Thompson, a Gulf War veteran, came to
Syracuse to reinvent himself as Charlee Brown. He performs with his
brother Michael (a.k.a. Knighk) as Outlivin. Their album Storytellerz was nominated for Best Hip Hop Album by the Syracuse New Times
Syracuse Area Music Awards (Sammys) in 2004. “Outlivin started as a
mere hip-hop act but is evolving into a true urban movement that is out
to make a change in the very community we live—a community that we are
seeing die right in front of our eyes,” quoth Charlee Brown. “I hope
when people watch the show they can take away the message that we all
are affected by the neglect of the inner city and its communities.”
Outlivin for the city: Charlee Brown promotes himself as an urban legend in his cable-access television show.
The filmed segments capture a depressing
and oppressive atmosphere that pervades poor neighborhoods. In one, a
stationary police car presides over a dismal scene of dilapidated
houses while an original Outlivin track, “Skid Row,” plays in the
background. The music tracks often threaten to overwhelm the actual
audio of the scenes, muddling the monologues and voice-over commentary,
a shame since that’s what I was waiting to hear as I sat through all
those Ludacris (and Tupac, and Kanye, and Rihanna) videos.
Self-promotion exists side by side with
activism in this project. By inserting what are essentially Outlivin
music videos into the mix, Thompson puts himself on a par with
superstars. In other words, he comes off looking like Snoop Dogg’s
label mate rather than a simple fan. Modesty really isn’t Charlee
Brown’s thang—his MySpace page claims “he will be firmly established as
one of the most talented recording artist the music industry has ever
seen”—but, of course, grandstanding is more the rule than the exception
in the hip-hop world.
With the exception of sales figures,
Outlivin songs have a lot in common with hit singles: tricky beats,
vocals that flow with a casual assurance, the compulsory cliched
vocabulary: niggaz, hos, Glocks, Tek 9’s. If Thompson is serious about
making a dent in the social ills facing our city, he’s going to need
all that bombast, bravado and gangsta attitude—it’ll take moxie (is
there a whiter word than moxie?).
Outlivin Television can be seen on Fridays at 10 p.m. on Time Warner Cable’s Channel 98.
For more information, call Dark Room Studios at 254-5235.