Rapper I.O.D. performs at Brookyln's Northside Festival. Following the wrongful arrests of close friends, I.O.D. used his performance as a vehicle for protest.



Brownsville Rappers Speak Out Against Wrongful Arrest, Police Brutality

“Our only desire was to get out of the house and do something inspiring with life,” Brownsville, Brooklyn rapper I.O.D. wrote in a post for Cypher League, “but it feels like every single time there’s too much melanin in one space there are cops not too far behind.”

I.O.D. was recalling the evening of June 6th, when undisclosed members of the NYPD’s 84th Precinct arrested two of I.O.D.’s friends from Brownsville–Levar McDonald, aka @TheLevarShow, and rapper Hazeus–in Brooklyn Bridge Park, choking and then repeatedly punching the former into submission without providing any reason for the arrest itself. “It was shocking, expected, and confusing,” said McDonald. After watching the video of the arrests, his words speak the harsh truth. At the outset of the video, no questions are answered, and what ensues is, as I.O.D. puts it,  “chaos and confusion.”

Chaos and confusion can fuel some terrible fires. But I.O.D. and his friends decided to take this unfortunate event and defy it on their own, peaceful terms. I.O.D. was set to perform with Grandmaster Flash at an event for Brooklyn’s Northside Festival this past Friday. Before the set, the rapper, his friends, and members of Cypher League, a Brooklyn-based media and events company with a hybrid label/management arm called Dojo Records, decided to walk down Bedford Avenue to McCarren Park together in an expression of solidarity.

“I wanted to bring us together and the plan was to bring [all my friends] on stage,” I.O.D. said, “Despite not being on stage with all my friends, I hope that the experience of getting together just to chill, hang out, and support one another is one that stays in their minds over the all the stress we’ve been dealing with as of late.”

Friends of I.O.D. and Levar McDonald, as well as the Cypher League, walk in solidarity to McCarren Park.
Friends of I.O.D. and Levar McDonald, as well as the Cypher League family, walk in solidarity to McCarren Park. Photo by Demid Lebedev.

I.O.D., whose name both stands for “Inner God” and alludes to “OD-ing,” which he describes as “what people say in the hood for giving something your all or giving above expectations,” has been rapping since he was eight-years-old, inspired by his brother and fellow Brooklyn native Jay-Z. At 22-years-old, he believes in the importance of blending activism and art. “Art, I feel like, is only art, to me, if it has a message behind it and if it has a clear and concise goal.” Though he doesn’t like to call himself an activist because “that word itself produces a lot of boxes,” he believes that he is a messenger who “fights for good, you know, my truth.” His music reflects his words.

On his recently released single, “’Round Here,” the first off his upcoming mixtape, The Brownsvillian, I.O.D. “explores the ideas of villainy and otherness in American society.” Alongside the track release, he also announced that he set up a GoFundMe campaign to raise funds “to provide a day of music and free food to members of the Brownsville community.” The event is a way to give back to a community that he sees as “a bunch of colors, people, problems and perceptions,” not as dangerous.

McDonald told his side of the story on Twitter, in a hundred (or so) passionate tweets. He also came out on June 10th to walk and cohost the Northside event’s afterparty.

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Levar McDonald, also know as TheLevarShow, at Northside Festival on June 10th. Photo by Marco Padilla.

McDonald, a prolific internet presence (with 39,100+ tweets) and an aspiring rapper, is known for putting together #NoNegativity, a secret Facebook group where him and his friends can express their “thoughts, have debates, not feel alone, and to also learn more about themselves. The group not only has fun together by throwing parties, making music and art, or planning events, but they also “work on how we communicate as human beings.” McDonald says, “no negativity is literally what it means— no negativity, but more a sense of just not caring at all.”

In 2014, the New York Times featured McDonald in a video where he discussed the necessity for “a middle ground between arm chair activism common on social media and confrontation on the street.” Two years have passed, and his ideas haven’t changed. He offers a proposal: “Think about it. If you get a bunch of people to stand in the middle of Times Square and not say one word while they hold signs and stuff. Imagine over a thousand people doing this. It would stop and gridlock everything. Now, it becomes a peaceful protest. Now, the world can watch and wonder what is going on.” In the video, he states that while yelling and screaming isn’t productive, armchair activism isn’t either. Although he’s extremely active on Twitter, McDonald believes that there are too many people just using social media for the likes, without putting much heart into the cause.

I.O.D. (on left) and Levar performing at Northside. Photo by Stuart McAlpine.
I.O.D. (on left) and Levar McDonald performing at Northside. Photo by Stuart McAlpine.

I.O.D. agrees. “If people figure out the balance between social media and real life and really know how to coexist in both realms, then we can definitely have further advancement as a people.”

Photos by Demid Lebedev, Scott Shuttlesworth, Stuart McAlpine, and Marco Padilla. 

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