"History is always happening" at Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site
On a sunny Wednesday afternoon in February, Errol Westbrook stepped out of the state penitentiary unit in Benton, smiled and hugged his wife, who'd come to take him back to Little Rock. For two and half years, he's filled his days with television and exercise, manual labor and reading — novels mostly, by James Patterson and John Grisham. He's been shuffled around the state, from Cummins to Calico Rock and Wrightsville, and has finally been granted a work release. As his wife drove them home, she asked what he wanted to do now, and he didn't hesitate: "I need a haircut," he said.
Word first spread that Westbrook was going to prison (for drug and firearm possession) in the summer of 2011, and the city took notice. Westbrook, the rapper better known as E-Dubb, is in his own way an eminent local presence, a universally respected figure in the Little Rock rap scene, having been performing and recording now for two decades. A clip uploaded to YouTube in late September of that year, a music video for his song "I'm Still Breathing," was billed as "the last video E-Dubb shot before his incarceration."
Midway through the song, an introspective ode to persistence and survival, the music fades out and Westbrook addresses his fans directly. "I'm fixing to have to go away and do a little time, hopefully it won't be too long," he says smiling. His voice, on record and in conversation, is gravelly, low and somehow paternal, and here he seems unworried, even comfortable with the idea. "I will be back, and it's not a problem," he stresses. "I will be back."
The Times reached Westbrook by phone on a recent morning at 10:30 and like pressing a snooze button on an alarm clock, he politely but firmly mumbled a request that we call back later that day. Sleeping late is a new luxury for a guy who, as he explained later, has been for so long consistently woken up at "three or four" in the morning for breakfast.
"They tell you when to eat, sleep and shit," he says of his time served. "It ain't nothing nice. Once you get used to it, adapt to what's going on, you get your own routine." In prison, he worked on the hoe squad, in which inmates line up in rows and hoe weeds or just dig holes in unison. "If you ain't built for it," he says, "you don't really want to go there."
Lately, Westbrook has been spending much of his time listening to the radio. "I got to try to get used to the new way they're doing music and the new music feel out here," he says. "I ain't been really recording for a while, so I gotta see what's fresh and what ain't fresh. It's weird what music they're liking now. When I got locked up it was Jeezy and T.I. and those type of guys. This new music sounds crazy to me. My son will put in a disc and say 'This is Migos,' and I can't even understand what they're saying."
"They screamed Free E-Dubb for two and a half years," he says. "Well now I'm fixing to Free Little Rock, 'cause I don't know what they got going on."
Westbrook grew up on the south side of town, on Battery Street. "My father was around, but he wasn't around," he says. "It wasn't his fault, just circumstances." Born in 1980, he was just the right age to be swept up in the height of Little Rock's gang era, and he fell for the lifestyle hard. He rapped and sold drugs all through high school — or really high schools, plural. "I been kicked out of every high school in Little Rock," he says, before rattling off an impressive list of institutions. "I'm not proud of that, don't get me wrong. It's just my past is kinda rocky," he says laughing.
Congratulations Tara, beautifully written!