We’ve finally come to the end of this journey. My first blog Poisonous Paragraphs lasted exactly 3 years and ended after 734 posts over 1096 days. I vowed to never do that again as I was trying to be the digital version of John Henry as he fought the machine. It brings to mind the closing scene of the often criticized (and for good reason) film “Basquiat” when he (played by Jeffrey Wright) argues with a friend about John Henry’s accomplishments (“He died” “But he WON” “Yeah, but he DIED” “But he WON”).
I knew that the next time I wrote a blog I wasn’t going to take that same approach. Besides, Poisonous Paragraphs started out as means to draw attention to my writing so I could write for Rap publications. I’d been blackballed by all of them by it’s close so no need to kill myself writing epic pieces 5x a week that no one wants to read anymore. I can be more economical with my time & energy. Work smarter but just as hard as before.
Urban music has worked in much the same way since it first became album based sometime between 1967 and 1968, it goes in waves or generations that last between 3 and 5 years each. If you go back and look you’ll find key events or artists that initiated new changes that then spread out through the musical universe and in time the entire landscape had transformed to reflect that it was, in fact, a new era. You could either go on board on tap out. If you stuck around doing that same old shit, it wasn’t going to end well…for you.
Incidentally, Rap music became album based between 1987 and 1988 right in the midst of what we called the Golden Era (not until after we realized what we’d just experienced was, in fact, special) and everyone else had to follow suit. If not? They looked and sounded like dinosaurs. Long extinct relics from a bygone era. Needless to say? This is how I’m beginning to feel blogging in this Post Black Rap world…
I’ve seen the writing on the wall and got the fuck outta Dodge before. I’ve become old hat at this sort of thing. I was working in a box store/video store so I saw the end of the road for both way before it actually happened. I remember the 1998 holiday season like yesterday, the first one where the Internet significantly cut into the profit margins of Tower Records, Tweeter, Circuit City & Best Buy. Amazon became the wave of the future by the time it became 1999. I saw all the many failings of the video store and knew that in the Pre Dot Com Bubble Burst world that was becoming increasingly more digital someone would find a way to capitalize on it.
Sure enough, we were at Ground Zero for a digital revolution when we first noticed that we were selling more CD-R’s than physical CD’s at a time when CD’s were still flying off the shelves. Soon afterwards the Metro Boston Area and it’s 50 plus colleges and universities were hit first by Napster and just shortly after the Dot Com Bubble burst a new company called Netflix formed that eventually took down all the video store chains in the span of a decade. I was slowly phased out of working in these same stores because they no longer wanted to hire knowledgable staffs. They instead opted for pretty faces that had to search for everything in the store database whom they only had to pay minimum wage to. We all see how that turned out, don’t we?
We’re at another crossroads whether or not we’ve noticed. Rap journalism is in an extended lull right now and it’s online version is in dire straits thanks to things like catering directly to anything SEO based or Google Analytics. On the other side, everyone both in print and online are writing about the same tired subjects over and over again. In mainstream circles where the only acceptable stories are about either Jay-Z, Kanye West, Pharrell Williams, Kendrick Lamar or Macklemore there is pressure to make your particular piece stand out from the rest. This leads to some music journalists making ridiculous reaches and writing questionable statements (i.e. Jon Caramanica’s “Post Black Pop Star Rapper” phrasing).
What would possess a veteran writer such as Jon Caramanica to try so hard with a damb show review (the title alone let us know he was swinging for the fences on this one)? To be fair, he’s already tried his hand at the now tired cultural appropriation in urban music thinkpiece so his options were pretty limited at present. There are currently more cultural appropriation in urban music thinkpieces than you can shake an ass from a Lily Allen video at. Do me a favor and Google search “Lily Allen” & “Lorde” together then ask yourself if all music writers are sharing the same fucking brain?
To make matters worse, Rap journalism isn’t doing that great a job properly covering the genre they supposedly specialize in. Some artists are so fed up that they’re beginning to bypass the XXL’s, Vibe’s & The Source’s to go to other mainstream music publications for coverage instead. Both Spin and Rolling Stone have been more open to covering emcees like Roc Marciano, Ka and Homeboy Sandman than any of these so-called Rap magazines have been in recent years (which is another growing issue).
TDE (Top Dawg Entertainment) was less than happy with XXL’s decision to characterize their recent Black Hippy cover as “Kendrick Lamar & Black Hippy”, excellent piece written by Kris Ex notwithstanding. However, GQ fared no better in their execution of a Kendrick Lamar magazine cover nor with their clumsy writeup. It got to be so bad that Top Dawg issued a statement & pulled Kendrick Lamar out of performing at a GQ event due to his dissatisfaction with the tone of the article. Let’s delve a little deeper into this issue regarding how the artist in urban music is covered and characterized in the modern music media, shall we?
The reason we have all of these damb cultural appropriation thinkpieces in the first place is due to the fact it seems like only White artists will parody or even comment on modern urban music. The truth is it needs to be parodied because it’s completely absurd, predictable, bland, inane and totally out of control at present. There was a time De La Soul could make an "Ego Trippin’ (Part 2)" or The Roots could make a "What They Do". These were artists on major labels outside of the “jiggy” bubble considered closer to the underground than what later became TRL friendly. Even Chris Rock could make a parody video like "Champagne" addressing issues with urban music. Where are those people now and why don’t they have the freedom to do so anymore?
The problem is that in 2013 the Black artists or groups that would have the idea or the balls to address these issues aren’t on the radio, they don’t get coverage and they aren’t deemed “relevant” in Rap or urban music circles anymore. However, the artists that appear to be caricatures or are primed to be mocked get the push from the machine. MTV deemed Trinidad James buzzworthy. Migos, French Montana, Future & Juicy J were all over the place while talented emcees with something of substance to say were largely ignored by both radio and the print media. Thus the job of doing so fell on White artists such as Lorde and Lily Allen who weren’t even American because the lane was left wide open. Then came the hypocritical (and confusing) backlash.
Since there are aren’t any (in actuality there are plenty that would but none of them are either in position to do so or are so tethered to the machine that they wouldn’t think to do it because it could potentially hurt their careers or marketability) Black artists that are “relevant” critiquing urban music it looks like these non Americans are mocking “Black culture”.
First off, what they’re mocking isn’t “Black culture”, it’s actually “capitalist culture”. The idolization of status symbols and the appearance of wealth and/or opulence isn’t a Black thing (no matter what your Jay-Z and Kanye West fandom makes you think). If you see it over and over and over again it becomes boring, tired and repetitive thus making these obvious themes prime for criticism or parody. No one had shit to say when Chief Keef and Trinidad James among others were essentially making Rap look like one big minstrel show that hipsters awash in their ironic racism loved but the second someone critiques it THEY’RE out of line? You simply can’t have it both ways, people.
When Good Charlotte dropped the song "Lifestyles Of The Rich & Famous" back in 2002 nary a fuck was given when they referred to OJ Simpson and Marion Berry. Nowadays, these same lyrics would’ve launched a thousand blog posts. Lorde’s “Royals” isn’t racist in the least and focusing on the song’s existence rather than the obvious fact the problem is there’s little to no dissenting voices or conscious artists in modern mainstream urban music is frustrating. How come NONE of the hundreds of nearly identical cultural appropriation thinkpieces written over the past 4-6 months have brought up that fact?
In conclusion, we are at a crossroads and an impasse. Mainstream urban music is at an all time low quality wise. Rap journalism in both it’s print and online incarnations is stuck in a quagmire of repetitiveness due to a lack of inspiration and creativity (caused largely by the low quality of mainstream music). Writers like myself that have enough foresight to see the writing on the wall are looking at the front door (word to Large Professor). I’m sick of the bullshit, excuses, double standards, cowardice and lies from other so-called Rap journalists. I’m sick of killing myself to write about things of substance when most cats would rather collect checks doing disposable shit because they simply don’t value the power of their own words or lack any semblance of pride, conviction or integrity.
I’m sick of reading horrible lists created by teams on Complex that I could write better by myself without needing any interns or fact checkers. I’m sick of cowards like Elliott Wilson and B.Dot that actually think they’re curating this culture. I’m sick of reading lazy ass writing from passionless veterans that I can tell are just faxing it in. What I’m even more sick of is complaining about it. I started Bastard Swordsman out of frustration of not being able to properly express myself through the written word via Bloggerhouse back in February 2010.
After I heard that Keith “Guru” Elam was in a coma Bastard Swordsman took on a new purpose. Once he passed, it became a means of shedding light on that which no one else would do to reflect the hope he gave a kid from Boston to achieve his dreams. Now Bastard Swordsman ends under many of the same circumstances I initially started it under. I’m beginning to feel less and less that any real Rap writing of significant impact can be done if things stay on this current trajectory. The key to survival is to reinvent yourself, adapt to the changing environment and stay ahead of the curve. When something outlives it’s usefulness never be afraid to leave it behind. I never have…
The ? remains: Who’s gonna take the weight?
We’ve almost reached the end of our journey here at Bastard Swordsman. The initial idea was for me to close out this blog last month then start up my new blog titled Goodnight Prometheus at the top of November. As you may have guessed, that didn’t happen. Things have clearly changed and my focus is now elsewhere. Let’s first discuss why…
As it stands, I’m not entirely clear if I’m going to continue to blogging in the same manner or going about it in the same manner than I had before. With the new changes to Tumblr over the past year I honestly don’t think I want to continue using it going forward. I’m thinking of shifting over to Medium but I don’t think it allows for the naming of a blog. Not an issue anyways as I can just save the title Goodnight Prometheus for a book instead.
Why am i up in the air about continuing to blog? Well, my “career” as a Hip-Hop blogger/Rap journalist may be one of the strangest ever. I’m supposedly influential but yet I’ve never been printed in a single Rap publication. I’m known amongst artists but completely ignored by many of the portals that feature them even though at some point or another they’ve all made it abundantly clear they know I exist. I’ll see articles made out of subjects I broached on Twitter or terms I created used on blogs and sites that would never even consider contacting me or paying me to write. It’s only human to feel some type of way about that, isn’t it?
For me, Hip-Hop blogging has turned into quite a frustrating exercise given the present climate of the Rap blogosphere. I see far too many poorly researched articles that lack the kind of necessary information and insight needed to make them resonate with readers. Too often, key points and events are missing from pieces leaving huge holes in the narrative about certain seminal or classic albums. I know what it stems from and if I look into the near future where even more Rap bloggers that are even less knowledgable about things of this nature are going to start writing, things will only get worse.
As I mentioned in a previous entry on Bastard Swordsman (which I also wrote devoid of any distracting images to further hammer home the point) the value of well thought out, serious think pieces in regards to Rap or Hip-Hop culture in the present day blog world is at an all time low for many reasons. For one, the people that would truly appreciate these articles rarely frequent blogs are Rap sites anymore and those that do mostly lack the background or the depth of knowledge to fully understand where it’s coming from. It’s like posting book chapters up online in between a bunch of GIF reviews of leaked albums or articles about Black Twitter’s reaction to the latest episode of “Love & Hip Hop New York”.
Take for example a humbling event that happened on my 38th birthday where I spent 6 hours writing out an exhaustive, well thought piece that covered every angle imaginable just to discover that a fair amount of readers didn’t get it in the comments section. Even worse? Many were so terrible at reading comprehension and recognizing simple context clues they thought it was written by KRS One although my name is in the damb byline. That incident really made me question what future (if any) I had in online Rap journalism. Shit, that made me question if online Rap journalism itself had a future at all…
In the seven plus years I’ve been stringing together timelines, making correlations between key events in Rap history, outlining the by products of them and how they play into the modern day Rap industries very few people inside the world of Rap publications have seen little to no use for me. I find that quite odd to be totally honest.
I’ve been explaining how things came to be and connecting dots actively since 2006 but I’m seemingly useless to those that write about exclusively the same genre of music and things pertaining to it? Since I don’t help them maintain the status quo and heap praise on the current batch of mediocre rappers and producers they cover and rely on to sell magazines I’m of no concern to them.
Another issue I have is seeing the widespread usage of a term I coined used in a manner that is the opposite of it’s original meaning/definition. The term I’m referring to is “struggle rapper” and I’m sick to death of seeing it used wrongly and appropriated by those that have no clue of it’s origin or how to properly apply it.
The term "The struggle is real" was already being used but what I did was begin by explaining what the “struggleface” was by pulling up the history of Black actresses using it heavily all throughout the 1950’s up until the present day. I used to regularly go through the IMDb pages of prominent Black actresses and highlight their "struggleface" heavy roles on Twitter as a joke. Before applying the struggleface to sports figures on Twitter and Instagram I used to refer to it as the "I Eat Ass" face in reference to an old Kevin Hart comedy routine. My editor at Hip Hop Wired Alvin Blanco just took that original concept to another level and ran with it on Instagram. He began posting up “strugglefaces” of members of the losing teams after sporting events shortly afterwards.
One day I had heard two different less than mediocre major label albums that received a disgusting amount of push from the more popular Rap blogs that frustrated me to no end. After hearing an excellent indie album dropping the same day as the previous two that was being completely ignored by all the same blogs I just snapped. I went on Twitter and ranted something to the effect of “I’m sick of all these strugglerappers and their strugglealbums full of strugglebeats and strugglebars!”.
I just vented for about 15 minutes straight. The tweets got RT’d a gang of times and spread far beyond my normal reach and circle. I began using the term “struggle rapper” regularly from then on. That was near the end of 2011 and I thought little of it. It was just another term I used like “damb” that my friends & people in my circle occasionally used. It didn’t become a problem until those outside of it got a hold of it and twisted it’s original intent or definition.
To clarify (since I created this term and I clearly outlined it’s meaning and the criterion/parameters for it’s proper application), let me explain what a “struggle rapper” is:
a) A rapper that lacks the lyrical ability, lyrical content, imagination, originality, flow, charisma or bars necessary to engage a discerning Rap listener. For them, Rap is literally is a struggle and the audience is struggling as they listen to them rap.
b) A rapper that shoots themselves in the foot by employing bad networking strategies such as poorly worded submission emails in all caps or anything that immediately stands out and makes them sound less than professional. This can include the name of the company, the name of the artist, the song title or the simple inability to BCC so that the person that receives the email doesn’t see that they’re one of 150 people that got the same message. These email get deleted in record time and you are lumped in as a “struggle rapper”.
c) A rapper that spams people with links to their music on social networks that combines all of the elements mentioned previously. Any hints of unprofessionalism or any seemingly obvious lack of any possible originality or rap ability will result in them immediately getting blocked and/or reported as spam. This includes rapping on instrumentals of well known producers and claiming they produced your song on the credits when it’s clear you’ve never been in a studio with them. Just because someone asks for an email account or for the proper manner in which to submit material to you they shouldn’t automatically be considered “struggle rappers”.
d) Very important but ANYONE can be considered a “struggle rapper”. It isn’t a term exclusively for those that are trying to get their music heard or aspiring artists that may have something of substance to contribute to the culture or the Rap game. Everyone who is successful or even “relevant” in the current Rap game was a “nobody” who had to make demos and pay dues before they became who they are. As I outlined earlier, the most prominent example of struggle rappers are signed to major labels, get regular spins on the radio and often land on magazine covers. French Montana is a struggle rapper. Migos are struggle rappers. That kid in my inbox more than likely makes better music than they do…
I began to get worried when I received calls and texts from many of my journalist peers who were at music showcases like SXSW, A3C & CMJ in 2012 who told me they heard other music writers and journalists who worked for major publications and music sites using the term “struggle rapper” as a multipurpose word in regards to anyone that wasn’t signed to a major label. That incensed me because that was the exact opposite of why I initial used it. Unfortunately, that was only the beginning of the term I created being bastardized within the Rap media.
One of the first people to use the term “struggle rapper” in an article was my Hip Hop Wired editor Alvin Blanco back in April 2012. Keep in mind that he actually knew of the terms origin so he had an idea of my actual intent behind it. Others like Nancy Byron who’s been following me on Twitter from the jump do as well. Problem is that not everyone else outside of my immediate circle does. I don’t appreciate seeing people I don’t fuck with using my slang, either. I see headlines all over Twitter, Facebook and my Gmail account from sites that essentially ignored me my entire career throwing around the term & using it wrong on a regular basis now. It’s maddening to say the least.
In conclusion, it’s almost the end of 2013 and I’ve been writing about Rap music and different aspects of Hip-Hop culture sense 2006. I’m one of the foremost experts on everything from emceeing to production to the different eras and transition periods that encompass the development, growth and worldwide proliferation of this culture and it’s music.
I’ve lectured at institutions of higher learning, I’ve been quoted in and contributed to several books, I’ve been cited in and quoted in multiple national articles and I’ve made numerous radio appearances as an expert in the field of Hip-Hop. Meanwhile no Rap magazine will fuck with me, few sites that claim to support Rap music acknowledge my presence but they’ll gladly take my words and distort them.
Is there any wonder why I’m mulling over whether or not to just hang it up altogether in 2014?
Not too long ago Kanye West ranted about the cage he’s been thrust into as a Black creative in a BBC interview. It resulted in a Twitter discussion about how the pressure being placed on a famous Black creative coupled by expectations and narrowcasting can potentially drive them insane. As would be expected the conversation soon turned to David Chappelle. Dave was presented with one of the most awkward situations a Black performer and a creative who is also a critical thinker could be presented with. He chose to walk away for his own mental health and well being rather than hit the wall and become a cautionary tale down the line. I don’t blame him as even I feel similar pressures daily and I’m a nobody.
I dread being narrowcasted or marginalized as being a creative/writer because I’m Black. I’ve always made it a point to write about as many varied subjects as possible strictly because of it. The notion that I was supposed to relate to something simply because it was “Black” annoyed me at a young age but not as much as people being surprised I was drawn to certain things or certain things resonated with me because I was Black or due to my ethnic background or where I grew up/lived. Let’s clear up a few misconceptions before we continue. We broke 70’s babies were cultured because we didn’t have the distractions other kids were afforded…
I read for entertainment as a youngster. My mother was a former teacher and when bussing started in Boston many schools were closed and demolished or converted into buildings for other usage. This meant that school books would just be given away to citizens. My mother used to bring these schoolbooks home and my younger brother & I ended up reading them all.
Since we had few television channels and the only ones that were guaranteed to come in clearly were on UHF (with the exception of Channel 2) that meant I watched a great deal of PBS growing up (WGBH in Boston). I watched every educational show in existence plus a steady diet of “Monty Python’s Flying Circus”, “Dr. Who”, “Red Dwarf”, “Fawlty Towers” & “Benny Hill”. Now for the by products…
I’d watch “Monty Python” sketches set during the Hundred Years War or some other historical setting and I’d be completely lost. I’d ask for an explanation only to be told to “look it up”. That meant to go into the living room & pull down a volume from the Groiler World Book Encyclopedias our mom bought us. I’d then read all about the history of England & now the jokes suddenly made sense.
I was 6 years younger than my older brother so I watched what he watched, this meant I saw “Battlestar Galactica”, “Space: 1999”, “Buck Rogers”, “Nova” and a gang of other stuff most kids my age wouldn’t have been exposed to. I was reading my mom’s old college copy of Bulfinch’s Mythology as a 4 year old because my brother’s friends “Thor” comic books confused me. I might have been the only 4 year old Prince fan in Boston.
I also saw a documentary called “The Man Who Saw Tomorrow” that made me read Nostradamus’ “Centuries” and fueled my fear of an impending nuclear war. A few months later I first saw John Carpenter’s “Escape From New York” which opened whole new horizons for me. I soon became obsessed with any media that depicted a post apocalyptic world, dystopian futures and eventually anything that resembled Cyberpunk after “Blade Runner” and “Dune” came out in 1983.
I was like many kids of my generation looking back so thinking because I’m from Lower Roxbury/South End that I’m not familiar with William Gibson or being surprised I read “Transmetropolitan” is pretty damb annoying. It is possible to relate to both the characters of Luke Cage AND Spider Jerusalem equally and for differing reasons.
As a Black creative the thought process is that I only like things of one kind and certain other things can automatically be considered “White people shit” to me. It’s almost as annoying as the crap television and film studios make and market to my demographic that insults our intelligence and appeals to the lowest common denominator. If we listened to the television networks in the early 80’s there would’ve been no “The Cosby Show” because to them a show about a Black doctor married to a Black woman lawyer could been considered less realistic than "Automan" or "The Powers Of Matthew Star".
I grew up with Japanese cartoons like “Speed Racer”, "Star Blazers", "Force Five" and "Battle Of The Planets" as a kid which later led to me being into manga and anime as a teen. If you think about the legendary anime films and manga that dropped stateside during my teen years (1988-1994) they were among the seminal ones for most present fans. Later Ralph Bakshi films like "Wizards" (which borrowed heavily from Vaughn Bode’s "Cobalt 60") and "American Pop" led many kids of my generation to gravitate to films like "Heavy Metal" and "Rock & Rule". Being a Generation Xer myself I was not immune to these same influences due to the melanin content of my skin.
I've previously written about my film addiction which was a natural progression from skate videos I saw at my White friend’s houses when I went to Boston Latin School to the influence of the videos I saw on MTV as a teenager. Because I was a Black kid who grew up with Black music and in a so-called Black neighborhood you wouldn’t think I’d be interested in Yoshiaki Kawajiri’s breathtaking animated short film "The Running Man" after they dubbed it & aired it in two parts on “Liquid Television” back in 1991? The same things that influenced and shaped creatives of every walk of life shaped and influenced us as well so why the surprise when we’re into it?
I will say that as a youngster even when I read Cyberpunk influenced literature or playing games like “Rifts” I began to wonder where all the minorities were in the narrative? Where was our voice? It’s a digital age with all this technology but there is a huge gap between the wealthy & the poor so everyone is huddled up in cities trying to scrape out a life and move up in the world. Shit, sounded like the back story of every so-called “urban” story to me. So where we in Gibson’s world? Where were we in Bradbury, Aasimov, Stephenson or Phillip K. Dick’s writing? At least there was Octavia Butler.
So here we are. Narrowcasted. Marginalized. Stereotyped. Put into neat little boxes with titles so we’re easy to define. I was just as influenced by Allan Moore & Dave Gibbon’s “Watchmen” as I was by Piri Thomas’ “Down These Mean Streets”. If you read the writing of Dwayne McDuffie, Junot Diaz or Aaron McGruder then it’s clear that they had the same influences as other creatives of their generation so why are people still shocked that certain films, shows, comic books or graphic novels appeal to brown folks as well? It’s infuriating.
Another issue involving being a Black creative comes with the expectations placed on you by the audience and critics alike. If they like what you do they don’t want you to switch your style up too much or experiment even though as a creative person you naturally fell the need to do so and so evolve so as not to go stagnant. In many cases, not following your passion or your gut instincts can drive you nearly insane.
Self expression is a necessity for the creative as opposed to just a means to create new product to sell to your fans. Art is catharsis and the blood, sweat and tears to many creatives. To the audience or critics? It’s just a new product to potentially praise or deride incessantly on social networks then illegally download the second it leaks. Diverging too much from your earlier work can draw the ire of many but audiences often fail to realize that they aren’t the same people they were five years ago so why would the artist/creative make the same kind of art the same way they did five years ago?
I still have people that tell me about how much they loved Poisonous Paragraphs and wish I’d go back to that not realizing that there’s a reason I don’t go that anymore. Why would I do the same thing I did in 2007 in 2013. I don’t even plan on doing much of what I’m doing presently in 2013 in 2014. What you want for me to do and what I feel I need to do are not one and the same. The things I need to get out of my head versus what you’d prefer for me to do are not one and the same. This presents an impasse of sorts between the creative/artist and the audience which puts even more pressure on the creative/artist who feels forced into a corner. Unhappy artists & creatives tend to lash out or act out in some way or another and the end result is often disastrous.
I was watching TV and I saw trailers for “The Baggage Handler”, “the Best Man Holiday” & ‘Black Nativity” but I was far more interested in “Gravity”, “The Counselor”, “Ender’s Game” and “The Wolf Of Wall Street”. I was pissed off that so-called “Black People Movies” had to either be formulaic romantic comedies with the usual suspects that are in every other film made for Black audiences or they can only be released during the holiday season because that’s when studios are willing to take a chance on a film with an all or majority Black cast. What bullshit.
I watch films like “Killing Them Softly”, “The Perks Of Being A Wallflower”, “A Place Beyond The Pines” and “In A World…” wondering why films with Black casts that tell a variety of different stories that are original and not formulaic can’t be made by a film studio? If you want to see a clever, well written & acted film with a mostly Black cast you have to look outside the studio system. Take films like “Medicine For Melancholy”, “I Will Follow”, “Pariah”, “Middle Of Nowhere” & “Big Words” for example. All of them were made independently because of the nearsightedness of Hollywood studios wouldn’t allow for them to ever be greenlit or developed under their systems.
Why do I have to be constrained by some bullshit standards or expectations based on myself because of pre conceived notions, prejudice and the narrowmindedness of others? Why should I be asked to dial back the scope of my own creativity because it doesn’t fit inside the image of what others think I’m capable of or the space I should occupy rather than the one I want to? This is why I try not to be one of those “that isn’t Hip-Hop/Rap” people. I refuse to constrain an artist’s creativity and limit them because I don’t want to be put into that same cage as a writer myself.
The process of creation and the concept of trying to convey ideas you have to other people in the hopes others respond to it and it affects them on an emotional level, inspires them and starts dialogue based on your art is a very real thing. It’s extremely personal and it’s like bringing a child into the world of sorts. The more cooks in the kitchen there are and the more non creatives that try to manipulate your creation and mold it into something watered down that fits neatly into the little boxes and genres so they can market it, the more it grates on the nerves of the creative.
I feel that people will respond to certain things on a basic human level and don’t always need the safe little genre specifications that exist only more them to trick themselves into funding it because they want to gauge the likely probability of their shareholders making their money back based on possible public response and potential sales numbers.
I can’t even wrap my brain around the way business minds attempt to put these arbitrary numbers on a piece of art determined by those that don’t understand the nature of creation or people’s inherent connection to art regardless of the medium it comes in. Art is unpredictable. Regardless of what science or math you use to try to gauge people’s reactions to art it’s still just guesswork at the end of the day.
So here we are, creatives stuck trying to find that balance between not only art and commerce but between creating art that doesn’t compromise our initial visions versus making it palatable to the audience and appears “marketable” enough so it actually sees the light of day. On the other side, as a critic I have to give my opinion on another creative’s work while keeping in mind all of the internal struggles and difficulties the creative(s) must’ve faced making said art in whatever medium it’s in. Dilemmas abound. Art and commerce don’t really mix that well but if art is made to be sold the relationship needs to be reconciled somehow. It’s like Black Milk’s album title reads “No Poison No Paradise”. You can’t have an industry without the creatives/artists that make the art/product that is marketed and sold.
In October 1988, I was a 13 year old student at Boston Latin School who was trying his damndest (or dambdest) to get some waves so the fine ass Cape Verdean girls like Ana Depina would notice me. At this time the Boston Red Sox were back in the ALCS for the first time since the heartbreaking 1986 season due to that Morgan Magic (which would wear off as they got swept by the Oakland A’s), the new Bruins season following a Stanley Cup Finals sweep was just underway, the New England Patriots were mediocre until Doug Flutie became quarterback and Reggie Lewis looked like he was going to be the next great Celtic. Also around this time Ultramagnetic MC’s had just released “Critical Beatdown”. It was a good era to grow up in even with all the violence and the crack that was prevalent at that particular time.
Everyone congregated at Teddy Bear Arcade which was equidistant from both the South End/Lower Roxbury and Chinatown. There was this interesting mix of neighborhood kids, teens who went to nearby schools and college students who frequented Teddy Bear that eventually became it’s own little community. I’ll never forget the week “Ninja Gaiden” first appeared there for several reasons. Let me also explain something before I go any further with this piece, if you’re expecting a heartfelt, nostalgic piece regarding “Ninja Gaiden” because it was such a classic arcade game you’re in the wrong damb place. I hated this game because it was harder than Russian Mad Libs (In Mother Russia, the Libs make YOU mad!).
We were immediately drawn to it because it was a ninja game which hot at the time as “Shinobi" dropped around the same time the previous year and "The Ninja Warriors" hit Teddy Bear just a few months before "Ninja Gaiden" did. It was also a draw because it had interesting new controls. You had the joystick with the 8 directions but in addition there were three buttons, Grab, Attack & Jump. With these buttons you could pull off interesting techniques like throwing the enemy, flipping, hanging from things above you and even walking on them. You could also run into walls & backflip off them. You could execute a primitive three hit combo and even though you were a ninja you didn’t start off with a sword. I had one on the damb boat. Who stole it?
"Ninja Gaiden" always reminded me of "Double Dragon" in the sense it was an arcade beat ‘em up that I felt went pretty slowly when I played it. I later realized it seemed slow to me because I kept dying & I wasn’t beating my opponents up fast enough. When I watched expert players run through it they had a sense of patience and strategy that I obviously lacked. I really wanted my ninja to be faster. I wanted him to be quicker. I wanted him to have a damb katana blade or some shuriken. In short? BE A FUCKING NINJA! I was very underwhelmed by “Ninja Gaiden” as a whole but gamers of the time were mostly enamored with it. Or so I thought…
You could climb & hang then you could flip & kick but that simply didn’t do much for me personally. “Ninja Gaiden” never really held a place of nostalgia in my heart. If anything I remember playing for pride because I was being peer pressured into playing it in the first place. I rarely played past Round 2. Rather than hang & flip between the cars on that stage I always preferred to run across instead. The game was just slow and predictable to me. Soon I discovered that I wasn’t alone. After many kids finally beat it, they simply never played it again. A lot of cats didn’t derive enjoyment from playing it, they just wanted to have that sense of accomplishment then it was on to the next game.
By the time 1989 rolled around, enough people had either played and beaten “Ninja Gaiden” in the arcade or just gave up on it out of sheer frustration and/or boredom. It was the forgotten man in the arcades and when it appeared in pizza places & sub shops after it’s hot arcade run was over it was pretty much ignored and drew the minimum amount of players. “Ninja Gaiden” was dead in the water until March rolled around and Nintendo released the NES version which breathed new life into “Ninja Gaiden” and turned it into a legitimate franchise and a beloved brand.
Everything I hated about the arcade version of “Ninja Gaiden” was removed in the NES version. It was quick paced. The cinema screens made the graphics seem better than they actually were. There was a story that was actually compelling and made some kind of sense. The main character had a name, a katana blade & shuriken! He also had a long ass energy bar for those of us that weren’t so great at video games so I didn’t die as quickly as I did in the arcade. Ryu Hayabusa was speedy as hell. I really appreciated the change of pace and the music and cinema screens Nintendo threw in there. The reason so many people have nostalgic feeling for the “Ninja Gaiden” franchise can mostly be attributed to the NES translation/port of the insufferable arcade game.
While the overwhelming majority of the actual enjoyment I derived from playing “Ninja Gaiden” happened on the Nintendo Entertainment System let’s not forget that it was still a difficult game. I never got past past Stage 5-1 on my own & that was after I immersed myself in it. Ultimately, this game is the reason I ended up mastering “Tecmo Bowl”. Our big brother took us to the mall to buy “Ninja Gaiden” but he bought “Tecmo Bowl” for himself and since I couldn’t beat one I vowed to master the other. Thanks for that Tecmo. The high difficulty level has remained one of the hallmarks of the franchise, a holdover from the original arcade version.
It’s astonishing how few gamers remember who the final enemy was in “Ninja Gaiden” (Bladedamus) or what the actual storyline was. It’s because no one really cared. It was a game with a ninja in it with some cool new controls that reminded them partly of “Double Dragon”, "Bionic Commando" and “Shinobi” therefore it had to be beaten. The first wave of what we can consider hardcore gamers were born around 25 years ago, having emerged from playing some of the ultra hard arcade games that were created between 1987 and 1989 and their younger siblings gravitated to NES, Sega Master System and Genesis games until they ventured into the arcades themselves. To them “Ninja Gaiden” will forever be about Ryu Hayabusa and his quest and those Nintendo Power walkthroughs.
In conclusion, 25 years ago a new flashy cabinet entered arcades across this great nation of ours and captivated the attention of gamers. About 3 months later most gamers were bored with it and the novelty had worn off. 6 months later, a different version emerges on the Nintendo Entertainment System that’s everything the arcade version wasn’t and it becomes a beloved title with high replay factor which is something the original version lacked terribly.
This version/port launched a franchise/brand which is still going strong today that appeals to both novice and hardcore gamers alike. And to think, it all began with players having zero emotional connection to playing and beating “Ninja Gaiden” due to controlling a nameless, swordless blue eyed ninja in a grueling, fun deprived game to becoming emotionally invested in aiding the quest of Ryu Hayabusa. What a difference 6 months can make…
August 26th is always a special day for me as it denotes the anniversary of the day I actually figured out what I should be doing with my life (although I suspect I’d always known). I first began doing these anniversary posts on Poisonous Paragraphs but I think I’ve only acknowledged my bloggerversary on Twitter since I stopped posting on my original blog. In the 7 years I’ve been blogging I pretty much spent the first 3 of them pissing off every major Rap publication (& a few “lifestyle” ones). I had a short lived job with eMusic plus I was quoted in a few books. Other than that? No one wanted to touch me with a ten foot pole.
I began to gain a larger following through Twitter which introduced more people to my writing & my larger role in independent Hip-Hop. I created the idea of a collaborative Hip-Hop blog (which started as an elaborate Twitter joke) called Bloggerhouse. It started out well but after a couple of years it eventually went bad. When it started to deteriorate I was the one holding the bag. I was also the only one that was going to admit it was going bad & back out. I have certain standards & if they aren’t being met? I’m out. Period. There are just some things I refuse to compromise.
Shortly after being frustrated with Bloggerhouse and the mix of personal blogging philosophies I’d began Bastard Swordsman (March 2010). I also began utilizing Producers I Know more efficiently (I took over operations in October 2010). All of this time I’ve stuck to my guns. My blogs have no contributors other than myself. I don’t post anyone else’s content. If I post about something someone else did, I have to provide a different take or view on it than anyone else. In short? No biting.
One of the main issues with blogging since Nah Right became monetized and begat the NMC (New Music Cartel) is that cats jumped into the blog game with the hopes of attracting major label attention & corporate interest. In order to do that they first copy the blueprint laid forth by all of the “popular” or “top” blogs i.e. the ones that make money & have corporate sponsorships. What they don’t understand is that urban music weblogs began to escape the corporate takeover of video networks and the radio in the first place.
Once the box stores, independent record stores and video stores began dying off it led to several by products. At the same time, the digital cable switchover happened and both MTV & MTV2 focused more on original programming. What this did was displace the people that worked at these places and the people that frequented these places and used them as, for lack of a better term, “social networks”. They eventually retreated to the Internet. There they could share information and keep people abreast of new music and films since the places they typically did this in person no longer existed or were made increasingly less relevant thanks to technology and advances in communications technology.
Since they couldn’t hear the music they wanted on the radio anymore they took to the Internet. Since the videos they wanted to see weren’t airing on Viacom networks anymore music fans took to the Internet. The Hip Hop weblogs also put younger Rap fans onto now out of print Rap albums from the 80’s & 90’s that they previously wouldn’t have ever heard of. It was becoming more apparent that they new breed of music consumers were online so corporations knew that the way to manipulate the order of things or bring it under control was to throw money at it. Once again? They’ve succeeded.
The vast majority of “tastemakers” that have been embraced by record labels and corporate entities alike are the ones that have been placed atop the urban music blog hierarchy. They usually link to and share stories and content from the other blogs that have been thrust into their same strata. The same 30 blogs appear in each other’s blogrolls and they rarely cover any story that isn’t from each other or has corporate money behind it thus killing any unique voice it had left (if any). Since the game boils down to site visits and ad revenue it’s essentially no different from the music industry.
As opposed to being a meritocracy, numbers dictate “relevance” or “hotness” thus importance. This means that the quality of writing or journalistic integrity ultimately doesn’t matter. Since the TMZ/Worldstar model is fueled by ratchetness & rumors even Hip-Hop blogs have to write a gang of daily posts about bullshit “news” stories to keep views up so they can afford to pay their writers in the event they do write any pieces of substance (this is where I come in)…
Let’s say I decided to write a piece about the 25th anniversary of EPMD’s “Strictly Business” and I have the option of posting it up on either Hip Hop Wired or The Urban Daily. I’d have to compete with 5 articles containing GIFs & memes from the 2013 VMA’s, 10 different articles about cultural appropriation, 10 pieces featuring Twitter reactions to Miley Cyrus’ appearance at the VMA’s, a post featuring 25 Thirst Trap Accounts On Instagram and 10 other ratchet news stories that developed during the day. It’s so disgusting that I’d rather just post it up on my site instead and call it a day.
I receive numerous emails & texts daily from young Rap bloggers and hopeful Hip-Hop journalists that need to vent their frustrations with what’s happened to Rap journalism. They’re forced to write about strugglerappers and subjects that aren’t conducive to great writing. They’ve become afraid to pitch any ideas they have because they wouldn’t be in line with what regularly draws views. I also know that past my 15th anniversary posts I’m wasting my time because most blog readers don’t remember the early 90’s, forget about the late 80’s. I might as well save that shit for a book.
After 7 years of blogging and being a freelance writer I find myself at a crossroads. I’ve had the busiest summer writing and have been the most in demand I’ve ever been thus far in my blogging career. The problem that brings is with the money. It’s getting to the point now where I spend far too much time making sure I got paid for writing versus what I do writing. Few things fuck with you more than trying to fight a system where cash is king through writing while checking your mailbox every afternoon wondering where the fuck your checks are from writing. It makes me feel downright Drakeish sometimes.
I have my niece & nephew for the summer and this time each year always makes me wonder if I’m in a position to afford if I had a kid of my own. By my calculations, based on my current income (but my earning potential) if I had a baby on the way right now my mindstate would be somewhere between Notorious B.I.G. on “Ready To Die” and Denzel Washington in the film “John Q.”. Now let’s talk about the state of Rap journalism some more so I can be slightly less depressed, shall we?
I do a series on Hip-Hop Wired called “While You Were Sleeping” which highlights 20 Hip-Hop/Rap independent & underground releases a month to show up all of the other so-called Rap blogs that actually largely ignore the very genre they supposedly cover. Well thought out & comprehensive pieces are dying off due to the fact the game is driven by quick posts and half ass lists written by bloggers with limited knowledge (some things you can’t Google or find on Wikipedia. You had to be there) which drive views. This devalues any pieces of substance as opposed to them standing out from the crowd. It also frustrates the writers of said pieces beyond belief.
I’ve reached the 7 year milestone blogging but I see books, screenwriting and lecturing in my near future. The direction blogging & Rap journalism (online & print) is taking is leading me towards that end. In addition, I see the window closing as the whole blogging game is getting to be like the major label music industry I abandoned back in 1997. I write because I feel the need to do what I do and before it gets to the point where I hate what I’m doing & do it strictly for a check I need to do something else.
Comic Con 2013 was packed with first time convention goers, serious lifelong comic book fans and casual television/film fans alike. Hollywood’s presence dominated this Comic Con as it had done previous incarnations for well over a decade now. Fans we there fresh off the success of last year’s blockbusters “The Avengers” & “The Dark Knight Rises” plus 2013’s “Iron Man 3” and “Man Of Steel”. Two more comic book properties, “2 Guns” and “Kick-Ass 2” were about to premier as Marvel & DC announced their upcoming titles to a legion of enthusiastic fanboys and fangirls.
What no one will tell you is there’s one man to essentially thank for the entire success of Marvel Studios and to an extent DC’s wave of successful films, Wesley Snipes. Wesley Snipes almost single handedly resurrected the comic book film genre and kick started Marvel Studios after a run of several profitable films utilizing Marvel properties. Wesley Snipes and his production company Amen Ra Films approached Stan Lee and Avi Arad with the intention of making films based around two properties, Black Panther and an almost 25 year old minor Black character that hunted vampires named Blade who Marvel began using again in the early 90’s.
While the modern wave of comic book films began back in 1989 with the original “Batman” film, it took the success of “Dick Tracy” and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” to start the first comic book film gold rush in 1990. By the summer of 1997 the comic book film was dead on arrival. Hollywood studios began to make hackneyed, derivative, soulless cartoons on film which turned off moviegoers. Joel Schumacher’s bloated shit sandwich “Batman & Robin” was released in June 1997 and kicked off a wave of terrible comic book film from that summer.
On August 1st, 1997, the film adaptation of Todd McFarlane’s comic book property “Spawn” premiered with Michael Jai White playing the lead role. The film relied on special effects but was hindered by a PG-13 rating and a terrible script. To add insult to injury two weeks later Shaquille O’Neal’s film adaptation of DC’s “Steel” dropped. That was the final straw. You could hear the death knell. It figures that two Black heroes would spell the end of comic book films. Film studios had no idea how to ensure the comic book adaptations they greenlit actually resonated with both fanboys and casual filmgoers.
Once Marvel balked at the idea of making a Black Panther film, Wesley Snipes went forward with making a vehicle starring himself featuring Blade. David S. Goyer was brought in to adapt a script using Blade’s back story between 1973-1993 from his Marvel run and Stephen Norrington was brought on to direct. To avoid the same issue that hindered both “Batman & Robin” & “Spawn” the previous summer “Blade” was going to have an R rating and not made to be marketed to young audiences. While Stan Lee & Avi Arad were executive producers they allowed Wesley and crew the autonomy to bring Blade to life.
"Blade" had the advantage of not having a huge built in audience or the weight of expectations and extra fanboy pressure. It also wasn’t considered a huge priority by New Line Cinema as it wasn’t necessarily a blockbuster. "Blade" wasn’t particularly highly anticipated until the first trailer was released. Outside of Wesley Snipes, the cast wasn’t exactly A list. Stephen Dorff, Kris Kristofferson, N’Bushe Wright & Udor Kier weren’t raising any eyebrows. Besides, the film’s entire budget was $45 million. Arnold Schwarzenegger was paid $25 million to be Dr. Freeze in "Batman & Robin" and $45 million wouldn’t have even covered the special effects budget on that film (total budget of $140 million).
"Blade" opened on August 21st, 1998 with low expectations, medium buzz, very little fanfare and a D list cast (the film’s main villain was Stephen Dorff for God’s sake!). The improbable happened, fans went to see it and raved about the action and pacing to their friends. They went to see the film again with their friends who spread it through word of mouth.
This happened until “Blade” took #1 in the box office after it’s opening weekend grossing over $17 million. Blade was in less than 2500 screens when it opened. It was actually added to MORE screens over it’s first month in theaters. Typically films are put into less theaters as time passes. It took 6 weeks for “Blade” to finally fall out of the top 10 grossing films list. The real surprise? It was doing equally as well overseas.
Marvel had a hit on their hands. Wesley Snipes was a bankable action film star before but now he’d suddenly reached another strata by embodying a hero that he’ll forever be tied to. The martial arts choreography and pacing of the fight scenes/action was more reminiscent of Hong Kong action films than American ones. The film’s pacing also made you overlook that the cast was pretty thin. Movie magic at the highest level.
To say that “Blade” over performed is an understatement. Wesley Snipes made Stan Lee and Avi Arad look like geniuses for taking a chance on a little known property then going under the radar and making a blockbuster action film on a budget. It took “Blade” 17 days in the North American box office to yield a profit. By then, interest in the Blade character caused sales of any title involving Blade to go through the roof. Marvel soon had to devote more energy to this once minor character as Wesley Snipes had turned him into a cash cow.
The look, tone, pace, music, fight choreography, stunt coordination and overall fun factor of “Blade” is what made audiences continue to see it both stateside and abroad. Wesley Snipes was adamant that Blade takes himself seriously. Blade is a single minded character hell bent on eradicating all vampires no matter the cost. In an era where studios wanted to lighten up the films to make them more marketable the dark, serious tone that Wesley Snipes and David S. Goyer set laid forth the blueprint for more serious comic book adaptations in following years.
Making sure that “Blade” was rated R and a serious action film really resonated with audiences. Wesley Snipes had found the happy medium between entertainment and commerce by exploiting the marketplace at it’s weakest time then going against the grain. “Blade” went counter to everything fans had come to expect from comic book films. Even fanboys and fangirls that read the “Darkstalkers/Sons Of Midnight” run weren’t pissed off at what they saw on the screen. Casual fans wanted to read the Marvel comic books afterwards. Win win.
You all need to understand that Wesley Snipes & Amen Ra Films’ “Blade” which debuted in theaters 15 years ago today is the genesis of Marvel Studios and it’s current dominance in comic book film field which is presently a billion dollar industry. You also need to understand that “Blade is arguably one of the most important and influential films of the past 15 years. What makes that all the more astonishing is that compared to how the sequel was executed and how weak the cast was in retrospect, it could’ve been so much better.
"Blade’s" legacy and influence is undeniable. The film spent 122 days in the box office, generating over $130 million dollars worldwide. It was one of the first DVD’s ever released and when it went on sale December 22nd, 1998 it was a must have for the holiday season when many Americans bought their first ever DVD players. "Blade" was one of the biggest purchases of the 1998 holiday season and continued to be one all throughout 1999. When it was all said and done "Blade" generated about $30 million more in DVD sales & rentals bringing it’s total gross to over $160 million. For those scoring at home that’s 355% of it’s original $45 million dollar budget.
Stan Lee and Avi Arad were through the roof at the success of ‘Blade”. They needed a way to capitalize off the momentum that Wesley Snipes had given them. The oft delayed “X-Men” film which had Bryan Singer in place to direct since 1996 was finally a go over at 20th Century Fox. David Hayter wrote the screenplay and filming began in September 1999 with a $75 million dollar production budget. The film opened in July 2000 and became a huge success (although it still sucked). Marvel Enterprises returned in 2002 with Amen Ra Films’ “Blade 2” and “Spider-Man”. The rest was history.
So the next time you go to a Comic-Con or see a big line or a commercial for a film that’s adapted from a comic book keep in mind that the man responsible just got out of jail for tax evasion and Marvel Entertainment originally prevented him from making the Black Panther adaptation plus his partner David S. Goyer essentially attempted to hijack his own character and franchise from him when he wrote, directed & produced “Blade: Trinity” with the intention of making a spin-off film with the “Nightstalkers”.
When Wesley Snipes filed suit with New Line Cinema and actively tried to stop David S. Goyer from hijacking the property and began the process of trying to acquire Black Panther as the next Marvel property for Amen Ra Films to develop he is conveniently brought up on tax evasion charges (never mind that he was shorted $3.6 million dollars by David S. Goyer & New Line to begin with). David S. Goyer develops "Blade: The Series" for Spike minus any involvement from Wesley Snipes in 2006, the same year he’s charged for attempting defraud the government (he was acquitted of those charges but sentenced for failure to file tax returns). Neither Marvel Enterprises or DC Comics offered him any help.
In conclusion, “Blade” is the spark that led to the billion dollar comic book film business. Meanwhile the man responsible for it just recently got out of jail and is looking to get his film career back on track as a 51 year old action hero. Also, Marvel Comics hasn’t made any progress in developing films for either Black Panther or Luke Cage but “Guardians Of The Galaxy” has been greenlit. If you see Wesley Snipes, let him know that we appreciate what he’s done even though cats will try to deny him the credit he so richly deserves.
I’ve gone almost 9 months without making another new cult films of the Internet Age list. It was another 9 months before that when I made the previous cult films of the Internet Age (1996-) list. I really need to make these jawns more frequently, huh? Seven months previous to that I resurrected a series I began way back on Poisonous Paragraphs in 2007.
Over these past 6+ years I’ve listed well over 500 films of every imaginable genre and after I end Bastard Swordsman on it’s 100th post and transition into my final blog Goodnight Prometheus I will continue making these Cult Films Of The Internet Age lists on there.
I used to watch a gang of films before in the old Netflix mail days and on the internet simultaneously back in the early days of Poisonous Paragraphs. I watched slightly less films during the Netflix streaming era after ICE took down most of the websites that made watching films that were still in the theater possible and even fewer when I began writing for other sites regularly.
Due to those aforementioned factors, it took longer than it normally would to reach 40 films that would qualify for my latest list, even with the proliferation of Redboxes. The only thing that aided this list is the availability of the VOD (Video On Demand) model between YouTube, Comcast and websites where you can purchase said films and watch them either at home on TV on your computer or handheld device of your choosing.
Quite a few of these selections are documentaries that dropped fairly recently but are essential viewing nonetheless. This has been an amazing year as far as documentaries are concerned. I would provide summaries for all 40 of these films but I have hella pieces in the works plus a live radio interview to do within the next hour or so time is of the essence.
With all that said here’s my list of the next 40 cult films of the Internet Age (1996-). Hopefully, I can add 10 more in a few months time:
Dakota Skye (2008)
Restless City (2011)
Outside Satan (2011)
Family Band: The Cowsills Story (2011)
Killing Them Softly (2012)
Searching For Sugar Man (2012)
Stand Up Guys (2012)
Beware Of Mr. Baker (2012)
Celeste & Jesse Forever (2012)
Robot & Frank (2012)
Park Avenue: Money, Power & The American Dream (2012)
The Perks Of Being A Wallflower (2012)
My Brother The Devil (2012)
Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me (2012)
A Band Called Death (2013)
Spring Breakers (2013)
20 Feet From Stardom (2013)
Doin’ It In The Park (2013)
Broken City (2013)
The Bling Ring (2013)
Sound City (2013)
Gimme The Loot (2013)
The Source Family (2013)
What Maisie Knew (2013)
Killing The Messenger: The Deadly Cost Of News (2013)
Warm Bodies (2013)
We Steal Secrets: The Story Of Wikileaks (2013)
In A World… (2013)
The Act Of Killing (2013)
How To Make Money Selling Drugs (2013)
Dirty Wars (2013)
Fruitvale Station (2013)
Terms & Conditions May Apply (2013)
You may be wondering why this particular 20th anniversary of Samurai Shodown for the SNK Neo Geo is presented by “The Middle Children Of History”? The reason is because going back to my days writing on my first ever blog Poisonous Paragraphs I used it for anything that covered the post Crack Era/2nd Golden Era or thereabouts. Eventually it became my go to heading for anything dealing with the 90’s as the novel “Fight Club” dropped on my 21st birthday and the phrase “Middle Children Of History” really stuck with me when I saw the film adaptation in 1999.
The ultra pricey SNK Neo Geo was owned by almost exclusively by neighborhood drug dealers, rich kids that lived in the Back Bay (near Boston’s South End) and they also could be found in arcades (as the NEO GEO MVS) where they were regarded as their own standalone arcade cabinets. Between July and August 1993, “Samurai Shodown” (“Samurai Spirits” in Japan) was released for the SNK Neo Geo stateside.
"Samurai Shodown" was instantly popular due to the fact it employed the use of weapons and focused on the manual dexterity and creativity of the individual user rather than on combos and special moves. The pace of "Samurai Shodown" was frenetic and the variety of characters and their styles allowed for players to experiment with other characters due to the fact they were so varied & balanced.
Your favorite character could’ve been anyone from Haohmaru, Jubei Yagyu, Hanzo Hattori, Nakoruru, Galford or Ukyo Tachibana. However, when you get your ass kicked by Wan Fu, Gen-An or Kyoshiro Senryo you realized that anyone can beat you. Tam Tam, Charlotte and Earthquake all could provide you a tough match if you were facing a skilled enough competitor.
It was a far more even take on “Street Fighter II” but with a focus on speed, timing, accuracy and precision featuring bladed weapons. The game was set during the late 1700’s (1788) and all of the competitors are trying to thwart the demon priest(ess) Amakusa from taking the entire world over. “Samurai Shodown” was such as popular game that it was a huge arcade draw and even though it’s Neo Geo price point was astronomical ($149-$169 USD in 1993), it still couldn’t stay on store shelves.
Soon, “Samurai Shodown” was ported to Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis and later the Sony Playstation and Sega Saturn. The game became increasingly more popular all throughout the Summer, Fall and Winter of 1993 as it drew fans of other fighting games such as “Mortal Kombat”, “Street Fighter II” and “Art Of Fighting” because it was a change of pace from the combo and special attack based button mashers that ruled the era. It’s pace and intensity would heavily influence the creation of 1994’s "Killer Instinct".
There always was a way you could lose your weapon and be forced to fight without it. If you locked weapons with an opponent and they pressed the attack button faster than you did? You lost your weapon and were at a tremendous disadvantage until you got it back. Experts discovered a way to even break the competitor’s weapon. In later games like 1996’s "Soul Edge/Soul Blade" you could lose your weapon or have it break. It was no doubt influenced by this little wrinkle “Samurai Shodown” introduced years previously.
With each successive translation of “Samurai Shodown” it’s popularity increased what seemed like exponentially. The newcomers were trying to figure out who was the best swordsman between Haohmaru, Jubei Yagyu and Ukyo Tachibana while experts have moved on to trying to master Wan Fu, Tam Tam or Earthquake for the sake of the challenge/increased difficulty level.
A “Samurai Shodown” tournament was a sight to behold indeed. If someone picked Haohmaru you didn’t know if they were a newcomer who picked what he thought was the strongest character or an expert. If said entrant picked Charlotte or Kyoshiro? You prayed they weren’t experts otherwise everyone else was in deep shit. Those two characters were problems in skilled enough hands.
From NEO GEO to Super Nintendo to PlayStation each iteration and version (handled by Takara via a joint venture/partnership with SNK) of “Samurai Shodown” provided the much needed counter programming and gaming alternative to another generation of fighting game fans. Not only did it serve as a bridge to a new wave of fighting game series’ but it even attracted casual gamers and those that didn’t game at all due to it’s different focus, feel and gaming approach.
Other things that added to the overall appeal of “Samurai Shodown” was it’s music, character design, attack animations and graphics. The game was aesthetically pleasing to begin with, when you saw how responsive the controls were and how simple the attacks and the button configuration was you weren’t intimidated. You could grasp the game’s basic attacks pretty quickly and it encouraged you to learn the more advanced techniques which weren’t as important to do as in “Mortal Kombat” or “Street Fighter II”.
Attacks ranged from weak, medium & strong between your weapon or your kick attack based on what button you used. A combination of buttons were necessary to execute a strong attack. Each character had a variety of effective special attacks and based on their positions they did different things. This added to the replay value of the game tremendously once it was discovered just how balanced the characters were if utilized properly.
I personally witnessed numerous Hanzo vs. Galford battles which are extremely entertaining when it’s two experts going at it. I’ve seen those cats turn into logs and appear again just to counter attack their opponent more times than I can count. Jubei vs. Ukyo matches between experts are just as great but I have also witnessed numerous epic Haohmaru vs. Nakoruru battles over the years. Since Nakoruru and Charlotte were the only women in the game, 90’s girl gamers became especially adept at using them (and beating their siblings and/or significant others with them).
The influence of “Samurai Shodown” has become increasingly underrated and forgotten with the passage of time. Only hardcore gamers or oldheads still remember that “Samurai Shodown” was regarded as 1993’s Game Of The Year in Electronic Gaming Monthly and it won similar awards from the leading gaming magazines (GamePro, Gamer, Gamest, etc.) of the time. These accolades and awards came from critics and fans alike in both Japan and America.
"Samurai Shodown" was such a success that SNK was able to use fan feedback to make it’s 1994 sequel even better received than the highly influential original version. The Sega CD and Sony PlayStation versions of "Samurai Shodown" actually became the game that introduced many younger gamers to fighting games due to parents looking to steer clear of the bloodier fighting games or the ones where moves where tougher to pull off. 20 years later, the "Samurai Shodown" franchise is one of the greatest in gaming history.
In closing, SNK introduced their $649 gaming system back in 1990. The controllers cost $199 each and games typically ran between $149-$169 each so it didn’t sell a lot of units. Regardless, SNK still created several super influential and popular gaming franchises for the Neo Geo which include "Art Of Fighting", "Fatal Fury", "World Heroes", "King Of Fighters" and “Samurai Shodown”. SNK went bankrupt in 2000 and the Neo Geo went out of production for good in 2004 but “Samurai Shodown” outlived the system it was created for when "Samurai Shodown VI" was released in 2005.
The final incarnation of the “Samurai Shodown” series to be commercially released was "Samurai Shodown Anthology" back in 2009. Those that spent the man (or woman) hours mastering one or several characters so they could play for pride both at the arcade and home can play it again and reminisce about the first time they ever went to attack Hanzo Hattori just for him to turn into a damb log then attack YOU instead. Or you can just use Haohmaru…
This is an odd time for Boston Celtics fans. We just traded two of the greatest Celtics in Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce off to Brooklyn and now have to look forward to seeing them rebuild. The last time the Celtics said goodbye to a Big Three in successive years they handed the reigns over to the new young face of the franchise, a man named Reggie Lewis.
Reggie first showed up on my radar back in 1983 when he was a freshman at nearby Northeastern University. He got quite a bit of attention from the Boston Globe partly because he was one of the main reasons that Northeastern University was challenging for a berth in the NCAA Tournament.
Reggie Lewis was a tireless worker, he could slash and penetrate, he could rebound, he’d pass the ball and he was a pesky defender who picked your pocket or blocked your shot. At that time, all I knew about Reggie Lewis were from his black and white pictures in the paper and reading about his latest exploits in the Globe then scanning the local college basketball box scores.
It wasn’t until later on that the local news stations started doing regular features about the Northeastern Huskies and Reggie Lewis and their games would occasionally air on television buried in the high UHF channels. While Boston College games were aired live, Northeastern games would be pre-taped and aired at the oddest hours of the day.
I didn’t care because I got to see Reggie play. He did it all on the court and he made it look effortless. Reggie would drop 30 points, get 10 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals and 2 blocks and never once get excited, yell, or even pump his fist. Instead? He’d just get back on defense. Reggie didn’t engage in trash talking nor on court histrionics, he just did whatever it took to win or make his teammates better.
He also had a signature shot that was unblockable. He would elevate and lean back as he shot it making it extremely difficult to get a hand on. Reggie had an amazing mid range game, he was good with his back to the basket as he improved his turnaround jumper while at Northeastern and he had deceptive speed and surprising jumping ability making him a nightmare in the open court. Reggie had improved many facets of his game in college, including his handles, defense and free throw shooting.
Being that Reggie Lewis was used as a reserve on a Dunbar Poets squad that featured Muggsy Bogues, David Wingate and Reggie Williams no one knew that Reggie was that great of a player (even though those Dunbar teams went 60-0 between 1982-83).
Before you knew it, Reggie Lewis had become a celebrity in Boston. His popularity was most evident in the South End and Roxbury as Reggie spent quite a bit of time in those areas giving back to the community and working with young people.
While most cats that were big man on campus and sports stars were assholes that really felt themselves a bit too much, Reggie Lewis was the total opposite. He was easy going, quiet and approachable. Reggie always had a smile on his face and he was easy to spot at 6’7” rocking his ever present Dunbar Poets jacket.
It was hard not to love Reggie Lewis. This guy would give you the shirt off of his back. He sacrificed and did whatever needed to be done for his team to be successful. There was one legendary game where Reggie torched the other team so Northeastern could go back to the NCAA Tournament and get national exposure.
He had broken his hand during the game but didn’t tell anybody. He figured he’d just play through the pain and sort it all out once his team won. He blocked shots, stole passes, shot jumpers and dunked a good portion of the game on it all because he couldn’t stand to disappoint his teammates and coach Jim Calhoun when they needed him most.
Reggie Lewis was almost too good to be true, both on and off the court. Once his collegiate career was over in 1987, he had become the greatest scorer in Northeastern University history with 2,709 points and he lead them to a 102-26 (70-6 conference) record and three conference titles and four NCAA berths between the years of 1983-1987.
Yet and still, Reggie would still walk around campus, the South End and Roxbury as if he was just a regular college student and not someone who got national press. I used to see Reggie all the time because he frequented Braddock Drug, a store that my mother worked during his college days plus he used to run pick up games all the time around the neighborhood and near campus. He was like a superstar that everyone around knew was a star but him.
After his squad was knocked out of the NCAA Tournament we all knew that the NBA would come calling. The draft had multiple rounds back then and there was no question that Reggie was getting drafted. The question was where? As kid I’d hoped to see Reggie rocking kelly green and playing in Boston Garden but that was just some wishful thinking, wasn’t it?
The Boston Celtics had gone to the NBA Finals that year and held the 22nd pick in the 1st round. Last year, they’d drafted Len Bias to disastrous effect. Luckily, no one drafted Reggie and Red Auerbach pulled the trigger and drafted him. Reggie Lewis was in his apartment on Northeastern’s campus when he got the call. He promptly got dressed, hopped on the Green Line and rode it to North Station to meet some of the most historic figures in basketball history at the old Boston Garden.
Red Auerbach, a bunch of future Hall Of Famers (Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, Dennis Johnson, Bill Walton) and his coach K.C. Jones. The Boston Celtics wanted to get back to the title game and they hoped that Reggie Lewis was going to figure prominently in their future. In retrospect, if Reggie Lewis and Len Bias were both on the Celtics roster the entire NBA as we knew it could’ve shook out differently.
His first season in the NBA as a rookie required him to be a backup at both shooting guard and small forward. He played against the Big 3 everyday in practice and Larry Bird took him under his wing early on. Reggie showed occasional flashes of brilliance during his rookie year, scoring 4.5 PPG in short minutes but his breakout year was still forthcoming.
The 1988-89 season started out ominously for the Boston Celtics as Larry Bird played in only the first six games of the year before he broke his foot and was gone for the year. This provided Reggie Lewis the opportunity to step up and become a starter. Although the Celtics struggled to 42-40 and stumbled into the playoffs before being swept by the Detroit Pistons in the 1st round Reggie himself was a revelation.
He averaged 18.5 PPG on the season but raised it to 21 PPG in 57 total starts. In a 3 game series against the tough Detroit defenders he averaged 20 PPG & 7 RPG while shooting 47% from the field. Eyes began opening across the league and people took notice of Reggie Lewis’ speed, quickness, length, explosiveness and athleticism. His star was on the rise but few of us realized exactly how good he really was.
The next season, Larry came back into the fold and Reggie Lewis was moved into the starting lineup alongside him. The Celtics had drafted a bunch of young talent to go with the Big 3 like Kevin Gamble and Brian Shaw. The Boston Celtics were solid throughout the year at 52-30 with their young core but they once again faltered during the 1990 NBA Playoffs as they lost in the 1st round to the younger, tougher and faster New York Knicks.
Reggie Lewis was brilliant that season, he slashed his way to the basket, played team defense and he seemed automatic with his jumper out to 20 feet. Lewis scored 17.0 PPG (but 20 PPG during the playoffs) and shot almost 50% on the season (.488 on his career), which is actually phenomenal for someone that’s essentially a jump shooter.
Reggie Lewis was being groomed to take over as the team leader and the face of the NBA’s most storied franchise once his “big brother” Larry retired. Not only that, but Reggie was learning how to incorporate his teammates and get them involved.
After that season was the turning point as coach Chris Ford knew his Boston Celtics had to begin to focus on the future and get back to playing uptempo basketball with their young, athletic players if they wanted to win while simultaneously utilizing the aging Big Three of Bird, McHale and Parish in the halfcourt game. It was imperative they had to shorten their minutes during the regular season to keep them effective in the postseason when they’d create serious matchup problems.
Reggie Lewis lead a promising young crew of players into the 1990-1991 NBA season including Kevin Gamble, Brian Shaw and Dee Brown while boasting three future Hall Of Famers that could still put up numbers in Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish. With Reggie Lewis leading the way, the Boston Celtics got out to a surprising 56-26 regular season record playing uptempo, running basketball. They lasted 11 games before being eliminated in the 1991 NBA Playoffs by the powerhouse Detroit Bad Boys.
Reggie averaged 18.7 PPG during the 1990-91 regular season and an eye opening 22.4 PPG during the 1991 NBA Playoffs. Lewis played brilliant basketball and he did a great job of sharing the ball & deferring to his teammates but he knew that it was time to step up his leadership and game to another level.
Larry Bird and Kevin McHale were nearing the ends of their careers, Robert Parish wouldn’t be a Celtic forever and the window of opportunity was closing fast. He threw himself into training and he worked tirelessly in the off-season before the 1991-92 NBA season.
Oddly enough, Reggie Lewis still frequented his old haunts from his Northeastern days. Even though he was a millionaire on national TV with a lucrative shoe deal from Reebok, his own commercials and series of posters you could still approach him and ask for an autograph and talk to him and he’d never blow you off. Reggie Lewis was always in the ‘hood and that was mind boggling considering we saw him light up some of the best players in the NBA for years.
He was an NBA superstar that didn’t act like one. He dunked on Scottie Pippen. He stuck jumpers over the outstretched arm of Magic Johnson. Michael Jordan hated guarding him. All that considered he seemed like he was devoid of an ego. Neighborhood kids watched their mouths around him. They didn’t even do that for the police and THEY had guns!
It was nothing to see Reggie and Dee Brown or Kevin Gamble just driving around town or giving back to the community. Reggie loved Boston and it in turn loved him right back. He almost had a glow about him like he wasn’t like the rest of us.
That became evident in the 1991-92 NBA season as the brass went out and acquired two point guards to help push the ball up the court relentlessly in veterans John Bagley and Sherman “Little General” Douglas. The core of an even more aggressive Reggie Lewis, Kevin Gamble, Brian Shaw, Dee Brown and Rick Fox ended up surprising the league much in the way the previous season had done.
Reggie Lewis was finally unlocking all of the facets of his game and he revealed himself to be rather unstoppable sometimes. Couple that with the talented young core of players the Celtics drafted and that meant danger for any squad that had to see the Celtics on any given night.
Reggie Lewis was a conundrum to guard, a veritable match up nightmare for any guard or small forward. He had a face up game, back to the basket game, he could score in the post or he could blow past you with his quick first step and deceptive speed then finish with power at the rim. Reggie Lewis also had a mid range game, he was damn near automatic out to 20 feet with his jumper. If you backed off of him to give him his shot had a great first step and blow by speed that would make you regret it.
In addition, he had a turnaround lean back jumper from both sides of the court and a pull up lean back jumper that were all damn near unblockable due to his length. You also didn’t know which direction he was going to go when he stood still. If you picked wrong? He’d just blow past you or put up that lean back J that you couldn’t block even if you stuck with him the whole possession. I’ve seen Scottie Pippen, Byron Scott, Dennis Rodman, Joe Dumars, Ron Harper & Michael Jordan all fall victim to it and they were great defenders.
If Reggie Lewis had three point range (or if he even actually even considered shooting it more first) and wasn’t so unselfish he easily would’ve averaged 25 PPG during the regular season in his career. Kids all over Boston were at outdoor courts, gyms and in their driveways trying to shoot that lean back jumper like Reggie Lewis often to comical effect.
Reggie Lewis earned his first trip to the All Star Game that season and he finished with 7 points and 4 rebounds in 15 minutes. It was bittersweet because he was the only Celtic invited to the 1991 All Star Game that season. Larry Bird’s back was a mess and Kevin McHale was coming off of the bench like he did back when he was a rookie.
The Chief was still going strong but his falling numbers due to his reduced playing time and younger stars the fans began to vote for instead kept him out of the running. Reggie Lewis began to realize that he was now the torchbearer for the entire Boston Celtics franchise.
Reggie Lewis made the entire country take notice that he was a superstar in the second half of the season by averaging a career high 20.8 PPG and leading the aging Boston Celtics to a 51-31 record with a young core and powering them to win 15 of their last 16 games of the regular season. Once they got into the playoffs, it was revealed that Larry Bird’s back was getting progressively worse so he’d be limited in the upcoming postseason.
Reggie simply put the team on his back during the 1992 NBA Playoffs but they were eventually eliminated by the Cleveland Cavaliers. Reggie Lewis averaged an astonishing 28 PPG in 10 playoff games and shot 53% during the playoffs on mostly jumpers and drives to the hole. The league was forced to recognize him as an up and coming superstar after he scored at will on one of the NBA’s best defensive teams all over national television with everyone’s eyes on him.
The best thing was he was only 26 years old. The sky was seemingly the limit on Reggie Lewis’ potential as not only a basketball player but as a human being. Larry Bird retired in the off-season but he went overseas to Barcelona with the Dream Team to win a Gold medal in the 1992 Summer Olympics first. The reins of the team and captaincy of the Boston Celtics were officially handed over to Reggie Lewis. The new look squad consisted of Alaa Abdelnaby, Xavier McDaniel, Derek Strong and a bunch of the old cast of characters minus Brian Shaw who was recently traded away.
The Boston Celtics started out the 1992-93 NBA season with a disappointing 12-17 record and it cost Reggie Lewis a spot in the All Star Game that season. Seeing as how he was all but penciled in to be a perennial NBA All Star, this was a disappointing development to say the least. Rather than sulk about it Reggie just focused on his teammates instead.
Reggie Lewis held a team meeting then went to his teammates and told them that as of January 1st, 1993 the Boston Celtics’ record was 0-0 and it was up to them to play together and make it a brand new season. The team responded and began to gel immediately after that team meeting and they ran off an impressive 36-17 record during the calendar year of 1993 to finish at 48-34 in perfect position to do serious damage as one of the hottest teams in the entire league during the postseason.
Their first playoff game was against the young Charlotte Hornets in Boston Garden. Reggie was hyped up because it was his first ever playoff game as the undisputed leader of the Boston Celtics. It was his team now. Boston was his city. He wanted to bring championship glory back to it and make his “big brothers” Larry, Robert and Kevin proud. He wanted to give Red a chance to light up his cigar and hoist number 17 above his head again. The ball was jumped up at halfcourt and it was on.
The Boston Celtics jumped all over the Hornets early and even though they had players like Alonzo Mourning, Larry Johnson and Kendall Gill none of them could stop Reggie Lewis. He was on fire, he grabbed 2 offensive boards from Zo and Grandmama like it was nothing. He hit 7 of 11 shots, had an emphatic block, played tough defense and he scored 17 points in just 13 minutes on the court. Then the unthinkable happened.
Reggie Lewis collapsed on the court and laid there for what seemed like forever. It was speculated that he was hit by one of the Hornets on the way by or that he tripped. They played it in slow motion again and again and we saw that no one even touched him. Before they took Reggie off the court the jumbotron screen flashed to Larry Bird in the stands and fans chanted “Larry! Larry! Larry!”. Reggie was down on the court at the time and many fans were offended by this occurrence, even some of Reggie’s family members were included in this group.
Reggie Lewis was escorted off the court and given the once over by team physicians. He was cleared to come back into the game to thunderous applause to a still concerned Boston Garden. Reggie Lewis sank another jumper before he was yanked for good in the 3rd quarter as the Celtics had the game well in hand thanks to his incredible offensive explosion to open the game. It would be the final game of Reggie Lewis’ NBA career but none of us knew it yet.
The announcement came that Reggie wouldn’t play for the rest of the playoffs and the Celtics decided to make this the last stand for the remaining members of the Big Three. They printed up black t shirts that said “Boston Vs. The World” and wore them for the rest of the series.
Robert Parish (17 PPG, 9.5 RPG & 1.5 BPG) and Kevin McHale (19 PPG 7.3 RPG & 1.75 BPG) played admirably at their advanced ages (39 & 35 respectively) but Celtics fell apart without Reggie Lewis to pace them and lost the series on a last second shot by Alonzo Mourning in Game 4 which the NBA plays ad nauseum without putting the shot into it’s proper context. REGGIE LEWIS WASN’T PLAYING.
That game would be the final one for Kevin McHale in a Celtics uniform. As much as it hurt to see the Celtics lose, I was way more worried about Reggie. He was given several full physical and check ups by numerous doctors, then came the “second opinion” the go ahead to play and work out by Dr. Gilbert Mudge. If you knew Reggie, he was going to play regardless. The entire city of Boston was depending on him. He was the captain of the Boston Celtics, after all.
Reggie Lewis died after collapsing at the Brandeis University gym while working out with some friends before he was to run some pick up games to get back to the Celtics next season and go hard for banner number 17 on July 27th, 1993. It turns out that Reggie Lewis’ heart was just too big. We already knew that in Boston, though. He had enough love for everybody and in turn we all loved him.
The only time I ever saw a weird look on the man’s face was when he got a bad call during a game. Sometimes I’ll be walking around Boston remembering that when I was a kid I saw Reggie there with a smile on his face taking pictures with people or just dropping by a local Y unannounced. Those of you that didn’t live in the city of Boston have NO clue how beloved he was here. There is a mural of Reggie Lewis inside English High School in Jamaica Plain & back when every wall was primed to be defaced that mural went untouched. It was REGGIE therefore it was off limits.
His funeral was one of the saddest days in the history of Boston. Everybody came out to pay their respects. Kids in Summer School were so distraught the day of the funeral they didn’t feel like talking or participating in class so several headmasters just canceled classes and allowed them all to go to the funeral instead. There were lines upon lines of people outside of the service listening on loudspeakers set up because the service was packed.
Larry Bird didn’t speak because some family members were still distraught over the fans chanting for Larry while he was down on the court after collapsing. They also didn’t want Bird upstaging Reggie even in death. Reggie Lewis’ brother asked the crowd to chant “Reggie! Reggie!” during the memorial because they never did when he was a Celtic. Bird complied although in his heart Reggie was his brother as well.
Whether Bostonians are willing to acknowledge it or not, that set the stage for Celtic fans to fully appreciate Antoine Walker, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett in later years. They had finally been far enough removed for Larry Bird and tragically lost Len Bias and Reggie Lewis so they could finally embrace greatness when they saw it again on the court.
Lewis family friend and Celtics broadcaster Jimmy Myers proclaimed that he’d make sure the Celtics franchise did right by Donna & Reggie’s children. The console translation of NBA Jam didn’t sell as well in the Greater Boston Area as it did in other markets and it wasn’t understood why until word got back that it was because Reggie Lewis wasn’t on the game anymore following his untimely passing.
On March 22nd, 1995 the Boston Celtics raised #35 to the rafters amongst the other Celtics greats. Reggie was right where he belonged and the crowd chanted “REGGIE! REGGIE! REGGIE!” realizing they were robbed of doing so.
Rest in eternal peace, Reggie Lewis. We love you and the city of Boston will never forget you.
This is the second list in what will no doubt become an ongoing series that I’ll pick up with my final blog “Goodnight, Prometheus”. I did the first list back in December 2012 and it’s about time I revisit it given how many excellent comic books have sprouted up since and how many older titles I hadn’t read at the time I’ve now finished.
Let me start this off by saying that there were several more titles I wanted to include but I had to come to grips with the fact they either couldn’t be done justice with live action cable television series. More than likely they just needed to be adapted to feature films or possibly ongoing adult themed animated series’. I’d say that properties such as “Extermination”, “Saga”, “Harbinger”, “Great Pacific” or “East Of West” all fall into those categories presently.
Again, this list strictly based on the level of acceptance, accolades or success of certain shows based on book and comic book properties over the past few years plus the type of shows that flourish on cable networks such as SyFy, A&E, HBO, Showtime, Cinemax, USA, TBS, TNT, Starz, AMC, BBC America etc. I’d even venture as far as to say that Netflix could produce a few of these based on the recent success of their original series’ “House Of Cards” & “Orange Is The New Black”.
If any of these properties end up being picked up after I wrote this jawn I reserve the right to sue for a finder’s fee. Or you can just PayPal me a lump sum, credit me then give me a consultant’s fee later on. Here’s the damb list:
Unknown Soldier (2008-2010)
There are three different runs of “Unknown Soldier”, the one I picked is the second edition which was set in Africa. The premise involves a Ugandan doctor Dr. Moses Lwanga that’s a pacifist during the time of the Joseph Kony led Lord’s Resistance Army insurgency and the subsequent ongoing conflict involving several other paramilitary groups leading into the Second Congo War.
Much of the series is extremely graphic & deals with the very real ongoing conflicts in Africa which was perhaps all too real for readers as it was canceled after only two years due to lack of readership. If you’ve ever watched Cinemax’s “Strike Back” which uses Africa for a backdrop in several of it storylines you’ll see that it could work. I’d just prefer the protagonist/hero actually BE an African as opposed to someone from another country on a mission for a change. Maybe BBC America would be a better call in that case?
"Scarlet" is truly a product of the current times and extremely topical given the era of the Internet and social media. Scarlet Rue is a teenage girl living in Portland, Oregon who has to deal with her boyfriend being murdered by corrupt police officers. Rather than let them get away with it, she exacts revenge on them in a violent manner and exposes their corruption using social media and gains support via the Internet & Occupy Wall Street type demonstrations.
Brian Michael Bendis & Alex Maleev’s creation is unique because rather than see what happens strictly as an observer, they make her speak directly to the reader. The Marvel/Icon title was originally planned as a limited series but has become a monthly title due to public demand. I can see this running on Showtime, AMC, Starz or FX. The main issue is nailing down the perfect lead…
I’ve heard quite a few people compare Image’s “Revival” to “The Walking Dead” when it’s a lot closer to a “True Blood” x “Northern Exposure” hybrid then anything. The city of Wauwusa, WI has been quarantined from the rest of the country following a rash dead folks returning to life on what is later termed Revival Day and for the most part, seeming fairly normal. These “Revivers” don’t turn to zombies and eat flesh. Some hold down jobs & serve you lunch everyday. Others have some serious issues coping with constantly regenerating & the lingering psychological issues resulting from returning from beyond the grave.
The government in league with the CDC also teams up with local law enforcement to assign a task force that deals directly with reviver related issues led by Dana, an officer and daughter of the local police chief. I feel like telling you anything else will spoil things. Think “Supernatural” x “Lost” x “The Killing” x “Northern Exposure” and there is the aesthetic I see for the cable/television adaptation. I see this on either Showtime, FX, AMC or SyFy. Maybe HBO would take a run at this seeing as how “True Blood” has jumped the sharknado?
Mind The Gap (2012-)
This is easily one of the most original and engrossing titles I’ve come across in the past couple of years since I got back into comics heavy circa 2009. The trio involved in Image’s “Mind The Gap” have found a way to hit on every note throughout the 11 issue run thus far (issue #12 hits newsstands and digital marketplaces in August). “Mind The Gap” is a part psychological thriller part mystery series about woman named Elle who ends up in a coma under suspicious circumstances that her closest friends (and some hospital employees) attempt to get to the bottom of.
As someone who hates predictable writing and tired themes and cliches in certain genres I can say that I don’t see ANY of the reveals or twists and turns in “Mind The Gap” coming. I’d like to see this one on either Showtime, Cinemax, Starz, BBC America (you ever see “Orphan Black”?) or even as a Netflix original series. I’d need to watch these all back to back to back rather than wait a week, personally. Jim McCann could have a field day adapting this complex, multi-layered story to a live action medium. Or not…
I know what you’re thinking. Isn’t that show “Arrow” already on The CW? Just one thing, Matt Fraction isn’t writing that show so who cares? You might also be thinking that with Marvel focusing all their energies on blockbusters rather than establishing a Marvel Knights division where they could make character based comic book films with reduced budgets they’d never do a solo series for an Avenger. Yeah, I agree with you on that one…
Sure, ABC is going to run “Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D” this fall but they wouldn’t think about adapting what is hands down one of the best solo titles on the market today. It’s not just good, it’s great. The story involving Clint Barton’s “The Many Loves Of Dobie Gillis” meets “Moonlighting” relationship with mentee Kate Bishop and the dynamic between he and his older brother Barney Barton AKA Trickshot is worth the price of purchase alone.
Network speculation is a waste of time seeing as no one would touch this adaptation with a ten foot pole which is an absolute shame considering that any regular reader would agree that this title is genius and deserves consideration as well. Hawkguy will be too busy fighting Thanos on the silver screen & Pizza Dog won’t be getting any screen time anywhere.
Who Is Jake Ellis?/Where Is Jake Ellis? (2010-2010) & (2012-2013)
I couldn’t pick one over the other so I decided to go with both. One can be the first season and the sequel can be the premise of the second season if it was to get adapted to television. The main premise of “Who/ Where Is Jake Ellis?” involves a CIA asset who’s been experimented on in hopes of using him in operations via remote viewing where he instructs & directs operatives in the field. Jake Ellis appears to former CIA analyst Jon Moore & walks him through several theaters with varying success until he finds the facility where Jake Ellis is being held.
In the second series (which is currently in progress), Jon Moore tries to figure out how deep the rabbit hole goes in regards to the American government’s involvement with experimenting on soldiers & assets as well as trying to recover Jake’s body without his constant assistance. I can see this working on Cinemax, SyFy or even TNT or USA given their success with spy themed shows plus the impending conclusion of “Burn Notice” & “White Collar”. It would be interesting to see how Nathan Edmonson’s story translates to live action.
I put this one on the consideration list last post because I wanted to see how it would ultimately shake out. Now that I’ve just read Clone #8 I can say without reservation that this would make more an interesting series. A man discovers that he’s a clone and there a hundreds of copies of him being hunted by other copies of him so he falls in with a resistance full of his “brothers” just to discover that he’s the original. His wife & unborn child are abducted and he has to evade his own government who constantly sends his clones to kill him and also liberate his wife and child.
Since this series went into production last year, BBC America has launched an exciting, well written, well produced & well acted Canadian/British series called “Orphan Black”. “Orphan Black” has become quite a success and now “Clone” would appear to be a clone of “Orphan Black” although the former 5 issue limited series first went into production back in November 2012 and “Orphan Black” didn’t premiere until March 2013. I’d prefer to see this on either HBO, Showtime or Starz based on how well they executed their original series’ “Strike Back” & “Hunted”.
Red Team (2013-)
Garth Ennis’ “Red Team” seems like a book tailor made for a cable series adaptation. The story involves a group of four friends & co-worker who are all detectives and police officers following a change in management that effects their jobs in an adverse manner. The four cops decide to offset the changes that makes their jobs next to impossible and keeps violent criminals and corrupt police in cahoots by forming a secret vigilante team & doing precision hits or jobs that make it look like other criminals took out the criminals or corrupt cops.
The Dynamite Comics property “Red Team” would be at home on either AMC, FX or USA. In addition, it would probably work as a Netflix original series if they’d ever consider delving into a crime drama. They currently have a political drama in “House Of Cards” and a comedy in “Orange Is The New Black”. This would surely diversify their viewing audience (or they could just pick up "H+: The Digital Series" & cut out YouTube/Hulu but that’s my thinking). I’ll come back with another 8 of these but give me another 6-8 months first. Also, if you know anyone in television/film development put a word in for me. I know stuff…
Other titles also under consideration: “Powers Bureau” (Marvel), “Suicide Risk” (Boom! Studios) & “Sheltered” (Image)