This doesn't have much to do with Baltimore.
Bankroll PJ, the 5-year-old rapper and nephew of recently slain Atlanta street rapper Bankroll Fresh is less a rapper "proper" than a little, living breathing turn-up soundboard, and his new song 'Jump In' is a plainspoken, super-catchy, semi-instructional party rap track with a shitload of pain hiding behind it. Released late last month, around the same time as the Irving Plaza shooting wherein rapper Troy Ave (and possibly others?) fired his gun (allegedly) backstage at a T.I. concert in New York killing one person and wounding three, resulting in a barrage of hot takes which blamed rap for the violence, 'Jump In' and its video are rejoinders to the street violence hip-hop's critics claim it glorifies.
Directed by Orbitdidit, Vicksupreme, and Savvy.Uno, the 'Jump In' video begins with the words "STOP THE VIOLENCE," followed by "In Loving Memory of Trentavious White" (Bankroll Fresh's real name), and finally, "Long Live Bankroll Fresh." What follows is a one-take-style, headspinning, candy-colored, Jonas Akerlund-meets-"Muppet Babies" video with Bankroll PJ playfully shouting dance orders ("Jump in! Jump out!") and his quasi-catch phrase ("Real hundreds though") in the viscerally exuberant squeak-shout of a child. It's a super cut of all the dance craze rap songs as of late, with remnants of dabbing, hitting the quan, and others all twisting around and around until they end up intertwined with nearly the decade-or-so-old instructive ringtone rap moves of D4L, Soulja Boy, and Yung Joc. Perhaps the best moment is when Bankroll PJ declares, "do your own dance," and allows for a moment of total freedom in this demand-packed, if convivial song.
The beat meanwhile: a cartoonish, skitter and gulp occasionally punctuated by gunshot sounds from producer Mr. 2-17.
And along with its introductory tributes to Fresh, there is a moment around the middle of the video when PJ grips a bunch of bills and poses in front of a graffiti tribute to Bankroll Fresh. If you're hip to Bankroll Fresh's short, oft-brilliant career and PJ's relationship with Fresh, then it's hard to watch 'Jump In' without considering the tragedy that pokes the song. Making it obvious for a second there, the graffiti is useful for the uninitiated. Bankroll Fresh brought a kind of lusory intensity to trap music and as is often the case, joy and/or trauma remained poignant asides amid endless verses which explore and dig up as many ways to ponder and bemoan street life, all said in a way that retains Atlanta's "make it new" approach, a tradition that travels from OutKast on through Gucci Mane. Basically, Bankroll Fresh kept on figuring out how to say the same ol' shit in new, different ways—up until he was shot in the Street Execs studio on March 4 at the age of 28.
'Jump In' for its three minutes seems to straddle that death. It's an example of, as they say here in Baltimore, dancing your pain away. And with the endless nonsense being spouted about hip-hop following the Irving Plaza shooting ("The crazy world of these so-called rap artists who are basically thugs that basically celebrate violence they did all their lives, and unfortunately that violence often times manifests itself during their performances, and that’s exactly what happened last evening," New York police commissioner Bill Bratton said), 'Jump In' is an entertaining rebuke. It bravely if naively says "stop," commemorates the fallen rather than shames them, and dances its ass off all in some attempt to transcend. This is the sort of party-music-as-political-act type shit that hip-hop literally began with amid gang truces in the Bronx in the 70s by the way.
The Irving Plaza shooting mind you, is low-hanging fruit for hip-hop's perpetual critics and its opportunistic, respectability-politics-tinged insiders and they are fully exploiting it: a Joey Bada$$ show at Irving Plaza has been cancelled and the rapper suggested in a since-deleted tweet, that it was thanks to the NYPD, long known for their so-called "hip-hop cops" contingent and as a recent GQ story shows, the police clearly targeted rapper Bobby Shmurda; Live Nation meanwhile has cancelled a number of rap shows across the country out of safety concerns after the Irving Plaza incident. And here in Baltimore, there is the ongoing saga of rapper Young Moose, a frequent target of police who has, local event organizers say, been prevented by the police from performing at Baltimore Soundstage and Paparazzi.
But here's the thing: nobody's defending rapper Troy Ave's actions when he (allegedly) recklessly fired his gun backstage, and in a country where shootings happen in churches, movie theaters, and schools at an alarming rate, it's injudicious to blame hip-hop culture for a shooting at a concert. I guess what I'm saying here is if you're the sort that's inclined to choose a random-ass, oft-discussed recent rap thing and use that recent rap thing to diagnose all of the rap out there, then you could do much better than pinning rap's alleged moral failings on last week's shooting—and you could at least also figure out how Bankroll PJ's restorative 'Jump In' fits into that iffy framework.
If this all seems like a bit much to pin on a song by a five year old, notice that PJ's social media frames 'Jump In' as conscious music: "I'm Gone Save The Youth That's My Job ! #JUMPIN," he tweeted recently; on his Instagram, there is a picture of PJ at his kindergarten graduation with a caption that reads "I Graduated Today I'm Moving On Up As You Would Want Me To I Wish You Was Here I Know You Would Have Been There #FOREVERBANKROLLFRESH #DOITFORBANK #LONGLIVEBANKROLLFOREVER." PJ gets it.
A video titled 'Real Hundreds Tho' from February 2015, about a year before Bankroll Fresh was killed, displays the vivid affection between nephew and uncle. In the video, PJ drives around with Fresh, shoots the shit, declares he's "good in school" and jokes about having two girlfriends. What stands out the most is the way Fresh talks to the (then) four year old—as if he is a grown-up rather than a naive kid. It's a sign of affection, and probably in part, the reason why Bankroll PJ seems so much older than he is and even wiser. The website Global Grind asked, "How old is this 4 year old's soul?" referring to PJ. The 'Real Hundreds Tho' video ends with uncle and nephew rapping along to Fresh's big deal track, 'Hot Boy.' It is a moment.
'Jump In' continues that camaraderie and conversation. And even down to its beat, it is countering or at least accessing the kind of violence that took Bankroll Fresh away. When you're from somewhere where gunfire coming through unexpectedly is far too common—like Bankroll Fresh, Bankroll PJ, and Mr. 2-17 are—it's probably pretty freeing to be able to control or predict when gun shots blast even if, it is only on a track for a few minutes.
Okay, so maybe this has a lot to do with Baltimore.Copyright © 2019, Baltimore City Paper