Public Offenders
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Public Offenders

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Life Is a Rhythm
A moment of truth in the 2-3
By Robert Gabriel

Pulling up to the Northeast Austin intersection of Rogge and Manor Road, an SUV settles at the stoplight, three members of the Public Offenders rap group sitting in back. A hurried yellow school bus screeches to a halt next to them and empties out a couple dozen Pearce Middle School students onto the sidewalk. As one of the boisterous students spots Gator, Public Offenders' most recognizable member thanks in part to his Black Panther-esque afro, a full-fledged frenzy ensues as 15 or so of the students rush to the vehicle to slap hands and exchange enthusiastic words with their latest neighborhood heroes. Holding up traffic for an entire light cycle, the fanatic scene underscores a reality where proximity and kinship often serve as the most electric of social commodities.

How is it that a local rap group could be so popular within its specific neck of the woods – enough to sell 1,200 copies of their most recent album by hand and foot in the span of four months – yet hardly register outside the 78723 ZIP code? It certainly helps that Gator, otherwise known as Chris Ockletree, served as senior class president at Reagan High School a couple of years back and now spends much of his time pounding the pavement for activist causes. Still, a proper answer transcends the Public Offenders' story alone, treading deep into the history of a neighborhood that's grown accustomed to a relationship between isolation and self-sufficiency.

The 2-3, as it's known by its youngest inhabitants, is bordered by I-35 to the west, Ed Bluestein Drive on the east, Highway 290 to the north, and the intersection of Airport and Martin Luther King Jr. boulevards to the south. During the course of the 1970s, the central 2-3 neighborhood of University Hills absorbed a significant influx of African-American home buyers, who were for the most part relocating from nearby neighborhoods including Clarksville, downtown East Austin, and St. John's. The children raised by these proud, middle-class families discovered common footing at Andrews, Harris, Blanton, Winn, and Pecan Springs elementary schools, Pearce and Kealing middle schools, and Reagan and LBJ high schools.

"Back when I first started rapping," explains former LBJ High student turned Austin wordsmith Mirage, "there were only maybe five or six kids in the entire school who could really do it. We used to skip our lunch periods and go and battle in the courtyard at Kealing. It seems that every generation since then has carried on that tradition. Nowadays, I substitute teach, and I often get kids in class beating on tables reciting rhymes. I want to stop them in order to get them back on their work, but sometimes I just sit back and listen because, more often than not, they're undeniably amazing with it."

As hip-hop culture began revealing itself outside the confines of lunchrooms and schoolyards, Dottie Jordan and Bartholomew parks emerged as prime breeding grounds for enthusiastic MCs and dancers. The emergence of Jam City on access TV in 1983 provided the initial vehicle for showcasing local youth caught up in an emerging hip-hop whirlwind. Once KAZI moved its public radio station to the corner of Loyola Lane and Manor Road in '84, the University Hills community enjoyed its own intimate outlet for rap music all too often ignored by commercial stations around town. Well-known for its open-door policy, KAZI became a much-needed refuge for kids who often stopped by on their way home from school in order to listen to their favorite jams in the air-conditioned lobby of the station. As Austin groups, including Project Crew and Lady IC & MC KB, scored homegrown hits, the 2-3 scene coalesced into a tight-knit family of neighbors who weren't all that bothered that people from other areas of the city hardly ever came around to experience their mastery of hip-hop autonomy.

"Back in the day," relates former Reagan High student Tee Double, "there was a real nurturing effect where cats that were doing it big would take a youngster under their wing. DJ Cassanova used to pick me up, bring me over to his crib, lock me in his studio, and tell me that when he got back I better have made five beats. I didn't even know how to use the equipment, so it forced me to figure it out."

In July of '88, the mighty Run's House tour, comprised of Run DMC, Public Enemy, EPMD, JJ Fad, and DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince, made a most-dynamic appearance at the Texas Exposition and Heritage Center. As an added bonus, KAZI, which regularly hosted barbecue jams in its parking lot, joined with local activists to organize a voter registration drive that was capped off with a free daytime performance by Run DMC.

"When I saw Run DMC do 'Run's House' on the corner of Loyola and Manor, it changed my entire life," claims longtime 2-3 resident Mr. Supreme. "Then two weeks later, you pop on MTV, and it's Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince back - Austin Chronicle

Austin360 blogs > Almost Urban > Archives > 2006 > June > 22

Thursday, June 22, 2006
ATX Underground - The New Generation of Kings (Public Offenders 2-3 Mic Breakaz)
By Deborah Sengupta | Thursday, June 22, 2006, 02:05 PM

The first time I saw NGoK (New Generation of Kings (which consists of two hip hop groups from the same area- Public Offenders and 2-3 Mic Breakaz)at the ACLU-sponsored Racial Profiling Defense show at the Victory Grill. Standing 10 deep, they proceeded to throw down with a furious intensity. They blended layered harmonies into catchy hooks, and present in their rhymes were intelligent testaments about life in the hood, rich with youthful idealism, determination to overcome. I was very impressed.

A few weeks later I was at the KLRU-sponsored Chuck D lecture at the Paramount. In a Q&A session that primarily consisted of earnest gray-haired liberals debating the impact of modern hip-hop marketing on kids today, these two black youths in throwbacks and ball caps made their way to the podium.

“Yeah, we have a problem in this city with the police. They just took down another one of our own. We want to do something about it. What’s your advice?”

All of a sudden the conversation took a dramatic shift.

Those kids were from Public Offenders.

But it was the afternoon family showcase on the back porch of eastside eatery, Gene’s New Orleans Style Poboys & Deli, on Juneteenth weekend that cemented my opinion that if there’s a hip-hop supergroup waiting to blaze out of the ATX onto a very, very big stage, it’s NGoK. First, there are so many of them and they’re all young and hungry, so the sum of their energies has a palpable impact. It’s on some new school, dirty South, Wu-Tang family vibe. You get caught up in it. Second, they sing. I’m all about the trend of lush melody re-entering the hip-hop equation, particularly when the melody is steeped in Southern soul. Hum-ability, after all, is what makes a hook stick. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, they’re smart. While they make music that’s fun, it also has an agenda, elevating their people. While I freely admit a soft spot in my heart for booty-club jams and fluffy pop (your girl has been driving around town trying to find Chris Brown’s “Gimme That” on vinyl) it’s utterly refreshing to see a group of rappers intelligently crafting message music with broad youth appeal.

I’ve suspected for a minute that the new Iraq war generation, the kids coming out of high schools and watching their friends go to war, would develop a social consciousness that far exceeds that of myself and my peers. Watching NGoK reinforces that belief.

- Austin Almost Urban

Robert Gabriel- Hip Hop Top 10
9) Public Offenders & Da 2-3 Mic Breakaz, All Black (New Generation of Kings)

Best Local Show:
Robert Gabriel: Public Offenders, Momo's

- Austin Chronicle


"Day Of Truth", "All Black" CDs plus many mixtapes and singles



PUBLIC OFFENDERS stands for Poverty United Building Love In Inner Cities Our Future For Every Nation Does Affect Reality Situations- we strive to educate and unite people with our music and words. We don't "offend" the public- only those that do not accept the truth. We have been together since high school and have very strong bonds with each other. Our shared experiences allow us to have a rare chemistry and a charismatic presence on stage. Our music addresses issues like domestic violence, police brutality and other forms of oppression. We talk about our experiences and inspire others to positive action. We mix in a variety of songs that are about all the good things in life as well. Although we are "conscious" we still have a hard edge that commands attention. We are unique in that we perform in clubs, schools, conferences, theatres and many community events. We tailor our performances to the event and often end up spending a long time speaking to the fans after the show. They always want to know not only more about us but the issues we confront. We perform at least 5 times a month and and are leaders in bringing attention to the Austin hip hop scene. Two of our members are Under21 spoken word winners as well. We are all community activists and work with youth on a regular basis. We live and breathe our music and are dedicated to making our dreams a reality.