VALLEJO, Calif. - Montrell Harris’ Facebook feed is lighting up with controversy: Community members in his Vallejo neighborhood – and others – want to know why he is going to be rapping at the Patriot Prayer rally in San Francisco.
“I don’t want my crowd thinking I’m supporting white supremacists,” he said.
Harris is African American after all, and a veteran rapper under the name “Work Dirty.” Why would he want to align himself with a organizers who the San Francisco mayor called hateful members of the “alt right?”
The 30-year-old Harris, a native of Vallejo who grew up in the “ghetto,” just doesn’t buy it.
“I did my research,” Harris told KVTU on Friday. “They’re not white supremacists. I’m the blackest black man. Black men and white supremacy is an oxymoron. They can’t be white supremacists if they invited me.”
That’s what the organizers of the Patriot Prayer rally, such as lead organizer Joey Gibson and others, have been continually saying. They are not Nazi-lovers, they argue. They simply support President Donald Trump and are against anti-fascists and “Marxists.”
Harris doesn’t even align himself politically with the rally organizers.
“I don’t support Donald Trump,” he said. “I don’t think he’s a good president. He’s a joke. But I can’t be a punk and pull out because of a little controversy.”
Harris said he had no idea the rally would even be controversial. A fellow musician asked him to rap a while back, and when he got the invitation, it was billed as a rally for “peace and prayer,” he said. “I had no idea.”
Then, Charlottesville, Virginia happened. And city leaders across the country wanted to ban what they felt would be similar protests. Harris learned Gibson was Japanese and he didn’t find any evidence that the rally was run by racists.
Even so, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin have publicly said these patriot rallies are not welcome in their cities, and they had news conference this week denouncing racists who plan to attend.
Harris said he was still “on the fence” about performing, though, until people just wouldn’t let up.
“People were trying to bully me into not to do it,” he said. “They are all getting on my timeline. But nobody gets to tell me what to do. So I decided to do it.”
There’s also this bottom line: Money and publicity.
“There are going to be a lot of people,” Harris said. “I’m an artist. I’m looking for an audience.”
He is getting paid a sum he wouldn’t disclose, but added that it’s money to “feed my two kids.”
Harris isn’t naïve. He realizes that the rally, scheduled for Saturday at 2 p.m. at Crissy Field, may draw thugs of all sorts, on the right and on the left. He’s not scared. He said growing up on Magazine Street in Vallejo taught him to be tough.
And he promised that he would use the stage for good – if need be.
“I’m going to speak my peace to the opposite side,” he said. “I speak for my people. I am for the struggle.”