This bullshit again
There’s this really moving montage near the beginning of James Boice’s MVP, the best novel I’ve read in a while, about kids playing basketball. MVP is a sort of fictionalized meditation on the Kobe Bryant rape case, but the best parts of the book come when he pulls his lens wider and takes in as much as he possibly can. In this one montage, poor black kids across the country play basketball, on cracked blacktops, with hollowed-out crates tied up on street signs, not because they want to play but because it’s the only chance many of them have of escaping unendurable poverty and degradation. Trapped in cycles of systemic neglect, they grab at whatever straws they can find to take them somewhere else. It’s not a question of pride or self-esteem or the joy of the game; it’s a simple and practical matter of survival. A lot of people try to use basketball to pull themselves out of that sort of purgatory. A few succeed. Most fail. “Either you’re slinging crack rock or you got a wicked jump shot.” Rap can work the same way, and that’s something that this morning’s sad news drives home for about the millionth time.
Stack Bundles is dead. Early this morning, he was shot and killed outside his house in Far Rockaway, Queens. Earlier in the night, he’d been at the Stereo nightclub with friends. Beyond that, no one seems to know much of anything about the murder: who did it, why they did it, whether it has anything to do with music, whether it has anything to do with anything else. We might never know, especially if the violent deaths of rappers in the past are any indication. Before this morning, Bundles was a journeyman mixtape rapper. There are a lot of guys like him in the city: people working hard to be heard, guys better known for their hunger and their hustle than for any actual songs they’d recorded, whose faces show up on mixtape DVDs a lot more often than they turn up on BET. For guys like Stack Bundles, a frustration with the music industry becomes an ingrained part of their persona early on, and that frustration keeps fulfilling itself. Stack Bundles never released an album, but he did release a best-of mixtape, and Carmelo Anthony hosted it. People who buy rap mixtapes in New York heard his name pretty often, but that name barely ever made it outside those circles. Bundles’ chief aesthetic asset was his voice, a hoarse, grainy bark. If he ever recorded an introspective track, I didn’t hear it. More than anything else, he projected a sense of urgency; he talked about making money like he never had time to think about much else. He sounded hard as fuck screaming death threats over small and tinny beats, which basically means he sounded like a mixtape rapper. He never sounded like anything else, and maybe that’s because he never had a chance to be anything else.
Mixtape rappers sign with major labels sometimes, but those label deals never guarantee that they’ll ever get chances to release actual albums, to make good on their potential. Saigon and Papoose, once the biggest names on New York’s mixtape circuit, have both had major-label contracts for more than a year, and neither one of them seems to be any closer to releasing any major-label music. For a few years, Bundles was associated with DJ Clue’s Desert Storm crew alongside Fabolous and Joe Budden, but both of those guys released albums, and Bundles never did. More recently, though, Bundles hooked up with Jim Jones and became a member member of the Dipset-affiliated Byrd Gang crew. Jones is an ascendant New York rap star, and more importantly, he actually gets stuff done. Pretty much all the rappers associated with Jones get a chance to release an album at one point or another; even his ridiculous and ill-conceived A Dipset X-Mas album actually hit stores. And Jones seemed to really like Bundles. On Jones’ Hustler’s P.O.M.E. album, Bundles showed up alongside Jones and Lil Wayne on “Weather Man.” Bundles also ended up on the first five tracks of the Dipset X-Mas album. Maybe he wasn’t exactly on track to become a major star, but at the very least he had a career as a supporting player ahead of him. Through his mixtapes and through Dipset, he had a core audience who could’ve supported him for years. But now he’s dead, and he’ll never have a chance to fulfill his potential. You don’t have to be a huge fan of the guy to find that really, really depressing.
If you listen to a few Stack Bundles tracks, especially the more recent ones, you’ll hear a lot of variations on the same thing: “I’m still in Far Rock.” Even as his profile grew, he stayed in the neighborhood where he grew up. If he’d left, maybe he wouldn’t be dead now. We’ve heard stories like this one too many times already. Here’s hoping we never have to hear it again.