I was born in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1967. But I grew up here, in Watts and Lynwood. I’ve been singing as long as I can remember. God put me on this earth to sing, and if I don’t sing, I die. Over the course of my life, I’ve bounced back and forth from here to Louisiana, working as a chef and as an office worker, and also spending a total of 27 years in prison.
I first came to Skid Row as a result of my drug addiction. I think it was about 10 or 15 years ago. Back then, Skid Row was a place where you could smoke your crack right in the middle of the street and the police would drive by and nobody would say nothing. Pretty much how it is now. That’s why I came here, because there were certain things I wanted to do here. When I got out of jail last February, I ended up homeless on the streets of Skid Row.
The upper echelons, so to speak – the city folk – they really don’t know what to do with the homeless folk, so they keep pushing and pushing and pushing. They try to act like Skid Row doesn’t exist, but you can’t overlook Skid Row because it’s what makes Downtown LA Downtown LA. It’s truly the city that never sleeps. You’re gonna see every fucking thing in the world going on down here. You’re gonna see people arguing with each other, you’re gonna see lovers, you’re gonna see men with men, you’re gonna see women with women, you’re gonna see children even, you’re gonna see a little beastiality, you’re gonna see defecation in the streets, urination in the streets, you’re gonna see fighting in the streets, you’re gonna see drug sales, you’re gonna see drug use. If you can name it– the debauchery in your mind, the wickedness– this is where it’s gonna exist.
Skid Row is so overwhelming that the police don’t know what to do. The mayors and the governors, they don’t know what to do. You're not dealing with natural behavior down here. You're dealing with supernatural, spiritual forces that have literally taken over Downtown LA. You have people living in hundred thousand dollar lofts and right across the street you have people sleeping on the streets eating garbage out of the can.
An important moment in my life was one night when I was hungry and the Lakers were playing. Two white men who were drunk came walking from the Staples Center as I was standing in front of Denny’s. I asked them if they could help me get something to eat. “Fucking nigger, get the fuck outta here” one of them said. As they were walking away, I yelled “Hey! I wrote a song, can I share it with you? It took about 2 years to write, you don’t gotta give me nothing, you can just listen.” The one who didn’t call me a nigger, who was silent through most of it, said “Yeah, I wanna hear the song.” So I sang All For Nothing, which is something that took me about 2 years to write. I got part of it in prison, part of it out of prison, I went back to prison and got part of it, got part of it while I was getting raped, I got part of it while I was in solitary confinement for 6 months by myself, I got part of the song from the garbage can. I sang it as if my life depended on it, because for me at that point, my life did depend on it. When I finished, the one who called me a nigger opened the door to Denny’s and gave me $20 cash. I went in and ordered my food, came out, full, smiling, and then it hit me: it's gonna take a little guts, but why don't I just sing for my food every day?
Initially, that’s what it was all about – money, greed. Very few homeless people care about working class people. You mean only one thing to them and that’s their next hit, blast, fix, drink or whatever. And once you give them that, they’re gone. They don’t give a fuck about you. I started singing your typical songs: the Temptations, Gladys Knight, Marvin Gaye, Whitney Houston, but I got bored with them really quick, and I just shifted my whole view of my music. I found that I really started enjoying not just the money part but I really started enjoying meeting people. And I really started enjoying making my own songs.
Africa was a homeless man who got shot and killed by police officers right near 6th and San Pedro. I never met Africa, but I saw the video when I heard he got killed. I was walking one night and I was thinking about him, and words just started coming. I believe they were words from God because there is no way I could have come up with these things on my own. I started humming and writing on a box. And by the time I looked up, I had the song Africa. I wanted the song to be as gruesome and chilling as possible, even though it’s a little upbeat. I wanted the song to make muthafuckers sit down and think. Stop what you’re doing, stop screwing, stop gavelling, stop whatever it is that you’re doing, and think. It has nothing to do with race, gender, none of that, because guess what: everybody in the fucking world is Africa because at some point in your life, you're going to be mistreated, whether it's by police officers or your mother, father, preacher or whoever's an authority figure in your life that misuses that authority. That makes you Africa.