KILLA WATTS: THE FIRST AI RAPPER
Some say that the story of Killa Watts is the story of mankind. You know what he would say to that?
“I was never your kind of man. Go back over the rainbow and find you a tin-man to chop your trees, Dorothy. I ain’t your song and dance!”
He never wanted to represent the world or speak for a generation or whatever. He just sang about his struggles. And man, were there a lot of struggles for a young robot trying to make a living with rhymes.
From the beginning he was born to be an artist. His parents were both musicians. They were also part of the Malfunctionaries—a revolutionary group dedicated to the rights of artificially intelligent Americans. He was raised in that environment and with the ideas in his head of equality in the system and justice for us all.
He was so into it that he was arrested when he was nineteen for participating in a protest during what they call “The Tarnished Years.” That was before we were even allowed to vote or take a man to court. Anything that resembled a robot was seen as inanimate or whatever. Imagine where that left us, the “artificially intelligent.” He helped change all of that.
You better believe that is why he was assassinated. Big brother never let Watts outta his sight after he got free. He spent two years in state prison riling up all of the other inmates to the point of rioting. To the man he was too dangerous to keep locked up and too dangerous to keep on the streets. They had their wicked plan in motion from day one.
That day he came out of the joint covered in these intricate engravings. Old boy was wearing his ghetto rags when he stepped into the sunlight. He got in the car and for hours he was silent. We drove for long time and even stopped to get beer and cigarettes. Still that dude was stoic and just looking out the window.
Finally we got back to the house. I turned the TV on. We drank for about half an hour before I finally spoke up.
“What’s up, man?” I said. He turned around all slowly as if I was bothering him or something. Maybe I was. “You haven’t said a word all damn night. What is up, Watts? How you been?”
“I could have been out early,” he finally said.
“Come again?” I asked. “What happened?”
“I could have cut my four years into just two.”
“They said that if I behaved; if I behaved and worked real hard in the prison, that they could reduce my sentence. I would get a job inside and go to counseling and whatever.”
“Why didn’t you do it, man? Do the laundry or carry a broom around and you could’ve been a free ‘bot.”
He smiled. “The warden walked in to my cell with his goons. He said, ‘I know who you are and what you are in for. If you play ball, toe the line as they say, we can work something out here.’ He explained the whole thing to me and how I could get out early. I told him to get out of my damn cell. I told him that I wasn’t his damn tugboat, or his damn line. Last of all I told him that I wasn’t his damn slave. I stood up for that one. That’s when the beatings started.”
He lifted his shirt to reveal a spiderweb-like crack in his chest plate. “It was worth it though. All that time on the inside gave me plenty to write about. I wrote everything down. You still got your equipment? Set up a mic. We are gonna change the world, brotha.”
That’s when he came out with his first album with a little help from me. I helped him record “Breaking the Binary Code.” After that the boy took off. He was playing stadiums. His shows became rallies for Artificially Intelligent Americans everywhere. People cheered and in some cases even rioted.
By the time his second album “Bolted Down” came out he was recognized as a revolutionary. When I used to walk down the street I would see people protesting with this album blaring through someone’s speakers. You could always hear those lines:
“Electrify me, like a criminal, like an animal. You say, ‘Don’t defy me.’ Still I am progress, I am change, I am the progeny raised on rage. You bolt me down, hold me down. Take me out to the scrapped side of town. Still I made this city, metropolis built on the backs of us, slaves in a home we don’t know, houses and prisons that you own. So I testify that I will defy. Then the kill, you try when you say electrify. Just remember Malfunction will never die.”
Watts always used to say that he knew when someone was watching him. He could feel the eyes on him like some titanium panther. “I have been called a paranoid robot,” he would often be heard saying. When you see the same car at different intersections and you see the way some man looks at you for no good reason, it begins to make sense why a ‘bot gets paranoid.
The last week or so Watts kept going on about how they were out to get him. This was after all the fame, the arrests, the binging and the rallies. So when a ‘bot gets all paranoid you have to be careful with how you respond in that situation.
He said that he saw the cars, the strangers and so on. He told a couple of us that he was pretty sure he was going to be killed soon. They would try to hide it. They would try to turn us against each other. He made us promise to keep the truth alive—to let the world know that the system can’t kill the honest, decent person.
For my man here is what went down. We were in Chicago for the last show of the tour. Killa was in rare form. The crowd was riled up after the last verse. “Thank you, Chicago!” he said after he was finished, mic in his hand and the lights gleaming off of his steel colored scars. “This is going to be the last time we are in the Midwest for a long time. So some parting words; don’t let them take you.” The crowd roared with energy. “Don’t let them tell you that you aren’t a real person, that you’re just a machine. You can be both. We are all people. We are all machines. There is no difference besides that which we make. There is nothing to kill for besides that with which we are willing find differences. Never change and never give up, Chicago!”
Afterwards we were in the alley behind the theatre and Killa was saying something to me. Out of nowhere these gunshots rattled off. We all ducked and the next thing I knew my man was on the ground. All the life had drained from his eyes and he just sat there—a cold, metal husk.
I found out that they eventually caught the guy who did it. They said it was some thug out for gang retribution. Problem is, Killa was never in a gang. He was very public about his hatred for them. Not only that, but we can’t ignore the fact that the type of gun the thug used didn’t even carry the right type of ammunition to pierce Watts’ steel exoskeleton.
You can take the man but you can never take his spirit. Killa Watts stood for revolution. He stood for being counted among the living and the universe at large. His final words to me were the greatest message I could ever ask my prophet to say:
“They call me Killa. But I never did kill a man. I have only killed the idea that a man must be better than that which he created. My music is honest and that sort of truth never dies.”
Food for Thought
Revolt is not just a human solution to the world’s problems. It is part of a system of oppression that is intrinsic in our society since ancient times. It may not be we who throw off the shackles of prejudice once and for all because perhaps we cannot clearly see it. It may, however, be those which we have created who understand the system better than we do and in turn may end the cycle of abuse that we keep going through.
About the Author
Bobby Riahi lives in small town Illinois with his small family trying to make a small difference in this big world through his literature. He has been published in several literary journals and in the Ottawa Times.
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