The penitent rapper
Murder put X-Raided in prison. Abandoning the life of a hardened street criminal was his ticket out.
Anerae Brown had a reputation to live up to when he was transferred from Sacramento County Jail to a maximum security prison at 22 years old. Before his 1994 murder trial and the corresponding media firestorm, he was famous for his horrifyingly violent lyrics as the rapper X-Raided; afterward, he had become nothing short of middle-class America’s worst nightmare, the caricature of gangsta rap brought to life.
And he felt obligated to play the part.
“It was a constant performance of wearing that mask and living up to the expectation, the mythological force behind that character,” he told SN&R. “I had to be the meanest and baddest. It was like programming a soldier to go to war; I call them robo-gangsters. Either you don’t care about anything, or you’re weak and vulnerable for having a human soul. … My crime, what happened with Mrs. Harris, was heavy enough. But I had to carry that weight and pretend like I was indifferent to it, because I don’t want to anger my peers by expressing remorse or regret.”
Eventually, it became too exhausting to keep up the act. At 28 years old—11 years removed from his crime—Brown decided to change his life.
“I had done everything you could do as a gang member, done everything you could do as a criminal,” he said. “There was nowhere else to go with that, except to die. To live, I would have to educate and elevate, and that’s what I decided to do.”
Brown recently was released on parole after serving more than a quarter of a century in state prison for his involvement in a gang-related murder. As a member of Sacramento’s 24th Street Garden Block Crips, Brown was one of four gang members who raided the home of Patricia Harris in March 1992. At the time of Harris’ murder, Brown was a 17-year-old rapper signed to Sacramento’s Black Market Records.
That year, he released Psycho Active, often cited as one of hip-hop’s seminal horrorcore records. With such song titles as “Bitch Killa,” “Every Single Bitch,” and “Shoot Cha In A Minute,” it’s a relentlessly violent album that offers a view into his mind at the time. It also didn’t help his legal case. Following a lengthy trial during which the judge allowed prosecutors to play his music in court, Brown was charged with first-degree murder and sentenced to serve 31 years to life.
He qualified as a youth offender under California Penal Code Section 3051 and was released from the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego on September 14, having served 26 years in prison. In a September 23 Facebook post, Brown expressed remorse for his role in the murder and referred to Harris as a “pillar of the community.”
“The greatest shame I feel is for the senseless death of Mrs. Harris and the knowledge that I am overwhelmingly responsible for her death,” he wrote. “It was my fault and I accept the reality that I owe a debt for her death.”
So much has changed about hip-hop and broader American culture since Brown was 17, it’s almost like he’s been in a time capsule. For example, back in 1992, Snoop Doggy Dogg made one of the most notorious debuts in the history of rap when he was featured on “Deep Cover,” Dr. Dre’s classic joint about an undercover cop who gets sucked into the underworld.
Now, Brown observed, Snoop is far from a gangster; he’s more like “the Willie Nelson of rap.”
Another shock: Brown didn’t understand the extent to which smartphones had altered social interactions until he saw it for himself.
“One of the first things I noticed is how connected and simultaneously disconnected everyone seems to be,” he said. “I’ll be in a room where everybody is talking, but nobody is talking to each other. It’s strange. I remember there was a lot more eye contact and a lot more presence in terms of humans being present with humans.”
Brown himself lacked basic social skills, such as making eye contact and smiling upon an introduction, until he entered rehabilitative programming in 2003. He studied psychology to understand the behavioral problems that had plagued his youth—namely, antisocial personality and oppositional defiant disorders.
“I’m talking about a real lack of understanding of boundaries and the social contract,” he said.
Prison afforded Brown a lot of time to work on himself as well as music. He released some 20 albums by recording verses over the phone agrave; la the late, great Mac Dre. And as he became more educated, his music displayed increasing social awareness, shifting from narratives about gang-banging and cold-blooded killing to lyrical exposés on the prison-industrial complex and other systemic injustices.
Now that he’s a free man—or at least a man on parole—Brown believes killing X-Raided is the only way forward as an artist. His forthcoming multipart concept album, The Execution of X-Raided, will follow the character from his troubled youth to his life of crime and ultimately to his execution by lethal injection.
It’s first single, “California Dreamin’”, harkens back to ’90s West Coast rap. “I’m out on bail, fresh out of jail, California dreamin’ / Soon as I step on the scene, I’m hearin’ hoochies screamin’,” Brown rhymes, borrowing a line from his late contemporary Tupac Shakur.
That image of a hardened street criminal used to overlap with his true self, but not anymore. The stories split years ago. Now he’s just Anerae Brown.
“If I had attempted to live up to the legend and myth of X-Raided,” he said, “I never would have gotten out of prison.”