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Armell Antonio Pate (1975-1998)
For two years, the Check Yoself Crew has been performing plays and hip-hop songs around the Cities to promote AIDS awareness among teens--especially in the black community, where the pandemic has hit hardest in recent years. But while the youth-based group has increased its outreach efforts in the weeks since World AIDS Day on December 1, members have gone about it with somewhat heavy hearts. On October 26, they lost an important member of the Crew.
Armell Antonio Pate was a 23-year-old rapper known to friends and family in North Minneapolis as LP, or "Lyrical Poet." He joined Check Yoself's street-level education efforts last year with an uncommon enthusiasm, volunteering through the City Inc.'s HIV/AIDS/STD Awareness and Prevention Program.
"He'd call every morning saying, 'Where we gonna go? What we gonna do today?'" says Program Coordinator Sha-Ron Matthews, who'd taken to calling Pate her son. When news arrived that Pate had been found dead in a North Minneapolis alley, it sent a shock wave through fellow activists. "A lot of members were sparked by him," says Program Director Chi Ellis. "He'd found his niche."
Pate's death seems even more senseless given its apparent circumstances. On December 3, police charged 18-year-old Terelle E. Shaw with second-degree murder for Pate's killing. In court documents, officers claimed that Pate had visited Shaw's house the night of the murder to discuss a possible DJ gig on Halloween night. According to the charges, Pate was in the kitchen when Shaw shot him, allegedly after Pate showed disrespect for Shaw's gang. (Pate was said to be reaching into his shirt pocket, which contained only cigarettes, at the time.) The police report says the defendant's sister was in the adjoining room when shots rang out, and she heard Pate say, "It doesn't have to be like this," before he fell to the floor. Witnesses heard another series of shots shortly thereafter.
Compounding the tragedy was its timing. Pate had lost close family members to AIDS, and friends say the Check Yoself Crew had given him a new lease on life. His interest was piqued by his younger cousin, Londell Anderson, who invited him to help write a prevention-themed song for the Crew's HIV Ain't No Joke CD. The cut, "Let's Discuss Protecting Us," appeared on the disc in July, and its title has become a kind of slogan for the group. Anderson raps solo on it, under his MC handle Contac, and Pate joins his friend Shawn Owens on the second verse, under the duo's moniker Dead-N-Gone. With a Master P-like bounce, the ragga-inflected jam makes refrains like "Strap on two if you must/'Cause some times they may bust" sound catchy.
But Pate soon became interested in his cousin's outreach and education work as well. "He liked teaching prevention," says Anderson. "We went to Red Cross classes to get certified and everything. He was happy for once." Pate reunited with his girlfriend and their three small children, and he had a spiritual rebirth, telling friends he had devoted his life to God. Two weeks before he was killed, the Project had hired him as a full-time employee.
"Both our girlfriends' birthdays are October 28," Anderson says, "and we were planning to take them out and do the hotel thing that night." The day Pate's body was found, Anderson got a long-awaited call from MTV, who wanted both Contac and Dead-N-Gone to fly down and perform on the network's amateur talent program, The Cut. "Everything that we had planned got thrown out the window," Anderson says.
Anderson is misty-eyed and soft-spoken in person, still shaken by the death of his cousin. He says it was Pate who got him into rapping in the first place. "I was one of those types who'd write rhymes and keep them to myself," he remembers. "But he encouraged me, and he took me to the studio four years ago." Anderson submitted some demo tapes to KMOJ (89.9 FM), where they were well-received on the station's caller-response segment "Rush It or Flush It."
"It's weird how P went out," Anderson says, mystified. "He wasn't the kind of guy you would expect to find in an alley shot in the head. He never sagged his pants. He was a ladies' man. He was cool with everybody. All he did was rap."
Anderson's latest song is called "God's Trying to Tell Us Something," and he says it's about drawing inspiration from disaster. "LP dying was like a message for our whole family," he says. "We've got to come together. And I feel I've got to be the one to bring us together. Before he died, P was the link, the kind of guy where everyone could gather at his house, turn on the mixer, and start freestyling. It was like, 'We safe, we cool, and we just chilling.'"
For more information on the Check Yoself Crew and City Inc.'s HIV/AIDS/STD Awareness and Prevention Program, call 724-3689.