Google “Brentwood Indianapolis,” and the results are grim. After a minimap of the area – Brentwood Drive is a one-block L shaped street on the northeast side of the city – the first thing you see is, “What is the most dangerous part of Indianapolis?”
A few rows below is a collaboration between the Indianapolis Star and Indy’s NPR affiliate about the cycle of violence and political intransigence surrounding a housing complex on Brentwood called Towne and Terrace. The headline is something you could imagine a gravitas-y reporter repeating on the local news, pausing meaningfully at the right parts. “Once, This Was A Dream Community. Now It’s McDonald’s For Drugs.” It traces the descent of the complex from glossy post-war planned community to the kind of economically starved community that becomes an inevitable target for slumlords.
It’s the kind of aggressively well-reported story that’s becoming endangered in our post-journalism world. (Though the fact that they got their headline from a quote by a member of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department leaves something to be desired.) In particular because it chronicles the naked greed of Walter Timmons, the principal villain of the piece. Timmons is the landlord who has successfully beat back years of attempts by the city to repair the properties at Towne and Terrace, all the while recouping in rent his properties’ entire assessed value every 14 months. Things are getting better: an Indiana appeals court recently ruled in favor of the city, who has been trying to clean up Towne and Terrace for the past three years. Here’s hoping that whatever the city ends up building doesn’t simply displace the current residents.
Vital as journalism like this is, it can be somewhat anonymizing. Towne and Terrace could be any one of the countless neglected housing complexes that dot the American landscape. You’ve probably read pieces like this one. You can picture the photos of blighted landscapes and burning barrels, hear the tone of noble survivalism in the prose. The roles are flat and familiar: the crying mom, the menacing hoodlums, the cops painted as noble stewards of the law.
Poloboy Nunu grew up on Brentwood. He would likely be cast as another villain in this story – one of the menacing hoodlums, right alongside Walter Timmons. Poloboy has gang ties, he keeps his glocks out, he taunts his rivals to come outside. But he’s no villain. He’s not a victim, either. (And he’s certainly not a cop.)
He’s proud. He’s proud of Brentwood – he named his latest mixtape after it. He’s proud of 4 block, of the corner of 42nd Street and Post Road that’s a couple blocks west. Proud of Indy. “We have the talent to be the next Atlanta,” he says of Naptown. He wears a Pacers logo chain, customized with a “PBN” insignia – Poloboy Nation. He also knows he’s had a hard life. He’s little more than a year out of jail for armed robbery in Louisiana. He just celebrated his 18th birthday over the summer, yet his voice – like so many young MCs – bears the pain of several decades more. Sometimes he calls himself the devil’s son.
He is also talented. His flows are agile, his melodic sense is preternatural. He understands song structure. His best cuts – “Gang Ties,” “Come Outside,” “Smoke Wit Us” – are great songs, not just collections of rhymes or looped hooks. In particular, he has a gift for hooks that sneak up on you, that seem at first to blend into the verses but later emerge as refrains that plant themselves in your subconscious.
And he is ascendant: when he spoke to Dirty Glove Bastard in Atlanta earlier this year, he was there recording with 21, Metro, Sonny Digital, and ATL Jacob. He’s got room to grow, certainly. He hasn’t quite developed his signature flow yet. I found myself playing spot the flow a few times – DaBaby, Youngboy, Gates, a dash of Drakeo/Bluebucks/Shoreline.
In short, Poloboy is human. He is not a character in a sober investigative piece, or a grim face in a photo spread. He is not an archetype.
The last question Google prompts when you search for Brentwood Indianapolis is, “What is Indianapolis famous for?” That’s a role Poloboy would like to play.