At first, the videos provided Rodney Bethea a unique way to promote hisclothing line, he says.
His concept evolved into a series of DVDs that largely focused on a contestof greatness between two Baltimore men with a knack for spontaneously spewingrap music rhymes.
Along the way, the DVDs gained popularity on Baltimore's streets. NBA starCarmelo Anthony; his teammate Rodney White; Michael K. Williams, star of HBO'sThe Wire; and rapper Jadakiss made cameo appearances.
Still, the first eight videos made nary a splash in the mainstream media.It was video No. 9 that turned Bethea's video side-business into a controversyof congressional proportions.
In making the music-centered videos - which feature displays of drugs andguns - producer Bethea discovered that people on the streets had a lot to say.He planned to gather their rants and produce a DVD called EA All Day: The HoodDVD. (EA is short for Edmondson Avenue, a major West Baltimore street.)
But as Bethea taped, he hit a theme: Many people were angry about snitches,arrested criminals who informed authorities about the illegal activities ofothers.
He named the DVD Stop Snitching.
After two months on the street, the DVD made the news, with Anthony drawingmuch of the attention. The Denver Nuggets player is shown on the streetsjoking about putting a bounty on a local rapper.
Over the past three weeks, Bethea's work has been condemned by Rep. ElijahE. Cummings, criticized by the mayor, hailed by police as criminalintelligence and sold on the Internet for $100.
"It's good people are talking about it, but I want people to understandwhat they're watching," he says.
To the 31-year-old West Baltimore barber, his infamous video is adocumentary. It's a glimpse into a world politicians would rather mostBaltimoreans didn't see. It's reality, Bethea says.
The two-hour video is a collection of scenes in which men display expensivewatches, smoke marijuana, pull guns from their pockets and threaten the livesof criminals-turned-informants. Many of the rants are directed at TyreeStewart, the alleged leader of a $50 million drug ring. Stewart was arrestedlast year and has been assisting authorities, federal court records show.
The video provided a visual for a crisis that has long gripped Baltimore'scriminal justice system: witness intimidation.
"You can't blame the DVD for problems that existed before it came out,"Bethea says.
Bethea says he doubts the video taught the Police Department much aboutWest Baltimore that its detectives didn't know, but he agrees with theassertion that the video could haunt those who displayed guns, smoked drugsand threatened "snitches" or "rats."
"I didn't tell anybody what to say. They took it upon themselves," Betheasays.
Bethea grew up in a poor area of North Philadelphia, he says. He moved toBaltimore about 11 years ago to attend barber school. He lives in Randallstownand cuts hair in West Baltimore. He operates his One Love Underground shop onFrederick Avenue and drives a van emblazoned with the name. He sells One Loveclothing, which he describes as "urban streetwear," and his DVDs. But most ofhis videos are circulated by people making copies, he says.
Bethea says he has stayed out of trouble since moving to Baltimore, and alocal criminal record check confirms that. The only entry is an arrest in 1996for being a fugitive from justice in Pennsylvania.
When Stop Snitching made the news this month, most of the attention fell onAnthony, the former Towson Catholic star and West Baltimore native.
Bethea says he does not know Anthony well, but the star appeared in twoprevious Bethea-produced DVDs.
In those videos, the 6-foot- 8-inch player is seen dancing on a street andhanging out in the back room at a night club. Some of the footage of Anthonywas shot this summer at a basketball event in Richmond, Va.
Underground videos and recordings, such as the ones produced by Bethea, areincreasingly common, says Uni Smith of the Web site www.rapindustry. com.Within the hip-hop music industry, there is a distinct respect for undergroundrecordings that produce less profit and offer a harder edge than the sanitizedversions played on the radio and television.
"The underground market, both music and DVDs, gives a voice to artists whohave yet to be recognized by the music industry mainstream," says GailMitchell, a senior writer at Billboard magazine. "There are severalunderground scenes, depending on what part of the country you live in. Houstonhas its scene. New York has a scene. Atlanta has a scene. Baltimore has ascene."
As Bethea's work moves out of the so-called "underground," he says he wantsto draw attention to West Baltimore.
Cummings, the outgoing chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, has saidhe will go anywhere to meet Anthony and discuss the video's negative messages.Bethea has a suggestion for the elected official and the dunking hero.
"How about if [Cummings] comes to West Baltimore?" Bethea says. "If I wasCarmelo Anthony, I'd say, `Let's walk these streets. I'm going to show you whythese people have this mentality. You have the power to put your hands on thesolution.'"
Bethea also says Stop Snitching II is in production but won't say who willappear.
"You'll see," he says. "It's going to definitely address some heavy issues.You'll be surprised."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times