A memoir of growing up and selling drugs on East Baltimore’s bloody corners.
Watkins follows up his acclaimed The Beast Side: Living (and Dying) While Black in America (2015) with a personalized account of the lure of the gangster life for many inner-city black Americans, as well as the grim circumstances propelling them into it. The author opens with his beloved brother’s senseless murder (“selling drugs seemed legal where you lived and he taught you how to be extra careful because bodies dropped every day”) and chronicles how, devastated, he used an inheritance of drugs and money to enter “the game” himself. This occurred with incongruous ease, as his new crew retook an old drug corner. “Street fortunes were made and lost there,” he writes. “My Uncle Gee had it for the longest.” With canny promotion and good-quality product, Watkins established himself as a prominent, low-key dealer: “I could stack a few hundred grand without shooting anyone while I figured my life out, met some girls, and had some fun.” Things proceeded smoothly, despite occasional violent incursions and Watkins’ awareness that his operation, though discreet, fueled the community’s most destructive aspects even while contributing economically to it. He ultimately extricated himself and entered college as his erstwhile colleagues paid the costs of addiction and felony charges. The author’s writing projects keen awareness of both the mediated image of the young black dealer and the actual grim life prospects for a generation of his inner-city peers. His memoir’s strengths include its bleakly humorous, original prose, which pinballs between stoned, brand-focused, hip-hop excess and a more contemplative tone, and the many true, touching, or disturbing small details from the fraught daily lives of America’s black underclass. However, many narrative threads trail off unresolved, beginning with his brother’s murder, which fuels the story yet is left unaddressed.
A familiar story to fans of The Wire, but Watkins provides a gritty, vivid first-person document of a desperate demographic.