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Hip Hop Got To Stop 6: Science At The Video Store
"Black" cinema was, and in some ways is, an important market.As Urban America depopulated of most anyone with a steady, decent job - tonnes of gorgeous cinemas - you know, like the ones taken over by vampire pseudo-Christian money cults round here, went spare.At first, a major new genre of cinema took them over. "Blaxploitation" was a label given to Red Top, Black helmed Exploitation Cinema - as in Exploiting pop genres and ideas from the headlines, like the venal fraud of the Drug War, or making a cleavage powered Jane Bond. Loads of films from Shaft to Black Shampoo to The Black Gestapo and worse picked up the slack left by a Hollywood that would only deign to have a Black character that was a cleaner, a Saint or both.It burnt out.In part because another genre emerged that spoke to the same questions and delivered better answers. Kung Fu.Cheap to buy, dubbed genius and garbage from Hong Kong had working class heroes kicking the fuck out of The Man, and you didn't need to roll a new camera load of film to catch the magic. The Shaw Brothers were the self styled Warner-alikes from Hong Kong. They built a massive studio complex and made amazing, epic art action films like 36 Chambers of Shaolin and Five Fingers of Death. Far beyond over-hyped Bruce Lee, these were expensive looking films filled with colourful characters and elaborate, camera-trick light fight scenes.The Japanese got in on it, too. Sonny Chiba and his Karate friends bought blood, style and far funkier music into the mix. In fact, if you wanted a bag of tight green, the code was to turn up during a Chiba flick such as The Streetfighter or The Tongfather, as the best peddlers of product were in the house. This is where the old weed slang, "Cheeba" came from - later adapted by Cocktail Trip Hop types. The Japanese take on action had the blood, gore, and nudity the more prim Shaws could not dig. And also a rich seam of Manga and samurai mythology to mine. The first Lone Wolf and Cub flicks were cut and revoiced into English as Shogun Assassin. A full on sensory slamming stew of swordplay, blood, blood and beats.Well into the 90s, these films found a ready audience in the Ghetto. Especially on the more cold, introspective East Coast. These films and ideas were hard to find otherwise. A trip to a suburban Blockbuster meant Fatal Attraction, Rain Man and fucking Police Academy - not magic. 59th generation bootlegs off Taiwanese TV were nabbed from Chinatown vendors and copied again before falling into the hands of sonic wizards seeking a unique direction in the wake of post Sample Clearance wacktardary.Trying to stay out of trouble, ice and general gloom forced any genius to build their own world and mythology. The RZA collected and ate this art as he developed a new aesthetic based on "Eastern philosophy picked up from kung fu movies, watered-down Nation of Islam preaching picked up on the New York streets, and comic books."Plenty of others had been riffing on and around the shallower pool of Blaxploitation posing. Pimps, Bitches, Macs...all the cliches that sold and created an accessible machismo.In total opposition was a cultish Modernist explosion - where rhymes and beats were secret styles and weapons in the Shaw tradition, to be deployed with maximum icy violence.I loved Rap. Especially Public Enemy, and not knowing about the Sample thing and changes in marketing lamented the fizzling out of that flame with the Anthrax infected sadness of Apocalypse '91: The Enemy Strikes Black. It had a few flashes of fantastic that anticipate early Massive Attack, but on the whole was sorry surrender.Sure there was the Native Tongues positive stuff for someone not ready to give in to juiced gin funk pop posing from Compton. Sometimes soulful, always a bit worthy. Lovely, enriching.Far from challenging - mostly. Lurking around were interesting producers like Prince Paul who were considered acceptable on even cockbag Athens Georgia pretension "College Radio." But it had little real bite, or menace, or innovation. It was hip hop as a sonic quilted teddy bear. The slow death of my beloved rap was wrapped in daisies, College Kids, posh jumpers and cod African accessories. This lot were like Warhol at his bet or Liechtenstein at his worst. All easy references.The blood was draining. What was the New Punk was becoming just more industry spunk, leaving a sweeter crust on the edge.Then I heard about an arctic blast of artistry emerging from the dark dank bedrooms and stairwells of Staten Island. In the cold November Nonsense of 1993, I stuck a menacing CD into a mostly crap car stereo and was slashed across the fucking face with a Katana Blade dipped in liquid nitrogen and blunt bittered rage. Minimal yet maximum, cold and burning, danceable yet nodding and hooded.Bring the Motherfucking Ruckus.Trying to review Enter the Wu Tang: 36 Chambers is impossible and obscene. Like trying to summarise all of Da Vinci's drawings in a word. Or pour molten titanium into a teacup.Yes it was all in the RZA's game. A playing card deck of jokers, characters allied and battling. The concept sold well beyond anyone's expectations, and was exploited to the hilt with variable solo records, then clothes, then dubious side alliances and collaborations.Ol' Dirty Bastard's cartoon crackhead act was sometimes amusing, but pretty limited. Too rinsed for slinging on the corner, deep in the welfare. Tragic. Method Man was a natural star, but his weedsploitation schtick wore thinner over time than a bathing suit made of bog roll. He was good value though.Raekwon offered a lot more.But the GZA and RZA together delivered the definitive "solo" Wu Tang record. Liquid Swords was a continuous narrative that equaled or exceeded Enter the Wu Tang. It was the real return to the 36 Chambers and envelops you in a beautiful, deep, paranoid and smoky realm of Urban Samurai fighting and defeating fate with poetry and beats.The Clan would never probably be as consistently cutting again. Listen to it all, in one go, and sling back to the '96 for Hip Hop that didn't suck.Under and around all this, the last stirrings in the corpse were happening, internationally, even in Bristol. Or evolving the surviving successor form in places like Bow and Southend on Sea. And that's the trip we'll take next.
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