You’ll never hear me rap about chains. You’ll never hear me rap about watches. Never.”
On October 1st of this year, Braize released his latest mixtape, Courtesy Of Quitman. Songs on the tape included “Visions,” “Alone,” and “Red Panther.” The mixtape contains very raw content, but as stated earlier, King Braize is not one to talk about anything he is not familiar with.
The song “Red Panther” describes how gang life is often glamorized, making it more and more attractive to younger generations. Braize discusses how the structure of gang life has changed from something prideful to something that guarantees death or incarceration.
“I’m not really doing it for money,” says Braize. “I want the world to hear what I got. I want to tell a better story for Newark and most of all, I just want to do what I love.”
King Braize’s mixtape Courtesy of Quitman can be downloaded here.