Marlon Craft’s Video Calls Out The REAL American Gangsters

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Marlon Craft is an MC from New York City (Hell’s Kitchen in Manhattan, to be specific) who appeared on Masta Ace and Marco Polo’s November 2018 album, A Breukelen Story. That release was named one of Ambrosia For Heads best of the year, and it involved Craft in an ensemble that included Styles P, Lil Fame, Elzhi, and Smif-n-Wessun, among others—illustrious lyrical company, to say the latest. This month, Marlon will release his LP, the Same Plate/Sony-backed Funhouse Mirror.

In his latest video, Marlon boldly tackles America’s gang problem, but the groups he chooses to admonish are not those traditionally thought of as such: the police and Ku Kl*x Kl*n. In three vignettes, actors rap verses told from the perspective of a city cop, a K-K-K member and an incarcerated gang member, respectively. Marlon never appears in the video, instead lending his voice to the three main characters, each of whom delivers a manifesto detailing how he ended up where he is.

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First up is the police officer, a white man angry about being stereotyped but who’s steadfast in pigeonholing criminals as Black. He says, “My name John and I’m a city cop, and I’m just tired of these ni—lemme not / They try to paint me as racist, but, see, I’m really not.” He admits to using his weapon to kill, rapping “If they gon’ lie and steal, I’ma make them lie from steel” and “I’ma keep everyone safe from these Black b*stards” before pledging allegiance to his gang, the other cops whom he calls “my brothers.

In the second chapter, “James” touts his family’s K-K-K membership as honorable. In the same breath, he distances the group from its hateful roots and makes a racist remark. “It’s not about the hatred, man, it’s love for our nation / The white place where we took savages and enslaved and tamed them,” he says. Claiming a manifest destiny entitlement to American soil, he blames Mexicans, “lefties,” “the Blacks, Jews and the gays and the Muslims” for his woes. Like the cop before him, James is devoted to his gang, saying “I do it all for the Kl*n, these are my brothers / They understand me, and we all understand each other.”

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Lastly, a man named “Marcus” raps from his prison cell. He’s a Black man in an orange jumpsuit, locked up for armed robbery. He acknowledges his membership in a gang, saying he “was banging colors since a younglin’ / Was born into a gang ’cause of the block that I grew up in.” But this verse isn’t just about a criminal lamenting being caught; its role is to point out the hypocrisy in how America defines and punishes gangs. “Why my gang got me in jail, and yours got you home in bed?” he asks. The answer is simple: “my skin Black.” “Marcus” is rapping his verse directly to John and James, taking them to task on the faulty statistics and obtuse understanding of crime in America espoused by both:

You claim that I strike fear in you, but what you feel is you
For me to live how you’d call ‘clean’ would be a miracle

The data’s empirical, you hate it when my people march for me
But don’t you too scream ’cause you feel they ain’t hearing you?
Sh*t, your whole premise is false
But I won’t waste no time try’na break your prejudiced walls
Point is, we all on some gang sh*t, loyal to what we’s taught
Believe in what was passed down, our community’s theme of thought
And I’m the only one in cuffs for it
If I get out a better man, I’m still f*cked for it
You turn the TV on and look, you got Tr*mp for it
The President is in your gang, b*tch, and you still point at me to blame sh*t
I pray that when I get out, sh*t ain’t all the same
But it’s a cold world to be alone in when the whole place
That you grown in treat you like dogs in the rain
Sh*t, I might f*ck around and call gang, gang, gang, gang

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It’s worth noting that Merriam-Webster’s primary definition of “gang” is “a group of persons working to unlawful or antisocial ends.”

In 2016, T.I. released his most political work to date with the EP, Us or Else. One of its singles was “Warzone,” which came with a compelling video in which victims of police killings were cast as white, and the deadly officers as Black. There’s a similar theoretical approach to Marlon Craft’s new video; as a white MC, he’s using “Gang Sh*t” to not only call out racist white people, but also casting himself as a Black gang member. It’s an important exercise in adopting the “otherness” in perspectives antithetical to our own, which is sometimes the only effective means of making change. Tip apparently saw Marlon’s video, taking to Twitter to voice his support. “This is powerful!!! @MarlonCraftNY respect!!! #UsOrElse,” he wrote.

Previously, Marlon Craft has worked with Dizzy Wright, Jay Lonzo, and Bodega Bamz.

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#BonusBeat: For more of Marlon’s style in a video he appears in, check late 2018’s “NY Baby”: