On September 29, 1998, I was a sophomore at Morehouse College. I didn’t live on-campus. I was living in the westside of Atlanta house on Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd SW that my grandmother lived in for much of my youth. At some point, my cousin bought her a house in Adamsville—two miles west on MLK—and my two of my sisters moved in at various times. The house was originally purchased by my mother and her then-husband and eventually passed on to two of my sisters.
In 1998, I was living there by myself. This particular house was an end unit of a group of rowhouses. When I was little, it seemed so big, though that’s mostly because at almost no point were there less than five people living in this roughly 1,000 square foot, two bedroom, 1.5 bathroom house. It’s boarded up and dilapidated now, but during my childhood and in college, I loved that house.
The neighborhood, though, well, left a lot to be desired. The house immediately next door was sometimes occupied by a dude who I couldn’t point out in a lineup if my life depended on it. But the house two doors down?
Well that was a crackhouse. And not a jokey-jokey crackhouse. Naw, it was a real-life, fully functional, operational, shenanigans at all times of day and night, police get called crackhouse.
Just to provide some context in this very long introduction and explanation, two different people were shot on my back porch at two different times. From the crackhouse. Nobody died; both were shot but because they were afraid of the police took off running. I have proof of this. On one of those occasions, several of my friends were at my house when one of the crackhead neighbors got shot. I was on first-name basis with a few of the rotating cast of tenants of that crackhouse. I wasn’t borrowing sugar or anything from them or letting anybody in my house, but we’d exchange pleasantries. You know, we were real neighborly and shit.
Which is why the shenanigans of September 29, 1998, annoyed me so much. In the hip-hop world, this was an important day. Five albums from five huge hip-hop acts were released on this day: A Tribe Called Quest’s The Love Movement (their “last” album with Phife alive), Jay-Z’s Vol. 2...Hard Knock Life (the album that took him mainstream), Mos Def & Talib Kweli are Black Star by Black Star (Mos Def and Talib Kweli), Brand Nubian’s Foundation and the hip-hop classic Aquemini by Outkast (separate article coming).
I bought three of those albums (Outkast, Tribe, Jay) at Audrey’s in the Atlanta University Center. Audrey’s was our music shop where you could listen and buy albums early and where there would be autograph sessions from artists. For those of us in the AUC during the late ’90s, Audrey’s was a staple. Anyway, I copped all three albums and drove home. I listened to Outkast in-store (you could sit and listen to entire albums in advance; most albums she had at least by the Monday before, back when most albums were released on Tuesdays), so I threw in Tribe’s album. I didn’t like it then and don’t like it now.
Back in 1998, I was driving a silver 1997 Ford Escort. This is only important because this vehicle didn’t have a CD-changer in it. I had a Discman that I hooked up to the tape deck with the tape-converter thing. But I was Big Willie with my Discman with shuffle. Anyway, when I’d get to my house next door to the crackhouse and park in our back-of-rowhouses parking lot, I’d always throw my Discman under my seat and hide all the wires. I’d also hide my CDs. This day though, I left the three CDs in the door. And I guess I didn’t hide all the wires from my Discman well enough. You can probably see where this is going.
I go inside the house and lay down on my couch. I must have fallen asleep because I remember being shaken awake by a heavy knock at my front door. I got up, answered my door and I see one of my crackhead next-door neighbors with an interesting array of items in his hand. Buddy immediately says, “Yo, PJ, I have these CDs that I think you want, bro. On sale! I know you want these CDs, shawty! I’m sure of it!”
I look in his hand and I notice the exact same three albums I just bought. We don’t talk that often so the likelihood of him being able to ascertain my music proclivities is pretty low. I look him up and down, cock my head to the side and say, “Hold on...”
I walked to my back sliding door and look out to see that my driver-side window has been broken and the glass is all over the ground. Yes, my crackhead neighbor broke into my car, stole my CDs (but left the Discman oddly), and came to my house to sell them back to me. I walk back to the front door and I’m like, “Bro...you BROKE INTO MY CAR??!?”
“I did no such thing! But I do have these CDs I’m sure you want!”
I’m pissed, but I also blame myself here.
“Nigga...you keep them. I’m good.”
“You sure, shawty? I got that new NEW Outkast!”
I closed the door.
For the record, the cost of fixing the window was $300, which might as well have been $3,000 to a sophomore college student. The next time I saw him, I told him that should he ever decide to break into my car again, he should just knock on my door and tell me what he’s going to take to save me the money.
He agreed to do so.