X-Raided: The DGB Interview

In 1991, 16-year-old Sacramento rapper Aneraé VeShaughn Brown, aka X-Raided, was introduced to the iconic horrorcore rapper Brotha Lynch Hung. X went on to become a central figure on the West Coast. He signed with Priority. In 1992, prior to his national debut, he was arrested for and convicted of a gang-related homicide. Over the course of 26 years in prison, he continually released records from behind bars. During his imprisonment, Aneraé underwent a spiritual transformation that would change him for the better. He sobered up and even began training service dogs for wounded warriors and autistic children. He worked with the famous Menendez brothers on a variety of rehabilitative programs. On Sept 4, 2018, Governor Jerry Brown stated that he would not oppose Aneraé VeShaughn Brown’s release. He was immediately eligible for parole.

Aneraé hit the streets running, recording several records, filming videos, & signed a distribution deal for his company Bloc Star Entertainment with Sony. He released one album, California Dreamin, and has several other projects in the works.

I found him to be one of the most thought-provoking artists I’ve ever interacted with. Like his lyrics, his conversation is laden with meaning. In our discussion, we covered prison and how it affects individuals & societally, why kids join gangs, what X has coming up, & a lot more.

How difficult are the conditions of your parole?

I’m not having too much trouble going to do my shows. Day to day it’s a different story. I’m on an ankle monitor. It could be for 45 days, 90 days, or as long as 6 months. There’s no way to know. That just started. In my first year I was out I already did the 90-day ankle monitor. I had to live in transitional housing and go to a bunch of programs. It took a year for me to really go home after being released. Now having to start over with the ankle monitor is a little frustrating. They let me travel for shows. I can respect that. My day to day movement is very limited, however. I can go to the studio, but almost everything I do has to be work-related. There’s not a lot of wiggle room for anything else. I can’t just go and watch a movie. It’s a little frustrating but the bottom line is that it still has to be done. What I’ve learned about energy is that I still have to deal with the circumstances, no matter what energy I transmit. I might as well deal with them with the proper energy, especially for my health. Both psychologically and physically.

When I was on parole I was on this color code system. You had to call daily and if your color came up you had to go get a urine screening immediately. I kept losing jobs because I had to leave to go piss.

Yeah, they get me at least once a month on that. That hasn’t been that big of a problem. Honestly, my p.o. is straight. I have no issues with the p.o. It’s just the rules. They have a one size fits all standard. If you don’t fit that they’d rather chop a part of you off than admit that they need to alter the system. I come home and I’m in a good situation. I own my home and my vehicles. I own my own company. I really don’t require that much supervision. I don’t live where I used to gangbang. It’s unrealistic for me to drive past a waterfall and a lake to drive back to where I’m from to hang out with gang members.

I feel like gang culture is sensationalized and overly demonized in most forms of media. They don’t understand that most people join gangs almost out of necessity, rather than maliciousness. Why did you join a gang?

Absolutely, it’s definitely not because of a desire to do wrong. For me, it began with my family members. They’re from Garden Block. Several of my cousins are from there and they all were Crips. Most of my neighbors. When you live in public housing or projects these are the people that you see. Every time you walk outside, they’re your neighbors. We’re talking barbecues, cookouts, holidays, this is who you are with. Whether right or wrong these are the people who know you. They care about you. A lot of gang membership comes from a sense of family. Whether that’s what you are seeking or that’s what you want to strengthen. Really I joined to become closer to my family. That was the structure that existed in my neighborhood. I joined to be a bigger part of my community.

Do you view it as a mistake now?

Obviously it’s socially frowned upon so it’s considered a mistake. I don’t think that necessarily that was my biggest mistake. My big mistake was engaging in unnecessary violence, and very little violence is actually necessary. When I became a truly anti-social personality and crossed that line was when I truly made mistakes. Wherever a person is in life it’s necessary to show decency and have respect. Combine that with not harming people and that’s the ultimate way to live. That’s my goal as a fully developed human being.

I should have joined the military. Or stuck with football and tried to go to college. Obviously that would have been better. Nilhism is a real thing. The question is do people want to live? Do we want to live? Because if we do, we have to think about every choice you make, gang-related or not. These choices will define your experiences. Some choices echo for decades. In our community, we don’t have these conversations because we rarely are concerned with tomorrow. Joining a gang wasn’t my biggest mistake. Failing to forecast the future and believing I could influence my own destiny was my biggest mistake.

Let’s never forget that the school to prison pipeline is real. You’ve talked before about how prison took the place of slavery. Could you give us some examples?

Well, most prisons have vocations that are offered inside the institution. Most of those vocations are connected or subcontracted by corporations. So ultimately it’s a labor force that’s utilized for pennies on the dollar under conditions that in another country would be called a sweatshop. They have all kinds of names for slavery. Compared to other countries we consider ourselves enlightened. Then with a straight face, we subject our prisoners to working for nine cents an hour. In California, the state takes 50-65% of that for restitution. They even take 50-65% of the money that your family and loved ones send you for restitution, and then they expect you to survive on that. You can only shop at the canteen or commissary where the goods are significantly overpriced. We’re talking about literal mark-ups of 300% and higher. Then the inmate has to purchase toothpaste, deodorant, all the necessities from there. Then when someone has to do without violence can happen. That’s very much a demonstration of how slavery mentality is used. When slavery was abolished they created systems, particularly state prison systems, that took advantage of those who had been quote-unquote freed. Prison became a way to establish a labor force that would do the jobs that others felt were beneath them.

You’ve extensively studied psychology. You’ve also been to solitary. Did your knowledge of psychology make you aware of what isolation does to your brain? Did it help you deal with it?

It definitely helped me deal with it. Studying psychology helped me understand that I had a choice in how I let the lack of stimulation impact me. Even nothing is something. Dark matter is quantifiable. So on some level silence is noise. It can even be very loud. It does something to you. I watched other men fall victim to it. Talking to themselves, harming themselves, self-mutilation, defecating and smearing it on themselves. Doing anything to get another human being to simply interact with them. I couldn’t accept that. I had to use strong mental calibration to remain centered. I wasn’t going to end up like that. That was not an option for me.

Have you seen the Kalief Browder documentary? Solitary was ultimately responsible for his suicide. I’ve spent some time in solitary. When the documentary talked about some of his behaviors such as pacing in a rectangular area I recognized some of those things in myself.

Yeah, I hear you. It stays with you. I read about a study where they put dogs in a room that had a floor that would electrocute them. There was also a high wall they could jump over. Some dogs would try to escape. Others would lay down and try to tolerate the shock. I see a correlation between that and how human beings deal with prison. Some of them learn how to tolerate being shocked. But the human mind isn’t designed to handle that and it creates coping mechanisms. Part of that is the pacing, anything to stay in your head. Anything to maintain a sense of control. Prison is a dangerous place to be, but so is the darker corners of the brain. You can get lost in there. You have to come to the realization that no matter what, you are the master of your environment. It can contain whatever you want it to contain. You have to decide what thoughts belong inside of you and what doesn’t. That extends into how you deal with your situation.

Most people don’t realize that they are separate from their thoughts. They think that what they think is the sum of their being, rather than just an aspect that can be controlled. You have that choice. You are not your brain. The brain is a part of your body that you control. It’s only a part of who you are and you dictate what it does. Just like you control your arm movement. Most people need to learn that. A brain operated without clear intentions is going to do what it wants to do. In adverse conditions like solitary what your brain wants to do is usually bad. It wants to separate you from reality, even if by madness. You have to center yourself and your thoughts.

Even if you manage to navigate those conditions well there are aftereffects. People come home and have lingering trauma. When you saw the movie did you stop pacing?

I did. Even though I couldn’t specifically name something bad about it, I figured it had to be since it was birthed while being incarcerated.

See, that’s exactly what I mean. You decided to cease that practice. That decision was you taking control of your brain and stopping a troubling behavior. Now how can we teach more people to do that? That’s the key.

Self-awareness is so important.

Massively. I couldn’t agree more. A lot of problems start with people being unsure of themselves or even truly knowing what they want. You can lose sight of that with all the petty distractions and quick gratifications offered up in society. Yet all that time you began losing sight of who you really are. More and more.

That’s deep. Another thing you said I really liked was “I don’t make trouble, trouble makes me.”

A lot of times we’re held accountable for actions we take in a game we were placed in that existed before we got here. So I am responsible, but that responsibility comes from the limited choices I had in a limited arc. I existed in a state of trouble. Just like the urban communities in our country exist in a state of trouble. To ignore that fact when you began to factor in the motivations for the choices we make is to diametrically oppose reality. Even to this day, the police forces in our communities don’t assume a servant of the people role. They engage in a conflict based relationship with the people that they are supposed to serve and protect. You can’t label a child a troublemaker when he’s surviving in his environment the best way he knows how. To deny that is a failure to acknowledge the existence of the trouble we’ve had conferred onto us. We inherited trouble, we didn’t create it.

You’ve had a lot of twists and turns in your story. One of the wildest is that you hired the attorney who prosecuted you in your murder case as your entertainment lawyer?

There was a time in my life when I believed that if I had an opportunity to do something that’s “gangster” then it must be done. Since he had his troubles with the District attorney’s office I hired him. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. I viewed that as using street knowledge to help with my case. I would use any opportunity to get me home. I built a relationship with him in hopes I would be able to further my appeal by being affiliated with one of their own. I regret it looking back. I did that with less than sound reasons. I was 26 years old and had been incarcerated for over a decade. I would use whatever was at my disposal. Looking back I regret it. I think that there were better uses of my brain. My motivation was purely gangsterism.

What was the attitude in the prisons regarding the East vs. West, Tupac vs Biggie conflict?

Most were on Tupac’s side. He had that environment firmly with him. When I heard people talking about him they felt like Pac spoke for them. There were very few people in that environment (California prisons) that didn’t feel like that it was whatever Tupac said it was, hands down. There wasn’t much conversation. Tupac was sort of ubiquitous. There were Death Row posters everywhere. All of their albums and plenty of posters with just Pac on them. They had the prison system on lock.

I can tell you read a lot, you referenced The Allegory of the Cave by Plato on a feature you did for one. The way you just used ubiquitous, I imagine that you read even more in prison. Do you have any book recommendations?

One of the dopest books I read was I Never Had It Made, the Jackie Robinson autobiography. I found it useful during the times I was studying. The resilience he possessed. How he defended his spirit and brain during his experience integrating baseball. I had to learn how to do those types of things. I had to withstand the negative energies within the prison walls. That was useful to me.

You’re right I read Plato. A lot of Plato. I also read Dr. Dyer frequently. I read a lot of stuff. I was all over the place, but my favorites were the books that pertained to philosophy or psychology. Religious texts like the Kabbala, the new testament, & the old testament. I really got into the Q’uran. I read everything. Sometimes there was no choice in what you could read. I read every Sidney Sheldon novel ever.

I can dig it. I’m a pretty voracious reader myself. I don’t read any one type of book. I’m just looking for what’s thought-provoking.

Definitely. Also, I read The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. I got it in the mail as a present from one of my friends for Christmas one year. I really love that book. It teaches you to be impeccable with your words. It was very useful to me.

You seemed to have kept up with the music while you were down. You come across as very knowledgeable about it. What level of access did you have to hip-hop?

In Cali, we went from cassettes to CDs. Then it changed to downloads. You get a little tablet. Then if you got the bread you can order a thumb drive and upload your shit.

Are they rape level prices like the phone?

It’s a little costly but there are different services you can use. The competition mitigates the pricing somewhat. They got a monopoly on that phone though. You know how it is, you can’t just go and choose a different phone. The long-distance will kill you.

Do you still plan on releasing a biography?

Definitely. I’m working with Robert Rand. He wrote The Menendez Murders. Lyle was in there with me and introduced me to him. I’m also doing a lyric book by myself. That’ll drop early next year.

You were down with the Menendez brothers? What’re they like these days?

X-Raided & Lyle Menendez

They were both at Donovan. They’re grown now. They really are just trying to do the best they can with the quality of life that’s available to them. That’s their big focus. They’ve gotten murals done. They’ve got music and sports equipment for the facility. They are in their being leaders. They were good to me. They helped me get my parole. They taught me a lot about maturity and why it’s necessary. That was one of the benefits of being designated as a high profile prisoner. I got to be placed with people who’ve had success or been around it. They had a positive impact on my life. They guided me into turning my album advances into investments, like purchasing my home. We exchanged books and they actually got me into meditation.

Speaking of good friends Brotha Lynch Hung stayed down with you for the whole sentence.

Brotha Lynch Hung, Trizz, & X-Raided

He did. I never had a problem trying to reach Lynch. I never asked for much, but he always did what I needed him to. He was always ready to drop a verse for me. When I came home he was there on the first day. That was greatly appreciated. With Lynch, it’s all love right there. In regards to music, he has one of the dopest deliveries I’ve ever heard.

When you came home your fan base was large enough that you could immediately book shows and sell them out. With your huge catalog, how did you choose what to perform?

The people ask for what they ask for. Personally I see a performance as a story. I try to make my setlist a progression of my releases through the years. It is demonstrative of my transition from ignorant to intelligent. I’ve had to ease up some with that. I want to do my new stuff, especially the work that shows how I’ve progressed. The fans want to hear what they grew up on, all the classics of my career. I can’t ignore them. To not give that to a paying audience would be a mistake.

You ran a few labels while you were incarcerated. Other than yourself who was the most successful artist on your labels?

That’s definitely T-Nutty. T-Nutty Nut, the last of the Floheakinz. That’s my man. Easily he’s the one who carried the torch for me. He always made sure that he represented. Now it’s my boy MacNTaj. He’s from Garden Block. Check out his latest project Trappy Gilmore 2. It’s an amazing album. I’m incredibly proud of him.

Your new label definitely has some strong artists. You made some good choices.

Thank you, I truly appreciate that. I personally don’t want to modernize to the point that I alienate my longtime fans. I definitely want the artists I release to be unique individuals who represent their generation. They don’t need to try to follow in my footsteps. They do what they do and stay honest to who they are. That’s one of the main things I look for.

What are you focused on right now?

I’m still pushing the California Dreamin album. I’m working on another project Psycho Analysis. I’m re-recording and remastering all of my songs that I feel tell my story and move me to where I am today. They’ll be sequenced in chronological order. It’s going to be released with the lyric book that breaks down the songs themselves, but also where I was at in life. It’ll detail who I am, who I was, where I came from, and why I matter. That’s my big focus right now. I’m completely obsessed with it and I’m going to get it right. If I need to buy any time to complete it to my satisfaction I’ll drop some unannounced surprise projects. This is all through Sony. We make our own merch though. The label is self-contained, Sony is the distributor. When we go to shows we bring our own mics, our own DJ. Even our own lighting. I’m touring the whole country in 2020.

You have an incredible sense of wordplay. Surface level and as it pertains to density with your lyrics. The intricacy of the lyricism is on another level. How much of that is natural and how much of it is thought out?

I’ve been doing this for so long. I developed this process. There are certain things I want in my songs. I know I want the rhyme patterns to face outwards exteriorly while reflecting my interior thoughts. I know that my metaphors have to be there. I just feel like the greatest rappers have multiple meanings to their rhymes. They had maxims, metaphors, parables, & similes. That’s necessary. The rhyme schemes focus on the delivery over the pattern of the beat. The delivery also has to be unique and specific to me. I’ve always been motivated to be considered one of the dopest rappers to ever spit. The only way to do that was to separate myself from other artists. I did that by how I wrote and delivered my verses.

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