Monday, May 10, 2010

Champagne Dreams Give Way to Harsh Reality: So Says The Teacher

By Scott Tre

Though his ever expanding ego has lead him to be seen as Hip-Hops self appointed know-it-all (as well as the living embodiment of old school New York arrogance), there was time when KRS-1 was simply regarded as a lyrical monster. During this period of his career his influence reached beyond the boundaries of the 5 boroughs and deeply affect a young man from Compton, California would later call himself MC Ren. That KRS-1 was a little less concerned with the welfare of his people, and much more a product of the South Bronx streets that he repped with deadly seriousness.

The ascendancy of that KRS-1 was ground to a halt by the murder of Scott La Rock. The shell shock of that tragedy gave birth to a new KRS-1. A self styled teacher that would never casually boast about trading gunning down rival dealers at the weed spot. This new KRS eschewed his worldly ways for black consciousness, though he never lost his hunger for the lyrical crown. This KRS was a bit less marketable than the original prototype, but much acceptable as a "proper" representative of Hip-Hop.

Still, there was a silent minority that longed for the cocky upstart that brandished gold chains and guns on the cover of his first album. That KRS quietly exerted an influence on a growing West Coast Gangsta Rap scene that was already well under way by the time he made his mark. As it turns out, KRS had not forgotten his old self. It simply laid dormant in his subconscious, taking note of the gradual "gangsterization" of Hip-Hop. By the time Boogie Down Productions third LP Edutainment was underway, the old KRS reared his head once more. Realizing that he could not be tamed, the New KRS reached a compromise with his old self and delivered a song that offered both vulgar thrills and a powerful message.

For the uneducated, "Love's Gonna Get'cha (Material Love)" sounded a bit out of character when it was released in the fall of 1990. Those who only knew KRS as an ambassador of Black Consciousness had little idea as to his street credentials. Those who had been listening since day one knew better. "Love's Gonna Get'cha (Material Love)" tells the story of a young man who, having grown weary of poverty, accepts a job offer from the local drug dealer. In a short time he is running his own operation and living the good life. His former employer has become a competitor and makes an attempt on his life. The retaliation for the failed attempt does not go as planned.

The song is told in first person perspective and laced with expletives. Each verse ends with KRS directly addressing the listener: "Now Tell Me What The F*ck Am I Supposed To DO?!". It also served as a brutally honest (for it's time) portrait of a drug dealers mindset:

i got a 55 inch television you know,
and every once in awhile i hear just say no,
or the other commercial i love,
is when they say, this is your brain on drugs,
i pick up my remote control and just turn,
cause with that bullshit im not concerned,

The minimalist construction of the song emphasized it's refreshing simplicity. This is the most clear and direct storytelling KRS has ever done, hands down. That it is not one of the more celebrated entries in his catalog is somewhat baffling. It provides all of the standard thrills expected on the Gangsta Records of the day, with a moral that is a bit heavy handed but undeniably real. KRS pulled off the neat hat trick of sneaking in an after school special of song in the guise of a vulgar crime tale.

The RZA's Cinematic Vision Soon to Invade DVD Players and Multiplexes

The Wu-Revolution has officially entered it's next phase as The RZA Now looks to conquer the fields of Screenwriting and directing. He has two upcoming projects that will be yet another manifestation of his appreciation for martial arts cinema. One will be headed to your television screen, the other to movie theaters nationwide.

First up is the chopsocky Wu-Tang Vs. The Golden Pheonix, for which two trailers are available over at youtube. This Straight to DVD offering is done in the same vain as the countless Kung-Fu classics that provided fodder for skits and intros on classic Wu-Tang releases. From the looks of the footage shown in the trailer, it would have been right at home on the shelves of The 43rd Chamber back in the day. Lending a bit of vintage Jade Screen authenticity to the affair are Shaw Brothers mainstays Robert Tai and Chi Kwan Chun.

Another RZA helmed project entitled The Man With the Iron Fist will be filming in Hong Kong this fall. Universal pictures has allotted him a production budget of 20 Million Dollars. Prince Rakeem again assumes scripting and directing duties as well as the starring role. RZA supporter and Torture Porn maestro Eli Roth will be producing. With that kind of endorsement, The Man With The Golden Fist" should be an interesting experiment at the very least.

Clownface: The Coolest Assassin in Comics

By Scott Tre

Sometimes certain images make such an impression on you that you never fully shake them. We creative types tend to soak up influences like a sponge. We all claim to aspire toward originality and our "own style" and yet we gleefully regurgitate the things that make us want to create. If we see something we like, we often shamelessly incorporate it into our own work. That we cannot often explain these things is part of our attraction to them. The more prominent ones stay with us into adulthood.

I discovered Jason Pearson's wonderful Body Bags while perusing Wizard magazine sometime in 1997. It was mentioned in a section that listed recent back issues that had seen spikes in their value. The cover art instantly grabbed my attention. Some hugely muscled guy wearing a "have a nice day" face for a mask, slicing and dicing with two equally giant knives dripping with blood. Just underneath him was a girl in a cheerleader outfit brandishing a helicopter mounted machine gun. The detailing on the gun was impeccable, and the robustly exaggerated character designs had a firm grounding in anatomy and dimension. I didn't know who the artist was, but I damn sure wanted to draw like him.

I went to the local comics shop and sought out every single back issue. A local shop in Yonkers called The Dragon's Den had them all for a reasonable price. I scooped them up and rushed home to read them. My experience was one of the very few times that the my anticipation was matched by the actual quality of the product. Entitled "Father's Day", the miniseries turned out to be a rollicking good time, right in line with the post Tarantino vibe of mid-1990's pop culture. The graphic violence reached nonsensical levels. It was a gift wrapped present for anyone who felt that comics had become too extreme.

"Father's day" introduced us to the hulking behemoth of an assassin Mack Delgado (aka "Clownface". Mack was a walking wall of muscle with a most curious super ability. he could throw objects with such speed and force that exploded on impact. For this purpose, he carried around a pair of huge throwing knives. The story focuses on his reacquaintence with his estranged daughter Panda, who hoped to follow in the family business. The pair were like a forerunner to Big Daddy and Hit-Girl in Mark Millar's Kick-Ass.

The design of Clownface is what stuck out to me. He was a human wrecking ball that trampled anything in his path to bloody pulp. Aside from his physical size, his wardrobe also caught my attention: Creased khakis, Chuck Taylor Tennis Shoes and a watch chain. Was this an intentional allusion to the dress code of L.A. gangbagers? I'm all about pop culture and street culture references, and this one only Intrigued me further. Then there is the Smiley face. I read it as an intentional perversion of the sentiment meant to be conveyed by such a universal symbol. There is nothing "nice" about Clownface. Was it a reference to The Comedian from Alan Moore's Watchmen? Who cares? All I know is it worked.

I was also taken with the loving detail with which the firearms in the book were drawn. The fetishizing of weapons is essential for any hard boiled action story and Jason Pearson seemed to get that.

I've always been rather sporadic in terms of my comic collecting, so many things tend to slip under my radar. I missed just about anything else Body Bags related until 2009 at the New York Comic Con. I passed by a table that had the visage of Clown face and Panda emblazoned on multiple comic covers, none of which I had seen before. One of them had the Body Bags title in the same lettering style as Low Rider Magazine. I immediately snatched up each variant, hoping that this story was a fairly recent one and not simply a reprint of an older one (yes, I was so excited I neglected to skim through it. Sue me.) Thankfully this was a one shot filled with all new material and an amusing story that was every bit as fun as I remembered "Father's Day" being. The art was as crisp as ever. The magic was apparently still there.

To this day, thanks to Jason Pearson, the shadow of Clownface looms large in my mind. Variations of the character find their way into my own sketches and story ideas. Why? I'd be hard pressed to try and articulate it. Perhaps it has something to do with the power fantasy wish fulfillment aspect that usually appeals to us manchildren. The character is a reminder how the most simply conceived and rendered images can make the old seem new again, and inspire others to create. Jason Pearson seems to understand that it's all in the design.