It’s been a minute since I bought a regular rap magazine, but I’m still buying hip-hop related books like a fiend. Scarface’s recent autobiography was an ultra-downbeat read, but a worthy one (I was pleased to see that have hated the cover art to Geto Boys’ Da Good da Bad & da Ugly as much as I did) that’s a fine accompaniment to Prodigy’s book (still the ultimate hip-hop bio) and the Q-Tip, Lil’ Kim and Benzino memoirs seem to have vanished from the release schedules after a on-off wait of almost Rawkus Kool G or Heltah Skeltah-like levels. The one that I’m ultra hyped for is the Nas autobiography, It Ain’t Hard to Tell: A Memoir, which, according to Amazon and the publisher, Simon and Schuster, drops later this year, on November 10th — four years after its announcement caused some brief blog fuss. Rap books get delayed even harder than the damn albums, but if Nasir Jones opts to make like P and pull no punches, it’s going to be a classic. In the interim, I’ll probably pick up the Luther Campbell, Buck 65 and Kevin Powell books in coming months, but there’s one extra volume with some serious potential — Rap Tees: A Collection of Hip Hop T-Shirts 1980-2000 by collector and connoisseur DJ Ross One, which drops on Powerhouse in October. Promising hundreds of promo, bootleg and concert shirts representing Sugarhill, EPMD, the Wu, BDP, 2Pac and everyone else, the Screen Stars style cover art has me sold on it already. This kind of archive is my idea of heaven — if somebody gathers the rap promo sticker collection of an OG like Jules Gayton and publishes it, I’ll be in heaven. On the Scarface front, the impending existence of a 33 1/3 book completely dedicated to The Geto Boys, thanks to travel writer and New Yorker contributor Rolf Potts, is something to celebrate too.
First things first — Robbie at Unkut just upped a photo of Showbiz that proves he was very much about that life pre-Rap. The gold, the white Reeboks on his feet, the Dapper Dan gear, the blue AF1s, the Air Max 1s, the adidas and the multiple Air Force IIIs indicate that Show was making some steady revenue circa 1988. Bronx kept creating that cash. This is the best photo I’ve seen since the 1990 Sports Illustrated shot of Steve Smith and friends cleaning enviable footwear when 15 pairs of flagship releases seemed like some Sheikh-level power move. This October 1991 Tim “Original armshouse lick for the girly-girl crew on that rammajammer tip, for the punani mechanics!” Westwood ragga set that Random Rap Radio recently shared is a perfect soundtrack to browsing those images — if the combination doesn’t inspire you in one way or another, then there’s nothing left for you in this world.
If you’ve enough of slackness and ostentatious nostalgia, this interview with Peter Ducommun from Skull Skates on Sex Magazine is fantastic. Now that’s how you put logos on long-sleeve t-shirt arms with integrity. And there’s finally a cover for Scarface’s autobiography, Diary of a Madman, which will probably be incredible when it comes out in October. Willie Dee’s intro for the Houston Rap Tapes book has got me prepped for some Geto Boys memories on paper. The crazy look and a Sir Benni Miles skully is a strong cover image.
Perks & Mini are one of the remain one of the most underrated brands of the last 15 years and this grey P.A.M. sweatshirt might look like it’s been dyed at the neck but that’s actually wool. Misha and Shauna are the smartest innovators and reappropriators in their field — that explosive collar of mohair-like softness is excellent (the black and yellow version is good too.) An insane idea, well executed. They’re at Goodhood right now.
Things I discovered today: I’m too slow with my social media to deserve all-red shoes, Nike really are aiming to put out the Mag that self-fastens next year (the patent for that technology has just been updated) despite me assuming that was just part of the 2011 campaign to keep everybody’s mind on the charity aspect and as well as Lil’ Kim’s autobiography, we can expect a Scarface autobiography this October — Made: a Lifetime in the Game. Beyond the always-interesting Prodigy (who had the greatest rapper autobiography ever), Scarface’s time with the Geto Boys, the depression and the love of Enya he once discussed with HHC gives this the potential to be another classic. Some rappers get tagged as deep-thinkers because they drop some GCSE-level thinking in their bars but Rap-A-Lot’s finest is a bluesman at heart who sounded world-weary from day one. If you, like me, saw the great man on the Combat Jack Show wearing Polo knitwear, weeping and talking conspiracies and pondered the possibility of a book, it seems to be happening. I just hope the rapper’s rapper creates the book he’s capable of writing.
With the ad above resurrecting the spirit of the era again (and with Goldie remixing Hand of the Dead Body back in 1994 and making people in Cypress Hill t-shirts angry), Josey Rebelle put me onto this late 1990s footage of Metalheadz Sunday Sessions at the Blue Note. It’s a nice companion piece to the great interview with Nicky Blackmarket that LAW Magazine upped on Vimeo. Coming from a town where tape packs in puffy VHS-style boxes were once a big deal, where one of the last surviving record stores traded in accelerated breakbeats and jungle still has a presence there’s something comforting about the scene’s ability to stay underground and occasionally resurface. Where’s my Helly Hansen jacket at?
Has it really been 20 years since Koon, Powell, Wind, Briseño and Solano were acquitted, LA burned, Perry Farrell masturbated multiple times and then everybody declared war on rap and announced that everything with an f-word was “gangsta”? It led to ‘Get the Fist’ — not a pro-fisting anthem, but a charity record that’s better than Live Aid II and III’s reminder that 1989 and 2004 were dark musical times, but not as good as Springsteen and Run-DMC condemning Sun City. I remember footage of Positive K, Biz and MC Serch’s albums being sent beneath the steamroller during the storm over that crappy ‘Cop Killer’ song too.
Still, it was nice to feel like you weren’t meant to be listening to the music — authorities, parents and even the artists goading me and calling me a cracker made the experience fun. Now it wants to be your friend — it retweets you and collaborates with Katy Perry, then saunters off and reworks an Aston Martin. Hip-hop practically strokes your balls and asks how your day at work was. Things done changed. I still can’t resist the lure of the rap autobiography – DMX, Ice-T, 50 Cent, Jay-Z (a decent read beyond the lyrical deconstructions), Common and J-Zone’s efforts were decent in their own ways, but Prodigy set the standard with ‘My Infamous Life’ by talking smack as if he was never going to be released and not letting too much truth get in the way of a good yarn. That seems to have instigated some impending tomes — Lil’ Kim’s ‘The Price of Loyalty’ drops in June, ‘Bizzy By Choice, Bone By Blood’ by Bizzy Bone, ‘The Dynasty: Sex, Drugs, Murder and Hip Hop’ by Ray Benzino arrive in July, Boots Riley has one set for December and Q-Tip’s ‘Industry Rules: the World According to Q-Tip, From Linden Blvd. to El Sugundo and Beyond’ is a long way off (25th March 2014 according to Amazon). Somewhere among all those releases, RA the Rugged Man’s book might appear too.
Given his notorious inability to hold his tongue, Benzino’s book appeals to me – I want more information on the whole ‘The Source’ deal, the early Boston rap days, label issues as a result of the aforementioned ‘Cop Killer’ fallout, the CGI magic carpets and that strange documentary that was on WSHH recently, which featured an inexplicable Jay Electronica appearance banging on about Satan and the illuminati, years before he took to blasting the shit out of pheasants with Zac Goldsmith of an evening. I imagine it will probably indicate that Made Men made classic albums too, but I’m willing to overlook all that. Every rapper used to have a book, film and beverage in the offing, but many failed to materialise. I never believed ‘Zino’s book would appear, but now there’s even a cover shot as proof of life. On a biographical note, HarperCollins are reported to have obtained UK rights to Mike Tyson’s memoir and it’s apparently set for an October 2013 release — very good news indeed. Getting overeager about these things can prove humiliating though – a lot of us have been waiting for ‘Bowie: Object’ (which sounds like an even fancier version of ‘My Rugged 211’ or that Hiroshi Fujiwara ‘Personal Effects’ book, but this time, it’s a tome showcasing some of Bowie’s favourite archive artefacts), but Bowie Myths showcased a “leak” that looked questionable. It was evidently written by somebody that understands Bowie, yet predictably, it turned out to be fake and even the man himself took to Facebook (“Blinkin’ garden gnomes! Really”) to dismiss it. Between that and a hastily doctored pair of Jordan Is with the Nike SB logo on the tongue (as I understand it, that Jordan I SB for the Bones Brigade film isn’t happening), fast news travel and a hunger for information are optimum conditions for pranks.
Every meeting I’ve gone to lately seems to have talk of “a print project” thrown around in the same way they were banging on about an “online magazine” a year or so ago. Unless you’ve got an oligarch backer the high gloss approach will crash and burn and just trying to be ‘Monocle’s fashion section distilled down like weak Ribena – a sickly pink when it should be a purple, isn’t enough. I can’t say I’ve been awed by a magazine lately (though there’s been some strong content) on visuals alone in the same way that ‘Relax’ used to blow my mind frequently. Sure, it got to a point where on grabbing it from Magma, it was all plants, pastels and Mike Mills again and again (the visual angle was important, because I couldn’t understand a bloody word of that Japanese text) and then it was cancelled in 2006, but before that, it was a perfect, progressive example of magazine design — inserts, posters, stickers and those covers…inspirational in a way that ‘The Face’ once was and very little has been since…at least nothing that would leave you with change from a tenner. The adidas and Dogtown issues were tremendous and there’s still room in my life for something just as powerful. The Being Hunted crew always seemed to worship this magazine too (I’m looking forward to seeing Being Hunted 7.0), because Jorg and co know their stuff. Salutes to the LMCA archive for maintaining the covers and the YouWorkForThem squad for keeping their magazine and book visuals stored, even after they stopped selling them. Why isn’t there a ‘Relax’ retrospective book? I still believe print can change lives, but `also I believe that it’s a format that only a select few can truly succeed in.
Page images taken from YouWorkForThem
If it’s quirky, it’s cult now. I’ve been trying to work out when cult ceased to be an appealing tag – perhaps it was the post Quentin slew of chatty, smart-Alec mob flicks that jarred each and every time. Maybe it was Rob Zombie and co’s attempts to reproduce a moment in time that was originally simply a victim of no means and a lack of professional crew. Either way, the best stuff from back in the day had an earnestness about it and a sense of strange that wasn’t synthesised. All the talk of ninjas last week had me thinking of David Carradine’s work and I still maintain that 1989’s ‘Sonny Boy’ is underrated. Alongside ‘Santa Sangre’ it offers something uncomfortable but intoxicating in a totally unrestrained approach to bloodletting and Carradine’s commitment to the film, from his cross-dressing performance to the work on the soundtrack is admirable. Cheap and memorable is a fair summary (like 1990’s unnerving ‘Luther the Geek’), but that doesn’t necessarily make it a film for all tastes — come to think of it, many will just find ‘Sonny Boy’ deeply offensive, but I guarantee you’ve not seen much like this one before. Brad Dourif has spent much of his career stumbling into curiosities like this and I’m assuming distribution issues mean it won’t ever get a proper DVD release again.
There’s mileage in using the cult of personality to turn yourself into a brand. That means you have to be cautious about what you say, how you say it and foot in mouth disease. The benefits are a face to match the words in an anonymous digital world and — at least the facade — of integrity. Some of my friends are very good at self-branding. They’re not on Twitter effing and blinding. They interact with their audience and they quietly act as their own brand managers behind-the-scenes. Then there’s idiots like me. 2000 word rants that carry a certain whiff of hypocrisy, slow email responses, little emphasis on design beyond off-the-shelf fonts and layouts, plus plenty of c-words via social media. Oh, and a certain camera shyness. That leaves me in a rut of my own making. Every one of my favourite CDs has masterful brand management at the core — now musical brand management might be more focused on supply and demand, instigating the fever around that MP3 leak, deciding who hosts the free album and how the titles on the vlogging look, but that need to maintain an image is paramount. I’m late to the party on two books that focus on band branding — Dennis Morris’s PiL image retrospective ‘A BItta PiL’ (put together to coincide with last year’s exhibition of Morris’s work and Nile Rodgers’s (thank you to Deano from Real Gold for the recommendation) autobiography, ‘Le Freak.’
The clinical look of PiL’s early work was a deliberate riposte to the cut and paste Pistols era as well as a parody of the music industry, but it Public Image Ltd. also gave the group free rein (go check YouTube and witness John Lydon in a Junya-esque check blazer responding blankly to Tom Snyder with, “We ain’t no band — we’re a company…”) for a revolving door of musicians to come and go. Nile Rodgers discusses an epiphany on seeing Roxy Music’s (Lydon is a Roxy fan too) presentation and creating the Chic Organization Ltd. with Bernard Edwards that would allow for fonts and females to cover the visuals while they concentrated on the sonic side. Speaking to John Lydon in 2010, the character that came wading in was John in confrontational postcard punk mode, but on being quizzed about his PiL era attire — deliberate and part of the PiL branding strategy (check the book cover for a surprisingly sharp frontman) — he wasn’t happy that his rag doll reputation from his pre-PiL work still remained, but he was happy to talk about PiL’s branding, about he was inspired by the ICI logo, but getting angry when I asked if Terry Jones of i-D was involved in the logo’s inception. I wanted more of that information from him rather than the rehearsed sermons, but he was fun company nonetheless.
Nile’s story is even more staggering than the one told in Lydon’s ‘No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs,’ and while both spent periods in hospital — Rodgers through asthma and Lydon through polio — Nile’s tales of beatnik negligence, rapist hitmen, Warhol encounters and his family’s astonishing liberalism with narcotics are a good reason to invest alone and he’s an engagingly candid narrator. It’s curious that Rodgers is so lucid for 200 or so pages before the final 50 pages cram in his brief death in an elevator, getting clean, Bernard’s actual death and 9/11, all of which could have justified another volume. Perhaps his cancer diagnosis (touchingly — and casually — discussed at the book’s close) meant that his attention was elsewhere. Still, few have had a life like Nile Rodgers and even fewer made it into the 00’s — thankfully he fought his illness and won. On his blog he mentioned that John Landis sent him the ‘Sexual Chocolate’ poster from ‘Coming to America’ (which apparently had a working title of ‘The Zamunda Project) as a Christmas present. There’s still lessons to be learnt in self-branding from both Public Image Ltd. and the Chic Organization Ltd. even if both corporations’ fanbases ultimately waned.
Offering some white blizzard detailing that doesn’t quite match Niles’s prodigious consumption but still manages to fire my imagination, White Mountaineering’s Pertex Digital Camo Middle Down Jacket is the outerwear object of my affections this week. Looking like something from ‘GI Joe,’ this design’s the peak of the digital camo fixation from this season. In other hands, camo can get a little too dog-on-a-string/Rodney Trotter opening titles, but that hood detailing and the way Yosuke Aizawa manages to merge real-deal performance and a love of fabrics and patterning is always on point. That dense, detailed pattern could be effective in blending in with Britain’s slushy streets over the coming months, looking better than USMC Digital Snow Camo or Pencott Snowdrift Camo. I’m interested in Pertex’s extra breathable properties and supposed resilience when it comes to rips over my beloved GORE-TEX. This jacket is at Oki-Ni right now if you’ve got the money quietly burning a hole in your chinos.
Another master of visual disguise is my comic book hero Bernie Wrightson. Bernie inspired me to draw as a kid. It was a shame I was shit. So I gave up. But looking at each panel in his 70’s work for ‘Creepy’ and the amount of hidden depth and genuinely freakish imagery is startling. His work with the likes of Bruce Jones made me sleep with the hall lights on as a kid. That mixture of the gothic tradition and a style that’s unmistakably Wrightson means short stories like ‘Jenifer’ still scare me. If you make a tit of yourself in public over dreck like ‘Paranormal Activity’ then I’m not sure if ‘Creepy’ would have any power over you, but the ‘Creepy Presents Bernie Wrightson’ compendium is a bargain. Some stories in it are merely inked by Wrightson, but ‘The Pepper Lake Monster’ alone makes it necessary if you’re even vaguely interested in art, design or the faintly nightmarish. I was glad to see that the Warren comics obviously had an effect on the Stussy team last year, resulting in their ‘Creepy’ collaboration that was one of the standouts in a year when BAPE and Stussy went partner project crazy.
I’m bedridden in that unsympathetic netherworld between actually being ill and probably being able to get up and aimlessly wander around. Like
is he? he is he isn’t maybe he actually is R&B failure Omarion after the London bombings said, pray for me. Man-flu is a killer. It means that this blog will be brief and half-cooked as it’s transmitting live from the duvet wherein I’ve been kept sane by Keith Richards’ autobiography, Bronson in ‘Deathwish III’ (the Lemsip of sickbed cinema) and the new Yelawolf and Trae track. Like a 24 hour bug, I have a tendency towards 24 hour obsessions triggered by a single remark, memory or paragraph. Even though Donald Cammell annoyed him back in the late ’60s and despite Donald’s suicide in 1996 (lucid and pain-free for approximately 45 minutes despite a bullet in the head), Keith isn’t particularly sympathetic,
“I met Cammell later in L.A, and said, you know I can’t think of anybody, Donald, that’s ever got any joy out of you, and i don’t know if you’ve ever got any joy out of yourself. There’s nowhere else for you to go, there’s nobody. The best thing you can do is take the gentleman’s way out. And this was at least two or three years before he finally topped himself.”
The moral there is to not annoy Keef. Did Donald actually care? Probably not. It’s a shame we don’t get more like Cammell making movies. I’ve written about him here in relation to ‘Performance’ but I still think there’s a great value in revisiting the frugal handful of films he also made (of which I get the impression that 1986’s ‘White of the Eye’ may have been his favourite due to a minimum of tampering. It’s little surprise that Cammell hung out with Mr. Kenneth Anger (he even appears in Anger’s ‘Lucifer Rising’) but despite being a ‘Hollywood Babylon’ series superfan—and yes, I’m aware that they’re factually questionable—the recent Blu-ray acquisition of Anger’s short films reminded me that I often prefer his work in theory rather than practise. Cammell’s other works, like the bigger budget ‘Demon Seed’ and the butchered then reassembled ‘Wild Side’ complete a quadrilogy of experimental, beautifully shot movies that are arty, unique and very watchable. Totally linear? Nope, can’t help you there, but there’s nothing else like these out there.
I get the impression that Cammell couldn’t help being a pain in the arse…he just saw something different out there, resulting in these curious mixes of the occult, sexuality and violence (again, it’s easy to see how he and Anger may have seen eye-to-eye). But his secret weapon on three of the four films of note that appeared was a former teen actor, typecast as a hood – ‘Rebel Without a Cause’s Frank Mazzola on editing duties. Frank is the toughest character in ‘Rebel…’ yet he’s one of the most intuitive editors in cinema history, understanding Cammell’s fondness for the unorthodox entirely. Cammell befriended Marlon Brando in hospital after Brando was hospitalized for scorching his testicles with coffee and they plotted a film and book together (‘Fan-Tan’ was released as a novel almost a decade after Cammell’s death and a year after Brando’s). It might be a cliché (something Donald seemed adverse to) but Donald Cammell’s life played out like one of his films. It’s a shame that his mooted film starring William Burroughs as a Supreme Court Justice kidnapped by terrorists and taken to Africa was scrapped because it required a budget that would top that of ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ but it’s well worth investigating his work.
A superior BBC ‘Transmission’ documentary on the man from 1997 ‘The Ultimate Performance’ (that even includes a substantial appearance by James Fox, who may or may not have found religion because of Cammell’s work) is on YouTube now. Watch. Get inspired. While you’re there, watch the Kenneth Anger ‘Hollywood Babylon’ from BBC’s ‘Arena’ from several years earlier too. They really don’t commission them like that anymore.