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Inside the Nickerson Gardens Projects with Rapper Jay Rock: "They can call anyone a terrorist, a gangbanger, and put cameras in your neighborhood."

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Thu, Feb 17, 2011 at 9:00 AM
click to enlarge Jay Rock - SAM SLOVICK
  • Sam Slovick
  • Jay Rock

Papa Dad didn't make the big Martin Luther King Jr. Parade on MLK Boulevard. He was shot dead on Jan. 3 at 103rd and Crenshaw. Jay Rock and Punch didn't attend, either. It's a turf thing. They want to stay alive. So on the day of the parade, they hung out in Nickerson Gardens, outside Jay Rock's mom's place, where they grew up.

William Nickerson Jr. defiantly won't be at the MLK Day Parade. He died in the 1940s, but if he were alive to see the Watts public housing complex that bares his name, it probably would kill him. The creator of the biggest black-owned business west of the Mississippi unwittingly loaned his name to the biggest public housing project west of the Mississippi.

Today it's a Tudorbethan ghetto fortress where trees struggle to thrive and building numbers, stenciled on whitewashed cinder blocks, read like cell block IDs. The people here are held hostage. Community policing is an offensive campaign slogan in the home of the Bounty Hunter Bloods.

Shot on Flip Mino at Nickerson Gardens and the Crenshaw District.

"Right now we live and direct in the Nickerson Gardens projects, on the east side of Los Angeles, you feel me?" Jay Rock asks, wiping the sleep from his eyes, in the parking lot. Tall and lean, in a black T-shirt, jeans and sneakers, he's a little older than when the XXL cover boy got hood-famous after releasing his first CD a few years back.

"All a nigga gonna do is handle his business as a man, and as a father," he says as his 2-year-old daughter rests her head on his heavily tattooed forearms.

click to enlarge Jay Rock and his daughter - SAM SLOVICK
  • Sam Slovick
  • Jay Rock and his daughter
click to enlarge Jay Rock - SAM SLOVICK
  • Sam Slovick
  • Jay Rock

Punch twists the brim of his backward baseball cap. "I know what they think ... a bunch of animals," he says. "They can call anyone a terrorist, a gangbanger, and put cameras in your neighborhood."

An iron door clatters, announcing two 20-something girls as they greet the day. One is a big girl in a tank top, with tattoos, shocking-blue Bettie Page bangs and a pretty smile. She shies away, "Ooooo. Get away from me. I didn't do my hair yet."

Kids play and gangsters take some sun as an unmarked cop car chases someone around the corner. "There go the jump-out boys," Jay Rock says. "You talk about the City of God ... well, here it is. I done been to so many funerals."

click to enlarge Jay Rock and Punch - SAM SLOVICK
  • Sam Slovick
  • Jay Rock and Punch

He's thinking about his friend Papa Dad. "One of my big homies. But I don't really too much wanna talk about that, cuz it's still fucked up."

Jay Rock's getting restless. He launches into a practiced pitch about his debut studio album: "Follow Me Home. May 17. I'm going to put you in my state. Y'all can hit me up on Twitter, backslash jayrock."

The album drops in three months on Top Dawg Entertainment/Strange Music.

Over his shoulder, a camera watches from the top of a telephone pole. "I don't know if you ever took notice of those cameras right above you," he says. "It's kinda got us, like, under surveillance. Who knows who's watching? The government, the police, the FBI."

Phil Tingirides is captain and area commanding officer at the LAPD Southeast Division. An autographed publicity photo of the actors from Adam-12 hangs in his small office. He offers to show a reporter what's on the other end of the surveillance cameras.

click to enlarge Phil Tingirides, LAPD Southeast Division - SAM SLOVICK
  • Sam Slovick
  • Phil Tingirides, LAPD Southeast Division

In another room, flat-screen monitors are mounted on the walls, and a pamphlet from the International Society of Krishna Consciousness, titled Reincarnation: The Cycle of Death and Rebirth, sits on the desktop, where a cop mans the mouse, scanning the feed from the cameras that chase the cats around Nickerson Gardens. Polarized, symbiotic twins, the cops and the Bloods each have their own secret language. Encrypted and deciphered, they understand each other with pristine clarity.

"The cameras give us the ability to monitor what's going on without having officers in there, agitating people," Tingirides says as the camera zooms in on a photo of Papa Dad memorialized on the back of a large, white T-shirt worn by a young black man.

"Papa Dad was connected to a lot of rap musicians and singers, sports world figures ... he was very well-connected and connected in this community," Tingirides says respectfully.

Pull back to reveal rows of rented tables with red tablecloths set up for a re-pass, a sort of ghetto memorial.

click to enlarge Martin Luther King parade porch party - SAM SLOVICK
  • Sam Slovick
  • Martin Luther King parade porch party

"He was over at Popeyes Chicken with his girlfriend, and a suspect came up to him and challenged him from the gang perspective. He saw that the suspect had a little girl with him and he said, 'Do you really wanna do that with your daughter here?' So the guy went and put his daughter back in the car and came back and they had a physical altercation, and the suspect lost. The suspect left and came back with a gun and approached him and shot him."

Papa Dad, now an undying crime stat. The L.A. Times rendered an empty still life:

"Louis Smith, a 33-year-old black man, died Tuesday, Jan. 4, a day after he was shot in the 1500 block of East 103rd Street in Watts, according to Los Angeles County Coroner's records. On Jan. 3 at about 3:50 p.m., Smith was approached by a male and got into a fight, said Ed Winter, spokesman for the coroner's office. After the altercation, the male left the area and returned with a gun. He then shot Smith several times, Winter said. Authorities were called and Smith was taken to a hospital in Lynwood, where he died the next day at 11:15 a.m."

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