Tag Archives: style wars


I know we should encourage print publications in ailing times (especially when an online appetite for anything that constitutes content means that a lot of digital features and editorials are at least 40% longer than the average attention span, scattered with “one” in lieu of “you” in a bid at intelligence), but there’s a lot on the shelves that just seems to exist, bogged down with the predictable PR pushes of the moment and lacking any paper pulp identity. I had no idea that ‘TAR’ was still going either. ‘The Hunger’ magazine caught me off guard. I caught a glimpse of it and dismissed it as another vacuous publication that was presumably the pet project of some oligarch’s wife.

Then I found out that ‘The Hunger’ is Rankin’s baby, meaning the level of photography is predictably excellent, but it’s notable that advertisements seem to have been smartly folded into the actual content rather than the bookends of 40+ ad pages we’re used to. If we’re talking in idiot’s terms here — and during a recession it’s always worth reverting to a dopey notion where size and weight determines value — 500 pages for £4 is pretty good.

What really shines is Rankin’s conversations with some of ‘LIFE’s greatest contributors, including Burk Urkel, Guillermo “Bill” Eppiridge and John Shearer in the Documentary section. If you’re UK or Europe based, you can catch Rankin’s pretty good ‘America in Pictures: The Story of Life Magazine‘ right here on BBC iPlayer (if you can’t access it, consider it revenge for the times those MTV links you’ve embedded have denied me) — his passion shines through and he fanboys out with childish enthusiasm on meeting the pioneers of the photographic essay. Next time you’re admiring your Instagram efforts, I recommend trawling through the ‘LIFE’ archives on Google Books to puncture that misguided sense of what’s awesome. I love John Shearer’s ‘The ‘Prez’ of the Reapers’ photo essay (with text from Reginald Bragonier) that ran in the 25th August, 1972 issue. You can read it in its entirety here.

‘LIFE’ ran several excellent gang-related pieces before, but this reflected a new wave of crew violence, depicting the Bronx climate that spawned the Black Spades and inspired Walter Hill’s vision of Sol Yurick’s ‘the Warriors.’ Pride, violence, grief and a face beyond the bravado is present in Shearer’s work and while the article ends of a downbeat note, his blog indicates that Eddie Cuevas — the star of the article — left the gang life after beating the murder case to become a set-painter.

‘The Hunger’s website is strong, offering a plethora of video content and I recommend trawling through the BBC4 ‘All American’ collection to watch a 1981 ‘Arena’ episode on the Chelsea Hotel, four episodes of Alexis Korner’s ‘The Devil’s Music’ from 1979 and the more recent ‘America on a Plate[‘ documentary on the cultural relevance of the diner. You can lose a lot of time constructively while it lasts.

While ‘LIFE’ was a sappy, re-released shadow of its former self long before I was born, Henry Chalfont and Tony Silver (R.I.P.) 1983’s ‘Style Wars’ was a life-changer that offered another Bronx tale. Even catching it long after that fabled Channel 4 screening, those quotes from SKEME’s mum, CAP, Kase 2 (R.I.P.) and Min One have entered the everyday conversational lexicon of me my equally nerdish associates and I as much as ‘The Simpsons’ or ‘Seinfeld’ ever did. It’s bigger than hip-hop.

The frequently great ConspiracyUK radio show (from 27 minutes in), which seems to get some long interviews (with Menace sometimes sounding like Morell from ‘A Room For Romeo Brass’ with a rap fixation) with tough to track down subjects, recently chatted with Henry Chalfant for half an hour on the fundraising project to restore the 30 hours of outtakes left decaying. After the Save Style Wars campaign launched with a questionably fancy looking site that looked like it would flee the country with your credit card details, the new Style Wars site used KickStarter to raise the $28,000 to save them. Last week it hit the funding goal and the extra money will be used to restore the documentary itself. There’s some good incentives to contribute and at time-of-writing, 56 hours left to donate.

KickStarter is also being used to fund the release of Michael Miller‘s ‘West Coast Hip Hop: A History in Pictures’ which has doubled its goal. Compiled, Miller’s west coast rap photography (including the ‘Cypress Hill’ cover shot) could be well worth your time.

Listening to Elton John’s underrated ‘Rock of the Westies’ (GTA players know that ‘Street Kids’ is on point), all I can say is, thank god for that white. Elton’s prodigal yayo habit in 1975 caused him to create bangers with a completely new band. But beyond the sounds, that outfit on the album cover is some unkempt flamboyance. Check the near-beard, deerstalker, polo shirt, dog tag, bugged-out sunglasses and flossy rings, including a keyboard looking piece. Inspirational. This shot captures Sir Elton somewhere between broken and awesome. Rock stars don’t dress with this kind of lunacy any more.

The big aggressively shapeshifting elephant in the room at the moment is ‘The Thing’ prequel. I wanted to like it and some of the effects were strong, but it lacked the absolute dread and sense of isolation that made the 1982 version so necessary. It wasn’t a complete waste of human cells though and no spoilers intended (it has its own self-contained plot), but the segway between movies is smart. The hood might lack fur this time around, but the helicopter markings, doomy thud of the original score and Albertus MT typeface let the film conclude on a high note.

After the backpack talk the other week on Boylston Trading Company, Mr. Frank Rivera gave me the opportunity to write ‘Expendable Income’ — a love letter to the adidas Forum Hi which is one of my favourite shoes. I still don’t know why the story of the shoe hasn’t been told at length before (and there’s still a lot of facts to check and tales to be included), nor why the Hi seemed to be so hard to find post 2002. It’s good to talk Dellinger, crack money and stupid price tags. Click the image or check it out here.

Look around you. 2007 just got retroed. The onslaught of camouflage gear, queues for shoes and the rise of the print. That protectively waxed conservatism had to disintegrate at some point. All over patterned hoodies again? Ralph Lauren himself seems to favour these wintery traditional patterns above the majority of what his empire pumps out, and this Spruce Heather fleece has an air of 1989 about it too. It sure isn’t cheap, but it’s something different for the fanboys. No Polo player on the chest – this opts for a waistband patch logo instead. I like the texture too.

I just found out that Lewis Rapkin’s ‘Live From Tokyo’ documentary about the city’s music culture is finally available to rent on some new-fangled YouTube rental system. It’s worth £1.99 of your money (with a disaster relief charity donation in there too). I love Tokyo.


“In these times, you can’t get a job as an executive unless you have the educational background and the opportunity. Now, the fact you don’t have a job as an executive is merely because of the social standing of life.”

Pause. You know what? Hip-hop’s pretty gay. I’m not talking the rumours of green-eyed producers, musclebound ladies men, middle finger issuers and hypemen. The Furious 5 and company’s attire could be dismissed as fruity, but they seemed to be dressing akin to Rick James at the time. Rick’s attire on the front of ‘Street Songs’ is flamboyant, but he’s just paralleling the Prince approach of being so swaggeringly hetro, one can dress like they’re some kind of future-loverman. Nah. As hip-hop veers between curiously conservative and utterly audacious, 2010 is the year it seems to have opted to get even gayer. It even goes beyond Lil ‘B’s ‘Pretty Bitch’ – eccentric as it was, Brandon’s boasts felt as ultra-straight as Prince Rogers Nelson’s self-adulation. It’s in the behaviour that social media is fueling.

Can any other musical form boast an audience this desperate for gossip? Jeezy alludes to Rawse and the entire hip-hop nation gets all theatrically, “Oh no he didn’t!” Even the mildest verses are being scrutinised in the search for the “shots” and joy in perceived slights. Jeezy’s right when he laments that, “Twitter is a muthafucka, by the way.” That hunger for drama is insatiable. Rappers face the camera to address any rumour, scowling soul mates of the Britney meme man. Just as so many gay fashionistas are opting for extreme ink, that neck of thorns is just as likely to be shared by the next southern phenomenon. Amplified levels of toplessness in any press shots up the flamboyance. The quest to give that ink an outing is outing emcees.

Yet even more oddly, hip-hop culture gets even more homophobic and insecure. Cam’Ron and company opened the gates for a retraction after each sentence, but now we’re pausing our way through stop-start conversations. It’s fun, but again, it’s pretty gay. Kanye’s never shied away from the finer things in life, and his current besuited persona, driving the Twitterverse to the point of mania is some executive styling. This can only have ramifications. Just as his big shoe movement and a slimmer denim style had the biters geared up in mismatching, borderline feminine attire, Mr. West is bringing back the suit. Cue Rapidshare rappers everywhere breaking out their big-shouldered funeral suits. Everyone’s the CEO of their label now too. There’s plenty of folk playing at being shot collars on a business level. The mere notion of realness as a sham that revelations of Rick Ross’s past revealed, built on who makes the most mixtapes and has the best ear for a beat, isn’t too far away from the notion of ‘Realness’ espoused in the classic 1990 documentary, ‘Paris is Burning’.

Rap’s rarely been rooted in reality. There’s always been performance, but for a former CO to play kingpin and be as accepted as Armin Tamzarian ultimately was in his Skinner role is the ultimate reinforcement that hip-hop is about that theatrical facade of Realness. Realness in the ball circuit was about convincingly passing as someone else – for example, hardrock posturing, trying to pass as straight. There’s definite parallels. Truth be told, as long as the records are hot, it’s all good, but as the members of the House of Chanel and House of St. Laurent proved, it’s about the escapism of that fakery. Even the designer name fixation that Kanye’s blown up to the point where Jadakiss talks Margiela and Rawse talks Rick Owens bears similarities to their flamboyant theatre of competition.

The best moment in Jennie Livingston’s masterpiece is the notion of ‘Executive Realness’ where suited participants compete in a walk-off, trying to look as powerful and business-like as possible. Opening a briefcase to reveal paperwork elicits rapturous applause. It’s a momentary attempt to defy the social standing participants have found themselves in, and total role play. At least they’re honest about the performance aspect. The CEO stance and power-tailoring is pure hip-hop. Taz, ‘Ye and Cudi took the look to Paris last year for their infamous, ultra-fly group shot. In fact, ‘Style Wars’ and ‘Paris Is Burning’ are as essential as each other in documenting 1980s New York. There’s a grit to them and that same determination to rise above that occasionally seems utterly doomed. Shit, ‘Paris Is Burning’ is even laden with designer clothing boosts. Again, what’s more hip-hop than that? And what’s more punk rock than CAP or Pepper LaBeija?

Now every blogger’s a fashion guru and 8 out of 10 twats are claiming stylist status, maybe that notion of ‘Executive Realness’ spills beyond the rap realm to other cultures tainted by perpetrators. But that’s a whole other post…


When you grab a documentary on DVD you expect great extras as standard. Plexifilm’s ‘Style Wars’ remains a pinnacle. You’d be forgiven for assuming that excised interview segments removed for the sake of brevity, supporting information, galleries, where-are-they-nows and all that other good stuff should come as standard, but if you saw Revolver’s atrocious  ‘Beautiful Losers’ release, bare-bones and inexplicably pitched as a skate movie, you’ll soon realise just how spoilt you’ve been. Likewise, their ‘Tyson’ disc was devoid of extras too, despite thirty plus hours of interviews compressed into ninety minutes and even the forthcoming apology/cash-in by way of double disc is just a rehash of existing fight footage. The moral? Lower those expectations beyond the main feature.

Superb UK skate exploration ‘Rolling Through The Decades’ was two hours already, but the extra forty minutes provided answers to any questions raised, and on the announcement that Coan Nichols and Rick Charnoski’s ‘Deathbowl To Downtown’ was due out as a digital disc there was a certain excitement. Especially in the UK which was, despite vocalising frustrations, omitted from the film’s screening schedule. Now this exploration of New York’s skate history is available to buy, curiously, there’s been little global distribution (in the meantime, buy a copy from www.deathbowltodowntown.com) or fleshing out of the extras beyond cryptic talk of two discs and the nifty accompanying fanzine-style booklet. This ambiguity could prevent purchase, so it’s time to take a quick tour of the mysterious second disc.



“Born with the courage of an eagle, the strength of a black tiger, and the power of a god.”

If you had to push me for the greatest crossover between films, it’s the lowkey meeting of ‘Style Wars’ and ‘The Beastmaster.’ I’m not here to educate you about the scene that links both flicks, but if you’re under 25, you get a pass. With the documentary screened on PBS in 1983, and the motion picture in question released in Summer 1982, two huge influences for me collide on a train platform, on what looks to be an unremarkable afternoon in NYC, as the Fresh Extra Terrestrial/Tellestial Brothers (bear in mind E.T. came out that same year) meet up.

Before a rap session ensues, Kase, Dez (aka. Mr. Slap Your Favourite DJ) and D-5 gather and are distracted by the ‘Beastmaster’ half sheet on the wall in the background. I’d like to know what song Kase is singing on the approach to the poster (“Do you wanna see, do you wanna take a chance?”) Edit -Thanks to rap scholar Mr. Craig Leckie for informing me it’s ‘Do You Wanna Rock’ by Funky 4 +1 but he promptly begins a deconstruction of the art.