Hip Hop Lessons on the Nuclear Geo-Chess

The Concrete Shinobi and fellow emcees in North Hollywood, c. 2008. Photo by Royale.

The first live rap show I ever rocked was back in 2007, at Halloween party in South Central Los Angeles. It was a family party, and that night the house was packed full of drunken Chicanos. One of the residents of the house was a waiter at a Turkish restaurant I used to frequent when I lived in Hawthorne, a working-class city just east of LAX. He’d told me about the upcoming party and I volunteered myself and a homie to rock it, in exchange for all the tacos and beer we could consume. We performed with a borrowed karaoke machine, and a single microphone that we had to pass back and forth. Despite our technological handicaps, the show was a hit; later that night, an old chola auntie licked my face.

Thus began the hip hop career of The Concrete Shinobi. Decked out in a practical yet suitably flashy fetish outfit consisting of black waterproof BDU pants, a black utility vest with pockets full of (none of your business), custom-made ninja mask, and brightly colored hat, t-shirt, and shoes, my aesthetic was a bizarre amalgamation of Jack Kirby and Mad Max.

I partied everywhere I could get away with it. I was aided in this by my association with the underground dance scene centered at the Grand Star Jazz Club in L.A. Chinatown, where I worked as a bartender. Promoters, DJs, and other nightlife types who knew me from the Grand Star were my ticket into places where security would have otherwise frowned upon the presence of a brown man in a black mask. This, of course, was way before covid.

It also helped that I was pretty good at “performing queerness” when the situation called for me to convince bouncers (or, on a few occasions, the LAPD) of my essential harmlessness. To certain types of men, nothing is less threatening than a flaming sissy.

At its core, hip hop is urban working-class culture. The rap world is heavy with machismo. As such, it attracts a wide assortment of aggressive young men, tough guys, wannabe tough guys, and their various associates, minions, and lackeys. Fun fact: the majority of violent street crimes are committed by men between the ages of 18 and 24. Shave a few years off that window to account for being of legal age to enter a bar, and you’ve got a solid handle on the age/gender demographic of the average local rap show.

The aggressive impulses of young human males are inborn, and they need an outlet to keep them from becoming a problem for everyone else. All undomesticated human cultures recognize this, and have ways of channeling those impulses. The power of rap performance to serve as such a channel was indirectly illuminated for me by a security guard at a bar in North Hollywood.

Some friends had booked a rap show at the bar and I was on the bill. After my performance, I was doing ninja tricks in a tree in the parking lot when another performer, who had yet to take the stage, started firing off insults at me between drags on a cigarette. He was mortified when he suddenly found me standing in front of him, fondling his flabby chest with both hands and telling him how sexy he was. He froze for a moment, then exploded with rage, shoving me backwards. Having purposely egged him on, I was completely calm; I was In Control. The security guard jumped in between us and said something to me I’ll never forget: Ease off, bro—he hasn’t gotten it out yet.

Later that night when the show was over, that is to say after the owner kicked all of us out for being too rowdy, I caught my erstwhile opponent in the parking lot and apologized to him. He was shocked. I’ll never forget what he said, either: You know, I respect you even more now, after that. We made amends by exchanging CDs.

I’ve now been an active participant in the hip hop (sub)culture for over fifteen years—first in L.A., then in the Bay Area when I moved back here in 2009. Through my many gonzo adventures as a fringe weirdo, I’ve learned some important lessons about violence and the people who use it.

One of the lessons I’ve learned is that there are few things more dangerous than a man who thinks he’s the biggest bad-ass around, then finds out he isn’t. He now has something to prove, and there ain’t no telling what kind of wild shit he’ll pull to do it. They’re the ones who will come back to the bar with a gun to avenge a lost fistfight.

This is a lesson that everyone who wants to avoid dying in a nuclear holocaust had better fucking ponder.

I like to give nicknames to major political figures. It helps me to psychologically manage the grinding, despair-inducing reality of living in the last days of an omnicidal machine culture managed by psychotic wealtharians. The era of Trump saw many people engaging in this pastime of nick-naming, as they intuitively responded to a kind of primal, folkloric understanding that if only we could guess this repugnant creature’s True Name, it would disappear in a sulfuric reek of black smoke and trouble us no more. As such, I settled on “Trumpelstiltskin,” or simply “the goblin.” I was never able to come up with anything as good as did San Jose rapper Maq Steez, who dubbed him “Orange Fuckboy.” There’s no challenging perfection.

So here we are in this Cursed TechnoBabylon Year of 2022, and we’ve got Joey Botox and his cabal of murder-machine manufacturers playing nuclear geo-chess with Iron Fist Puto. The U.S. and its proxy forces in NATO have been creeping up on Russia’s borders for decades. As of 2018, the official military strategy of the U.S. government is to sucker Russia and/or China into resource-depleting wars with other nations, wars that would benefit the U.S. by default (which, if you have a champion’s patience for the sanctimonious bullshit of planet-devouring warmongers, you can read about here). Noam Chomsky may be “reluctant” to accuse the U.S. government of purposely instigating Puto into starting this war; I am not. I’ve seen too much street violence to be shocked into doubt by the outrageous stupidity of such a plot, as I suspect ol’ Chomsky is. Or maybe he just doesn’t think these assholes are smart enough to have pulled it off. Fair enough.

Whatever the case, Iron Fist Puto tried to flex on Ukraine and is now discovering that his muscles aren’t up to the task. The man is an encyclopedia-worthy machista—arrogant, autocratic, and cruel; a natural bully—which explains his popularity with fascist dimwits in this country. Oligarch he may be, but he’s also a Judo master and a former member of the KGB, where I’m sure he did his share of head-cracking.

Furthermore, they grow folks hard as gunmetal in Russia. One of the toughest humans I’ve ever known is a college-educated, model-gorgeous Russian woman from the Crimea region of Ukraine. She has lived in the states for almost twenty years. She is a single mom, works in real estate, practices yoga, and last year she stormed a homeless camp—alone, and armed with nothing but a bad attitude—to recover belongings that had been stolen out of her BMW. She succeeded. The most hilarious part of hearing her story was how obvious it was that it never even occurred to her to handle the situation any other way. In the words of Cypress Hill, she just ain’t goin’ out like that.

Meanwhile, America’s latest Bomber-in-Chief is running his mouth about things like “unprovoked aggression,” to the laughter and fury of brown faces the world over. I seriously doubt that the president or his fellow cronies of capital are capable of understanding just how hot of a potato they’re juggling. Joey Botox is a senile, soft-handed, private-school pervert—a man who even in his physical prime would have been easily knocked out by anyone from my neighborhood over the age of 13.

Now, Russia’s tanks are stalling out, its army’s morale is at an all-time low, and Iron Fist Puto is trying to micro-manage a futile war while sequestered in some kind of paranoid quarantine. If that doesn’t sound to you like a man who would risk incinerating the planet to prove a point, then congratulations, you have lived an extraordinarily privileged and comfortable life.

If the trust-funded overlords in this country understood what they were dealing with, they might have the sense to perform some goddamn queerness.

Or maybe even apologize. And make amends.

Malik Diamond is a hip hop artist, cartoonist, author, educator, and martial arts instructor. Born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, he is the descendant of kidnapped Africans, conquered Natives, and rural laborers of the Scots-Irish, Swiss, and German varieties. He currently lives in Oakland, California, with two brown humans and a white cat. E-mail: malikdiamond (at) hotmail (dot) com