Friday, October 22, 2010

Bushwick Bill is free: A long and combative Q&A with the Geto Boys legend

Posted By on Fri, Oct 22, 2010 at 3:34 PM

Last week, pioneering southern rapper and Geto Boys member Bushwick Bill appeared in front of an Atlanta immigration judge. Having been arrested and found with drugs after a traffic stop in May, Bill — who was born in Jamaica and has a green card but is not a U.S. citizen — faced deportation. According to one of his lawyers, Carlos Solomiany, and as we reported in our story about his arrest two months ago, Bill has had numerous brushes with the law. But after spending the entire summer at the Atlanta City Detention Center, the judge ruled in his favor and he was released on Monday. He spoke with Creative Loafing yesterday. It was a long and extremely-interesting conversation, though somewhat combative and marred at times by a weak cell phone signal. Here is an amended transcript of our conversation, which covers his hearing, his time in jail, his switch to gospel hip-hop, and even some stories of his early days with Geto Boys.

CL: So, congratulations.
Bushwick Bill: Yeah. Who God sets free, is free indeed.

What did the judge say in his decision?
I don’t really know. [Laughs] I still don’t really understand the situation, but God got me out of it. If you want to know the [specifics], you’ll have to talk to my lawyers. I wasn’t understanding directly how that whole [immigration law] thing works. They can make misdemeanors into aggravated felonies. What you know about traffic court, or any other court, it’s very different than that. I just know that it’s by the grace of God that I’m out. Spiritually, I know who made it happen. [Legally] I know it was no easy task. It wasn’t something that was deliberated on very easily. It knew it took, like, two and a half hours of deliberation before the decision was made.

Before the decision, did you expect that you would have to leave the country?
I mean, I’m Jamaican, but I haven’t been there since I was five years old.

Did you get a large outpouring of support from fans, like letters and emails, and did that help influence the judge?
To me, the only thing that influenced the situation was the grace of God. [My lawyers] can tell you more.

How was your time inside? Was it extremely difficult?
You know what they say: People don’t remember what you say or what you did, they just remember how you made them feel. How the situation made me feel, was that being separated from my family was uncomfortable.

What did you do every day, to pass the time?
There ain’t no such thing as doing something to pass the time. There’s just different rules for when you’re on lock-down, and when you have free time. It wasn’t something I was used to. Trying to understand something that you’re not used to, I don’t consider that getting used to something.

Did you spend a lot of time studying the Bible?
I’ve always studied the Bible, since 1983. I first got saved in ‘78. I was born in ’66. I’m not a youngster, but I’m not Methuselah at the same time. So, it wasn’t “jailhouse religion,” if that’s what you’re perceiving. Everyone falls short of the glory of God. People have sinned, and got themselves together and got right. Tragedy struck me that day, and [I had a] momentary lapse in comprehension on that situation. I didn’t actually do anything wrong. If they would have given me a drug test, there was none of that in my system. It was just that I thought about doing wrong, but I didn’t actually do wrong. I still ended up in the situation I ended up in, because I didn’t have to veer to the left [unintelligible]…

So, are you saying that you acquired the drugs they found you with, but that you didn’t actually use them?

[Unintelligible]… something anywhere on the ground, they can say it’s yours. But, in reality, it was never found on me. [Unintelligible] I really don’t remember much about [that night]. All that I remember is that the only thing that was in my system was alcohol. But I don’t believe in glorifying the past, I’d rather glorify the present.

Are you saying the cops planted drugs on you?
No, that’s what you’re saying. [Laughs.]…Let’s just talk about the fact that, thank God I’m free, how about that? Or, are you saying that’s not newsworthy?

The fact that you’re free is definitely newsworthy. I just want to make sure that we’ve got our facts straight.
[Unintelligible]…I backslid in thought, not in action. It’s all the same to God, and it’s all the same to me.

Sorry to hear about the shooting death of your friend Lonnie Mack. Obviously, he was important to you.
He was the one who introduced me to Lil J, [who] made the decision to make me a Geto Boy. He’s the reason people know about Bushwick Bill the rapper.

You were going to perform “Mind Playing Tricks On Me” at Hip Hop Honors, right?
So they say.

Now that you’ve begun doing gospel hip hop, is it hard to do your old secular material now?
Yeah, I don’t really want to do that music. What I’m building off is Christ in my music.

Are you and your fiancee Cindy Angelle still planning to move to Atlanta permanently?
It’s really up to her. It’s wherever the family is comfortable.

In jail, did you write any music?
It wasn’t jail, you’re in deportation. It’s not a confinement, it’s a pause… It’s immigration, it’s not city or state. Everybody in there is from around the world. I made two Russian friends while I was in there, born in Russia. There’s people in there that was born in France, London, Africa, India, everywhere around the world, Germany, Chile, Columbia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Haiti. It was the melting pot of the world map.

Were you in a cell at night?
I had my own cell, which was more like a room.

Were you able to write any music?
I didn’t really find it an inspiring situation….So far, in this interview, you’ve been stuck on jail and court. I really haven’t been asked any interesting questions.

What do you want to talk about?
I’m doing an interview with you. You tell me. Well…I’ll just say what makes sense to me. What kept me going was God and my family. Cindy Angelle and our family, my mom and dad and my sisters and brothers, that kept me going. The people that was there for me, in spite of the situation, that kept me going. The only thing that got me in there, why the immigration thing popped up, was the fact that I didn’t have any ID on me as proof of who I was when they stopped me, otherwise they would have let me go. Cindy helped find my lawyers. All of these other people you got quotes from didn’t contribute anything toward getting me out. The lawyers helped me, and my family helped me…

I never committed a felony, I never had an aggravated felony. I wasn’t a felonious person, I wasn’t a threat to society. The people they deport are a threat to society.

But you have these other convictions, battery and attempted arson…
But I’m not a threat to society, are you understanding what I’m saying?

What you’re saying seems to contradict what your lawyer told me.
Yeah…what I’m saying is that, in my rap career, coming up, I was never a up-and-coming artist. I was on the Making Trouble album cover, and I was on the Grip It! On That Other Level album, which made Rick Rubin pick it up, and then Priority picked us up, and we went platinum, and we were the first rap group to go platinum out of the south. After that, that’s when I got introduced to having alcohol every day, and being influenced by drugs and alcohol. Smoking weed and drinking liquor was what I was talking about in my music. Other things come into play, but…look at any other celebrity’s life, and tell me what’s going on with them. It’s something in the entertainment business, whether you’re acting, rapping, or you’re Rush Limbaugh, talking about pain pills. I’m trying to tell you that, now, God is my main focus… Carlos [my lawyer] knows that those charges were there, and everyone else in immigration, except for a few others who were driving without a license or wrote a bad check and got deported…I could have been [deported for] writing a bad check. That’s just how immigration works. There’s a girl here in Atlanta who got stopped for a traffic stop, that’s going to college, had no felonies, no misdemeanors, and was going to be deported, because that’s how immigration works.

If you have a permanent resident card, and even if you could have signed your citizenship when you was 18 but didn’t because you had a rap career that took off, if you got a misdemeanor — which is all I have, I don’t have any felonies — if that makes me the worst person on the planet, then okay, that’s what it is.

So, you’re saying you didn’t become a citizen because, when you turned 18 ,you were already in the midst of your rap career and didn’t think of it, or didn’t have time?
I was already a derivative citizen under my mother, but I was raised here, from five years old. It’s not that I couldn’t have gotten my citizenship, it’s just that I became famous and didn’t sign a piece of paper at a certain age, that I had already qualified for. If you’re raised somewhere from the age of five, you go from kindergarten to high school, how do you think of these things? I wasn’t born here, but I wasn’t a candidate for the type of deportation that befalls the average person who goes from the penitentiary to in front of immigration after their court case. The longest I’ve ever been inside of a building having anything to do with the law was when I was in immigration. That’s it. Maybe my music with Geto Boys made people feel like I’m a felonious person, but I don’t have that on my record. I have stuff like disorderly conduct. You know what I’m saying?

I'm confused. So, were you actually pulled over on a traffic stop?
The situation is this — you’re still dealing with immigration. Until you do research on immigration, and find out how the average person got there and is deportable…it’s based on whether or not they have activated felony charges, and whether or not they’re not taking care of their family, or not paying taxes. There’s a lot of things that play into deportation. I didn’t have citizenship papers, so I was in immigration…I was leaving on my own recognizance, and then I was in immigration [suddenly], for six months.

But, I told you, most of my rap career was a blur. Look at what’s happening with celebrities, it seems like I wasn’t the only one. Most people who have to face a bunch of people all the time to do things, including, may he rest in peace, Michael Jackson. They said he was on some types of sedatives…

It was just a moment that, a friend of mine died, and I heard some other bad news. In the world of music, the way I dealt with things that hurt me or bothered me, I’d numb myself to the situation. I’d get drunk and pass out, I’d get drunk and not remember anything. I saw the days by the bottles that I drank, at a certain point in my life. I just had a momentary lapse of reason, which put me in a situation, but it got corrected, and I’m free talking to you right now. Because, at the end of the day, when they looked at my total life, I wasn’t such a bad person. There’s nothing fun about jail, or police, or courts.

Let's talk about your early music career. How did you first meet Lonnie Mack?
I met DJ Lonnie Mack at a club DJing. I was fresh out of Bible school, he played the kind of hip hop I understood. Houston felt like where I grew up that day, as far as the music. I was in [a] breakdancing contest when I was a kid. All I knew was hip hop from breakdancing, to graffiti and rhyming. I didn’t know the other stuff that comes with being a celebrity.

The legend is that Lil J promised his younger brother Thelton and some of his buddies that he would release their rap record if they finished high school. Do you know that to be true?
Yeah, that’s how the Geto Boys was formed. That was the birth of the company, I just happened to be on the first album.

You started out a hype man and breakdancer. Did you always want to be an MC?
No. I just loved hip hop music, and I knew all of the hip hop dances. I’m from Brooklyn, if you from Brooklyn you’re going to know the five elements of hip hop, breakdancing, DJing, graffiti, rapping and production.

How did you hone your skills as a rapper?
Basically, Lil J told me he didn’t want me to be the hype man for the group. He heard LL Cool J and Public Enemy and the Beastie Boys and the Juice Crew, and was like, “You think you can rap? Because the original guys — Slim Jukebox and Prince Johnny C and his little brother Sir-Rap-A-Lot — they weren’t around anymore, and the album, Grip It! On That Other Level, needed to be finished. Willie D and Scarface and I got put together, and they asked me if I could rap, and if I had any ideas. And then, in two weeks I became a rapper. I can’t explain how some people take 12 years, or have been doing it all their life, and finally got a break. I wasn’t even looking for a break. It’s kind of like what Bubba Sparxxx said, “I didn’t choose rhyme/ Rhyme chose me.”

Did you feel like a big part of your role in Geto Boys was to offer comic relief?
I mean, basically, that’s what it was. I was different. I was the hook for the whole concept. My role was like Flava Flav, serious but with a comedic overtone, that made the subject lighter at the same time. I mean, comparing myself to Chuckie was comical.

Were you always a joke-telling type growing up?
I’m short. It's like if you looked different, you’re fat, you stuttered…I was popular still, because I knew breakdancing and graffiti, but I was short, and cynical people still had something to say.

Were you quick with comebacks?
If you have any form of intelligence, you’ll have a rebuttal, in any form of debate.

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