Book Review: Wake Up Everybody: The Life of a Player
Book Reviewed by Paige Turner
I play the street life cuz there's no place I can go
Street Life - it's the only life I know
Street Life - there's a thousand parts to play
Street Life -- and you can play your life away.
The Life of a Player is a cautionary urban fable, similar to the Tortoise and the Hare with our "ghetto fabulous" hero Lincoln Jackson playing both the tortoise and the hare. Seemingly based on the life of the author, Jihad, Wake Up Everybody accurately presents the mindset and mentality associated with young urban black males at risk. And the book presents the narrow spectrum of opportunities that ghetto life offers them, ranging from petty theft to slangin' rock.
Lincoln Jackson, our hero possesses the resilient nine lives of a cat. Lives One and Two describe a portrait of the player-to-be as a young man. During this time Lincoln gains experience (not wisdom) and confidence through petty hustles, making money by selling stolen candy and car stereos. Lives Three, Four and Five are filled with the large livin' of a drug dealer. During his Sixth Life Lincoln is afflicted with a major spinal cord injury and subsequent rehabilitation. During his Seventh Life he resumes drug dealing. Life Eight describes Lincoln's seven-year period in various federal penitentiaries. Life Nine provides a satisfying resolution as Lincoln (now renamed Jihad) makes the decision to go with a legit life and experiences consequent rewards with Allah as his guiding force.
Wake Up Everybody offers a realistic exposition of ghetto life and how easy it is to get sucked in to the life of a player. The book is sincere, earnest, and deeply felt. Lincoln was bright and had great academic potential but his player/ghetto mentality leads him down the wrong road at every turn. He heartbreakingly squanders a college scholarship behind a rivalry over a girlfriend. In extracting revenge Lincoln seriously injures the college's star football player and is expelled.
The book's most credible moments are when it describes the mindset and
consciousness behind the players' actions. Lincoln buys a car that has a Porsche
body on a Mazda frame--a real (in the author's words) "Ho Catcha". A
mere six hours after purchase when he finds out that his car is a lemon, he none
the less decides to invest further in keeping his "Porsche" running.
Underscoring this decision is the poor self-image that fuels Lincoln's
smoke-and-mirrors existence. One passage describes his thrill at being perceived
as "important" via his bogus Porsche.
"I felt like somebody -- a movie star or a superstar singer. We drove slowly. The women went crazy ’ I was sweating all them PYT's sweating me. During fifteen minutes of ridinta University center campus grounds, I was proposed to, kissed at, begged for a ride, and asked my seven digits a few times’ Once we had left and I came down off my high horse, I realized that it had been the car and what it represented. Money! It was money the girls were sweating."
There are large gaps and abrupt turns in the story that will baffle readers. These unexplained changes of scene are puzzling because they are out of context. The story of a Boston born Black serviceman and his disappointing interracial marriage made for an interesting detour. Also the tragic story of a daughter of a Nigerian physician who turns to the street life when she is suddenly orphaned as a pre teen is fascinating and is almost like a novel unto itself. Portrayals of women and Lincoln's relationships with women are hazy. While his mother is a consistent and positive (if ineffective) figure in the story, there are many stretches where she has no voice or presence.
It is in describing the street life of a player is where vivid and tantalizing descriptions take place, and where the book comes most alive. Jihad outlines a seductive lifestyle where great big gushes of money come in regularly, quickly and relatively easily. This part of the story is enticing regardless of the reader's moral posture. The cars, the toys, the freedom, the trips, the clothes, the homes, and other perks are just absolutely fabulous. Ohh la la! Wake Up Everybody clearly illustrates how it is almost easy to ignore the rock bottom depravity of drug dealing and luxuriate in the sumptuousness of its benefits.
Parts of the novel strain credulity, especially Lincoln's ability to walk after being declared a quadriplegic. He recovers miraculously in record time to once again take up his old life. There is even a passage of the narrative that describes him sprinting from a jail despite the previously stated fact that he had tremors on his right side and partial loss of sensation on his left side. Go figure.
Wake Up Everybody is an exciting story although there is very little self-examination and Jihad's inexperience as a writer is highly evident. The novel is followed by a multi page poem, but would have been better ended by reprinting the lyrics of the Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes song, Wake Up Everybody:
The world won't get no better if we just let it be,
The world won't get no better,
We gotta change this world, just you and me.