Archive for November, 2012


“Gotta think outside the box, know how to connect the dots”

November 28th, 2012 Posted by david brothers

Killer Mike’s I Pledge Allegiance to the Grind II is one of those albums that means a lot to me. Here’s an excerpt from the intro:

You can never lead if you only follow. What I mean is, if you sit around, and you look at people, and you wait for them to give you permission to do something great, you will never do anything, so get up, brothers! Get about your grind! If you have a boss, maybe you should fire your boss. Maybe you should change your life.

It’s a real inspirational album, as opposed to being merely aspirational, like most flossy rap records. Mike’s entire point is that you, you sitting there reading this, you need something of your own. You need something that’s yours that you can be proud of. It’ll improve your quality of life and open doors for you that were previously closed. If you’re lucky, and by “lucky” I definitely mean “talented at your thing and in the right place at the right time” and not “lucky” because luck is worthless, it might let you make money, too.

I heard this at the right time and it really sunk in. Working for someone is all to the good, if it works for you, but it’s not the same as owning your own thing. “Maybe you should fire your boss” is a mantra. You need to have something of your own.

4thletter! is mine. It’s Gavin’s and Esther’s, too, of course, but the parts I wrote are mine, like the parts they wrote are theirs. I do what I want to do when I want to do it, and I can’t understate how important that is to me. It’s freeing. It’s freedom. 4l! is like a refuge, if that makes sense. I know that I can come here and write posts about rap music with a little stinger at the end that’ll make my friends laugh. I can try and improve my craft in public and try new things. I feel comfortable failing here, and that sometimes counts for more than succeeding elsewhere.

If you’re an adult, you’ve got to be about your grind, even if you spend some of your time being about someone else’s grind. You have to make money, but money isn’t everything. You need something that makes you happy, too. You have to dream, and sometimes, you need to dream a little bigger, darling. Aesop Rock got at this a little in “9-5ers Anthem” on the exquisite Labor Days when he said, “We, the American working population, hate the fact that eight hours a day is wasted on chasing the dream of someone that isn’t us. And we may not hate our jobs, but we hate jobs in general that don’t have to do with fighting our own causes.”

It’s true.

Cycling back to Mister Michael Render, alias Killer Mike: Lauryn Hill once said “And even after all my logic and my theory, I add a ‘motherfucker’ so you ignant niggas hear me.” That’s close to what Mike does, but it isn’t right. It’s not about ignorance. It’s about meeting people on their level. It’s about knowing that you can’t just preach to people and expect them to listen. You’ve got to get in the door and show and prove before people listen. Meet them on the couch and talk face-to-face, rather than hollering at them from the pulpit.

That’s what Mike does. He effortlessly switches from inspirational talk to drug raps to jiggy raps and back again. It’s not even a switch, if we’re being real. He’s just reflecting the full spectrum of our lives. Sometimes smarty-art types just want to fool around, and sometimes that listless stoner you know has some real smart ideas. And who doesn’t like having money?

Common, on “The Questions,” asked “Yo, if I’m a intellectual, I can’t be sexual?/ If I want to uhh tah uhh does that mean I lack respect for you?” (Uhh tah uhh is I guess onomatopoeia for sex. It makes more sense if you can hear it. Kinda.) There’s this idea that if you’re one thing, you can’t be another thing at the same time, but we all know that ain’t true. Everybody’s got their hands in all types of pots. We all like a wide spectrum of things, even things that may go against what we or others perceive as what we’re all about.

One song I like a lot off Pledge II is “Can You Buy That,” featuring Rock-D. It’s a good song, and pretty representative of Mike’s style and the way he can flip any subject. It’s about having things that other people don’t have, which is undoubtedly a rap staple. But when viewed in the context of the thesis of the album — “Work hard and get yours” — it’s not just braggadocio. It’s an example. It’s rejoicing in having things of your own. I like that.

“Can You Buy That” opens with and features a sample from The Mack, a 1973 film directed by Michael Campus and starring Max Julien and Richard Pryor. You can hear the source of the sample around three minutes into this video:

The Mack is a classic. I know that Shaft and Superfly are probably more respected or whatever whatever, but The Mack will always be a favorite of mine. An uncle showed it to me when I was (too) young and hyped it up super high, and it somehow still delivered. It’s a raw blaxploitation flick, sleazy and violent and wonderful.

Blaxploitation is weird, isn’t it? It came hot on the heels of the collapse of the civil rights movement, and a lot of people feel like it puts black people in
a bad light. Which is maybe true, but it was also a chance for black people to get their foot in the door of Hollywood and make the types of movies they wanted to make. But when I think about the genre, I feel like blaxploitation was something that black people owned. (Aside: a lot of people don’t know that Shaft was created by a white guy. True story.) Not entirely, obviously, but Ron O’Neal, Gordon Parks, Melvin Van Peebles, Pam Grier, Richard Roundtree, and a dozen others made a mark that Hollywood will never be able to forget, no matter how far they run from it. They proved that a market was there.

They made their mark.

Another thing about blaxploitation is how it was an answer to the decade before. It was a statement. “This is what life is like. This is what our dreams are like.” You saw scumbag slumlords and people fought “the man” in whatever form the man chose to take. Why? ’cause the man was screwing up the country in real life, too. A lot of those movies were sublimated revenge fantasies, like how Punisher comics in the ’80s were ripped from the headlines. What do you do when the man is keeping you down? You tell him to move over and let you pass ‘fore they have be to pullin’ these Hush Puppies out his motherfuckin’ ass! Can you dig it?

The Mack is a good example of how art imitates life and vice versa, too. The Mack is where the player’s ball, an annual gathering of pimps, originated, or at least that’s how the story goes. You don’t get Snoop Dogg without The Mack, either. And surely you’ve heard OutKast’s ode to the ball? It’s an all-time classic.

Rappers keep going back to The Mack for inspiration. “Now we can settle this like you got some class… or we can get into some gangsta shit” is a pretty incredible threat, one that’s been sampled or used or spoken by everyone from Snoop Dogg to your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper. Ghostface borrowed Pretty Tony’s name for his Pretty Toney alias, and I’m pretty sure you could make a case for Goldie having inspired Goldie Loc’s name, too. If you ever hear somebody say “stick yourself, fool” or talk about throwing someone in a trunk with rats? They either got it from The Mack or got it from somebody else who got it from The Mack. This movie looms large.

I know you’ve heard this song before. It’s UGK’s “International Player’s Anthem (I Choose You)”, featuring none other than Antwan Patton and Andre Benjamin.

(I love it when Andre 3000 says “I know you ain’t a pimp, but pimp, remember what I taught ya.” This came out at a point when Three Stacks was killing every song he got on, and this is no different.)

The sample on this song is Willie Hutch’s “I Choose You.” It’s from The Mack‘s soundtrack.

Ain’t it the most majestic-sounding thing tho? It’s about getting married to the prettiest girl you ever did see, which is exactly what Andre’s verse is about on the UGK version. He’s homaging the original song on a remix that’s all about pimpery and divorce. Kinda wild. I like how deep that goes. It’s like a tribute, a thank you note, for Willie Hutch.

I think my favorite use of Willie Hutch in any song not actually by Willie Hutch is in Sugar Tongue Slim’s “Sole Music,” a love song about shoes and girls. (I straight up love this song because those are two of my favorite things.)

In the second verse, he says, “Okay, so now she’s in the mood, I got her in the groove/ She into soul music, no pun on the shoes/ I turned on some tunes and rolled up a dutch/ ‘I Choose You,’ she don’t know ’bout Willie Hutch” and right when he says “I Choose You” that melody comes in and a voice starts singing the original song.

It’s clever, like pretty near everything else STS does, and I like how it adds to the song. If you know about “I Choose You,” you get that he’s talking about a girl he’s really, really into. He’s doing that dorky dude thing where he puts on a song that’s actually a hint, right? Y’all never did that? That was just me? Yeah, right. Okay.

I like this love song because it flips the script. It’s not just about bubble butts and make-outs. STS makes the shoe and fashion comparisons work, and if you’re looking to be put on game with regard to sneakers, he’s got you. I’m an Air Force 1 type of dude personally — six pairs and counting, scholar at your boy — but I like certain Jordans, too. But it’s still cool how STS flips his encyclopedic knowledge of shoes into useful and clever commentary on dating and relationships. I especially like the bit where he talks about how if a girl chills with her shoes off in your place, it means she’s pretty comfortable. It sounds dumb, but when you think about it, what do you do when you kick back and relax? You kick off your shoes. It’s a sign of comfort and safety. (“The way she rock Dunks got your boy in love” is all about how dumb little inconsequential things can be incredibly endearing and make your heart jump into your throat.)

I can especially relate when he says that “Let me slow it down, I’m moving too fast/ I don’t wanna scuff it up/ I’m hoping this might last.” You want to keep your shoes clean because yo, shoes are wild expensive and you need to show them off to people. The same is true of relationships. I remember the second day I wore my pair of Chris Pauls (CP 2’Quicks in White/Dark Concord/Black), I had my bike accident. At first, I could recognize that my bloody knee was going to be a problem and was actually hurting kind of a lot, but I was more upset over the fact that I’d just put a big fat scuff on my new sneakers. I had just got them and didn’t even really get a chance to show them off before I ruined them. I was so mad that I went to Walgreens on my way home from work, bought toothpaste, and was in the process of trying to scrub it out when I finally decided to hobble to the hospital. Now, take that feeling and apply it to a relationship. You’re the person who says something dumb too soon and blow everything. Hurts times ten, yeah? The shoe comparison works. “This could’ve been something cool!”

STS is another rapper that was influenced by The Mack, I figure. It’s not as overt as it is with Snoop or Kast, but that aura is there, plus the fact that Slim was the name of another cat in the movie. STS is a self-professed former pimp turned poet, which is shades of the marketing that OutKast got buried under in the ’90s (The Pimp and The Poet, screamed the label, not realizing that both men were both things and so much more.). He’s one of those rappers that never met a pun he wouldn’t make or joke he wouldn’t tell. I forget when I first discovered him, probably on an album from The Roots or a mixtape somewheres, but I dig this remix of La Roux’s song “In For the Kill” that I heard fairly early on.

STS has turned flipping songs into a solid gimmick with his GOLDRUSH series of mixtapes. It’s fun to see how he incorporates the original themes of the song but turns it into his own specific thing. I think it works because dude is funny, even when he’s saying things that would make me grimace.

I like how he flipped Gotye’s song into a really good breakup tale:

Rapping, at its best, is a kind of acting, I think. You have to play a character and do it well enough to convince people that your character is you. He’s acting here, and pulling from a lot of different sources. That “crazy bitch, crazy bitch” bit is straight outta OutKast’s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, specifically Andre 3000’s “Roses,” Which is interesting in terms of rap geography and influences, because STS is from Atlanta, but moved to Philadelphia and connected with The Roots, who he shouts out in this song as being real important to him. I can hear OutKast and Black Thought and The Roots in him, but his sound is all his own. He builds on what came before him and pays homage to it with his skill, like how Andre and Big Boi paid homage to The Beatles (amongst others, including Motown in general) in a couple different ways with that “Hey Ya!” video.

“Sole Music” is a straight-up storytelling song, too, which is one of my favorite kinds of rappity-rapping showcases. It’s kinda Slick Rick-y in tone. He was killer at that singsong/half-serious storytelling style. Both of these guys just ooze charm, like hanging out with somebody’s cool uncle, so when STS is talking about how he thought he saw his girl, but it was just somebody who reminded him of somebody he used to know, you feel a little sad for him. It’s a pretty great take on the original song, I think, and the conversational format is a whole lot of fun.

Where was I…. oh. You want to learn something?

Listen to rap music. You just gotta scratch the surface to get started, because this stuff runs deep, pimp, like Iceberg Slim.

(I didn’t even talk about how Willie Hutch doing the soundtrack for The Mack relates to Curtis Mayfield doing the soundtrack for Superfly, did I? Or the influence of Mayfield on Anthony Hamilton, the best R&B singer alive today? And how he works with several rappers on songs that generally turn out to be awesome? Or how Hamilton got a shout-out in Santa Inoue’s Tokyo Tribes, a manga that’s basically a rap-oriented sensational crime comic set in Japan? Blaxploitation by way of Shibuya, 1997. Follow the breadcrumbs. History is amazing.)

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Me and My People Got History: Why & How I Write About Race

November 27th, 2012 Posted by david brothers

I’ve been wanting to write about Marvel’s ’70s comics for a while, especially the ones featuring Luke Cage and the Black Panther. I do it here and there, but never in depth, because I haven’t found a subject that I really want to put my foot in yet. Just a nebulous “Oh I should do this sometimes.”

I started work on a piece springboarding off an excerpt from Grant Morrison’s Supergods that was a good example of what I don’t like to read when people are talking about ’70s comics. Part of chapter 11 is dedicated to what Morrison terms “the relevance bandwagon,” the stream of socially aware or conscious comic books that began coming out in the early ’70s that included books like Green Lantern/Green Arrow and Jungle Action. It’s also the only part of the book where Morrison spends any amount of time discussing black comics characters in detail.

Morrison got it wrong when it came to why those books were relevant and good comics, basically, in a couple of different ways (factually, thematically). He got it wrong in the same way that people keep getting it wrong when they talk about this stuff. He spends more time on that stupid Lois Lane comic where she turns black for a day than John Stewart and Luke Cage combined, right? Which makes the entire affair feel condescending bordering on dumb insulting, especially when he says that Luke Cage “soon outgrew his origins to develop as a rich and enduring character, still central to the ongoing Marvel story decades past Shaft and Jim Kelly.”

Yeah nigga naw, Luke Cage has been rich and enduring ever since page one, panel one. The redemption story sucks because it erases the history of the character and the people who created him. I’m really fond of the Kurt Busiek and Jo Duffy eras, less so the Steve Englehart-scripted issues, but there’s a ton of things in there to enjoy. Not to mention the art teams, you know?


Hiding that history behind the idea that Cage needed rehabilitation hurts comics history. You don’t get Milestone Media without black artists finally getting a chance at the big leagues in the ’70s. Denys Cowan studied at the feet of Arvell Jones and Ron Wilson, among others like Rich Buckler and Neal Adams. Years later, Cowan bugged his friends with the idea that they needed to set out on their own and take full control of their careers. Then: Milestone, a company that focused on representing the world at large, across a wide variety of cultures and orientations and philosophies.

As halting and awkward as Luke Cage occasionally was, it’s not worth losing that history to point out how far we’ve come. I guess it’s a big deal to me because we’ve already come pretty far, and it was ten years before the theoretical redemption of Luke Cage. The redemption story furthers the idea that the mainstream comics industry was adrift when it comes to this stuff until NuMarvel, and that’s just silly. We’ve been better, and then we lost it, and now we’re trying to get back.

But I can’t make this post of mine click like I want to, no matter how clear I am about the component parts of it. I want the Supergods excerpt to be a springboard, not the focus of the piece. “This book doesn’t have it right, and here’s a corrective that can stand on its own.” vs “This guy is a big dumb face who didn’t pay enough attention to this thing I like in his big ol’ dumb face book.” I do care that Morrison got it wrong — it definitely put me off the book, even after a friend was kind enough to get me a signed copy from the UK because I am the BEST FRIEND — but I’m not interested in debating how or why he got it wrong.

That kind of point-by-point rebuttal isn’t where I’m at; it isn’t what I like to do. It makes my text too dependent on his, rather than something that can stand on its own two. I just want to talk about how these colored folks from times past laid the foundation for Milestone or how Luke Cage goes way deeper than “where’s my money, honey?” pretty much from the start of his series. I want to talk about how it wasn’t the social relevance that made these comics so enjoyable and important. The social aspect was important, sure, but that doesn’t mean anything if the books aren’t good. No, when I look at those books, I see a sudden burst of inclusion, not just comics writers exploring politics. Those books gave normal people who were underrepresented in these wonderful universes sudden representation, and it oftentimes turned out pretty well. Marvel especially managed to capture a specifically black aspect of the zeitgeist very well, and married it to their continuity in a way that worked really well. When that got stale, they hitched kung fu to Luke Cage’s truck and pow, they were right back in the thick of it.


So my springboard ended up being a stumbling block. There is no post that’s pure enough, not yet. But I’m used to this. I can’t fold, so I re-up and reload. I’m okay with having ideas that don’t make it from conception to birth. Ideas are cheap. There’s a kernel in my scrapped draft (technically 1.5 scrapped drafts) that I’ll be able to plant elsewhere and let it grow to fruition at some point. Plus, it’s nice to have crystallized those ideas over the course of writing the failed post, but that post ain’t what I need it to be. It’s not what I want, no matter how many words or secret rap lyrics I add to it. One day I’m going to find that trigger and squeeze it and blow someone’s mind, but today wasn’t the day. If you read my tumblr, you’ve probably seen a lot of ideas that didn’t quite go anywhere until months later. Build and destroy, right?

Writing about race is so weird. I often feel like I’m walking on eggshells or tip-toeing across broken glass sometimes, despite how often I’ve done it and how comfortable I feel with doing it. Like, as soon as you acknowledge that race exists and affects things in a positive or negative or in-between manner, armies of dudes strap on their fedoras and get to typing about how it’s not that serious, you’re reading too deep, why you gotta play the race card, chill out, bud, can I call you bud, my black friend lets me call him bud when we hang out, I’m down, brother. Or whatever. This paragraph got weird.

I wrote a thing about Robert E Howard’s racism a few days ago and didn’t say anything about the subtext beyond what like a moderately culturally-aware teenaged black kid would notice, like how power is clearly distributed across skin color lines or how the sexual aspects of a certain story break down and relate to its racial aspects. I talked about things that have been around and part of American culture for centuries, even if they’ve only relatively recently been named and shamed. Basic racial awareness stuff, right, like avoiding “niggardly” because it’s awkward and you’re probably a jerk if you’re intentionally using it around black people or not touching or asking to touch black people’s hair.

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Darryl Ayo said “I love when David Brothers explains very carefully and in detail about racist undertones in a work and some commenter is “uh uh, no!!”” on Twitter and I was like pshaw, I got this son, watch me do the knowledge and stunt on these bros… and then some dude told me to keep my emotions and politics out of things I read even if they are by an actual racist because I didn’t do the research and it doesn’t mean anything if he didn’t mean it and I had to slam the comments shut before I lost my doggone mind.

I think that’s part of why I try to keep the tone light when talking about race and comics, because it’s clear to me that it makes a whole lot of people (some people can’t separate what they like from who they are) uncomfortable, even if it’s something innocuous as “this racist guy wrote some racist stuff by accident.” I even brought a couple of gifs out of retirement, even though I don’t really get down like that any more. Keeping the tone light is a defense mechanism, I think, because it lays a foundation for me to laugh it off when things get stupid, as they do 99% of the time. If I poured my heart into something and kept it clean and then some schmuck came along talking about bootstraps, I’d feel much, much worse than when someone takes a lazy jab at a post with a funny gif of Method Man and Redman in it.

But I don’t think trying to lighten the tone actually works like I think it does? It makes me feel like I’m tip-toeing around what I want to say. Which, in turn, makes me think that maybe I should just go in and make things even more plain, because if people are going to flip regardless, why should I stress over how something is going to be taken? I could talk about things like how unbelievably off-putting it is that Brian Bendis and Sara Pichelli’s otherwise divine Ultimate Spider-Man features a black dude named Jefferson Davis, especially considering that the book was sold on the back of its lead being black and latino.

How do you talk about that bout of tone deafness — which should probably be explored at least a little bit within the greater context of well-intentioned tone deafness in the comics community, which I would argue is probably the biggest race-related problem in mainstream comics — without being an unfair dick to Bendis, who apparently named the character after a friend and not the dude who was a scumbag traitor to the Union who took up arms for his right to be a racist and own other people, like that’s a cool thing for people to do? (I went to a school named after Jefferson Davis for a while and basically wanted to die.)

I don’t make a conscious try at it, but I feel like I’m real layman friendly. I don’t talk about privilege or whatever other big words people are using to talk about race and culture. Not because I don’t like them or don’t understand them, but because that’s just not how I think about race. I didn’t go to college for this stuff. I’m either speaking from my own life experiences or those of people I’ve read, known, or respected. Some of it’s book-learning and some of it’s personal trauma, but you know what I’ve found is the most true and most effective when talking about race? Common sense. Racism, as a philosophy and practice, does not make common sense. It makes economic and nationalist sense, but not common sense. So, I’m just trying to say what I have to say in a way that everyone who pays attention can overstand it. It’s complicated, but it’s not complicated. You don’t have to talk about it like it’s astrophysics or microbiology or uh… precalculus. It’s best understood and discussed in basic terms. It’s thorny, I think is the word I’m trying to pull off the tip of my tongue, and complex, but not incomprehensible. “Food for thought, you do the dishes,” like an aight man once said.

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I have a voice and a platform that a lot of other writers who care about black issues in comics don’t. I don’t have the responsibility to write about that stuff, because I firmly believe in doing what I want, when I want, and how I want to do it, but I do have the inclination to do so. I enjoy it, at least at first. It’s like therapy on a budget, and a few people have written in to say I helped them figure things out in their own life, which is awesome/terrifying/awesome.

I really, really care about this stuff. I care about others getting it right and I definitely care about getting it right myself. Otherwise, you get “LOL Luke Cage” instead of treating the guy like his history is as rich as it actually is. Which I think is why I’m so careful and pointed about what I don’t. I’m playing with the cultural equivalent of a loaded gun here and throwing in a bunch of rap lyrics and jokes. But I don’t want people to misconstrue what I’m saying or get it twisted, so I pick my words very carefully. Deliberately. Some people are still going to get hot under the collar, but “fuck boys do fuck shit,” right? I just have to do what I do and keep focusing on getting better at it instead of the dudes who are mad that their favorite comic is pretty crappy when viewed through a certain light.

I think about this stuff a lot. I mean, the REH post I wrote on a Saturday morning because I was bored and felt like it, but the ideas in there definitely percolated for months before I put them to paper. At the very least since I read the first issue of the Conan relaunch. There were six or seven issues out when I wrote a post that mentioned REH’s racism in passing, so let’s call it six months. I notice something, I talk with friends about it, and then I push it to the back of my mind, where the real work gets done, until I have something to say.

Even when I’m shooting from the hip — usually on Twitter, rarely on 4l! — it’s never just to talk or something I’ve only half-examined. I think about the intersection of race and comics so much because I feel like it’s something that is incredibly important that is vastly underserved, or outright mocked, on a mainstream level.

Like, here’s a real life example: I mentioned the gross aspects of interracial (again, genre, not description) porn in that REH post, and the way it plays upon the fear of a white woman being tainted by the black penis. Some of it focuses on the shame of a white guy that a white woman would sink so low, which is the really, really gross stuff, but most of it’s about debasement. “She said her price’ll go down if she ever fucks a black guy, or do anal, or a gangbang; it’s kinda crazy it’s all considered the same thing.” if you need a topical reference and/or a reminder that Kanye’s “Hell of a Life” is a shockingly good song.

Luke Cage and Jessica Jones’s relationship began with rough sex in Alias #1, a Bendis/Gaydos joint. (I swear I’m not trying to pick on Bendis here, I’m just going with whatever examples come to mind and I’ve read a lot of Bendis comics. Probably more comics by him than any other singular author outside of Garth Ennis or Grant Morrison, honestly.) It was intended to show her at her lowest, how actively self-destructive she was being at that time in her life, back before she got married and had a kid with Cage. How do the fans refer to their hookup in that first issue?

“Interracial anal.”

Alias is a good comic. I went from Daredevil directly to Alias and had a grand old time. But how am I supposed to feel about that aspect of the series? It’s 2012, the issue came out in 2001 or whatever, so these jokes aren’t new. And that’s the go-to joke? That’s how people describe that scene? If I tell somebody to read that comic, five’ll get you ten that some schmuck is going to pop up with a dirty joke about it if that person decides to talk about it online. And that’s pathetic.

There’s already something uncomfortable about the debaser being black and the debased being white, regardless of Bendis’s motivations when writing. Bendis stuck the landing on that front in the text, but outside of it? He’s enabled his fans to run with this, make cute image macros out of it, and I’m like 90% sure he’s brought that phrase up in the Powers letter columns himself, though in a self-deprecating way.

I’m not with that. Not at all. I said a while back that one of the biggest parts of being black in America is being constantly reminded that you are black. That’s a clear example. Black is different, black is weird, black must be pointed out when you see it, especially when it contrasts with normal. I mean, white. It makes you feel like you don’t belong every minute of every day, like you’re an intruder in the only home you’ve ever known.

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And I’m not even talking about this like I think Bendis and his fans deserved to be nailed to the wall for whatever. That’s not where I’m at, and it’s not how I work. But I do think that not talking about it, not having that conversation, knowing how crappy it makes me and people I know feel, is a mistake. Having that conversation is at least as important as talking about when somebody gets something so right that you’re left amazed. Talking about race can’t be limited to just dudes in white robes burning crosses or racial profiling. We have to talk about the little things and the everyday things, too. “Don’t go to jail unless you want to be Antwan’s wife!” things, or “That’s so ghetto” things. “Storm and Panther only got married because they’re black!” things.

Race is bigger than racism. Racism, as far as I’m concerned, is a small and probably the least interesting part of talking about race.

Why do I write about race? Partly because other people are so terrible or inept at recognizing the impact of race on their life, let alone actually talking about it. When I first started, it was a lark. Then I thought I could convince Marvel and DC to do something other than pander to their audience. Then I realized that was stupid, and I’d be better off just talking about this stuff. I’ll spit hollowpoints at them them when they miss, praise them when they hit, and hopefully someone who reads me will look and go, “Oh, this makes sense” and tomorrow will be a little better.

It took me forever to come to that point, though. I figure it’s obvious if you read my posts from that first Black History salvo on through today. Maybe not. Maybe I’m the only one that pays that much attention to what I do. But I have changed and grown as a result of talking about race and comics.

I can’t really speak authoritatively on the Big Two’s racial issues any more, outside of when they step into a realm where I don’t need deep knowledge of their books, and I’ve more than dipped my toe into spotlighting black creators of all stripes. I just need to figure out where my lane is now, where I best fit in, and how I can continue the conversation.

I want to continue the conversation because it’s too important to leave alone, no matter how much I get down on it sometimes. It’s too important to me to leave alone. I had to piecemeal together black heroes and history as a kid. If I can save someone the trouble, so much the better. I want to continue the conversation because if I won’t, that cuts the number of vocal black people willing to get their hands dirty about race & comics and have a platform like I do by half. It’s me and Hannibal Tabu out here, unless someone’s slipped my mind. (There are no black women at the big sites, which sucks. But I know of one site that’s actively working on it.)

I feel like I needed to say this here so that I don’t need to say it any more. I’m working this out in public. Thanks for following along.

(Luke Cage, forever thugging. The images in this post are two of my most favorite Cage comics. The old, dirty scans are from Essential Power Man and Iron Fist, Vol. 1 (Marvel Essentials), with words by Mary Jo Duffy and pictures by Kerry Gammill and Ricardo Villamonte. The newer scans are from New Avengers: Civil War, with words by Brian Michael Bendis and art by Leinil Yu. I love that Cage, as a character, is strong enough to support stories of both types, and can be funny without being a buffoon. Luke Cage was created by John Romita, Sr and Archie Goodwin. Thank you.)

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CHIKARA’s Under the Hood: This Sunday on iPPV

November 26th, 2012 Posted by Gavok

As the year reaches towards its end, the dynamic independent wrestling promotion CHIKARA reaches the climactic conclusion of its 11th season. It’s been a year based on dissent and revenge and on Sunday, December 2nd, it all comes to a head in Philadelphia for their iPPV, Under the Cowl. It’s available to stream live at Smart Mark Video at 4pm for $16.99.

Here’s what’s on tap.

Stipulation: Championship Match for the CHIKARA Grand Championship

Who’s Who?

At last year’s season finale, “the War King” Eddie Kingston decisively defeated Mike Quackenbush to be crowned the very first CHIKARA Grand Champion. The gruff anti-hero of CHIKARA has taken his spot seriously and has become a fighting champion, albeit usually defending against those who slight him in order to goad him into a defense. Over the year, he’s succeeded in taking down challengers Vin Gerard, Brodie Lee, Kevin Steen, Jigsaw, Dasher Hatfield, Sara Del Rey and Tadasuke. While insistent on defending the title of the company he loves, his body hasn’t been holding up entirely well over the year and his knee has had a bullseye on it for quite some time.

Tim Donst came to CHIKARA as a positive young kid trying to make a name for himself with his amateur wrestling background. Over time, he became bitter and turned on his friends, joining up with the invading stable, the BDK. He rose up the ranks in the BDK and ended up winning the Young Lions Cup during his tenure with the group. He became obsessed with proving himself to be the best Young Lions Cup winner of all time and this led to a lengthy feud with the original Young Lions Cup winner Hallowicked. Donst pulled every cheat he could and even tried outright murder against his rival, but in the end, Hallowicked won. Donst became a broken shell of a man after that, worshipping Hallowicked like a god, but feeling depressed over his own lack of identity. While the BDK is long disbanded, Donst and personal ring announcer Jakob Hammermeier remained a team together. They were best friends, but after the loss against Hallowicked, Donst has become cold, distant and abusive to the adorable Jakob.

The Setup:

Back in 2007, when Tim Donst was still very new, he was thrown into a match against a villainous Kingston. Back then, Kingston insisted on having a match against then-rival Hallowicked, but it was refused due to several issues. He took his aggressions out on Donst in a brutal match that first showed what kind of damage Donst was capable of fighting through. Over the years, they’ve clashed several times, always reminding of their first meeting. After Kingston’s last title defense, Donst attacked him and came to a realization that Kingston is the crux of all of his problems. Kingston never did get his commuppance for his bullying actions and yet people still cheer him. Donst started a credo that, “Karma doesn’t exist, but Tim Donst does.” The two were forced to team with each other in an 8-on-8 Cibernetico match, where Donst turned on Kingston near the end. When their team won and they were the only two remaining, the rules stated that they had to fight it out. That fit Donst just fine and through some underhanded actions, he took Kingston down with a warning that he’d take the Grand Championship at Under the Hood.

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This Week in Panels: Week 166

November 25th, 2012 Posted by Gavok

Hello. Surviving my first holiday retail weekend of the year, I’m helped out by Jody, Gaijin Dan and Space Jawa. No Was Taters, sadly, meaning there aren’t enough Hawkeye panels in the mix. That stinks as much as Madam Masque’s hand.

…just read the issue.

Bleach #514
Tite Kubo

Blue Exorcist #40
Kazue Kato

Captain America #1
Rick Remender and John Romita Jr.

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Tumblr Mailbag: James Ellroy vs Robert E Howard in The Racism Race

November 24th, 2012 Posted by david brothers

I get tumblr questions sometimes, a lot of which have to do with race or racism or people being racist to me because I talk about race sometimes. Here’s anudda entry in the ASK DR RACISM, OB/GYN saga, word to your mudda:

I remember reading something of yours where you mention the racisim inherrent in the work of Robert E. Howard. While I certainly don’t disagree with you, I would counter that the racisim in James Ellroy’s work is much more profound and, in many cases, explicit. Am I wrong, and, if not, how is one case more palatable for you than the other? I’m not trying to call you out or imply some hypocracy on your part, I’m simply interested to read what you have to say about this, if anything.

I sorta disagree with the thrust of your question. Writing racist characters (or “writing racist characters well” to be specific) isn’t the same as actually being a racist who wrote racist stories. Not even close. But, I’ll give this a try, because it’ll let me talk about a few things I’ve been meaning to talk about.

The main difference between the two is the way racism is expressed in their works.

My first thought when trying to come up with an explanation was that James Ellroy is a racism fetishist, but that isn’t quite right. It’s more that he’s into the taboo aspect of racist (and homophobic, and…) language, but also the musicality and rhythms of it. The repetition, the hard consonants, the way the words bend under the weight of someone’s accent. The pleasant menace of a kool, kalm, and kollected phrasing of a bit of bitter baggage on behalf of kharacter konstruction and… uh… another k word.

Ellroy isn’t doing it just because he hates blacks and gays and mexicans and wants a platform to call them whatever old timey words for them he dug or made up. He knows that taboo things tend to be super sexy in the right hands, and he’s aiming to drench you in them and pull you onto his side. There’s something attractive and alluring about his prose, and part of it is due to the nonstop obscenities. You don’t want to be these guys, but you do want to hear their thoughts for a while. Ellroy’s doing magic tricks.

It’s also worth noting — and fiction is the only time this excuse is worth anything, it won’t ever be viable in real life — that the language was a product of the times in addition to Ellroy’s own interest in the language. It’s meant to be racist. Ellroy, at least the Ellroy I’ve read, is writing stories set in our near-past during a point in time in which most people in the USA were either racist or perfectly aight with benefitting from institutionlized racism. If that wasn’t in his work, the books would ring half as real as they do. Granted, there are other ways to go about it beyond Ellroy’s “tossing you in the deep end with your clothes on” approach, but I never got the feeling that he was a racist himself. Great with the language, sure. But he’s writing characters who were racist, instead of espousing racist beliefs himself. There’s even a wide variety of racism in his works, while an actual racist usually just sticks to one school of thought. It would be kinda like a religious fundamentalist writing a novel where she espouses Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Shinto, Wiccan, Sikh, Zoroastrianist, and Hari Krishna fundamentalism simultaneously, you know?

Robert E Howard, though, was an actual racist, him and his boy HP Lovecraft both. Though I guess HPL was so cartoonishly racist that REH just looks sorta like a regular dude standing next to him, maybe. But regardless, he was the type of racist who didn’t understand why a Mexican life was worth just as much as a white life, talked about burning lower races alive as a punishment for crimes, and who treated (or maybe just referred to, he probably didn’t have many black friends and the one he had went blind as a result of rolling his eye so much) people of other races as less than human. So: racist. Wikipedia says “he would be considered racist by modern standards” but that was clearly written by an insecure REH fan. He was definitely, undeniably racist by any measure, and especially the measure that says “being a racist means being a dick to other races.”

So REH’s racism has to be read differently from Ellroy’s racism-fetish (for lack of a better). One is an art thing, an affectation. The other is a straight up and down personal philosophy. What you believe affects what you create. Like for me, personally, my interest in crime, crime fiction, black history, girls with guns, girls wearing hoodies, smoking as one of the coolest acts in the world (thanks, robert mitchum), and so on affect what I put down on the page. if you look at my fiction (the tiny bit I’ve put online), you can connect the dots and begin to go “Oh wow, this guy’s really into weed smoke retracing skylines.” Ellroy’s interest in language and taboos manifests itself with his klear and komfortable facility with klanguage. REH’s racism manifests itself in the themes and specifics of his story.

The launch story for the new Conan comic was “Queen of the Black Coast.” I dug it and wrote about it. BUT when you know that REH is a racist, the story goes from a cool pirate tale to something else, which isn’t actually helped by the art or writing. REH’s racism means that his stories are going to have subtext that you have to explore and consider.

Bêlit is a pirate queen and commands a ship of hardened men who answer to her every word and desire. Pretty awesome idea, very girl power, and super thugged out. It’s the Warrior Queen, right? Red Sonja on a boat, Athena in a jaunty hat and pirate boots. Patty Hearst with the machine gun and beret, only on a boat instead of in a bank.

But the specifics: Bêlit has perfectly milky-white skin, something that was (honestly still is, but let’s not go there) considered the height of beauty. Her crew? A bunch of ultra-black brawny dudes. They’re her opposite, essentially. She is high and they are low, she commands and they obey, she is a steaming pot of sex and they are not. (Wait for that one.)

In and of itself, that isn’t bad. If it showed up in a modern DC Comic, like Africa being ruled by apes or that one stretch where they killed or benched a gang of fan-favorite non-white characters in favor of the army of Stepford Supergirls they got over there, you would just be like “Aw, man, c’mon dudes, you’re better than this.” You could probably roll with it. But if you knew that the author believed white women were greater creatures than black men, it wouldn’t sit so well.

Bêlit is sexy. Her and Conan don’t fall into puppy love so much as tiger love. Their union means terror for everyone else and extreme pleasure for them. BUT Bêlit’s the sole woman in command of a dark crew, which brings to mind one of my least favorite sexual fantasies, that of the black male tainting the white woman with his penis. 99% of interracial (as a genre, not a description) porn plays on this and is pretty gross about it.

The new comic adaptation (and maybe REH’s original tale, but I dunno there) avoids this, though the subtext is definitely there. Instead, I got the feeling that Bêlit withheld herself from her crew, or whatever nice way to say “she isn’t doing it with any of them, to my knowledge” you prefer. Which is interesting, because her crew are portrayed as being totally subservient, which lends me right to another of my least favorite tropes: the neutered black male.

Black masculinity (and femininity, obviously) has been an object of scorn, and occasional desire, to white culture for centuries. Consider your average prison rape joke (strike one), where the rapist is almost always black (strike two) with a big dick (strike three) and the raped is a skinny white man (somebody get this guy outta here). Pull that apart and you get the fear of the black man’s dick.

“Oh, but it’s positive!” you might be thinking. “Having a big dick is awesome!” Sure, okay. But the idea black men have big dicks didn’t come about because white people were like “Whoa! Look at Johnson’s johnson! That’s pretty impressive.” It’s because having a big dick meant you were… let’s call it “closer to nature.” A better phrase would be “more of a savage, closer to an animal than human.” (You can find the focus on black women’s bodies in a similar aisle in your local racist grocery store.)

Taking away the black man’s dick is another way to denigrate black men. (Sidebar: I just had to google the etymology of the word “denigrate” because I kinda laughed at the idea of it meaning what it looks like it means, and one of the synonyms is blacken. Yesssss, I love you, real life. Nothing’s as funny.) Reduce them to jokes or force them into certain roles and you take away their masculinity, which was and is basically synonymous with power.

So: a bunch of figuratively neutered black dudes being lorded over by the whitest of white ladies. Um. Can I get a ruling from our impartial judges?

Thanks, fellas.

And when Conan — REH’s stand-in for what Real Masculinity was all about — steps in, he becomes not just de facto leader of the boat, but Bêlit’s lover, as well. Like, instantly. Right after Conan murders a bunch of her dudes in a fight. They become obsessed with each other, go at it like rabbits, and everyone on the boat is cool with that, somehow. “Oh cool, Mister Charlie, go ‘head Miss Ann. Y’all just have fun copulating while we row to the next city. Rowing so hard our backs ache. But we won’t call OSHA. Sure. Y’all have fun. That sounds great.” Conan sidesteps the subservient gig and goes right to constant sex and planning violent raids. Conan was working there for fifteen seconds before he got promoted to king, and Bêlit actually places him over herself, in terms of authority.

All these little puzzle pieces aren’t too bad on their own, for the most part. But it’s when you put them together that you realize REH is saying something beyond “this is a story all about how Conan’s life got flipped, turned upside-down.” If you look at the hierarchy of the book, you have the unexperienced white man at the top, the experienced white woman under him (literally and figuratively in this case), and the black men coming in a distant third, below sexual notice and entirely without power except in the service of their queen and king’s wishes. Black women don’t exist here, which mirrors an absolutely amazing amount of fiction out there, especially of the fantasy or science fiction variety.

Kinda ugly, ain’t it? And I didn’t exaggerate anything or pull anything out of my butt when doing that summary. The specific stuff is in the comic (I’m assuming Brian Wood altered how the story plays out to make it fit a comic book format but stuck with REH’s basic framework and structure here.) and the themes aren’t stretches at all, so much as “Oh, weird, this story REH wrote lines up pretty directly with several racist ideas???” Hang on, I’ve got some input from our foreign expert coming in…

“Oooh, that’s a bingo! Is that the way you say it? ‘That’s a bingo?'”

Ellroy’s writing about how things were and amping up the racist language for the sake of being edgy and lyrical. He’s making up racist characters and writing about them, rather than espousing a racist viewpoint of his own. I can’t see your average racist rolling as lyrical as Ellroy’s racists, you know? What Ellroy does is not unobscene, depending, but it isn’t as much of a sin as writing a story about a fake place set in the fake past that lines up with your racist ideas and fears. That goes for stories set in a fake future where black people are Coals and whites are Pearls, too.

I, personally, don’t get down with REH’s prose. I dig Conan comics, especially the Kurt Busiek/Cary Nord joints, but his racist undertones combined with his so-so writing means I can keep my distance. Lovecraft is the same, only even more terrible at putting words in order. But the only time Elder Gods have really worked for me is Hellboy so that was an easy decision to make, like giving up brussel sprouts or any exercises that make my abs hurt.

Racism is a taint. It’s a lot of things, but in REH’s case, it’s a taint. It’s a mud puddle that you stomped in right before going into your friend’s house, and you keep leaving behind little bits of proof that you were the one that made a dumb decision. You’re mucking things up for yourself and making it hard for people to like you. I don’t know if this metaphor works but it was real important to me that I make it at 0800 on a Saturday morning.

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Black Friday Memories: Legend of the Hawaiian Slammers

November 23rd, 2012 Posted by Gavok

Black Friday is upon us and as an adult, the day is about the horrors of the retail world as people run over each other for the sake of getting the best deal. As a child, the day was different. It was that odd day of the four-day holiday weekend that didn’t have its own identity. Thursday is Turkey Day and the weekend is the weekend, but Friday was just that extra day that you didn’t have school. Yet in the early 90’s, it was a special and forgotten time of post-Thanksgiving cartoon blocks.

I don’t recall what channel this was on or if it was even multiple channels, but somebody in TV realized that there were countless children home with nothing to do on the day after Thanksgiving and for one day, they needed to rein in that demographic. Instead of soap operas, we’d get a 2-3 hour block of cartoons. But not just any cartoons. These would be failed pilots that the network would have lying around. Just random cartoons that would never be heard from ever again.

Even to this day, I can only recall three off the top of my head. One was something called the Moo Family Holiday Hoe-Down, which was about a family reunion of sorts with a bunch of musical cows where two of them got thrown through history over the course of the half hour until making it back to the party. Another – and easily the most famous – is Battletoads, an attempt at animating the nigh-impossible NES game. The cartoon was memorable for having one of the stranger battle cries: “LET’S GET HORNY!” I kid you not.

But 1994, the final year I can recall ever seeing one of these cartoon blocks, gave us Legend of the Hawaiian Slammers.

Released by DiC Entertainment, Legend of the Hawaiian Slammers was an attempt to capitalize on the mid-90’s fad that was pogs. Yes, pogs. Remember pogs? They’re back. In superhero form.

Despite how forgettable the blocks of Black Friday cartoons were back in the day, I always recalled this show, partially because of the hilarious opening theme song. The lyrics went a-something… a-like this.

Slammers of Darkness
Slammers of Light
When they come together they FIGHT, FIGHT, FIGHT!
Hawaiian Slammers!
Hawaiian Slam-Slam-Slammers!
They strike like hammers!
Hawaiian Slam-Slam-Slammers!

And then repeat. You know you’re in for fun when all of the action is taken from the lone episode itself, leading to repeat shots because they ran out of interesting footage.

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Thanksgiving? Let’s overdo it.

November 22nd, 2012 Posted by david brothers

Black Friday is the biggest shopping day of the year or whatever, which gives me a good excuse to crank out a bunch of capsule reviews for you. I haven’t been writing on here as much as I’d like (turns out moving is stressful and time consuming???) so this is like… a catch-up post, in a way. If you order stuff off Amazon via these links (any stuff, not just the stuff I’m linking) 4l! gets a cut, which keeps the lights on and the electrons flowing or however it is the internet works. If you don’t order stuff off Amazon via these links, thanks for reading anyway. I don’t really know how to express it, but I’m extraordinarily thankful that me, Gavin, Esther, Thomas, and Hoatz have managed to build up a little fan base over the past few years just by typing dumb things about comics and cartoons and wrestling and movies and music. I feel like we’re real idiosyncratic compared to basically every other comics blog — who else has long-running Chikara posts and Nelly Furtado themed weeks? — but y’all keep showing up and talking, even when I go ultra anti-pop and write about rap minutiae for a month. So: thank you.

Now: capitalism and commentary.


The Alchemist – Russian Roulette: Alan the Chemist is one of my favorite rap producers, in part because he’s got his feet set in two of my favorite types of rap: indie joints and mean mug New York rap. You can tell that hanging around Prodigy from Mobb Deep really helped Al turn into an ill rapper.

Russian Roulette is one of my favorite albums this year. The promo describes it as a 30-song soundscape, and that’s true enough. It’s a concept album, basically, and Alchemist has produced beats that utilize Russian themes and sounds. It’s not all legit — I’m pretty sure that Joan Rivers talking to Dolph Lundgren about playing Ivan Drago is not actually a Russian thing — but it’s all ill. It’s not a DJ album at all, but the songs fade into each other perfectly. They’ll share a sample or some other sonic element, a vocal sample will begin at the end of one and finish up when the next song begins.

I don’t think I could ever listen to this album on shuffle, even though there are a gang of emcees I like spread over the album. It’s so much better when viewed as a complete hole. It doesn’t tell a story or anything, but it’s… it’s a soundscape. You just listen and let it simmer and enjoy the emotions it sparks. It’s a trip, in at least two senses of the word. It’s got raw raps, atmospheric tunes, real boom bap New York production, and everything in-between. It’s also got Mr. MFN eXquire kicking magical realist storytelling rhymes for a story, which is something I love. He’s done a couple of these — I think there was one on Merry eX-Mas & Suck My Dick, “The Maltese Falcon”? — and they’re always great.

I liked Vodka & Ayahuasca a whole lot, too. “Gladiator Music” is hard body, and the title track is super tight:

Frank Ocean – Channel Orange: I dig this guy a whole lot, and this album is worthy. It’s a quiet, sort of a downer joint about sad subjects and heartbreak. “He is Frank Ocean and he is here to make you think about death and heartbreak and get sad and stuff!”

But it’s good. It feels downtempo, the kind of album you put on for a quiet night. It’s melancholy, but the kind of melancholy you want to sing along with. You want to croon and moan along with Ocean, even if you can’t match his falsetto. He feels very lost and vulnerable, like he’s just trying to live but things ain’t working out. He’s a little off in the distance from his problems. Far enough to spell them out for you in intensely relatable ways, but still close enough to feel burnt.

“Bad Religion” is probably my jam. I love “Thinkin Bout You,” especially “No, I don’t like you/ I just thought you were cool enough to kick it/ Got a beach house I could sell you in Idaho/ since you think I don’t love you, I just thought you were cute/ that’s why I kissed you/ Got a fighter jet, I don’t get to fly it though/ I’m lying down thinkin bout you”, but “Bad Religion” is like a gunshot.

“Bad Religion” is about Ocean’s unrequited love for another guy int he form of a conversation (kinda) with a taxi driver. “He said ‘Allahu akbar’, I told him don’t curse me/ ‘But boy you need prayer’/ I guess it couldn’t hurt me/ If it brings me to my knees/ It’s a bad religion.” I like the wordplay and emotion in there, from the reminder that God is Great to being open to anything that won’t hurt you. Great song to sing along to.

Ocean’s good at making songs you wanna sing with.

Sean Price – Mic Tyson: You need that real raw hoodies and timbs rap? Well. P!

Pyrex: “(Pyrex) Don’t make me abuse my power/ One telephone call, shoot this coward/ I was the bum, but the pendulum switched/ Now my whole team Supreme, no Kenneth McGriff”

Bar-Barian: “P! The jerk that retired, I’m nice so I’m back niggas/ Smack Earth, Wind, Fire, and ice out that nigga”

Price & Shining Armor: “All in my face like a rap battle/ Fuck around and catch all of the eighth when the gat rattle/ ‘That hardcore rappin is played out’/ until I hardcore slap you then ask you what’s played out”

Hush: “‘These rap niggas wack, Ruck, call ’em out’/ Everybody wack except me, fuck is you talkin ’bout?”

Straight Music: “Fuck bein humble, I’m better than everybody/ Melancholy niggas get hit with a heavy shottie/ Dumb fuckers don’t know how the rules go/ Young pups can’t fuck with the Cujo/ You bark better than your bite/ Yeah I bark, but I’m better when I fight/ P!”

Bully Rap: “Uhh; you cowards are bogus/ Split head like Red Sea power of Moses/ Due to my weight gain I had to double the dosage/ of drugs that I do, a nigga stay toasted”

“Haraam,” a bonus cut:

This album’ll put hair on your chest and a gun in your glovebox. P!

Jessie Ware – Devotion: This album’ll run your life if you let it. It’s super good, just a lady going in on singing, but the highlight for me is “110%.”

It’s a good song in and of itself. It’s about a woman trying to get a guy to dance with her. Chorus: “Now if you’re never gonna move, oh my love/ You’ll make me come to you/ But I’m still dancing on my own/ Still dancing on my own”. That’s cool. But the crazy part is that it samples Big Pun’s “carving my initials on your forehead” from the sublime “The Dream Shatterer,” a song with a first verse that goes like this:

Aiyyo I shatter dreams like Jordan, assault and batter your team
Your squadron’ll be barred from rap like Adam & Eve from the garden
I’m carvin my initials on your forehead
So every night before bed you see the “BP” shine off the board head
Reverse that, I curse at the first wack nigga with the worst rap
’cause he ain’t worth jack
Hit him with a thousand pounds of pressure per slap
Make his whole body jerk back
Watch the earth crack; hand him his purse back
I’m the first Latin rapper to baffle your skull
Master the flow, niggas be swearin I’m blacker than coal like Nat King
I be rappin and tongue’s packin, who wants magnums, cannons and gatling guns?
It’s Big Pun! The one and only son of Tony… Montana
You ain’t promised mañana in the rotten manzana
C’mon, pana, we be mob rhymers
Feel the marijuana, snake bite, anaconda
A man of honor wouldn’t wanna try to match my persona
Sometimes rhymin I blow my own mind like Nirvana
Comma, and go the whole nine like Madonna
Go try to find another rhymer with my kinda grammar

Big Pun! The only one with over a thousand guns.

It’s a really weird sample for an R&B record. In fact, it’s incredibly off-tone, you know? Pun is like Sean P!, he goes in when it comes to hardcore rap. It’s like when Tupac would spend the second half of a song about getting laid talking about his enemies.

But Jessie Ware makes it work. She made it work so well that it got a music video. Here’s her comments on the song: “Writing a pop song was a new thing for both of us, and I started to feel really self-conscious and out of my depth.” To break the tension, the pair started flicking through a hip-hop magazine, alighting on a striking image of heavyweight rapper Big Pun in a yellow PVC suit, sitting on a throne. “I decided, ‘Right, I’m going to write a song about a girl trying to get him off his throne and dance’.” Her gorgeously restrained summer smash 110% was the result, and Jessie was thrilled when Big Pun’s estate gave them permission to use a sample of the late rapper reciting the line “carving my initials on your forehead” throughout the track.”

So it’s a song that not only samples Big Pun to curious effect, but is ABOUT Pun. Awesome. It’s the song I connected to the most, because I love Pun, but the whole album is good.

Curren$y – The Stoned Immaculate: Curren$y Spitta makes songs and albums about smoking weed, women, cars, ~jets~, weed, clothes, grinding, and smoking blunts. If you can relate to that, this is gonna be your jam.

I don’t particularly mess with Wale and Wiz Khalifa, but they came off super dope on this album (clever/cleaver & arose/aroused aside), and 2 Chainz was tolerable, if ultra-pandering, as expected.

This is an album you want to ride to, if you’ve got a car, or relax to, if you’re just chilling.

(I should probably revisit my opinion of Wiz at some point, but I’m pretty content with only listening to dude when him and Curren$y are rapping together.)


Justin Cronin’s The Twelve: I’m reading The Twelve now, but you should start with The Passage. Here’s the hook: a government agency created vampires in a lab in an attempt to control their destiny and basically never die. Things went south, the vampires broke out, and now America is dead. The vampires aren’t the sexy blaaaah, blaaaah types, either. They’re basically savage animals, humans that have been stripped of their memories and reduced to their thirst and hunger. The vampires ran roughshod over the continent, and one hundred years later, our cast lives in cities protected by bright lights.

But then they have to leave that city. And there’s a young girl who was around when the apocalypse happened. And things keep going wrong.

It’s a good read.

Katsuya Terada’s The Monkey King Volume 1: Terada is one of my most favorite artists, a real inspiration, and this book is a filthy and disjointed retelling of the story of the Monkey King. You want it. You just don’t realize it yet.

Takehiko Inoue’s Slam Dunk: I wrote about this one, too. But get this: if you buy Slam Dunk on Amazon, you can take advantage of their 4-for-3 sale. Instead of paying 32 bucks for ~1000 pages of comics, you just need to pay 24.

There’s a lot of these. The longer the series runs, the better the games get. So get up on it so I have somebody to talk to about it.

Josh Richardson & David Brothers’s PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale: Prima Official Game Guide: I cowrote this one with a friend. I think we did a pretty good job.

Bill Watterson’s The Complete Calvin and Hobbes: Buy me this because it’s the best and I deserve it. Thanks in advance.


Ninja Scroll: I saw Ninja Scroll when I was a kid. It wasn’t my first anime (whattup Akira and Fist of the North Star double feature that I only saw 2/3 of before being kicked out of the room by my grandmother after my cousin snitched on the violence in Akira) but it is one of my all-time favorite movies. I’ve never even watched it subtitled, come to think of it. It would sound too weird, too fake.

Jubei Kibagami is a vagabond with a sword and skills that are just barely explained. He’s going up against the Shogun of the Dark and the Eight Devils of Kimon alongside Kagero, a poisonous ninja girl (“niiiiiinja girl!”) and Dakuon, a deceitful monk.

It’s hard to overstate how much I like this movie. My only issue with it, and one which I only realized after I grew up, is how rape-y it can get. But past that? The action, the dialogue, the action set pieces, and every single battle against the devils is amazing. It’s violent and fantastic and surprisingly well-written, considering the type of movie it is. It was my first real introduction to a few tropes I love these days — battles in bamboo forests, wandering ronin, swinging a sword so hard the air can cut people, punching a dude so hard the wall behind him breaks, blind swordsmen, swarms of ninjas dashing through the trees, delayed effects of attacks — and like… you won’t find a better movie for a 14 year old, you know? Sex, violence, blood…

But even as an adult, this is the kind of hardcore fast-paced I still enjoy to this day.

Remember when you could theme Windows 95 and 98? Like download a pack and transform your whole OS into a tribute to whatever it was you downloaded a theme for? Mine was Ninja Scroll in 1999. It’s been a while, but I think that the dialogue boxes trigged the “What’s the matter, monster?” sample and shutting down was “Burn in your golden hell!” I was all about that life. Still am, if we’re being all the way real with each other.

Fist of Legend My uncles put me onto this movie, way back when I was first discovering kung fu flicks and before I had a chance to pillage Video Warehouse for their $1.50/5 days rentals. It’s a world rocker. It isn’t my favorite Jet Li flick (that’s probably still Once Upon A Time In China 2, and I want to die exactly like Donnie Yen does in that movie), but it’s amazingly good. It’s a remake of an old Bruce Lee picture, Chinese Connection, but better. Jet Li’s a student during the Japanese occupation of Shanghai in the ’30s, his master dies, and Li wants to know why.

Li’s invincible for most of the movie. Invincible is kind of understating it, honestly. Li sons, stepsons, grandsons, and great grandsons dozens of men in this movie. He grabs one guy by the mouth, plays kiss chicken with another guy just to show how slow he is, and beats up not one, but TWO different groups of martial arts students. He’s a steamroller and it’s nuts.

Normally, that’d be a bad thing. Heroes need to be vulnerable. But here, the vulnerability comes later, when Li goes up against a juggernaut and masters, instead of goons. There’s a fight in the wilderness that’s fantastic, full of importance and emotion, and the ending fight has gotta be one of my favorites in any movie ever. It feels like an even more dangerous fight on account of how invincible Li was for most of the movie. It made me a believer in Jet Li.

Great title, too.

Closer: Hey, do you want to watch a movie about the dissolution of romantic relationships? One with heart-rending arguments that’ve got to be heard to be believed? Great performances from Julia Roberts, Natalie Portman, Jude Law and Clive Owen?

What do you mean “No, that sounds like it’ll make me cry?”

Alien Anthology: You already know that 3/4 of the movies in here are great and one’s unwatchable. What I didn’t expect was how crazy these movies, especially the first, look in HD. Alien looks like it was made yesterday in a retro style, with all the details and colors that are suddenly present. It’s nuts. I’m so high on this set I’m even down to watch the alternate versions of movies I’ve already seen.

I wish they would just post the opening sequence to Alien on Youtube. You remember when people would be like, “Hey, buy The Matrix to show off how good your DVD player is!”? That sequence is the 2012 version of that.

Afro Samurai: The Complete Murder Sessions [Blu-ray]: I should probably do a full post once I rewatch these, but it goes like this:

In the ’70s, blaxploitation and kung fu flicks were big. Both of them connected with the black community in a major way. In the ’90s, anime hit and Wu-Tang hit and that connection was reignited. The Wu are kind of the next step in the evolution of that connection. They grew up on the original connection, processed it, and came out with their own. Anime expanded the connection even further.

Afro Samurai: Resurrection is one of the latest entries in that connection, and it is the blackest anime you’ll ever see. Low bar, yes, obviously, but while I was watching this, I felt like I was watching something that was tailor made specifically for me. It’s so good. The original series was straight, it was aight, but Resurrection is more john blaze than that. It’s a ton of things I’m into boiled down into one thing. The way they blended Japanese and black culture (pop culture?) is nuts. The game was pretty cool, too, and the soundtrack is a must-buy if you like the RZA and/or good music.

No one bleeds until the sword is sheathed.

It’s Ninja Scroll 2009.


Super Mario 3D Land: I love platformers. I think LittleBigPlanet has the best engine for pure platformers, creation stuff aside, but every once and a while, Nintendo has to remind people that they invented the remix.

Super Mario 3D Land is incredibly fun. They’ve taken Mario to some new heights. I’m maybe halfway through the game and impressive things keep happening. They either flip old gameplay, revamp old graphics, or invent new things for Mario to do within the constraints of the Mario formula. This joint’s wonderful, and makes me pretty happy about buying a 3DS XL. You gotta have great posture, but some of my favorite types of games are on that thing. The ruler’s back.

Metal Gear Solid HD Collection: I can, and recently did, talk about Hideo Kojima’s Metal Gear series for hours. It’s probably my favorite franchise, or at least the one I keep coming back to, even if I’m half as good at them as I used to be. The plot’s a sprawl and you have to make a few leaps to keep up, but if you’re willing, Kojima is going to take you on a ride that can’t be matched by pretty near anything else. It’s emotional, it’s cinematic, it’s action-packed, it’s full of heart, it’s everything I wanted out of the series.

It’s a sprawl because Kojima covers a lot of ground, from meme/gene/scene to child soldiers to the effects of war and technology and pop culture on our collective psyches. It’s about individuality and authority, sex and death, nihilism and legacy. It’s also about vampires, dudes who shoot bees, ghosts, and ancient old men who can be killed by leaving your system off for a few days. Over the course of the series, a guy whose entire gimmick was his upset tummy and gross poops was transformed into an actual character, and a widely-hated dude went from a pariah to one of the highlights of the franchise.

The Metal Gear Solids are video games, ambitious ones, and I wouldn’t change them for the world. They glory in being video games, even during the cinematics, and they are better for it. These are library games. You should own them, you should have access to them.

NBA 2K13: Like this wasn’t going to be on the list.

Get real and get NBA 2k13 for the best NBA experience yet. I messed around and went through a real wack streak and lost seven games in a row against the dude I play against all the time. I’m 30-48, 5393 points to his 5494. I’m not too far behind, and I’ll get my uzi back, but whoof, it’s been a rough couple of weeks.

Prince of Persia Trilogy HD: I wrote about this for my man Michael Peterson, but here’s the short version: these are good games with a well-told story that perfectly matches the extremely solid gameplay. Sands of Time is a Platform King, and Two Thrones is the perfect marriage of the ill combat system in Warrior Within and the great platforming mechanics in Sands of Time. Like MGS, these are library games.

PS3 games on PSN: You should buy Tokyo Jungle if you like running around as cats and dogs and sheep and gators through a post-apocalyptic Tokyo. You should buy Papa & Yo if you dig being terrified and experiencing someone else’s child abuse metaphor. You should buy Rock Band Blitz because I know you have a bunch of DLC from that game.

Alternately, cop that Tekken Tag Tournament 2 if you want to see what modern fighting games should look, feel, play, and function like. It’s grrreat.

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This Week in Panels: Week 165

November 18th, 2012 Posted by Gavok

Hey now! I’m joined by my full crew. We have Gaijin Dan, Was Taters, Jody and Space Jawa, supplying the panels that best sum up each comic that came out this week. And once again, if there’s a series you like that doesn’t get used here normally, or you want to contribute anyway, feel free to email me sometime before each Sunday night.

The panel for Invincible is the exact moment the comic goes from enjoyable to, “Jesus fuck, Kirkman. Why are you doing this?” And then he actually posts a page to explain why he’s doing this. Not that it makes it better.

Avengers Assemble is a major surprise this week and I can’t recommend it enough. While it’s too early to measure it based on one issue, it appears this run may very well be the Avengers counterpart to the Giffen/DeMatteis/Maguire days of Justice League International. Funny how DC absolutely refuses to honor that era in their history, leading to Marvel reminding how fun major team comics can be.

All-New X-Men #1
Brian Michael Bendis and Stuart Immonen

Avengers Assemble #9
Kelly Sue DeConnick and Stefano Caselli

Batman #14 (Taters’ pick)
Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo, James Tynion IV and Jock

Read the rest of this entry �

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FREE Wrestling is Fun! iPPV Saturday at 7pm

November 16th, 2012 Posted by Gavok

While I talk about CHIKARA all the time, it should be mentioned that recently they introduced a little sibling promotion called Wrestling is Fun!. WiF is kind of a side project based on how much CHIKARA has grown over the years. It’s a place where CHIKARA talent can do matches and run their own little storylines without stepping on the toes of the main roster’s happenings. It’s a place for new guys who need some experience, older guys who don’t currently fit in with CHIKARA’s year-long storylines and current members of the CHIKARA roster who are up for an exhibition.

Saturday at 7, the promotion is celebrating their anniversary with a free iPPV showing off Smart Mark Video’s VOD site.

I guess this is because Smart Mark is going to be taking over iPPV duties for CHIKARA and this is as good an excuse as any to test it out.

The show will feature eight matches. On tap are:

– Mr. Touchdown defending the WiF Championship Banana against Mike Quackenbush

– Hallowicked vs. assailANT

– Gran Akuma vs. Jaka

– Green Ant vs. Juan Francisco de Coronado (accompanied by Manuel Servanto)

– Dasher Hatfield vs. Icarus

– Fire Ant vs. Kobald

– The Estonian ThunderFrog vs. Kodama

– The Devastation Corporation vs. The Flames of Love

If anything, you should watch it because of that last match. It’ll be a 30-second squash, but the Devastation Corporation is made up of guys named BLASTER MCMASSIVE and MAX SMASHMASTER. Those are easily two of the greatest names in wrestling.

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Lyricist Lounge: “It is the thickest blood on this planet.”

November 16th, 2012 Posted by david brothers

I walked into a record store the other week after doing some apartment hunting. I was feeling good, the kind of good I haven’t felt in weeks. I felt like I was getting things done.

I hit the rap section and the first thing I saw, the very first record, made me stop in my tracks. It was sitting there in the used vinyl section, right at the front. I honestly couldn’t believe it, but there it was: Lyricist Lounge Volume 1. Four discs of some of the most important music I’ve ever heard. Twenty dollars.

I bought it. Even if I’d been broke at the time, I’d have bought it. I saw it and realized that I couldn’t live without it.

I still remember the day I first discovered Lyricist Lounge Volume 1. Not the specific day — it was the summer, it was boring, and that’s all I got — but the day is what I remember. That moment in time. I was at the Mall of Georgia with my aunt, my cousin, and my cousin’s friend. It was a warm summer day in 1998. My aunt went off somewhere to do grown-up things like shop at JC Penny and buy towels or whatever, and us teenagers had the run of the mall. It took me about twenty minutes to realize that shopping with two teenaged girls in a gigantic mall is secretly like being on an exclusive level of hell, but I stuck it out for the whole six hours, in part because I had no choice. I was too young to have my license, and that meant I was trapped. They weren’t trapped in there with me. I was trapped in there with them.

A couple hours in, we wandered into a music store. Maybe an FYE, but probably something else that has since gone out of business. I had a little money in my pocket — we used to clean houses with my aunt and she would pay us in small faces at first and eventually big face twenties — and I had to do something to drown out the trauma. I poked around and found a tape for cheap. A double-tap set, actually. It was Lyricist Lounge Volume 1.

I loved rap before I heard Lyricist Lounge, but after I heard that tape, that loved turned into something else. I went from a passive and “oh that sounds good, who is this? I like this” listener to an active one. I started paying attention and I started demanding more, two things that have served me well in life.

The thing about Lyricist Lounge Volume 1 is that it was my introduction to underground rap. I wouldn’t become a backpacker for another couple of years, but this set me down that path. At that point in time, underground rap was as much a reaction to mainstream rap as it was an attempt to reclaim past glories and invent new ones. All these gangsta rappers, these jiggy dudes, were fakers. They weren’t about that life. They’re actors. The underground is where the real raw is. If you want true rap, you had to head underground.

This probably sounds familiar to you. It happens in comics, too, and probably your favorite genre of music.

Underground rap was new to me at the time, and I was caught flat-footed by how lyrical these guys were. Don’t get me wrong, either. Jay-Z is nice, and has been nice for years. He knows his way around a similar and he can murder a metaphor. But like… this was a whole other level. It was like opening your front door and seeing your neighborhood different. Everything is thrown into high definition and you see details you never noticed before.

Lyricist Lounge is a paradigm shift. At the time, it was just a dope, funny album with weird skits. With the benefit of hindsight, though, I can see that it shattered what I knew about not just rap, but communication. It showed me a new way to use words. I learned, even though all I wanted was something that sounded cool so I wouldn’t have to answer whether I wanted to go to Claire’s or Spencer’s next.

This album was my introduction to the Indelible MCs, a crew composed of Queen Heroin, J-Treds, Breeze Brewin, and El-P and Bigg Jus of Company Flow.

Queen Heroin:

Flows aquatic like fishes’ surroundings
Underground and it’s pounding, like pregnancy
with the expectancy of three times three


I can be a bit demanding, accepting nothing less than the best
I don’t just flip shit. Anyone can, kid, I stick the landing
And stand out amongst most, so don’t stress
Trying to touch us? You can’t come close like phone sex


Background posers fiend for limelight exposure
When we rally back and touch the microphone playtime is over
Who’s trying to see the CF graf crew that visualize top to bottom
and stand out in New York like an LA gang tag do?


You talking about “Respect mines,” steady missing your layups?
Hoes to foes, I start staring, wild truculent
Heart-tearing style, fuck you then, order your demise


Prophets turned skeptics, skeptics found Jesus
Right-wingers turned leftist, everybody jumped on the dick of independence
Sorry, we don’t want you any more.
Get lost, kid, find the exit!
But is it live, you fucking suckers?

It’s the words plus the music plus the confidence that unlocked something in me. And not just this song, either. It’s the whole album. The thing about this type of rap is that you’re expected to keep up whether you understand what the lines mean at all. Breeze ends his verse with “Listen, you’ll hear voices like ‘Damn, that’s a sucker’/Paranoid, looking like Fuzzy Zoeller at the Rucker.” I didn’t have the internet as a kid, so Fuzzy Zoeller was as opaque to me as whatever the Rucker was. But I got it. I didn’t need to know the specifics to get the line. All I needed to know that it sounded great and that it’d make sense in time. “Be like water.”

It’s about magic tricks, basically. That’s what made me turn a corner in how I listened to rap and how I used words. School essays were nonsense. Five paragraph structure: introduction, thesis, content, conclusion. They were stiff and confining. I phoned them in when I had to write them and I skimmed them when I had to read them.

But raps? Raps demand close attention. “We’re bringing rap back like Wu did Wallabee Clarks” is nonsense at first glance, but once you learn about Ghostface making Wallabees some of the illest shoes ever, you get it. Literally: Ghostface made Wallys cool like Cipher Complete is about to make rap worthwhile again. Metatextually: Wallos were tired and busted before Ghost got to them, and then he hit them with that dye like boom, and check it: they’re cooler than glaciers of ice now. Rap is old and busted, behold to corporate interests, but Cipher Complete’s about to bring it back through the strength of sheer spitting.

The best rap punchlines work on several levels, no matter how dumb it is. When Jeezy’s talking about “my passenger’s a redbone, her weave look like some curly fries,” you’ve got color-based play and some incredibly evocative descriptions. You know exactly what this chick’s weave looks like. It’s like chicken & broccoli Timbs.

Clarity through obscurity.

It’s like jargon. There’s in and there’s out. If you’re in, you can listen and enjoy it. If you’re out, you’ve gotta consult white devil sophistry like RapGenius (shoulda stuck with OHHLA). Even the most basic of slang is segregated along regional lines. Everybody gets their own thing. You might want to cut or smash or drill (Black & Decker!) when you meet a pretty girl, and none of them have to do with hurting somebody else. You can shoot the fair one or scrap. Some people might squab, and the soft hearted might get their face rocked. Your girl can be your shorty or earth or ma or wiz or bird. Corner boys, d-boys, dope boys, and trap stars might hit you with the chopper or the ‘K or the nina or the ratchet or the roscoe if you’re not careful. Knahmean, yadadamean, knahmsaying, you feel me, g/gangsta/god? You can rock ice grills and mean mugs without ever seeing diamonds or coffee. Some people speak with criminal slang, and they’ll never stop speaking it.

The obscurity lets you own your words. No one can listen in and peep game unless they’re already in the know, and that in and of itself makes people want to pay attention to you. It’s yours and they want it. So they’ll do that work and figure it out, and that means you’ve won. You spun that web. You set up that trick. You made them come to you.

It’s not gibberish. It was never gibberish. You can’t treat it like gibberish and expect to ever actually understand it.

It’s a new way of thinking.

It was Lyricist Lounge first. That put me on game. I had a bunch of names to look out for now, so when Soundbombing 2 came out, I was right there. And Soundbombing 2, after the intros, starts with Eminem’s “Any Man,” a song I still know by heart. Em, at his nicest, is one of the nicest ever, and he goes off on that song.

It sets the stage for the album, because every song features somebody going off in a different way. It’s mind-expanding. “B-Boy Document ’99,” by the High & Mighty featuring Mos Def and Mad Skillz, is nuts. “1-9-9-9” by Common and Sadat X, is nuts. “Cross Town Beef,” “Next Universe,” that interlude with Tash and Dilated Peoples, and don’t even get me started on “Stanley Kubrick” (Stanley Kubrick, Stanley Kubrick…) and “Patriotism.”

A couple songs off Soundbombing 2 were too weird for me at first. I couldn’t make heads or tails of Pharaohe Monch’s “Mayor” because he had a weird flow and the song was awkward and weird. “7XL” was just aight, even if I kinda sorta knew about Brand Nubian at the time. I just didn’t get it, basically. I wasn’t on that level yet.

But the older I got, the more things changed, and now “Mayor” is one of my favorite songs. Pharoahe has some of the most amazing breath control in rap, despite his asthma, and “Mayor” is transcendant. The storytelling, the flow, the chorus, that beat, all of it is so real. Monch paints a perfect picture and gets across the stress and horror of the situation extremely well. “Peripheral vision now, doorknob shifting… optical illusion from all the coke that I’m sniffing.” dzed waggling my leg imagining i’m not afraid

But my jam is always going to be Company Flow’s “Patriotism.” I hadn’t heard Funcrusher Plus yet — good luck finding that stuff in Smalltown, GA — but I knew I liked those CoFlow cats from Lyricist Lounge. And “Patriotism” is like a blast of hate. It’s political, in the “a pox on both your houses” sense, but it’s so much more than that. The beat is dirty, dusty, digital ish, full of creeping menace, and DJ Mr Len the Space Ghost’s cuts make it sound even filthier.

The entire song is just El-Producto blacking out like so:

I’m the ugliest version of passed down toxic capitalist
rapid emcee perversion — I’m America!
Your bleeding-heart liberal drivel gets squashed
Wash em with sterilized rhyme patriot-guided weaponry bomb
from the makers of the devious hearts — I’m America!
You bitchy little dogs don’t even phase my basic policy
The bomb’s smarter, my Ronald Reagans crush Carter
With Bay of Pig tactics makin young men into martyrs

It’s coded, but the code is content, too. He’s saying things, layering words on top of words, but it gives the song an oppressive feel. You’ve gotta sprint to keep up. Who will survive in America? “Patriotism” has the answer.

It was a one-two punch for me. After Soundbombing 2, I was lost. The allure of coded language was too much, and I got big into this stuff. The homey Darryl Ayo was talking about Jadakiss freestyles on tumblr the other day, and how rappers are proof positive that writers’ block is only as real as you think it is. Rappers write and write and write and they’re always on, year after year. They produce an insane amount of content. I want to be able to do that.

All of my favorite writers, the most important inspirations for my craft, are rappers. Nas: being able to paint a photorealistic picture with just a few short lines. CoFlow: understanding that sometimes absurdity and opacity can make things crystal clear. OutKast: never, ever resting on your laurels and always pushing the envelope. Scarface: being real. UGK: being country. Jay-Z: confidence. Canibus: knowing how to stack wordplay on wordplay and come up with something ill. Lauryn Hill: carving out your own place and saying damn the consequences. Eminem: bending language to your will. Mos Def: talking about something bigger than yourself. Jadakiss: crucial punchlines. Method Man & Redman: the importance of having fun while you do it to it. Ghostface Killah: creating a new style and daring people to dislike it. Big Daddy Kane: being smoother than the average. CoFlow: being independent as fox. Rakim: being better than everyone else.

These are my heroes.

It’s only obvious to me in hindsight, but I haven’t been chasing Stephen King or Fred Saberhagen or Ezra Pound or Candide or whatever other writers I was really into as a kid. I’ve been chasing these other guys.

Lyricist Lounge changed my life, and I don’t mean that in the trite way where people actually mean “Oh, I just like this a lot and it means a lot to me.” I mean that buying those cassettes that said Lyricist Lounge down the side actually, literally, legitimately changed my life. It changed how I think and though it took a while to show, it changed how I write. I never struggled with writing, exactly, but I definitely felt more comfortable with it once I started trying to lace the phrases with magic tricks, even if every paragraph needed a translation attached to it. Make people keep up, but still keep it simple. That felt right.

Rap’s in my blood. It’s in how I approach conflict — “Be a man, say my name if you’re talking to me/ You ain’t said it? Well, I guess you ain’t talking to me” — and how I think. I love turns of phrase and dumb puns and stories and rap has all of that, and rap does it better than most everything else. I don’t think I’m that great of a dancer, and it’s probably because I grew up listening to songs that made you want throw bows or two-step rather than get down on the floor on the floor. “See, me and my niggas don’t dance, we just pull up our pants and do the rockaway… now lean back.”

Variations on a theme, off the top of my head:

Method Man, 1995: “I call my brother son ’cause he shine like one.”
Big Pun, 1998: “Been sonning niggas so long I think I got a grandson.”
Sauce Money, 1999: “Hammers fly, might miss you, but your man’ll die/ What’s the difference? Either way I’m sonning your crew.”
Talib Kweli, 1999: “I told him to slow down, he said the sun don’t chill.”
Angel Haze, 2012: “Naw, I run shit. I’m Ra, I son shit.”

There’s so many ways you can use the word son. It’s such a small word, but you can load it down with meaning.

I’ve been listening to Lyricist Lounge and Soundbombing 2 near-constantly since I picked up that album. It’s been a weird trip down memory lane, but it’s like tumblers falling into place. The act of listening, of living in these albums, has been revealing things I already knew to myself. I get it. I understand it. Just the fact that I own such a big album feels good to me.

Rap is a source of infinite inspiration for me. I went through that phase when underground rap was the only real rap, but now I realize that all rap is real. I get down with Kitty Pryde, 8Ball & MJG, the Dungeon Fam, Black Hippy, Rakim, Angel Haze, Azealia Banks, XV, Esso, Kilo Ali, and Kilo Kish. It’s whatever, man. If you’re coming with hard punchlines and speakerboxxx music, I’m there. If it’s murda muzik, I’m there. If it’s laid back music to smoke a blunt to, I’m there. If it’s goofball rap, I’m there. If it’s Jim Jones over an indie rock or dance band, I’m definitely there. If it sounds like the soundtrack to a black black mass, I’m there.

I don’t like everything, but I love it all. I love that it exists. I want it all. I want to be as prolific and diverse and amazing as my heroes. I’m trying to be That Dude, not just that dude. I want Pun’s punchlines, Vast Aire’s metaphors, Nas’s grace, El-P’s off-kilter ferocity, Killer Mike’s knowledge, The Clipse’s contempt, and Jadakiss’s steez. Bone Thugs’s style, Fabolous’s track record with punchlines. OutKast’s creativity, Goodie MOb’s sense of place and self. 50’s swagger, Weezy’s charisma. Even Drake knows how to build a situation with perfect clarity. “And promoters try to get me out to their clubs/ and say I’ll have fun, but I can’t imagine how/ ’cause I just seen my ex girl standing with my next girl/ Standing with the girl that I’m fucking right now.”

I want to do it all.

I tried rapping, back in high school. I wasn’t good at it. I can be spontaneous, but rap requires spontaneity within a structure. I can’t freestyle, but I could write. Me and my friends would kick raps over pause tapes full of homemade instrumentals. We’d load mp3s into our lackluster computers and create instrumentals out of hot singles, assuming there was enough of an outro for it. But what I wrote was a pale imitation of the people I liked. It wasn’t mine. I was trying to be them, instead of trying to be me, who had been influenced by them.

Evidence said that “emcees without a voice should write a book.” Aesop Rock said “That means when I wake up and decide to comprise the new shit/ It’s not some watered down version of what my favorite crews did.”

So I quit rapping after I graduated and focused on writing. You have to destroy to build, and you have to build to destroy.

I found my voice. I figured out how to move the crowd.

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