Tent camp inspires rap song

Rap crew goes to camp to videotape Tent City.

Published February 9, 2007

ST. PETERSBURG — St. Petersburg rap artist “Matthew “Jah” Harper and his crew came to one of St. Petersburg’s homeless tent encampments Friday to shoot a music video.

Harper knew the crowd was more Willie Nelson than 50 Cent. But music taste was hardly the issue. The recent killings of two homeless men and a police raid that displaced tent dwellers still weighed heavy on their minds. They wondered what a rap song and video camera would accomplish.

“What the hell is this all about,” said tent city resident Warren Cucker, 48.
Harper hoped to win over Cucker and the others by the end of the shoot.

It would not be easy.


Harper stood in front of Raymond E. Young’s tent and started rapping.

It’s a shame and a pity.

Ain’t nothing pretty.

It’s not a house but is a home.

Tent City.

Harper, 35, said he fell on hard times while growing up in Detroit. He sought a fresh start in Florida six years ago but required public assistance. Now he drives buses for the county. Making music has always been his great passion.

The inspiration for the song Tent City came after he watched a City Council meeting on TV and was outraged that homeless people were sleeping in the cold.

Harper and collaborator, Ben Wallace, who is 58 and also drives buses, started fooling around with the keyboard.

“It was like the light hit me, man,” Harper said. “I was like, 'Why didn’t I think of this earlier?’ I had been feeling so powerless.”

The rap duo plan to deliver copies of the music video to Mayor Rick Baker and every member on the City Council.

After all, they feature prominently in the song.

Soon after arriving, someone who works nearby to the camp called the police and accused Harper of trespassing.

The police showed up but let the video shoot continue.

By then, people from the camp were gathered around. One woman watched from her tent and several others were sitting on lawn chairs smoking.

I got a question for the mayor, Ricky Baker.

While you’re sipping on your cocktails, talking about saving the whales.

Why don’t you go under this bridge and save Gail.

The verse drew applause from the crowd, which was now swaying side to side to the beat.

Some still wondered whether the song would do any good.

“I don’t think the mayor listens to rap music,” said Cucker, who was wearing a shirt that said “World Changers.”

“They should think about elevator music.”

Young, who had been listening to country music earlier, considered the question as he stood next to his tent, which was decorated with angels, a rosary and a few American flags.

He said he didn’t necessarily identify with every verse in the song, but he liked some of the words.

Made some turns in life that was wrong,

Times rough it ain’t much but it’s a place we call home …

Lord knows how I love this place called … Tent City”