Alex Alonso: A Gangster’s Gentleman

Alex Alonso is a street gang scholar unlike any other in Hip-Hop. The L.A. resident by way of the Bronx has been holding it out down when it comes to studying the B’s and C’s and others in the ivory tower for a minute, giving lectures, producing documentaries and giving expert testimony in court cases. […]

Alex Alonso is a street gang scholar unlike any other in Hip-Hop. The L.A. resident by way of the Bronx has been holding it out down when it comes to studying the B’s and C’s and others in the ivory tower for a minute, giving lectures, producing documentaries and giving expert testimony in court cases.

With a renewed interest in gang life resurfacing this season with highly anticipated releases from Snoop and the Game ready to ring cash registers from mom-and-pop shops to Amazon, chances are you’ll see a lot more of “Mr. Alonso, M.A.” in the media, as writers and editors seek him out to shed some light into the more mysterious corners of American society.

This week, stopped by Alonso’s Wilshire Boulevard office situated several steps away from the infamous site of Biggie’s drive-by murder to talk shop on gangs and Hip-Hop. Do you think there’s a serious connection between street gangs and rappers?

Alex Alonso: I think there’s a serious connection between gangs and gangsta rappers – not necessarily rappers per se, because there’s a bunch of rappers that over the years have not reflected that part of society. But ever since I’d say the N.W.A in the late ‘80s, Ice-T, and a couple other cats, there’s definitely been a relationship between the two. Perfect segway into two dudes named Snoop and Game, who got albums coming out called Blue Carpet Treatment and the other, a single called “It’s Okay (One Blood)”. Are they spokesmen or what’s their role?

Alex Alonso: That’s a tough question to answer. Are they spokesmen of the gangsta culture in L.A? More specifically than that – the Bloods and the Crips?

Alex Alonso: I would say on the musical level, certainly they are spokesmen for the Bloods and the Crips. But the Bloods and the Crips are a little more complex than people doing music. There’s real conflict, there’s real gangbanging going on that Game and Snoop Dogg are somewhat disconnected from. They are certainly music representations of the Bloods and Crips. What about a couple of other names I’ll rattle off here: Jayo Felony, Suge Knight …

Alex Alonso: I think pretty much every person that has a gang affiliation that’s in the music industry, to a certain degree, is not fully entrenched in the gang culture, because there’s really no way you can really balance being a full-time gang member and shopping a demo or working on an album. Someone once told that gang-banging is a full-time job – so that means people in the music industry can’t be gang-bangers, because music industry is a full-time also. So, it’s really imagery that a lot of these entertainers have. Even Tupac said it on camera when he was being arrested for a bunch of things, he said, “It’s an image, don’t get it twisted, it’s an image.” And I think people like Snoop Dogg, Suge Knight, and a lot of other guys are marking themselves in that imagery, and I think it makes business sense because that’s what the people, the youth, the kids the teenagers in America want to see, [the kids] love it. But you have to understand there’s a line between reality and what goes on in the music industry. That reality can be crossed as evident in Pac’s murder. Could L.A. Times staff writer Chuck Philips been right in what he explained in the two-part piece a few years ago that implicated the Southside Crips?

Alex Alonso: I don’t remember exactly what Chuck Philips wrote, but I do remember reading both of those articles and saying to myself I need to sit down and write a letter to Chuck Philips about how full of s**t his article was. I don’t remember exactly what he was postulating or theorizing, but there was a lot of misinformation and Chuck Philips – who’s an award-winning writer by the way – he definitely got some stuff wrong in that article. Do you think he was misled by his sources?

Alex Alonso: He was absolutely misled. There was no doubt [that] in his two-part article [there was] misinformation in it. I’m 100 percent sure. There were some things he wrote in that article that were correct, but he was led down a path of inaccuracies. Was he somewhat gullible in his reporting?

Alex Alonso: The topic Mr. Philips was covering, it’s so easy to be naïve in that, I’m sure he’s real good in some areas. Like, I’m not going to be great at certain topics that I could try to do. He definitely messed that one up, that’s for sure. This is more to your area of expertise. During the Tookie Williams situation leading up to his execution, newspapers reported there the California prisons were on lockdown because of fear of retaliation. But then, somewhere else I saw that there’s a disconnect between the OGs and the YGs. How does the gang hierarchy work? Are the YGs disconnected?

Alex Alonso: Most of the YGs in the streets of L.A. are 18 or 19 years old [that] have never even heard of Tookie until this campaign to save Tookie from execution. A lot of people don’t even know the OGs in their neighborhood, their own clique. If you talk to your average gang member who is 18 or 19 years old, he’s not going to know who started that neighborhood and banged for that neighborhood in the ‘70s or ‘80s. There’s a definite disconnect. What do you think about Hip-Hop cops?

Alex Alonso: I haven’t watched that one yet, the DVD or the whole idea of the undercover … Also I’ll tell you like this: the whole idea of law enforcement trying to flesh out alleged criminals like the Black Mafia Family, Jacob the Jeweler…

Alex Alonso: I’m not surprised they’re going to profile rappers, people in the Hip-Hop game, because of all the crimes that happened with the murders of Tupac, Biggie, C-Murder going to jail, and all these high-profile rappers involving crime. I mean, I’m not surprised. I don’t think it’s effective, I don’t think it’s going to help them solve cases, I don’t really believe it’s going to be effective in them investigating crime or think it’s an extra added tool. I think they need to resort to the same investigative work they’ve resorted to before. It’s a form of profiling, sometimes profiling works, but most of the time it doesn’t. This question is for you and how you became who you are. Is there acceptance in the academia for people like you that are doing this? If you were to give a speech to someone wanting to study gangs …

Alex Alonso: It’s absolutely acceptable. Whether you’re studying Hip-Hop or gangs or crime, at the graduate level you can study pretty much study whatever you want to study. At the University of Southern California, where I graduated from, we have professor Todd Boyd who publishes articles on Hip-Hop. [At University of Pennsylvania], we have Michael Eric Dyson who writes on Hip-Hop, who writes about Tupac Shakur. I’m invited to give lectures at universities across the country on this topic, I’ve lectured at UCLA, USC, UC-Santa Barbara, pretty much every university in California, whether it’s gangs, whether it’s Hip-Hop or a little bit of both. I even lecture on graffiti. I could give you an hour-and-half long lecture on graffiti, all the way from Hip-Hop to gang graffiti. It’s absolutely accepted. Academia is always looking for something new, fresh, something that hasn’t been done before.

I feel a little lonely now because some of my colleagues are 50 or 60 years old. But there are quite a few younger people at other universities across the country but they’re not really making a big name in terms of studying gang and crime like that. There’s plenty of space for new graduates to come along and take these topics seriously and take a look at them like not before. What are you now working on?

Alex Alonso: I’m working on a lot of writing projects, a lot of documentaries that are related to gangs and urban culture. You’ll see me on an upcoming episode of American Gangster, which will be on BET this fall, a documentary about Freeway Ricky Ross. You also catch me in a new show – actually, the show is not titled – but it’s on E! Entertainment, about up-and-coming artists that somehow came across a stumbling block in their careers and it didn’t take off either tragically or because of some other reason. I’m working on an episode in that series. What do you listen to?

Alex Alonso: I listen to Big Pun. In my car, I have a CD changer that holds maybe 150-200 songs and every song in there is Pun. I like a lot of everything, but I’m listening to Pun.