Activist and front line soldier Warren Ballentine is about fighting for the rights of African-Americans. The syndicated radio host and attorney spoke with Hip-Hop Wired’s “Michael Ice-Blue” Harris about several plagues affecting the African-American community and the importance of giving back and inspiring hope into our Black Youth. Here’s the first installment of several interviews with “The People’s Champ.”
HipHopWired: How did you make it despite coming from the streets of Chicago and what makes you give back? So many turn their back on the communities and neighborhoods once they make it out.
Warren Ballentine: It was just God Man. God kept his grace on me. I group up on the Southside…the projects. Most of my uncles, boys, cousins, were gang affiliated and drug boys. I played a little ball, and I was just lucky to that I could use that to get a scholarship and get out. God blessed me to be able to get out but as soon as I did something with my life I went back. Because I used to be one of the kids who thought that there was no way out. I thought you had to be a ball player or rapper, but in all honesty, my shot to be a ball player or rapper was a lot smaller than me being a lawyer. So I go back to try to reiterate that message to all the young men and women in ghettos across the country because they are brilliant, and they don’t understand that they could take that brilliance and street knowledge to become successful businesspeople, entrepreneurs, and other outstanding citizens in the country and make a legitimate living and a good living without being a ball player and a rapper.
HipHopWired: So with that said, what made you have that insight to come back and give back? Because there are so many people who can say that they made it out of the hood but you actually went back and serve as a visual that they can actually touch. Where did that come from?
Warren Ballentine: It really just came from me growing up like that and asking, ‘Why is it when people come from the hood, they act like they didn’t come from the hood?’ I caught a gun charge at 19 and I made it through that case. After I made it, I said that I was going to go to school and make something with my life. I went to school and stayed there until I became a lawyer, and once I became a lawyer, I was just like I’mma go back where I came from and let everybody know that you can be anything that you want to be. It doesn’t matter if you came from the ghetto. What matters is if you can take that determination and that street hustle and using that in a different avenue. Not a drug related avenue.
I remember my first day of law school, it was 150 of us sitting in a room and there were 7,500 people competing for these 150 seats. They went around the room and asked all of these people, and they wanted to know why all of us wanted to be lawyers. Some people were saying that there Dad was a lawyer or their Mom was a judge or they knew someone who was a Senator . . . When they got to me, I told them that I knew of three professions that you can make as much as you want to make. One is a drug dealer, and I already did that and I didn’t want to go to jail, the other was a pimp and that can send you to jail, and the last one is a lawyer. I used what I learned on the streets on the educational side.
HipHopWired: From listening to your radio show, I respect the fact that you never run from your past?
Warren Ballentine: You can’t run from the past man. Your past is who you should be embracing because that’s who you are as a person. My closest friends are my people that I grew up with in the hood. When I go somewhere and I need security, I got them cats with me; (laugh) I ain’t got no security team. I got them with me because I know if something jumps off, if I swing, they swing. It ain’t no question about it. They won’t ask, “What’s going on?” And those are the people that I put around me to keep me leveled because as God uplifts me and blesses me, sometime, we get the big head. We think we’ve made it and that we are better than folks. And my cats that I grew up with, they ain’t got no degrees, they ain’t no educated folks, but they are the cats that I’ve been with since I was five years old. They are gonna tell me what I need to hear and not what I want to hear.
I would never cut myself off from where I come from. I love how I came up and I thank God for where I come from. I would never trade in that experience because there are so many of us who did not have that experience and because of that, they cannot relate to where people have come from. And I think that is one of the biggest qualities that I have, because I come from that… Was a part of it, and because I continue to be a part of it, it keeps me grounded and makes me understand what everyday people are going through.
HipHopWired: So how do you feel that we can inspire hope in the younger generation and keep them motivated?
Warren Ballentine: Well I think you hit it right on the head. How you inspire hope to that generation is not to just go there and give speeches. What you have to do is go there and show them that you lived that life, and that is one of the things that I talk about. When I go holla at these young cats, I don’t go as a lawyer; you see me out there and I’m gonna have on some Timbs. I’m gone have a throwback, I might be out there with a 40 with them. I might shoot some dice with them. I talk to them on a level where it shows that I am not just talking; I have lived your life, and I understand why you’re hustling. Even if you’re hustling, I’m not gonna condemn you for hustling, But think the bigger picture. Think long term. Think how can I get out of this hustlers mentality or how can I take this hustler’s mentality and make it legal. Because if you stay in the grind of the hustle mode, on the drug avenue, or the drug lane, you’re gonna end up in one of two places. Dead or in jail. I don’t care how nice you are or how large you are. So you gotta take that mentality and say I’mma take this drug money and make and flip it into some legal stuff, so I can be able to pull myself out and pull other people around me out.
I know how it is standing in the government line with my momma. I know how it is to go to the Salvation Army to get my school clothes. I know how it is to pass clothes between siblings. So I tell cats, I’ve lived your life; I’ve lived exactly what you’re living now and I am proof that you can get out of this and not end up dead or in jail. Because honestly, I tell the drug boys this all the time, if you’re gonna be in the game then the first thing you need to do is sit down at a courthouse. Sit down at a courthouse and learn the law. Learn how much you can be caught with to get a felony charge and learn how much you can get caught with to get a misdemeanor charge. Learn what you can and can’t do.
Why get into a game you know nothing about? And when I say know nothing about; I’m not talking about cooking and chopping’ it up. I’m talking about the consequences of the game. See a lot of cats use the game and don’t know the consequences of the game. That’s why when I talk to kids who’re looking for that hope I always tell them that I understand what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and why you’re thinking about doing it. But understand it’s consequences to everything you do so at least know the consequences for what you do before you jump in the game.
HipHopWired: From a Hip-Hop perspective, what do you feel is wrong with rap music?
Warren Ballentine: The only problem with Hip-Hop today is that no one is stepping up like the Chuck D’s and KRS One’s. Hip-Hop today…I mean, I’ve met many cats who people look up to and think that cat is a straight gangster and these cats aren’t. They are businessmen. They’re not living in the ghetto. They’re not raising their kids in the hood. Some of these cats who be rapping about how they smoke and drink don’t really smoke or drink. The only reason that they do it is because it is moving records for them. We need these artists to be honest and be like look man, “I may have done that in the past, but that ain’t what I’m doing now. Or even I’ve never done that.” One of the things I love about Kanye is that Kanye is from the suburbs of Chicago; Kanye never tried to act like he was a gangster from Chicago because he never lived that life, so he never raps that life, and that is the kind of honesty that we need in our Hip-Hop music. See that the thing, if these kids knew the truth about some of these artists, they wouldn’t be out here toting guns, thinking this is cool because my favorite artist totes a gun.
Some of these artists have never even seen a jail. I know they are trying to make money. I know they are trying to move records, but you can’t portray yourself to be a thug when you’ve never lived that life as a thug. And that’s what we need to teach these kids. Have the artist who did used to live that life come out and say yeah, “I did used to live that life because I was forced to live that life, and I’m not living like that way anymore. And I’m happy I’m not living that way anymore.” If the kids heard that they would understand that toting a gun and killing somebody is not cool. That ain’t cool at all. Getting shot 10 times and surviving . . . that ain’t cool. I’m sure 50, Pac, or anybody else who has been shot could go back in time and take those bullets out of them and would’ve never gotten hit, I’m sure they would tell them that you don’t want you get hit. And I think that’s the message that these kids need to hear. The music is always gonna change; that’s generational. But the artists, if they would be true, that’s what would change a lot of what’s going on in our communities, Man.
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