Recently Essence bestselling Author J.M. Benjamin took to his Face Book page in a quest to discuss the state of “Urban Lit” aka Street Lit, Hip-Hop Fiction, or Gangsta Lit Genre. A topic that could be debatable, AAMBC has transferred his response for our Black Voice Spot Light.
“Over 3 decades ago, a new sound and form of expression emerged, today it is called Hip-Hop. It was something different than the Traditional sound one was used to. It was said to have bred violence, protested against, deemed not to be real music and was just a mere fad that would eventually vanish into thin air when another form of music Blacks showed interest in would come along. They were wrong, why? Because they didn’t understand, again not just Whites but Black as well. They didn’t understand that the lyrics in the rap songs were fueled by what was going on within the Urban communities and around the rappers. They didn’t understand that the rappers were telling stories in their rhymes, their stories our stories. They didn’t understand that the rappers were only expressing how they wanted to dress, how they liked to dance, the things they thought to be nice, the things they thought to be appealing based on their understanding, and so on and so forth. Moral of my statement, Hip-Hop, Like Urban lit, has been and continues to be ridicule and shunned but all walks of life but in spite of, has proven to be more than just a fad, but rather a Cultural voice for urban life! As someone who comes from the subject matter, I can say that Urban lit depicts the up-close and personal of many of the things I have been exposed to, some more than others. Many of you know that I served a substantial amount of time incarce…rated. During that time I became an avid reader, Before Street lit, I read anything I could get my hands on, no matter what nationality the author was. But when Urban re-emerged, because I came from the content, naturally I gravitated to it. These stories had me on edge, excited, amped and kept me entertained. I overlooked the flaws of the book because I was more focused on the characters and their life style, my life style. Then one day I came across a newspaper article followed by a magazine article about Street Lit dumbing down Black people. I was thinking to myself, “White people always try to slander something positive and powerful created by Blacks.” But when I read the articles, based on the recognizable names, I realized that it was Blacks who were making these claims. Initially I was bothered by the statements made, but when I finished, I Understood their point of view. These articles caused me to travel back and re-evaluate the many Urban lit books I had read and without go into specifics of books, I realized that there was a misrepresentation if where and what I came from and that I gained nothing more than entertainment from these reads, the same way one does leaving the movie theatre after watching a movie filled with Sex, Money, Murder, Mayhem with no message or moral of the story, no positive one anyway. Now when I read an urban lit book, I read them under scrutiny. Instead of cheering the Bad guy hero on, I would find holes in the portrayal of his life style and become frustrated because based on everything he/she had done, they should be in jail, under the jail or in the dirt six feet deep. Why? Because that’s where they put me when I did the same or similar things, or my friends or people I knew. I began to laugh at the way some of these characters were depicted because it seemed as if all young black men and women growing up in the hood aspired to be drug dealers, gangsters, strippers, gold diggers etc., but that’s not the case Although I was considered a big time drug dealer coming up, I wanted to go off to college and be a Lawyer. I know people from the projects, dysfunctional homes, were on welfare who went off to college, never been to prison, never hustled, etc. Point, I realized that some, not all, of the books I read had No SUBSTANCE! During that time I was challenged by a prison counselor to keep a journal and write and maybe I’d figure why I was so angry. I wind up writing over 400 pages of me and my brother’s life then went on to write another then another. I was signed while I was still incarcerated, which was a blessing, why? Because something that started out as therapy became an outlet for me. And I believe that is one of the main things Urban Lit represents “An Outlet”. I’ve met and know some authors, myself included, who could have come home from prison and flipped their cities and communities upside down with their Criminal Minds. Imagine, if someone can create a story and say they come from it, what makes you think they or I can’t execute what I write about. I was and am ADDICTED to the street life, but the difference now is that I put it in a book and live thru it rather living thru it physically. At minimum, one should look at it as, “He/she could be doing something far more worse!” I applaud all those who have turned over their old ways in exchanged for a new way, that new way being a pen and a pad, but I believe that Urban lit has shifted and the purity and essence of it is now over saturated and being diminished. When I became an Author, I took and still do take pride in that title. That title established me a career and a profession. Now, those who do not UNDERSTAND or RESPECT the craft are tarnishing the image many of us have worked so hard to build and it’s becoming more of a HUSTLE versus A Profession! I am a hustler at heart, will be until the day I breathe my last breath, but I hustle my product, not my people, I am the product and people support me because everything that defines a TRUE AUTHOR I possess. Whether you want to accept it o…r not, once you become an author or any public figure, it is your OBLIGATION & DUTY to give back, make a difference and teach! People support J.M. not because I’m the best author or bestselling author because I continue to strive to be the BEST THAT I CAN BE! Locksie said it best, being made available, being genuine and appreciative of those who support or are in need of guidance. Without the supporters there wouldn’t be a J.M. Benjamin the author/ publisher etc, it may be just Jay the “Drug Dealer” or “Gangsta”. Urban Lit, for me has been a window of opportunity, a door opener to success and a vehicle of change. It has been a fuel that keeps the J.M. vehicle travels miles and miles beyond my imagination or dreams. It has provided a better, safer and more productive way for me to feed and take care of myself as well as my family. So, if this is what Urban lit represents for me, then you have to know that I too take offense, like all of you avid readers, when it is misrepresented or disrespected by not servicing the people with QUALITY READS! I’ll be the first to say that I LOVE URBAN LIT! But I also love TO READ PERIOD! The day we stop segregating OUR genres of writing and stop allowing OTHERS to feel that it’s right is the day that African American Authors literature will be placed in the Fiction or Non-Fiction sections VERSUS The African American Fiction or Non-Fiction section. In closing, let the controversy surrounding Urban Lit be the basis to bring forth a change in the literary world for the BETTER, if not for ourselves, at least for the generations to come!”
Meet J.M. Benjamin
J.M. Benjamin is the founder and CEO of A New Quality Publishing and publisher of the urban novels Back Stabbers by Nyema Have You Ever…? By FiFi Cureton, The Ski Mask Way 2 By Randy Ski Thompson, Breaking London By J-Rod Nider, The Robbery Report By Glorious. In addition, J.M. signed Actress Cherie Johnson Of The 80’s Sitcom Punky Brewster and popular 90’s Sitcom Family Matters and screen editor Kathie Scott and published their collaborative novel titled Around The World Twice. Most recently, J.M. launched an independent monthly newspaper called Success Newspaper (The untold stories you want to read about), highlighting and offering recognition to minorities who have overcome adversities and challenges and gone off to become successful in life.
Success Newspaper is a sixteen-page monthly newspaper created to appeal to the masses of individuals who do not receive the acknowledgements or recognition they deserve for being either a continuing success story or a success story in progress and for those who never get to hear these stories. This newspaper offers the untold success stories that are not made available to you but you want to read, coming out of your community. He was inspired to launch Success Newspaper after reading so many negative and tragic stories day in and day out about the city in which he grew up and still resides. It is Mr. Benjamin’s hopes that through Success Newspaper more will become motivated to be apart of the solution rather the problem that is destroying not only his community, but also those worldwide!
Memoirs Of An Accidental Hustler
Meet the Benson’s…A young married couple, with four children living under the same roof in a nice neighborhood. On the outside looking in, one could easily mistake them for an average “Middle Class” family that had moved on up like “The Jefferson’s”…But that’s not the case. They are far from being in comparison to “The Huxtables” and life as they once knew it comes rapidly crashing down.
Eight year old Kamil, the next to the youngest of the Benson clan, shares how life was for he and his siblings, after being forced to adjust to the conditions of a “New Way” of living. He details what it was like after his mother made a bold and drastic decision to walk away from not only the “Finer Things” in life they had grown accustomed to, but his father as well.
A Brownstone in the Bed-Sty area of Brooklyn New York, traded in for a housing projects in a small town where his grandmother resided in Plainfield New Jersey, Kamil takes you on a journey of how he was exposed to another world and a different breed of people than he was used to in the city that became his home.
Bonded by the absences of their fathers, he and his brother befriend a group of boys from the neighborhood and form an un-breakable bond, vowing not to travel down the same road as their dads, making a pact to stay in school and out of the streets.
Kamil also takes you through his personal experience with the opposite sex, as a childhood crush develops into something much more.
As this story un-folds, walk with Kamil as he transitions from childhood to teen into young adulthood and struggles with the very things his mother walked away from and tried so hard to prevent he and his brother from embracing.
What starts out as a game and a means of survival…Ultimately ends up serious and addictive. This is the memoir of an Accidental Hustler…
Tell us what do you think of the state of “Urban Lit”?