More than 30 demonstrators were gathered at 32nd and Market streets last Tuesday afternoon. In response to their handmade signs—“NO MORE KILLINGS,” read one; “CEASE FIRE,” said another—passing motorists blared their horns as the group sang: “Honk if you want peace! Peace in the Southeast!”
Violent crime in San Diego hit a record low last year, but the past five months have seen a spike in gang-related violence, police say. In Southeast San Diego, 17 shootings have left five people dead and 12 wounded. Nasheed Al'Uqdah, a respected local rapper and an advocate for unity in Southeast San Diego's often-acrimonious gangster-rap scene, was gunned down in Lincoln Park early in the morning on Saturday, April 30.
In the weeks since, an informal coalition that includes R&B singers, rappers and other members of Southeast San Diego's music scene has taken to the streets, rallying at 5 p.m. every Tuesday and Thursday. They plan to keep the rallies going all summer long, hitting every gang hotspot in the city.
“I'm going to try to be out here for as many of them as possible,” says Cesar Tellez, aka Crhymes, a rapper and close friend of Al'Uqdah's, who's been filming the rallies and posting the videos on YouTube and local hip-hop message boards. “I know I got shows and other shit that's coming up during the summer, but I'm going to be out here for every single one I can be. And if I don't come out, I'm going to send somebody to represent me to keep recording them and keep documenting them and keep the message going.”
Al'Uqdah, 34, who performed under the name Cutthroat, grew up in the Mount Hope area and had ties to the Neighborhood Crips. But he wasn't a stereotypical gang member. In interviews with CityBeat, his brother Dahryan and several of his close friends described him as a prolific rapper with a compassionate streak. He supported struggling friends, acted as a father figure for women and neighborhood youngsters and always seemed to have a smile on his face, they say.
“On the outside, he might've looked a little scary at times. But on the inside, I don't think I've ever met another person with a bigger heart,” says Cairo Anubiss, who produced many of Al'Uqdah's tracks, in a tearful phone interview. “I mean, I can't even count how many times I needed him to help me with something or help me in the yard or move or something, and he was always there. Never made excuses.”
He was also a convicted felon who'd served prison terms for drug possession with intent to sell, according to court documents. But in a letter sent to a judge in 2001, the director of a local youth organization Al'Uqdah worked for vouched for him, describing how he assisted a Pop warner coach during games and counseled kids against joining gangs.
Al'Uqdah, who was planning to go on a European tour, was known for his slicing-and-dicing rhymes about street life. He was just getting started on a politically conscious new album with Anubiss called The Campaign. In “Victim of Circumstances,” a chillingly prescient track he recorded shortly before he died, he raps: “Victimized / since these blueprints were designed / to keep us contained / trapped and confined / in this melting pot, shell-shocked from all the gun shots / hoping one day this madness ends / but it won't stop.”
In the weeks since he was killed, a few rappers from rival gangs have come together to send a message against the violence. Dahryan is putting together a peace album featuring big names like Cricet and Damu. Crhymes, who runs the online radio station DagoSD.com, filmed a video for “World So Cold,” a track written by Black Mikey, a Blood, and produced by Ecay Uno, a Crip.
Dahryan says that Nasheed and his older brother, Bay Loc, another rapper who's currently serving a prison sentence, supported unity in the gangster-rap scene, even though they were avowed Crips.
“They did songs with Bloods and Mexicans, so it didn't really matter,” he says. “It's like, This is where I'm from, but I'm cool with everybody. It's not about Blood or Crip, it's about making good music. That's what shocked the whole San Diego when this happened. Because everybody was like, Wow, he was cool. Who did that?”
San Diego Police Sgt. Bryan Pendleton says the case is still under investigation. Dahryan's entreaties to local gangs have yielded no leads. Police say that some of the recent shootings could've been retaliatory attacks, but Dahryan doesn't want his brother to simply become a statistic.
“Once they say it's ‘gang violence,' they just shut the case,” he says. He thinks Nasheed deserves better. “This person was like the Tupac of San Diego.”
Cutthroat's albums are available at Dahryan's shop, Kali Konnect (1245 S. 43rd St., Southcrest). cutthroat.bandcamp.com