In an age when half-truths, fake news, spin and misrepresentation flourish, CJ Blair fights to saturate today’s young people with facts and truths that keep them out of jail and fixed on the road to success.
“The Bible says there’s ‘nothing new under the sun’, and it really isn’t,” Blair said in an interview. “Young people today are being consumed by the same lies that consumed me. I don’t like to blame rap music but we have to lay responsibility where it belongs.”
Blair is fast becoming a popular motivational speaker who melds biblical truths with the common sense he’s gleaned from the streets of Washington, D.C., juvenile facilities and a long haul in the penitentiary.
He’ll address youth attending the 2018 Scholastic Olympics at the University of Maryland on May 5.
“I am a strong believer in that you are what you hear,” he continued. “Then whatever it is that you hear the most is ultimately what you are going to act out. So, if we look at the actors of this current generation and we look at what they hear the most, then we have to leave some of the responsibility to the culture and hip-hop music.”
The No. 1 genre of music in urban areas is a type of hip-hop called “trap” music, which has double or triple-time sub-divided beats of kick drums and layered synthesizers. Described by some as having an “overall dark, ominous, or bleak atmosphere,” the music originated in the late 1990s and early 2000s, taken from a term, “trap,” that referred to places where drug deals take place.
“So, my job, I believe, is to — not so much blame rappers but to — make young people aware that it is entertainment. It is not life,” said Blair, who dons a street persona complete with ripped jeans, skull cap, trendy eyewear and Timberlands.
To Blair, hip-hop and rap music deceive students because the lyrics offer bogus strategies for earning cash, winning followers and gaining prestige. In reality, he said, “It’s actually going to put you in a place where you don’t want to be.”
“I speak that from a position of strength because I believed the same stuff,” he said. “I come from the emergence of hip-hop. I watched it come in.”
Blair, now 45, spent his youth adoring groups like the infamous Los Angeles hip-hop team N.W.A. (Niggaz Wit Attitudes). In 1986, group members such as Ice Cube and Dr. Dre bellowed urban youth anger with such songs as “Straight Outta Compton,” “Gangsta Gangsta” and “Alwayz into Somethin.”
“Their message for us who were suffering was ‘pick up guns, sell drugs,’ etc. etc.,” he said. “And because we identified with them, we did what they said to do, which did not land us platinum records or a big mansion or a Mercedes Benz. It put us in penitentiaries. It put us in the grave.”
Today’s hip-hop artists, who Blair described as the sons and grandsons of earlier rappers, use similar strategies to entice mainly urban youth.
“And we see young people eating that same message, as if it’s truth,” said Blair. “But, we see what it’s doing to add to the decay and detriment of our young people. So, who better than me or those of us who have come from that lifestyle that they rap about to come back and tell these young people, ‘it don’t work like that.’”
Blair’s weariness of hip-hop extends to social media, “the medium through which the message gets carried out.”
“It’s a troubling time right now when you look at the content of the artists, and you look at [how] easy it is to get that message out via social media,” he said. “You see the change. You see how young, young people start getting involved in things, in criminal activity, sexual promiscuity. They have no regard for life. They are desensitized to the things around them. You lay it flat on the shoulders of what they are listening to. What’s programming them?”
Blair, whose given name is Chauncey Blair Jr., was born in Pittsburgh. His pregnant mother, Francine, had traveled from Washington, D.C., to “Steel City” to visit her mother, Audrey, when he arrived earlier than planned.
Francine Blair returned to the District as soon as Chauncey was able to travel. He spent most of his childhood moving around the Northwest area, watching his mother, who he thought was actually his sister, slowly become consumed by street life. His grandmother moved to Alexandria but had little time for him because she worked three jobs.
“I jumped on the corner to get my mother off the corner,” said Blair who attended Truesdale Elementary School and attended middle school in Alexandria. “In doing that, it just caused me a lot of hardship, death — literally and figuratively.
“I wasn’t afforded the luxury to be a kid. I had to be an adult. I was paying rent at 14, making sure groceries were there. So, I really couldn’t focus on Shakespeare’s ‘Midsummer’s Night Dream, algebra or things of that nature.”
Blair dropped out of school in eighth grade, embraced street activities that opened a revolving door with juvenile facilities and then “caught my charge that landed me in the penitentiary for a long time.” Eventually, he said, “I came to a place where I wanted more.” He became a Christian and studied the Holy Bible as vigorously as he did rap lyrics and street life at the C.H. Mason School of Theology in Kentucky.
If Blair were to prioritize his messages to the youth, he says it would be: have a goal; have a strategy; and be consistent in that strategy.
“You can be proactive in how you set up your tomorrow,” said Blair who now lives in Laurel with his wife and three children. “Take advantage of opportunities today and they will bless you tomorrow. If you don’t take advantage, you might not even make it to tomorrow. That’s the reality of the situation.”