6.30.2013

Jim Kelly – Requiem for a Fighter


Jim Kelly, who passed away on June 29th, was the star of Black Belt Jones (1974). It was the first martial arts movie that I ever saw up on the silver screen. Although only five-years-old at that time, I still easily recall many of the details of that evening. Uppermost among them was the excitement that I felt walking out of the theater into the night with my parents and four-year-old sister--and how she and I launched little kung-fu kicks into air on our way to the family car.

Like so many other African-American children who grew up in this country in the immediate aftermath of the civil rights struggle, the gulf between movie heroes and heroines within whom we could regularly see our brown faces reflected was both deep and vast. But along with actors like Diane Carroll, James Earl Jones, Richard Pryor, Bill Cosby, Billy Dee Williams, Teresa Graves, and a smattering of others, Jim Kelly was one of the proudly watched, though rarely visible few.

Admittedly, for me in those very formative years it was Muhammad Ali and Bruce Lee who were my two biggest pop culture idols. But Jim Kelly was placed high among them on very short list. And though he had only appeared in a few films -- even fewer of which were actually good films -- the impression that he made on me, and so many others like me, was positive, strong, and long lasting.

Nearly four years ago this month, while attending the San Diego Comicon in 2009, I had the unexpected pleasure of meeting Jim Kelly. And though I've never been much in the way of anybody's fanboy, I found myself that day temporarily awestruck. But then, for me, there was actually so much more involved with meeting Jim Kelly than just meeting Jim Kelly.  

In the theoretical principle of six-degrees of separation, it's said that a connection between any two people located anywhere in the world could be established through the identification of five or fewer shared acquaintances. You know such-and-such, who knows so-and-so, who knows blasé-skippy-woo-woo. Well, because Jim had known both Lee and Ali, being in his presence for that brief moment made me feel somehow much more closely connected to all of my boyhood idols. 

Yesterday, in the wake of Jim’s passing, my buddy Joe Doughrity (Akira's Hip-Hop Shop) gave a touching remembrance on his Facebook page. There he mentioned that he'd also met Jim at a comic convention. But this meeting was much more recent than mine, having occurred just in the past few months. Fortunately, due to the growing popularity of such conventions, people like he and I will often get a chance to shake the hands of some of the pop culture figures that we looked up to as kids. Master Jim Kelly was one of them.

Feeling a tad bit overwhelmed at the moment, and losing my way on just how I should close this post, I’ll defer to Joe, who I think summed it best when he said of Master Kelly that: "He fought the good fight."

That he did, true believers. That he did. 

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6.25.2013

Set Adrift on Chocolate Memory Bliss

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Not that there's any reason to even recall this, but I forgot that Chicago's Beatrice Foods was once the home of some of America's sweetest candy treats. These include Milk Duds, Slo Poke and Black Cow suckers. As early as the 1920s, these cavity causers had been made in Chicago by the Holloway Company. In the early 1960s, Holloway was bought by Beatrice Foods. Around that same time, the Clark Company of Pittsburgh (maker of Clark and Zagnut bars) was bought up by Beatrice's expanding candy empire.

By the end of the following decade, it was a familiar sight to find text-heavy centerfolds in the pages of comic books that advertised Beatrice & Holloway's "Infamous Milk Duds Superduds Sweepstakes!" First place winners were awarded with an all expenses paid trip to New York City. While there in the rotten apple, the winner and their guests (limit 4) would be given a tour of the offices of either Marvel or DC Comics. Even better, an artist would draw the lucky winner's sweet-toothed likeness into the pages of their favorite comic.

Well, as happenstance would have it, while on my break at work yesterday I found myself noticing the Clark candy bars perched in the spiral rings of the snack machine. I'm still not sure as to why they caught my eye, I was never particularly a fan of Clark bars. In fact, as far as crunchy peanut butter bricks covered in milk chocolate went, the Butterfinger (another well-known candy originally made in Chicago) was always so much yummier.

But then today, with the Clark bars in the snack machine at work still hovering at the back of my brain, I happened across one of those old Superduds Sweepstakes ads. After focusing on a small image of the Clark bar's blue and red wrapper at the top of a cut-out entry blank, I had a realization: Save for Milk Duds and maybe Zagnut, I never see any of Clark's fellow candies anymore. Are any of 'em still even made? And as my thoughts reached for the remnants of sugar sweetened memories, I found myself gripped with a gnawing pang for the tastes of days gone by.


6.22.2013

The Bread Ties that Bind [Excerpt]

By St. Paco

As Billy (aka Upski) talked, I handed him a mock-up of the graffiti magazine Reminisce that I had dreams of publishing. He interrupted himself to gush over the colorful laser printed pages contained in clear plastic sleeves, and enthused support of my desire to publish the photos of Chicago graffiti art that I’d taken over the years. His almost boyish enthusiasm quickly called to mind my early impression of him the day we met at an art show hosted by our mutual homeboy Dzine. This was four years earlier at the Hot House, a bar on Chicago’s North Side.

On that day, Upski flipped thoughtfully through the large black photo album that I’d brought with me. I stood nearby chatting with West Side graffiti artists Answer, Casper and B-Boy B. Standing a few feet away from us, Slang, an old school homeboy from the FEDS crew (and an 'enemy' of Upksi’s) stood chatting with Dzine about one of several large paintings hanging around the room.

Upski & Slang

To the amazement of everyone in-the-know, just minutes before I had convinced Slang and Upski to pose together for a picture. Within that photo's edges, Upski’s discomfort is forever framed. As far as I was concerned, though, whatever 'beef' had existed between those two should have been squashed years ago. And, as I vaguely recalled, the problem was actually between Upski and Slang’s crew mate Orko anyway. 

Back in the late 1980s, when we were all teens, Billy had foolishly initiated an ill advised battle between himself and Orko. This done by defacing one of Orko’s recent pieces with a 'diss' regarding--of all bloody things--Orko’s mother. Orko’s reply to Billy’s challenge, when he finally caught up to him, was a blast of spray paint into the face of the cocky young challenger. Long after the paint had been washed away, the act would leave a different kind of stain.

My photo album held snapshots of pieces dating back to 1987, the golden age of graffiti art in Chicago. Billy laughed aloud when he saw the pages that featured photos of the “Fuck This Noise!” piece that he and his partner-in-crime Raven had painted on the south side of the Beatrice Foods building at 16th and Wentworth, a few blocks south of the Loop. He was clearly flattered to see his work included there, but perhaps even more flattered to see how, under the last of those photos, I had transcribed his infamous epilogue that had been tagged out in lavender paint on the right side of the mural:

Fuck this noise! Fuck everyone that says this is a crime! Fuck them! Fuck all you suckers who like to talk about me! Word! Fuck you backstabbers! You know who the fuck you are! Fuck this noise! Fuck Sgt. King...and the graffiti squad! Fuck them dicks! Word!!! Special love to Preach, who died for the art. RIP...and to Warp and Lola and the crew: Crone, Kep, Agent, Rest... Peace. -- The Union

 

It was a teen-angst tantrum leveled against the forces (both real and imagined) that Billy felt opposing him from within the city’s hip-hop subculture--and the finger-shaking parent culture at large. The mural itself was a 5-ft by 30-ft masterpiece with that oh-so-colorful phrase applied to the yellow brick wall of the Beatrice Foods building in Raven’s innovative wildstyle. Never before or since had a more beautifully profane work of art graced a wall in any city anywhere.

Admittedly, it was a something of a shock to me when I first saw the piece. Neither I nor my homeboy Seth, who I painted with then, had ever seen the word fuck used so many times in a single paragraph--let alone on a public space! Even more shocking, we would learn shortly after seeing it that Upski was actually just a 14-year old punk kid at the time.

Though Billy and I had seen each other at various hip-hop gatherings like jams at Hyde Park’s Blue Gargoyle, he and I hadn’t met until the day of Dzine’s art show. He was curiously dressed that day in blue jeans, black t-shirt, backwards turned King Sun baseball cap, and a reflective orange and yellow visibility vest that he had somehow acquired. It was the very same vest worn by Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) employees when working on or near the train tracks. He boldly claimed to have worn it during a recent bombing run; a few quick pieces on two buildings across the tracks at 16th street, less than half a block from the Noise mural which, at that time in 1992, was faded with half a decade of decay.

Around the same time, on another late night bombing run, Billy returned to the Beatrice building and actually scrawled out in black spray paint an unedited version of his article, “Chicago: The City That Revived Breakdancing” on the remaining space to the right of the fading "Fuck This Noise!" mural. According to Billy, he didn’t appreciate the editorial liberties that The Source had taken with his work, and wanted to make it available--in its unedited entirety--to the hip-hop kids of the Chi-town underground.

 
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Excerpt from "Upski & Me: The Bread Ties that Bind" by St. Paco, published in Kung Fu Grip! #3

6.21.2013

Funky Flyer King – Regnoc of Dem Dare

In the boogie down Chi-town, between 1990 and 1994, the legendary urban fraternity known as Dem Dare had most of the Windy City's party scene under padlock. This multifaceted crew was made up of deejays Twilite Tone (aka Ynot), X-Ray, Reno, and the funky flyer rocker known as Regnoc.

It was through Regnoc's skillfully made flyers, that most of the young party people in Chicago were introduced to the productions of Dem Dare. Each 8.5" x 11" or 11" x 14" handbill carried his trademark blend of graffiti writing, black pidgin English, and comic strip-style cartoons--complete with slang-filled word balloons.

Unlike a lot of party pluggers circulating in the "Chi" at the time, Regnoc's flyers always offered a clearly defined aesthetic and a signature theme. Depicted on each of the black & white handouts were scenes of cool urban youths rockin' fly clothes branded with the embroidered logos of Polo, Adidas, Timberland, Nautica, and others.

In addition to providing interested parties with the requisite information one would expect from a flyer (who, what, when, where and how much), the recipients got a little something extra, too. From each sheet, cool hunters got a glimpse at a very bourgeois lifestyle from the nicer parts of the hood, as well as some its accompanying philosophy.

Like so many other hip-hop heads in the late 1980s and 90s, the Dem Dare posse was on that Nation of Islam-inspired “god body shit.” As such, the hella condescending view that the Five Percent splinter sect holds towards the ignorant 85% of humanity ('cause they lack knowledge of self) was right up in the esoteric mix.

Observing the lessons of the Percenters, black women were adoringly referred to as "wisdoms" and "Earths," swine or pork eating was forcefully rejected, and the books of Elijah Muhammad, the founder of the Nation of Islam in Chicago, was recommended reading. And on at least one flyer, folks with woolly curls (or dreads) atop their heads were said to have "hair like Jesus."

And speaking of the anointed one...

In one of Kanye West's typically candid interviews, recorded in 2002 while seated in the barber's chair of Ibn Jasper, the "Jesus Walks" rapper refers to Regnoc--well-known in Polo worshiping circles for his fabled Ralph Lauren sportswear collection--as the "god of Polo." Even more, the Louie Vuitton Don enthusiastically calls him the "god of Chicago hip-hop."

Now, while this journalist prolly wouldn't go as far in his praises of Regnoc as "Yeezy" does, he cannot help but recall here the not-so-old adage that God is in the details. And this because Regnoc's celestial body of work is all about the details.

From 1994 to 2000, a period that would see the quick end of one creative era and the start of another, Regnoc (now Reggieknow) moved the marketing of hip-hop to a whole 'nother level. While working for Chicago's Burrell Communications, he masterminded a highly successful series of hip-hop flavored Sprite commercials--Yes, those Sprite commercials.

It was Reggie who oversaw those dope hip-hop "Obey Your Thirst" spots. For anyone who missed ‘em, the 30-60 second ads featured rappers like MC Shan & KRS-One, Grand Puba, Pete Rock & CL Smooth, Nas, AZ, and others. As the brainchild of one of hip-hop's own, the thoughtful spots touched the hearts and mind's of the generation. But the best of those ads was still yet to come.

In 1998, Reggie's five-part Voltron spots, featuring Common, Fat Joe, Mack 10, Goodie Mob, Afrika Bambaataa and Jazzy Jay, rocked both the small screen and the domes of old school cartoon fans. The following year, he assembled the clan of the "Five Deadly Women." This second campaign, based on a Shaw Brothers celluloid classic, featured Roxanne Shante, Lady Bug Mecca, Eve, Mia X, Amil, Angie Martinez, Millie Jackson, Swizz Beats and Kool Keith. 

If you were watching Soul Train, Rap City, or even Dragon Ball in the mid to late 1990s, by way of the commercial break you'd actually come to know some of this master's later and greater works. But since everything great starts somewhere, this YKFS retrospective is goin' all the way back in the day to spotlight a classic time in Chicago hip-hop when Reggieknow was the city's flyest "paper king"

Submitted for your approval: the Dem Dare flyers of Regnoc.








 




6.20.2013

Kanye West + ReggieKnow + Toy Tokyo



CHANNELZEROTV.COM presents the never-before-seen clip "Chicago Hip Hop 101", starring Kanye West and his trusty, fashion forward barber, Ibn Jasper. Filmed in the years prior to the release of the multi-platinum Roc-A-Fella debut album "College Dropout", we join the duo mid-haircut as Kanye drops knowledge on the iconic Chicago hip-hop fixtures they grew up with. Along with in-depth narration by Kanye, we bring you exclusive CREATIVECONTROL.TV footage of the Toy Tokyo gallery showing hosted by Fashion Figure, Inc.'s creator and stylist, ReggieKnow aka "Polo Reg". Shot & Chopped by: Danny Joe Sorge and Directed by: Coodie & Chike

Published on Apr 17, 2013

6.18.2013

Fanboy letter to BROTHERMAN, circa 1992


 Dear Sims Bros.,

I have just finished reading Brotherman: Dictator of Discipline number 5, and as I type this letter, I continue to admire the book's fantastic illustrations. Dave Sims' art is unique, innovative and quite distinctive of urban youth subculture. May I say that Brotherman is a graffiti artist's dream? The "ERUPTION" splash-page was striking, and the last panel of page 14 resurrected memories I retain that only few individuals could share: remnants of broken glass, soda pop cans and empty spray paint cans intermingling on a 'Big City' rooftop. Humph! Knowotimean?

Dave's art coupled with Guy's amusing, insightful, poignant prose provides each reader with a captivating street-level view of life in the megapolis...or a view from the underground, if you will, which brings me to my point. A book like Brotherman: Dictator of Discipline is a gem in the comics genre. It is a gem because it is one of the only such books in which graffit art or urban art is presented in such a professional manner. "A View From Da' Underground" by Tramp, Hayz and Cee, printed in The Source is one other such gem. But gems indeed are rare.

Hence, it is my hope to one day see other innovative illustrators like Tramp, Hayz and Cee--and still others like Pikasso--contributing toward the expansion of this art form in comics. It would also be a privilege to see famed graffiti artists like Dondi, Futura, Gnome, Seen and Skeme providing diverse interpretations of cover art for Brotherman comics.

Peace in the East.

PDT
Chicago, IL


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Letter originally published in Brotherman: Dictator of Discipline #6, 1992

6.02.2013

David Carradine on superheroes


"When I was a little kid I read a comic book called Supersnipe. This maybe six-year-old kid was the world's biggest comic fan, and he dressed up in baggy red long johns with the window in the back, plus a cape and a little black mask, and went around trying to fight crime and stuff. But in a couple of the stories, he actually became Supersnipe, over six feet tall, with lots of muscles and skintight long johns, but still with this tiny six-year-old head on top of it all. And it wasn't exactly a dream in the stories; the daring deeds really did get done.

"Well, I was the world's greatest comic fan, and I got my grandmother to sew me a superhero costume and tried to fly in it, off the garage roof. I really believed this stuff, and I'm not embarrassed to say I still do... Superhuman abilities are a lot of fun. Rarely in the comic books do they get into the price. It's heavy, as I remember. But, hey, you live only an infinite number of times, so why not make yourself useful."

– David Carradine
Source: The Kill Bill Diary, pg. 131