Originally published in The Patriot-News on April 19, 2012.
A gunshot interrupts the ting, bass, ting of a rap song’s percussion.
Screams sound and characters scatter. One guy slumps forward.
The image is stark and horrifying.
“Gunshot Blast” by Harrisburg rapper J. Bair goes against the grain of the stereotypical modern rap music scene, which tends to glorify guns and gang violence. It decries violence, emphasizing the human consequences.
The music video, which premiered March 17 on YouTube, has been featured on its “Hip Hop Update” channel and is nearing 3,000 views. What has people talking is its message: an unforgiving slam on the prevalence of guns in the community.
And it couldn’t come at a better time.
The week the video went online, a Steelton cabdriver was shot and killed in Harrisburg. On April 12, a man died after being shot on Derry Street. This year, Harrisburg has already seen five homicides and was named the 20th-most-dangerous city in America by NeighborhoodScout.com.
“The city right now is in a frenzy,” said Rob Roman of Harrisburg, who does multimedia work for J. Bair. “It takes strong people to actually try to do something productive and avoid being involved in the nonsense that goes on.”
“Hopefully, there are youth who will pay attention to the message,” Roman said. “And hopefully, there are other people, like us, who can help spread the message.”
J. Bair is the stage name of Jason Bair, a hip-hop artist who does a lot of his writing at Midtown Scholar Bookstore. When he talks, his words are thoughtful and deep.
“Gunshot Blast,” was years in the making. The idea struck Bair in June 2009, when the city witnessed several shootings over a two-week period. The idea for an anti-violence song haunted Bair, who would jot down lyrics only to edit them later.
“It just kept coming up,” he said. “And [violence] wasn’t being addressed. That was something that was disappointing to me as an artist, you know? It’s glorified more than anything. So I felt like somebody should speak on the issue.”
Bair calls his style blue-collar hip-hop or everyman music. “I think it’s relatable to the everyday average person going through trials and tribulations in life. I really want to touch on areas that are underserved,” he said.
Feedback on “Gunshot” has been overwhelmingly positive.
“This is what we need in Harrisburg,” wrote YouTube user cdvkiller.
Bair said he feels encouraged by responses like that and by speaking about an issue that’s so relevant.
Before his mother died in 2008, she challenged him to make “music of quality.” His uncle continually echoes his mother’s words, telling Bair to “give people food for the heart.”
“I think as artists in this generation, we don’t touch on social issues enough,” Bair said. “Not enough as we did when we did when hip-hop started, you know? That genre has lost its way on affecting social issues. But as artists, we need to get back on topics that have importance, have meaning.”