Charles Mitchell, aka rapper Mitchy Slick, doesn't exactly feel welcome in his hometown. Despite being San Diego's most famous rap export, his visit home in April was extremely low-key. He didn't perform in town. He didn't announce his arrival. He was only here because he'd performed in Brawley, in Imperial County, the night before. He was just passing through.
Mitchy doesn't hate San Diego. On the contrary, his music reveals a deep hometown pride. When he meets with CityBeat for an interview at a friend's condo in Point Loma, he even sports a red-and-white baseball tee with the popular local slang phrase "Yeah Dat!" splattered across his chest.
But Mitchy, who now splits his time between Los Angeles, the Bay Area and other locales, grew up a member of the Lincoln Park Bloods, one of the city's most notorious gangs. In 1999, the San Diego City Attorney's office issued a gang injunction, a measure aimed at curbing gang activity, against a list of purported high-profile LPB members. Mitchy was on the list, and he feels he's faced police harassment ever since.
"The gang injunction is wack as shit," Mitchy says. "The police and the powers that be, they know what they're doing. Not only are they keeping us from doing bad shit—they prevent the ones that's positive from being able to do good shit."
This year, Mitchy strives to do a lot of good shit. Since dropping his 2001 debut album, he's been San Diego's most renowned rap artist. He's launched his own label, Wrongkind Records. Last month, he released Feet Match the Paint, his first solo effort in eight years. He also plans to drop three more projects this year.
Mitchy grew up in Lincoln Park, a neighborhood in southeast San Diego that's seen its fair share of crime. As early as the third grade, he was pressured into the gang life when a sixth-grade bully told him to change his wardrobe—from "argyle socks and penny loafers," he says, to the more street-appropriate "Levi's, Pendleton [shirt], hair net." He claims that when he was playing Pop Warner football, the colors of local teams reflected the color of the gang in each team's neighborhood.
"A lot of people don't understand how strong that is, especially for an only child," Mitchy says. "It was just natural to want somebody to catch my back or to be there for me." He joined a gang, he says, "damn-near for survival."
San Diego authorities began issuing gang injunctions in 1997—a civil lawsuit against a gang, targeting specific people believed to be leaders within the gang. They're restricted from engaging in various activities within a designated geographic area. Though many restrictions are on legitimate crimes—drug sales, for example—an injunction works mainly to prevent any two people on the list from "associating," from being seen together in public. This controversial feature has drawn criticism from civil rights groups like the American Civil Liberties Union.
Because of the injunction against Lincoln Park Bloods, Mitchy says, "I can't have a pit bull no more. I can't go up to Lincoln High School where I graduated and watch a football game without permission from the principal. I can't flag somebody in the street. That's illegal."
Violations can incur a penalty of up to 60 days in prison, though Mitchy suggests that a penalty of one or two days is more common.
The president of Wrongkind Records, known simply as CJ, argues that gang injunctions fail to address the root problems of gang violence—poverty, a lack of community resources and a lack of positive recreational activities. But a 2011 study published in the Journal of Criminal Justice Research shows that gang injunctions are effective in reducing crime. In 25 areas in California, they led to a decrease in reported crime by an average of 14 percent after one year.
Ironically, Mitchy says the injunction against him helped his burgeoning rap career by pushing him outside city lines. In 1999, inspired by his friend Damu's musical drive and the success of rap mogul Master P, Mitchy recorded a demo. His demo impressed famed L.A. producer Sir Jinx, who took him under his wing. From there, he steadily built fan bases in both L.A. and the Bay Area by working with prominent regional stars like Xzibit and E-40. Now, he's spread his reach nationally. He even keeps a video blog series, "He's Everywhere," documenting his travels to prove his success.
Mitchy's new album, Feet Match the Paint, features beats by Bay Area producer DJ Fresh. But Mitchy's music is still entrenched in San Diego—building on his specialty in hyper-realistic gangster rap, it finds him rapping about street life while referencing specific people, locales and in cidents in San Diego. Then he wraps it up in San Diego-specific slang. It's a wonder that anyone who's not from here can understand half of what he says.
On "Loot Hungry," Mitchy retraces his life, from "Pop Warner practices up in 4-5" (referencing a popular park off 45th Street in Mountain View) to selling crack at age 12 because his "nigga Bubba had to eat—his mama went to jail" to riding down Imperial Avenue on expensive 26-inch rims, alive and successful. Even on the album's title track, where Mitchy boasts about his travels, he rejoices that "the gang injunction don't work in Atlanta." His mind doesn't stray far from home.
Back in Point Loma, Mitchy's mind focuses on mentorship. Inside his friend's condo, he's with three members of Youngkind, a new division of Wrongkind populated by young artists. He interrupts our interview to advise rapper 2Die4 on the direction of his music video. He coaxes another, Oso Ocean, into joining the interview momentarily. He briefs their DJ, DJ Tune, on the different versions of songs he'll need for live shows.
But he can't stay long. With his album release just days away, he'll visit a few shops to discuss carrying his music. He plans to head out right after that. His name is still on the gang injunction, after all.
"It keeps us apart, keeps us from being able to be in a community," Mitchy says. But, "we celebrate Christmas. We kiss our babies, too. They think we're just animals and shit."
Correction: This article originally reported that the San Diego County District Attorney's office issued a gang injunction against members of Lincoln Park Bloods. It was actually the San Diego City Attorney's office. We apologize for the error.
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