By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
The "combatants" in South-Central were contestants under new rules of ornamental masculinity. The martial rhetoric, the stockpiling of weaponry, the display of violence, all were part of a nitrous-fueled drama that had as much to do with "winning" under the image terms of the new culture as it did with proving valor under any traditional warrior code. As Kody Scott himself would realize later, the war he had been engaged in throughout his coming-of-age years was, above all, a ratings war, a campaign to attain what he came to call "neighborhood celebrity."
"MY FATHER'S GENERATION WAS THE LAST RESPONSIBLE generation," said Sanyika Shakur (now Kody Scott's legally adopted name) as he welcomed me in August 1997 to his girlfriend's two-bedroom house in the San Fernando Valley. He had just moved in, having been released from jail three days earlier after a year's sentence for a parole violation -- his second such since the publication of what was supposed to be his transformational autobiography.
Newly out of prison, Shakur was unnerved by wide-open spaces. He led the way to the smallest room in the house, a back bedroom that his girlfriend, Felicia Morris, had converted to an office. Morris waved goodbye from the living room; a radio disc jockey and songwriter, she was on her way to work. Behind the office was the garage, where her guard dog, a rottweiler named Kody, barked ceaselessly. "When I first moved to South-Central," Shakur continued, "there were industrial ties still. Men still owned their homes, supported their families. But then something happened. It turned to a neighborhood of renters. I started seeing an increase of men in the streets. It was like the economy in this country had reached its apex, and we black men had outlived our usefulness."
As a young man, he had still hoped that he could demonstrate a workmanlike "usefulness" within his gang set. "You put in work and you feel needed in a gang. People would call on me because they needed me. You feel useful, and you're useful in your capacity as a man. You know, 'Don't send me no boys. Send me a man!'" But he was beginning to see his former life in a different light. What he once perceived as "work" now seemed more like PR. "What the work was," he said, "was anything you did in promotionfor the gang." He found it amusing how the media viewed gangs as clannish and occult. "We're nota secret society. Our whole thing is writing on walls, tattoos on necks, maintaining visibility. Getting media coverage is the shit! If the media knows about you, damn, that's the top. We don't recognize ourselvesunless we're recognized on the news.
"There's a lot of talk about loyalty and mission and all that with the gang, and that's part of it," he said. "But my initial attraction to these guys I saw who were in gang life was that these dudes were ghetto stars. And I wanted to be a ghetto star." He set out, as any PR man would do, to ã get his brand name out. "I considered it advertising, being on the campaign trail. Bangin' is very much like promoting for the Republican or Democratic party. What you do is, you have your name ringing on the wire, on several levels. You do it by promoting." The publicity effort took many forms. "You write your name all over. You had to always have your marker and your gloves, because you are on the campaign trail. When you shoot somebody, you say your name, loud. And I wouldn't hide my face. You leave people alive, knowing that the word will get out on who did it. You go to parties and you shoot in the air and say your name. Or you go to parties and you shout-whisper your name in girls' ears, tell 'em what a badass you are, or tell 'em, 'Tell so-and-so, he can't kill me.' You'd primarily use females, because they had the gossip thing down. They are very important, because if they are impressed, they spread the word." He'd gauge the progress of his fame by how speedily a rumor he started about himself spread. "You'd know your celebrity by the return rate, how fast it would get back to you. The return rate is what you look for."
Kody Scott's image-enhancement strategies were not homegrown. "I got all these ideas from watching movies and watching television. I was really just out there acting from what I saw on TV." And he wasn't referring to Superflyor Shaft. "Growing up, I didn't see one blaxploitation movie. Not one." His inspiration came from shows like Mission: Impossibleand Rat Patroland films like The Godfather. "I would study the guys in those movies," he recalled, "how they moved, how they stood, the way they dressed, that whole winning way of dressing. Their tactics became my tactics. I went from watching Rat Patrolto being in it." His prime model was Arthur Penn's 1967 movie Bonnie and Clyde. "I watched how in Bonnie and Clydethey'd walk in and say their whole names. They were getting their reps. I took that and applied it to my situation." Cinematic gangsterism was his objective, and it didn't seem like much of a reach. "It's like there's a thin line in this country now between criminality and celebrity. Someone has to be the star of the hood. Someone has to do the advertising for the hood. And it's like agencies that pick a good-looking guy model. So it became, 'Monster Kody! Let's push him out there!'" He grinned as he said this, an aw-shucks, winsome smile that was, doubtless, part of his "campaign."