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June 20, 2012

Militant rapper gets job in Target stockroom

A single bead of sweat strains earnestly, welled at the bottom of his rimless eyeglass lens. His hands are dry and cracked as his fingers flex around the corners of each box. Pallet after pallet from one dimly lit wall to another, the fluorescent glow turning everything a sickly taupe. Joey Whitstrap’s panted breath mists, as his voice and eyes do the same. He’s talking about revolution and his part in it. These boxes stacked high overhead are but a facilitation to the revolution. He finishes filling his dolly and exits the storeroom into the expanse of largely unnecessary material goods.

When he’s not helping sort and fulfill St. Matthews’ unending desire for pizza rolls, costume jewelry and faux wood furniture, Whitstrap dons a uniform that’s much different than the red golf shirt and smock he wears on the 2-10 shift: Joey’s an emcee. As Traitor Yusef, he has opened for the likes of Tragedy Khadafi, Immortal Technique, R.A. the Rugged Man, Doodlebug of Digable Planets and Lil B, and is also a self-published poet and dog trainer. His political manifestos often present themselves over five-minute break beat loops and prog rock samples.

“I’m not with all this shiny-suit rap shit these days,” he exhales. “People talking about $2,000 tennis shoes and shit. My girl’s car didn’t cost that much. I’m trying to talk about real shit, the shit they don’t talk about on Brian Williams.

“Take my new single, ‘Frack You,’ for example. What these oil companies are doing to our water and this country’s farmland is disgusting. ‘Frack You’ is like, you remember that skit on the first Wu Tang album, ‘Torture’? So this is me kidnapping the CEOs of these companies and doing to them what they’re doing to this world.”

Back in the dark stock room, Yusef takes a break from the heavy lifting that comes with working for the man. “Cissy’s the manager tonight,” he groans. “She doesn’t like my tattoo,” a portion of which peeks out from under his sleeve. He looks around, smirks, and proudly reveals the whole tatt: Karl Marx as the comic strip Calvin, pissing on a pile of U.S. currency.

His new album, J!nGoTastic, has been making a lot of local noise lately, particularly the track “Middleflown,” a 12-minute diatribe and brutal indictment of what he calls the gentrification of, and white flight to, the East End burg of Middletown. Its historic Main Street strip was revitalized years ago and is now home to antique stores, restaurants, city hall and some insurance agencies. “Middleflown” is also a chance for Yusef to highlight his crew, the Taibbiban, a tribute to Rolling Stone journalist Matt Taibbi (a connection lost on most fans, who really just like his dope beats). “Matt Taibbi is like a prophet for this generation. He cuts through all the bullshit — left, right, partisanship be damned. Too bad he’d never get elected with that ugly mug, though. Me and my clique, we just wanted to let him know, that, you know, the people are listening.”

*This story is part of LEO's Fake Issue.