Rap­per ad­dresses gang vi­o­lence in movie short

RAP­PER-TURNED-SCREEN­WRITER DRAWS ON PER­SONAL EX­PE­RI­ENCE

Stamford Advocate (Sunday) - - Sunday Arts & Style - By Justin Papp [email protected]; Twit­ter: @justin­j­papp1

In the open­ing mo­ments of the short film, “Ain’t Playin Wit Ya,” the main char­ac­ter, Mar­cus, en­coun­ters three men in a neigh­bor­hood gang to which he’s de­clined mem­ber­ship.

He’s knocked around and fol­lowed home and, as the trio shout threats close be­hind him, Mar­cus’ mother leans out over a sec­ond­story bal­cony, tells her son to come in­side and is­sues a warn­ing of her own.

“You leave my son the f*** alone,” says the woman, played by Evette Smith, be­fore nam­ing each of the gang mem­bers by first and last names.

It’s a poignant scene in a movie, di­rected by Ed­win Es­co­bar, about in­vis­i­ble lines drawn within a com­mu­nity. It’s one that the film’s 31-year-old writer, Chad New­ton, based on per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence.

“Peo­ple that get mur­dered in their neigh­bor­hood, it’s usu­ally by some­one who knows them,” New­ton says, seated at a high-top ta­ble in a Bridge­port In­no­va­tion Cen­ter lounge owned by a friend, a few blocks from where he grew up on the city’s rugged East End.

“You grow up with peo­ple, you played to­gether in your yard. But as you be­come older, just be­cause they join a dif­fer­ent set, or a dif­fer­ent fac­tion, you’re op­posed to this side and he’s op­posed to this side,” New­ton con­tin­ues.

New­ton got his first taste of the vi­o­lence of Amer­i­can in­ner cities as a pre-teen. His brother’s best friend, a high school fresh­man at the time, jumped in front of a gun to pro­tect some­one else and lost his life. It was a for­ma­tive ex­pe­ri­ence for the young New­ton.

“This hap­pens all the time where we’re from. If it’s not some­one you know di­rectly, it’s some­one you know of,” New­ton says.

Early on, he found so­lace in mu­sic. New­ton’s par­ents met in the church choir, where his fa­ther, lo­cal politi­cian Ernie New­ton, played pi­ano and his mother sang. In his late teens, fol­low­ing the lead of his brother, known as Traezi, New­ton be­gan freestyling, writ­ing rhymes, and re­leas­ing mix­tapes un­der the moniker Chaz-O.

In some songs, like “I’ll Be Damned,” New­ton raps ex­ul­tantly about women, par­ties and money. “Dayz of Our Lives” is a tribute to peo­ple he’s lost and on “Miss­ing You,” New­ton yearns for a longdis­tance lover. He’s a tra­di­tion­al­ist at heart, and on many songs raps in the old school 16-bar struc­ture — each bar a four-count mea­sure — while on oth­ers he adopts a more melodic style.

His ver­sa­til­ity is a point of pride.

“I got a song for ev­ery­thing,” New­ton says.

Many are ac­com­pa­nied by mu­sic videos, for which the out­lines — known as treat­ments — New­ton has been writ­ing for sev­eral years, al­ways with the idea of mak­ing a film.

“Ain’t Playin Wit Ya,” which pre­miered at the Bi­jou Theatre in Oc­to­ber, grew out of what was sup­posed to be a video for a song of the same name on New­ton’s up­com­ing EP, “The Great.”

“The treat­ment was so in­tri­cate and di­verse, Ed­win was like, ‘This might be the one for the short film,’” New­ton says.

The film takes a more nu­anced ap­proach to the sub­ject than merely de­nounc­ing gangs. It’s a thought­ful ex­plo­ration of the cy­cle of gang vi­o­lence and the con­di­tions in which it can thrive.

“From a broader stand­point, we’ve lost a lot of good peo­ple to sense­less vi­o­lence,” New­ton says. “But to bring it closer, you live in a neigh­bor­hood where you’re not safe, and the only way to be­come safe is to be­come af­fil­i­ated with a group that can pro­tect you, be­cause it’s strength in num­bers.”

In the film, Mar­cus’s re­jec­tion of the gang makes him a tar­get. He tries to arm him­self, but his at­tempts are foiled by his mother, who finds the gun and con­fis­cates it.

“From a par­ent per­spec­tive, you want to pro­tect your child. You think that you’re do­ing some­thing to pro­tect some­one, when ac­tu­ally you’re strip­ping from some­one their last line of de­fense,” New­ton says. The ac­tion, though wellinten­tioned, sets off a bloody se­quence of events.

The pur­pose of the film, New­ton said, is not to con­demn, but to show the dif­fi­cult de­ci­sions, and dire reper­cus­sions, peo­ple from neigh­bor­hoods like his must make ev­ery­day.

New­ton de­nies the no­tion that he is an ac­tivist. But he does feel an obli­ga­tion to doc­u­ment and re­spond to in­ner city life. He wants to start con­ver­sa­tions he feels are long over­due.

“Lit­tle by lit­tle, if we could help the sit­u­a­tion, that’s what we’re try­ing to do. It’s not no get rich money thing. We want to em­power, we want to up­lift,” New­ton says. “Slow progress is bet­ter than no progress.”

Francesca An­dre / For Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia

Chad New­ton, oth­er­wise known as “Chaz-O,” dis­tilled his ob­ser­va­tions on gang cul­ture when he penned a screen­play for a short film.

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