Platinum-selling Hip Hop star Jermaine “Maino” Coleman is about as confident as any person can get. But the self determination of this Brooklyn, New York native doesn’t come from entitlement or a false sense of security, it’s a bravado that has been tried, tested and ultimately proven through years of overcoming challenges.
These days, you can find Maino pretty much anywhere in the country, donning a crown on his head as the official King of Brooklyn. As the boisterous emcee explains, the crown doesn’t just represent Hip Hop, it represents his rightful position in life based upon experience, values and respect.
Even as Maino celebrates success of his King Of Brooklyn (K.O.B.) mixtape series, the current state of affairs with police brutality in the U.S. has been at the forefront of conversations and controversy for him as much as any of us. As someone who spent several years in prison, and who has been a target of violence from authorities throughout his life, Maino knows all too well that something needs to change.
We caught up with Maino to discuss his concerns with police relations, systematic racism, mentoring the next generation, and why celebrities need to step up to the plate.
The problem with police brutality in America is nothing new, especially for young Black men. Some people look to you as role model because you’ve been through the system, and ended up with a successful career. What are your thoughts on the state of things, and how is your community in Brooklyn coming together at this time?
Maino: Unfortunately I come from an environment, and I come from a time and place, where there is a disconnect between my community and the police. It’s always been. I think that it’s not getting any better, it’s getting worse. I think the justice system is sending bad messages, not only to my community, but also to the police to make them feel like they can get away with that.
We don’t know what their psychological issues are, we don’t know what their financial problems are, and they coming to police us with all these issues. These dudes make 30-40,000 dollars a year, come on man. Ni**as in the rap game are shitting 30-40,000 in a month, let alone a week.
I feel like I was at a place in my life where I didn’t want to be a political person and speak about certain things. I just wanted to get to my money and take care of my family, but certain things start to touch you. Black males are struck down continuously by overzealous police, and it starts to touch you.
I have a 12-year-old son that I’m raising. He’s a Black male that’s going to be in the field soon, and I gotta train him and keep him on point, because he can come in contact with the police. That can be any one of our kids – that can be any one of us. You’re talking to a person that’s been beat by police, shot at by police, police done broke my arm, I’ve been caller ni**er by police, all that. My aunt was killed by police; my best friend is paralyzed to this day by the police.
I’ve been dealing with police contact, overaggressive officers all my life. I feel like it’s a duty of mine. God gave me the opportunity to speak and talk to people, [it’s important] that I not ignore it and I actually address it. I’m no angel, I’m not perfect and I don’t even make music that is politically conscious. Being in this seat that I’m sitting in, I have the opportunity and responsibility with my community, because how can I ignore what’s going on in my culture?
What do say to people who aren’t Black but empathize with what is going on and want to get involved? Do you think they should get involved? Is it needed?
Maino: Of course I think it’s needed. What’s crazy is when the [Mike Brown decision to not indict] came out, I was booked to host Starlets strip club in Queens, and I felt guilty that I was going to spend my night around alcohol, money, women, and music. A festive environment, partying, sex… I just felt a little guilty, and something as eating me up.
You know what I did? I went to Manhattan and I found a protest, and I wanted to be right in the middle of it because I wanted to taste it. I’ve never been in a protest in my life, but I wanted to get out there and let the people see me. I saw a lot of people who were not Black, because this is a people’s struggle it’s not just Black. We need all the help we can get. We need all the voices we could get.
For me it’s about that blue uniform. It’s about the person who puts that blue uniform on and comes to police our environment. Who are you homie? What’s your situation? I believe they need to be more psychologically evaluated. I think the whole idea and their whole training needs to be reconstructed.
You gotta understand, they are already trained not to trust us. The minute they pull you over they are already trained from the time you open up your mouth not to believe what were saying. They already deal with us in a certain kind of way.
Being a Black male I already know how it goes. “Yo where are you coming from?” “Fuck you mean where am I coming from? You are pulling me over for my license plate not being on the front of my car. What difference does it mean where am I coming from? You’re talking to me like I’m a boy. You’re talking to me like I’m a criminal and like I did something wrong. Write me a ticket and leave me alone. If I’ve done something wrong lock me up.” That’s it. Everything else is extra.
It was so many white people protesting it made me feel good. I said, “Wow this is crazy man”. It’s not just our fight, because at the end of the day we’re all people. I don’t know if the average white man understands what it is to be in a low income environment. To be 12, 13 years old and see the cops kicking I your neighbor’s door, but if he understands then cool.
What do you say to your son about this?
Maino: We have talks about it, and he doesn’t understand why. I just have to be real with him and tell him that sometimes everybody is not nice, every person is not as friendly and you can’t be as trusting. Even with the people that are supposed to help you.
Some people, just by the way you look will judge you, and people judge by the eye. When they judge you, you have to be mindful where you are, who you’re with, and what’s happening around you at all times. I stress that to him, because he’s not as advanced as I was at that time. When I was 12, I was already I the streets, so I was already having police contact running from police and doing stuff I didn’t have any business doing anyway.
He’s not a street kid, but all I can give him are the lessons and the jewels I’ve learned through my trials and tribulations and help guide him. Fortunately I’m in a position to do more, so that he doesn’t come in contact as much as the average Black male his age from the ghetto.
Since you are getting more in tune with personal responsibility and growth, have you worked on any ventures outside of music that we should be looking out for?
Maino: I actually have. I got something going on that I don’t want people to know that I’m doing. It’s kind of funny, but I have my hands involved in a clothing line that’s already out there. It’s already here, I see people wear it, and nobody knows I have anything to do with it. That is so awesome to me.
Other than that, I’m working on a book, Expect Nothing and Gain the World. It’s not actually about my personal life, but a book for inspiration; on philosophy, advice, and foresight. It’s based around men that are either in prison and about to get out or just got out of prison. I wanted to have a book that actually catered to them and gave advice on how to handle themselves.
It’s my view on how they could be successful. The first thing to be successful when you get out of jail is to be successful at being free. Who better to tell that story than a dude that spent a good portion of his life in the penitentiary and got out here and became a platinum artist? That is something that I’m actually trying to finalize.
I think it’s needed, and I feel like I’m out here partying and buying cars and doing all this other shit, but I wasn’t giving back to the community that I actually came from. I wanted to have something for them, it’s inspirational. I feel like anybody can read the book, because inspiration is inspiration, but when you walk out of that prison and you feel like you ain’t got nobody in the world, this is the book that understands your pain, where you are in your life… and it knows who you are. So that something that I’m eager to finish.
And you’re looking for a publisher now?
Maino: I found somebody and we’re talking about actually making this thing happen, because there is a bigger plan than putting out the book. This is something that I want to get in front of and do speaking engagements. I want to go to the jails, I want to go to the detention centers and I want to go to the county jails and talk to my people. I want people to know that “Don’t nobody care about you homie. We gotta care about ourselves, and we gotta stop to get our minds together before we get back into society.” It’s my duty.
I’ve spent a great deal of my life in them penitentiaries, going to war and shit like that. And they need it. We’ve seen the statistics and Black men and Latino men come out of prison, and they go right back and we want to understand why. It’s because no one is giving them the real talk that they really need.
What do you think is lacking in the mentorship in Brooklyn, and what do you think would help? How do you get people interested in working with the next generation?
Maino: I think what’s lacking is the actual care or concern from people that are in my position. People who have a voice and people who are respected it in the community to step up and say “You know what? I’m gonna make it my business to come here and holla at these kids, talk to them, and give them words of advice and encouragement.” I think entertainers need to go out of their way to address the community, and we’ll evolve.
What do you attribute your longevity to?
Maino: Pure will. My past is not really a secret, and I’ve been in a dark place in my life. I’ve been in places where I feel it couldn’t get any worse, so I feel like my drive and my ambition to always strive and want to do more is greater than anything.
Confidence comes from being secure in yourself. I run around with a crown on my head and some people think I’m crazy, but I don’t care what you think. This is supreme confidence. I’ve been through hell my ni**a, and you can’t even amount to me on any level, so why would I even value your opinion?
We dealing with unstoppable confidence. Fuck what you think, I’m from the streets. It don’t matter what you think. The people that I want it matter to, as long as they fuck with it and love me for me, then we’re cool.
Watch this emotional video from Maino in 2009, where he breaks down describing an act of police violence that deeply affected him while performing his platinum hit single “All The Above” featuring T-Pain.
Watch Maino’s video for “Hands Up” featuring Uncle Murda, dealing with the subject matter of police brutality [Warning: Graphic images]