Sixteen to Life
Teenage MC Ammo Sets His Sights
It has more to do with the smile lurking beneath the giant black shades he wears. This smirk often passes across his face, part youthful smart-ass sneer, part check-me-out self-confidence. He has the look of somebody who knows he is precociously talented, coupled with the still-maturing understanding that talent should mean something. And after he informs you, you can tell he loves to see people’s faces when they hear his age.
“I actually just turned 16 on May 7,” he says, followed immediately by that grin.
Eddie Green is what is known as a man-child. The Baltimore Freedom Academy 10th grader looks more like a college basketball scout should be checking him out instead of a writer. But he’s no typical 16-year-old athletic dreamer, either. His awkward years have withstood dramas that took him to Africa and back. His school dances take a back seat to appearing on HBO’s The Wire. And as hip-hop artist Ammo, he shares the stage with one of the city’s most revered MCs and prepares to drop his debut album.
Yet for some reason Green approaches everything happening in his life with the shrug of any other teenager. The people around him believe he’s special; he behaves as if it’s all just whatever. It’s this nonchalance that makes trying to find out about his life so difficult.
His is a story obscured by his own telling of it. Maybe it’s because he’s new to this whole interview thing. He’s a little fidgety, like he knows music press comes right before working on a record deal, a tour, a video. And Green believes that such dreams are within his grasp, but he doesn’t seem to realize what that could mean for him personally.
What is immediately obvious about Green—whether he realizes it or not—is that the pieces of his life that he does reveal are as valuable as any witty quotes he could have dropped, and his reserved nature in conversation is a sharp contrast to his explosive stage persona.
“I was born in Virginia, but we moved to Baltimore when I was, like, 2,” Green says. “My pop, he got incarcerated in Virginia when I was a infant, and we moved up to Baltimore City.”
Just the facts, here: He talks in definitive answers, short and to the point, with no pondering, no elaborate analogies. Green is laid back and funny; Ammo is volatile and confrontational. The two only meet when Green greets you with what he calls his “victory pound”—basically a handshake with a closed fist. It’s a move he explains in the untitled Ammo track on the B-more Live 2005: The Movement Vol. 3 mixtape as “You weak as shit and I don’t shake hands/ most niggas beat their dick.”
It’s an odd and, now that he mentions it, pretty understandable quirk. Aside from that, though, Green’s story isn’t that different from any other aspiring MC: A dude born and raised in the slums of wherever overcomes local narrow-mindedness, finds a way around main-stream politricks, hurdles some type of personal obstacle and/or deep-dark secret, and musters up the huevos to sell CDs out of his trunk and realize his goal of becoming the only dude in his region to talk shit about bitches and bling on the radio.
Yawn. Except that Green’s moms made sure his upbringing included a departure from the norm. “My mother sent me to go live in Africa when I was 13,” he says.
Due to teen shenanigans—shoplifting from Rite Aid, cutting class, etc.—Green’s mother took him out of Thurgood Marshall Middle School in 2002 and enrolled him in the Baraka School (“From Baltimore to the Bush,” Jan. 15, 2003). This Kenyan boarding school was the jump off for Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady’s award-wining 2005 documentary Boys of Baraka, which follows the lives of 20 at-risk teen boys from Baltimore as they attend 7th and 8th grades at the east-African school with a strict academic and disciplinary program (“Back from Baraka, Film Fest Frenzy, May 4, 2005).
“It was September 7, 2002, till June 16, 2003,” Green recalls. “It was real strict, too strict for real—like boot camp. It was supposed to be a two-year situation, but the Baraka school had actually got shut down.”
His mother was unavailable for comment—Green made it clear that their ties are presently severed. He’s pretty much on his own now, raising himself—with a little help from some friends and mentors who have taken a shine to him.
But he doesn’t expound on the details, he merely passes over them as if he is ready to move on. Either he doesn’t fully realize how the Baraka experience impacted his life, or he’s just not interested. He casually passes over his stint at an experimental African boot camp for knuckleheads as calmly as any teen would recall a museum field trip before jumping over to what happened when he got back home: One, he discovered his older brother had been incarcerated. Two, he decided to start rapping.
Green acts as if the two are mutually exclusive. In fact, all the teeth-pulling in the world about his brother only reveals that he might be eligible for parole in 2007. But it’s easy to discern that the young man who came home from Kenya in June 2003 was not the same one who had the potential to end up another juvenile delinquent nine months earlier.
“I ain’t start rappin’ till I was 14,” Green says—basically right after he got back from Kenya. “I started calling everybody in the city that rap and nobody really wanted to get me, so I called Real On Purpose,” the hip-hop entertainment collective and label headed by local MC Ogun. “They was kinda shaky at first [but eventually] I came to the studio and Ogun took me under the wing.”
Green comes alive once he starts talking about making music. And it’s only in his music that the hidden weight of his sentence-fragment slideshow of a personal history bears emotional fruit. Ammo is a workaholic who spends hours in the studio. Ammo is his defense mechanism to avoid confronting the pain and frustration of a mother who doesn’t want to deal with him, a father who wasn’t around to help guide him, an incarcerated brother, and pretty much just being young and hungry.
And Green completely transforms once he hits a stage. The kid is like dynamite, but it’s a controlled fury—the stage is the place where he can vent. Even if you catch him at a show and the sound system sucks, you can still feel his rhymes’ punch. He projects an energetic charisma with his death grip on the microphone, snarling “I’ll put a Taser in your water while you taking a bath/ when I spit, your grandmother, she be shaking her ass/ and I’m Real on Purpose, y’all fakin’ for cash”—from “Gully Music” on the 2005 Architect Recording Studio Street Radio mixtape—with the swagger of a seasoned vet.
Ogun and Real on Purpose have become his watchful friends since he started working with them in 2003. Green, in fact, now lives with Ogun on the east side of town. These tight associations have helped Green transition from a teenager with a knack for wordplay into both a better MC and a more well-rounded young man.
“We put a lot on him and expect a lot out of him,” Ogun says. “But at the end of the day he’s missed a lot of development because his father was gone since he was born [and] because his older brother is locked up. So in real life, rap is all he got for his self esteem. So we wanna give him more, let him know that you gotta go to school, you gotta increase your vocabulary, and things like that. So it’s like when he’s slippin’, we there like big brothers for him.”
In the short time that Green has been down with Real On Purpose he has appeared on various mixtapes and Ogun albums. That experience helped him hone his craft—skills he proved when he appeared on 92Q’s MC battle, Tuesday Night Fights. Ammo won on his debut appearance the first week in April, and retired the first week of May an undefeated champion.
This newfound self-confidence spread over into an accidental acting career. Cast an extra in season three of The Wire, Green’s role grew into recurring character Spider, a young street kid who turns aspiring boxer in the west-side gym run by ex-con Cutty.
Spider is set to return in season four when The Wire starts shooting later this year. “I had a good time doin’ it,” Green says. “The focus [for season four] is gonna be on the school system—fighting in school, drugs, smoking, cutting class, everything kids do in school. I’m cool with the staff there. They be looking to me to make sure the slang is right and all that.”
Until then, though, Green is working on a solo album and a mixtape under the moniker of the Gritty Gang, a collective that includes Ammo, Ogun, Profound, Mykeey, and pretty much whoever locally is gully enough to roll wit it.
“He’s the genesis of that,” says Ronald “Wink” Clinton Jr., mentor and manager to Ammo. “Ammo’s the head of it. Pretty much once he entered the studio [after he starting working with Ogun], he never left.
“As a by-product of his youth, he doesn’t really grasp the complexity and the weight of what is happening to him,” Clinton continues. “And by being so young, he shrugs off the good stuff [that happens to him] as well as the bad stuff, too. It’s a lotta stuff to deal with—his father’s gone, his brother’s gone and his mom’s is just like, ‘I’m gonna tough love you to death.’”
There are a million MCs trying to climb out of the heap, and their stories aren’t all that different from Green’s. There’s just something about the kid that makes you suspect he’s got something special.
“It’s exciting,” he sighs about his newfound attention and activity. “I didn’t really expect none of this to happen. As far as my talent, I’m definitely ready to take the next step. I have to take the next step. I’ma be a legend.”
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