Marshall Bell, a community leader from West Baltimore who works at City Hall, wants to talk about the murdered rapper Lor Scoota and the “paradox which was his life.” It strikes me that you need only listen to two versions of Scoota’s most popular song, “Bird Flu,” to get the drift of that.
Side by side, they represent the two Baltimores we all know and love and hate.
The original is an in-your-face expression of the yearning in young men to sell larger amounts of dope to the city’s junkies: “I'm tired of selling packs, I think I need a bird or two.” (“Bird” refers to a kilo of narcotics.)
The other, rewritten and rearranged for 92Q during the Orioles’ playoff run in 2014, offers the kind of catchy, humorous chant -- “Ah-choo! My city got the bird flu” -- we should all be singing through the summer of 2016 and into the fall.
The songs (and the smartly-produced video with the original) reveal Lor Scoota as a talented and charismatic entrepreneur, one willing to rap unapologetically about profits to be made from the drug trade, the other willing to adapt his music for broader, commercial appeal.
It’s so typically (and frustratingly) Baltimore -- the split personality, the two-cities-in-one thing, that paradox Marshall Bell wants to talk about.
A policy analyst for the City Council and brother of a former City Council president, Bell ran unsuccessfully in a crowded Democratic field for a council seat from West Baltimore this year. He’s in his mid-40s, a recovered drug addict who committed crimes when he was younger, so he knows about life along the margins, and he understands the struggles of young men in the poorest parts of the city.
“We have too much of everything bad, and too little of everything good,” Bell said as he campaigned for Nick Mosby’s council seat, in the district where Freddie Gray was arrested last year.
The day after his fans and friends held a vigil for Lor Scoota, Bell reacted to the rapper’s shooting death on Facebook:
“We mourn the passing of Lor Scoota, but we must also be honest and acknowledge the paradox which was his life: trying to rectify in our minds the obscenely negative lyrics that he spit on his records like ‘Bird Flu,’ [versus] the positive 'peace and unity in the community' activities he was also involved in, all placed in the greater context of the victim/predator culture that fueled his growing street popularity, artistic ascension and attention from socially UNconscious major record labels.
“The sick irony, of course, is that the circumstances surrounding his untimely death, only minutes after leaving a rally promoting healing and peace, may never be known -- possibly even because the very same people who claim to be in such pain over his murder are also some of the very same people who will refuse to offer information to help the police solve the crime, out of some twisted and perverted notion that ‘snitching’ on the murderer is a greater crime than the crime of murder itself! Such unbelievably, cowardly b------.”
Bell is angry, almost despondent in the post, expressing impatience with the cycle of shootings, vigils and memorials, speeches and sermons.
“After the cameras leave,” he wrote, “once again, we are left desperately seeking understanding and answers, all the while contending with the reality of a hostile and unforgiving world with an insatiable, bloodthirsty appetite for the life energy of the young, hopeless, vulnerable, emotionally damaged, psychologically traumatized, and sometimes even truly gifted and talented, members of our forever ‘grief-stricken’ community. And what's worse, there doesn't seem to be a goddamn thing we can do to stop the carnage.”
It’s miserably sad, all of it, the terrible waste of young lives and loads of potential over -- what? -- drugs and money? Jealousy and spite? Minor slights? Perceived disrespect? My column today tells the story of another homicide, another young man, about Lor Scoota’s age, who had just graduated from college and who seemed to be on his way. Marshall Bell’s despondency is understandable, and by now common around Baltimore.