Tuesday, June 07, 2005

So... You Think Compton Is Tough

Soldiers shoot back with Rap
As Staff Sgt. Terrance Staves dodged bullets recovering a burned-out Humvee in Baghdad's Sadr City, he heard a rocket-powered grenade zooming toward him. All he could do was hold his breath, he recalled, when it crashed into the armored Bradley vehicle sitting just feet in front of him. Back at camp, Staves went to his makeshift recording booth to vent his anger and fear by spitting rap lyrics. Some of those lyrics were used on Live From Iraq, an album he and a few other Fort Hood soldiers wrote, recorded and produced while on a one-year deployment in Iraq. On the 15-track album, soldiers voice frustration at what they call shabby equipment and the lack of support they feel from the American public. The album vigorously defends soldiers charged with crimes for actions committed during the conflict. "I had a lot of stuff happen to me," said Staves, 26, of Houston. "So for me to ... be able to get in the booth and let all my anger out was wonderful. Because sometimes you can't let all your anger out there because you might endanger yourself, your brothers or do something you're not supposed to do. It was a beautiful outlet." The group, led by Sgt. Neal "Big Neal" Saunders, was deployed with Taskforce 112 of the 1st Calvary Division at Fort Hood on March 12, 2004, and returned exactly one year later.
Army soldiers from left, Mike Thomas, Edward Gregory, Terrance Staves, Neal Saunders and Mike Davis
Within two weeks, the CD was mastered and the group had 2,000 copies made. It has sold about 1,000 copies through its Web site (4th25.com) and a regional music store chain has agreed to sell it. Saunders, who spent nearly $35,000 on the project, said the soldiers don't have a group name and didn't include their names or pictures on the CD because they wanted to focus on their comrades, dead and alive. The album opens with "The Deployment," a heartbreaking tale of the moments before they left. Several soldiers' wives cried when they heard the song, Saunders said. "You would have really thought the world was coming to an end and for some of us it was," Saunders says in the song. "You were literally prying your loved ones off of you so you could make it out the door to the bus. I've never seen so much emotion in one place before." Another track, "Holdin' My Breath," discusses how they conceal the horrors of war from their families. "Dirty" is about a soldier dealing with a cheating spouse back home. "'Live from Iraq' is the writing on the wall," said Spc. Michael "Paperboi" Davis, 21, of Lanett, Ala., "It's that magnifying glass to that huge picture that's been painted since this whole thing has begun. It's the attention to detail that has been overlooked in everyday life." Saunders, of Richmond, Va., whose job in Iraq was to provide personal security for the commander, said the soldiers' superiors underestimated the seriousness of the recordings. "They just thought it was going to be a regular rap album," he said. "I think if they would have known ... they wouldn't have let it come out."