When I was in high school, I spent hours listening to rap music in my old station wagon while delivering pizzas to the local college campus and the surrounding area. The job was okay, a great source of new and interesting stories to tell, but really, it gave me the opportunity to explore Los Angeles and blast hip-hop.
During one of my shifts, on the last delivery of the evening, I turned down a dark street in search of an address that seemingly didn’t exist. While the bass was still thumping through my shitty old speakers, I got out of the car and started looking for the address on foot. Behind me, I heard what I assumed were the footsteps of a late-night jogger, but within seconds a gun was pointed at my head and I was asked: “Do you want to die?”
They say your life flashes before your eyes before a near brush with death but that’s not at all what happened to me. Before my heart even started pounding, I’d given the man my cell phone and all of the money I’d pocketed that night.
What surprised me the most in that fight or flight moment was that my assailant also seemed terrified, not at all confident in his abilities to take my valuables or to end my life.
With my phone and cash in hand, the man bolted toward his vehicle. As he was running away, though, he fell face down on the ground. Maybe his fall was from the adrenaline rushing through his body, maybe it was from fear, or maybe he just lost his footing. Regardless, he quickly regained his composure, entered his vehicle and sped off.
Once again I was alone, on a dark street, holding a box of pizza.
After a few deep breaths and a stunned moment of contemplation, I scurried back to my station wagon and turned the radio to NPR rather than my tape deck connected to my iPod.
One of my high school teachers once contextualized rap records about theft—see The Notorious B.I.G.'s “Gimme the Loot” or dead prez' “Hell Yeah”—as the contemporary versions of the cowboy protagonist in classic Western films. They're supposed to represent the excitement of violence for privileged folks like me who never experience real danger in our daily lives. Which makes sense—until it's actually happening to you.
For years, I kept this life-changing experience in the far recesses of my temporal lobe, but after pressing play on “Pizza Shop,” a standout selection from IDK's recently-released debut, IWASVERYBAD, memories from my near-death experience came rushing back through the song's haunting chorus:
“Here's a little story 'bout them boys that's hittin' licks, ayy / Pizza spot, pizza shop, gimme that shit, ayy”
For the first time since what could have been a truly fateful night, I started to empathize with my assailant. How did he arrive at the point in time where our paths crossed that evening? Was I his first victim? His last? Did any other unsuspecting pizza delivery men in that same neighborhood find themselves with the cold steel of a gun barrel pressed against their temples?
“I used to wanna hang with Dae Dae and them (Dae Dae and them) / I used to wanna hang with Nelson and them (Nelson and them) / I used to wanna hang with Diemon and them (Diemon and them) / 'Til they gave all three 40 years in the Pen”
Desperate times call for desperate measures, but putting myself in the shoes of my assailant, the risk of getting caught, convicted and imprisoned was far greater than the reward of making off with what little cash I had in hand. It's no wonder he was so nervous.
Just months before I was set to leave for college, my life was on the line, but in that moment I had to pretend that everything was okay because I feared that any sudden movements could scare him into pulling his trigger.
Although, much like IDK describes on “Pizza Shop,” I probably wasn't the only one acting:
“Knowin' I'm no killer, but fuck it, I'm tryna be that n**** / So my actin' skills kick in, I'm Michael Jackson off of Thriller”
In hip-hop, it’s rare for the songwriter to personify the victim of a robbery—more often than not, the story is told through the eyes of the assailant and not the assailed—but there are exceptions to this unwritten rule. Earlier this year, Houston-based rapper Danny Watts flipped the script on Black Boy Meets World standout, “Things We Have To Do”:
“So there I was staring death in the face—fighting the thoughts of pearly gates or rehearsing my grave / That when I heard a voice fervently say / ‘Run them pockets or I'ma catch a body today’"
When I got back to the restaurant that evening, I chose not to call the police. I just wanted to go home and be with my family. I wanted the night to end. I'd like to believe my assailant had the same intention.