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Ghetto Do-Gooders

The 5th Ward Boyz may not be saints, but they're not sinners either

"We were looking for a song for the radio," says Lo-Life, frank about the group's desire for a hit, "something with a positive message."

Still, little on Rated "G" is overtly radio-friendly. The rapping is unforgiving in its descriptions of ghetto life and blunt in its calls to action. But instead of eye-for-an-eye vengeance, the Boyz plead for tolerance, wrenching the songs from their depressing environments (prison cells, the site of the Oklahoma bombing, the bloodied streets and litter-strewn crack houses of the Fifth Ward) and attempting to overwhelm reality with intensely humanistic idealism. The wordplay varies in speed -- from a sedate low-key mumble to the rapid, slip-tongue delivery of "Death is Calling."

The 5th Ward Boyz tout Rated "G" as their most true-to-life portrayal of the ghetto lifestyle to date, its stories touching directly on the experiences of the group's members -- good and bad -- and their differing outlooks on what it takes to survive on the streets.

"You get three different aspects of things," says 007, referring to the picture of the sweat-drenched trio on the CD's cover. "You got one person who's always lookin' [over his shoulder]; you got another who's always stressed out; and you got one guy who's just livin' life and chillin'. There's a lot of positive things in the ghetto, and there's also a lot of negative things that are made to be positive."

All graduates of Wheatley High School ("We always like to point out that we did graduate," Lo-Life says), the Fifth Ward Boyz had their fill of the negative early on, turning to rap and hip-hop as a way to make some money and stay alive. Now in their early twenties, each began with his heart set on a solo career. But when all their roads reached a dead end in 1992, mutual friend Dewey Forker, now the group's manager, convinced them to try rapping as a trio.

"At first, we really weren't together," Lo-Life explains. "We were just trying to get a record deal together."

But as time went on, Lo-Life adds, "some decisions were made" and the group's personality slowly began to gel. With Forker's help, the 5th Ward Boyz got in the door at Rap-A-Lot, and they've been label favorites ever since. "It took a lot of brain power and a lot of heads coming together to come up with what we did," 007 says.

While 007 helps produce the band's CDs and does most of the talking in interviews, the 5th Ward Boyz maintain they're a democracy. All three are prolific writers, so they share songwriting credits. That egalitarian vibe spills over into the rapping, which is divided more or less equally among the members, who often trade verses a couple of times in a single track.

As for the 5th Ward Boyz's immediate future, more touring is a distinct possibility. The group recently finished up a small string of dates around the South and isn't ruling out more traveling in the coming months, especially if "Situations" catches fire on the rap charts. As for their impact on the future of hip-hop in the Fifth Ward, the Boyz have assembled their own production company, Swing Wide, to help younger acts get their careers together. The Boyz plan to pitch one of those acts, a still-unnamed female group, to Rap-A-Lot for its new R&B label, Sing-A-Lot.

"We don't just go around killing each other out here," says 007. "Why kill each other when we can get together and do something constructive?"

But don't expect all that positive energy to soften the 5th Ward Boyz's gangsta stance. "We have explicit lyrics, and we're always gonna tell the real story," 007 adds. "We can't sugarcoat it. This is how it is.

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