Image via 03 Greedo/Instagram
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Thomas Whittaker does not do free features.
Halfway through her 1997 book
The Power of Place: Urban Landscapes as Public Memory, the urbanist scholar Dolores Hayden discusses the importance of “place memory.” The concept “encapsulates the human ability to connect with both the built and natural environments entwined with the cultural landscape.” Physical locations in the built environment “trigger memories for insiders, who have shared a common past,” and can represent these shared pasts to outsiders. These memories, Hayden argues, are not something that can necessarily be related in books or museum exhibits. Place memory is formed through “the shared experience of dwellings, public space, and workplaces” and the journeys made between them. Hayden’s work for the non-profit that the book is named after set out to document the social history of Los Angeles with this idea in mind, arguing that “the city’s terrain reflects social history and physical forms many professionals are not yet adept at reading.”
Free 03 isn’t my favorite post-incarceration 03 Greedo project. “No Free Features” deserves to sit with the rest of his uniformly perfect Drakeo collaborations and “I Can’t Control Myself” is a certifiable earworm which would make more sense if it wasn’t January (obviously depending on your tolerance for solo Ohgeesy), but his full-length collaborations with DJ Mustard, Kenny Beats and Ron-Ron The Producer felt more cohesive, more centered around a shared idea of what the duo could achieve. But its relative lack of a unifying idea causes us to reflect more readily on the plight hanging over its release; Greedo hasn’t been present within the community and environment that his music reflects and lives in for five years. This has been magnified by his detention in Texas.
Despite being in prison while making Thank You For Using GTL,Drakeo the Ruler was in the strange netherworld, adjacent to the LA rap ecosystem of the Men’s Central Jail. The mental map we use to place cultural figures and artifacts in some kind of environmental context could locate him near Snoop in 1993 and Suge Knight in 2015. Greedo, like so many, has been put out of sight, out of mind.
On record, he’s still in Watts’ Jordan Downs projects. On Free 03, aside from the two songs recorded on the phone from prison, it is still 2018. In our present-day information stream where content is made obsolete almost as it is produced, we encounter not only a voice from the past, but a grouping of place memories and associations. We hear a past Greedo, anxious yet free to make music, spend time with his daughter, bring outside rappers and producers into both his creative orbit and physical environment. Yet we are also able to hear what we personally thought our world was at the time. In the most immediate sense, this relates to the music that was being made around Greedo; the now-lost future of a post-Black Panther SOB X RBE, a rising Stinc Team and Shoreline Mafia.
In a wider sense, it relates to the associations that we might have with Greedo’s actual lyrics. Even if we’ve never “run off on your first plug, fuck your best friend wife,” we can and do try to relate someone else’s personal drama with our own. But we might also be reminded of ourselves at that time. We are forced to navigate not between what songs we like, but what person we want to receive them as. Despite its January 9, 2023 release date, Free 03 was recorded closer to the first time I heard Greedo’s music then now. Greedo embarked on those pre-prison sessions to keep his name alive and present the music that he would’ve been recording had he been out – knowing that we would be drawn to them not only to hear new material but to be taken back to our own pasts. Greedo’s post-incarceration output, originally produced out of cultural and economic necessity, shines a light on the workings of memory in the modern age, a process constantly up for renegotiation under the regime of semiocapitalism.
In The History of Forgetting: Los Angeles and the Erasure of Memory, Norman M. Klein formulates the process of recall by humans as the same as a computer: “an individual remembers by making a backup file that is different than the original. The act of recall cannot take place without corrupting this original file in some way, because the backup writes over the earlier data.”
Through this release, Greedo has given us a chance to return to our former selves without overwriting our own backup data. 22 years after Hayden’s book, Vince Staples would be interviewed for a short film on the making of Greedo and Kenny Beats’ Netflix and Deal. FaceTiming from his car, he remarked that Greedo “woke up one day and just figured it out, and that shit sounds like Watts […] It sounds like where they be at, and that’s what music is all about.”
To Vince, Greedo’s music and the physical environment are inseparable. To hear his “emo music for gang-bangers” is to listen in on a social, cultural, and economic discourse unique to the Jordan Downs. To say that this narrative is ‘unfiltered’ would be an understatement. A cultural artifact such as Free 03 is not reflective of Greedo’s personal feelings and experiences but somehow in conversation with them. The record is not just a slice of life to be packaged and sold but a feature itself of that life, as it is being lived in the present.
This is something that goes beyond a stylistic, regional or linguistic signifier. It is something innate to the idea of the performance of any given Greedo song, Hayden’s place memory with a grape face tat and no sheets on top of the bed. We are stuck in the same feedback loop that Dr. Dre opened in 1992 when he remarked that “when I do a mix, the first thing I go down and see how it sounds in the car,” because that’s where he thought people heard his productions the most. The communal experience is packaged for individual enjoyment, yet is intended as a facet of the discourse network which encompasses the writing of the song, the person listening to it, their car and the streets they are driving it on.
Greedo’s music has a real social utility which extends beyond the notion of a finished product on a streaming platform. When I hear “Mafia Business,” I’m not just hearing a song which I can call up like any other; I am hearing a song originally only intended for a funeral somewhere thousands of miles from where I’m writing this, with a specific social purpose in a world I cannot fully understand. I can seek to relate to it, to make it make sense within my own environmental and emotional context, but always with the knowledge that the song has a wider network of memories and associations that my own reflections will always be in dialogue with.
Klein defines memory on the internet as constantly subject to these negotiations, particularly with regards to the media presentation of Los Angeles. He argues that “cyberspace is the next suburb,” concluding a discussion of what he termed “suburban noir” in L.A. where “caravans of newcomers pour into poly-nucleated edge cities – […] global capital reconfigures its mode of production, as industry sprouts up along the suburban freeway routes.” Capital on the internet works in the same way, “a sunshine strategy with tens of thousands of advertising homepages” building “a social imaginary that distracts attention from the widening class structure and the global restructuring of economic power.” “Computerized marketing is a more convenient way to forget,” a linguistic way of detaching oneself from social reality.
Greedo’s music forces this sociality. How this is achieved musically is difficult to define, aside from a clear commitment to reject any notion of the “right” or “wrong” sonic move which doesn’t tie him to or completely reject existing notions of genre or trend – yet we can define this focus lyrically and in terms of its existence in the digital landscape. There has never been, to my mind, any dividing line between Greedo’s life and music, an absence that may appear starker in his more than anyone else’s music. It has always made complete sense that Purple Summer 03’s cover shows him in the process of capture by bounty hunters, and “if these walls could spit bars, all of they songs be this hard” is a mission statement if there ever was one. From this perspective, Greedo cuts against the digital mode of forgetting that Klein outlines, rejecting any notion of forgetting the environmentally manifested socio-economic inequalities inherent. Yet the dislocation of time that his output over the last 5 years has baked into it rejects this process of forgetting.
In And: Phenomenology of the End,Franco Berardi reminds us that “memory is the re-creation and re-imagination of a past that is continuously changing as long as we distance ourselves and our viewpoint changes.” It is something which is constantly reinventing itself, constantly remembering and forgetting and then remembering itself again. Berardi argues that “semiocapitalism,” the post-Fordist economic system where informational work replaces industrial labor, “captured and exploited the energy coming from sensibility and from rebellious art” and placing it at the service of “the abstract dimension of the market.”
Memory can reject this expansion of capitalist ideology by remaining unstable and intensely personal, something which can be kept out of reach of being made into a resource through its lack of rationality, its undefinability due to its unknowable combination of collective and personal resonances which we know may expand or contract with time. When we listen to Free 03, we can’t forget; we can’t forget where Greedo has been, who he was and what was happening around him when he recorded the record — who we were when he was incarcerated.