Black People and Comic Books? Part II

Via Arc Direct (posted 2 months ago)

“During the next few weeks I will highlight some of the audio elements that make up weeksvILLe puMzI X, an afrofuturist/black speculation fiction themed sound collage.  Each of the production’s sound elements was placed to create a sense of thematic significance.  In the case of “Secret Wars, Pt. 2 & Superfly Meets Shaft,” popular fictional characters, Marvel Comics and blaxploitation superheroes, cameo in my sound narrative to show how far and near the black speculative imagination has taken us.  Apart from their conventional existence as comic/fantasy icons, these characters are re-contextualized in these two songs in a parallel Afrofuturist universe.

rapper vs. mutant / superfly meets shaft – popular fictional characters reworked thru the afrofuturist/bsf lens

From outer space or the imagination of rapper The Last Emperor from Philly comes “Secret Wars, Pt. 2,” a hip-hop spoof of Marvel Comics’ paradigm-altered crossover series of the same name from 1984.  This epic song clocks in at 9:36 and describes a lethal “animated hip-hop grudge match” between 20+ rappers and 20+ Marvel Comics characters that take place across the universe.

Last Emperor elevates the style and story of his favorite rappers to supernatural effect by referencing the rapper’s lyrics within a science fiction landscape.  It is a full text of “Marvel Comics Street Lyrics” written with the precision and density to portray both superhero and rapper in an extended drama that true fans of either genre would adore.

What’s more amazing is Last Emperor’s masterful performance of the song in lyrical, rhyme-style impersonation of his full team of misfits.  All details of mimicry are executed precisely, from Biggie’s vocal chunkiness to DMX’s bark and rasp.  He gives you some awesome moments with Tupac’s rebellious “Holla if you hear me,” and RZA’s alter-ego Bobby Digital energy beam blasts.

Last Emperor pulls off well-organized wordplay in his storytelling verses.  One of his writing feats was the apropos use of brick in the hardrock battle between The Thing Beanie Sigel.  On wax, much of Beanie Sigel’s persona centers on his tribulations while incarcerated or peddling illegal drugs.  For him, brick is a slang term for 2 lb 3 ¼ ounces of marijuana.  His thug hip-hop persona is conveyed in song through episodes of no mercy murder and an underdog’s thirst for acquiring money by any means necessary.

On the flip side, for Ben Grimm AKA The Thing, brick is the grotesque yet impervious form that his skin mutated into after astro-travel and accidental cosmic irradiation.  The Thing’s brick-like, hardened exterior became his greatest supernatural asset against any opponent.  Pitting these two particular husky characters against each other was genius on Last Emperor’s part.

Here’s the matchup for Secret Wars, Pt. 2

  • 1.  Last Emperor v. Stan Lee
  • 2.  RZA/Wu-Tang v. Captain America/Avengers
  • 3.  Ironman/Wu–Tang v. Red Skull bumrush
  • 4.  Masta Killa & Golden Arms v. Powerman & Iron Fist
  • 5.  Blade v. DMX
  • 6.  Eve/Ruff Ryders v. She-Hulk
  • 7.  Submariner v. Ludacris/Disturbing the Peace
  • 8.   Ludacris v. Thor bumrush
  • 9.  Fantastic Four v. Roc-a-fella
  • 10.  Jay-Z v. Mr. Fantastic Reed Richards
  • 11. Human Torch v. Memphis Bleek
  • 12.  Amil v. Invisible Girl
  • 13.  The Thing v. Beanie Sigel
  • 14.  Hob Goblin v. Freeway
  • 15.  Fat Joe v. Kingpin
  • 16.  Keith Murray/Death Squad v. Dr. Doom
  • 17.  Outsidas v. Alpha Flight
  • 18.  Yung Z v. Vindicator
  • 19.  Rah Digga v. Snowbird
  • 19.  Puck & Shaman v. Outsidaz
  • 20.  Pac Won v. Sasquatch
  • 21.  Punisher v. Sticky Fingaz
  • 22.  Colussus/X-Men v. Xhibit
  • 23.  Man v. Machine
  • 24.  Emimem v. Daredevil
  • 25.  Scorpio & Rhino v. Connivator & Rufus
  • 26.  Swifty McVeigh v. Mystero
  • 27.  Con Artist v. Chameleon
  • 28.  Bizarre v. The Blob
  • 29.  Biggie & Tupac v. Black Panther & Juggernaut

Another interpolation of the black fictional superhero narrative comes in the form of “Dickie Goodman’s Superfly Meets Shaft” 45rpm record from 1973.  What happens when you take TWO of the most powerful and controversial movie characters of the 70’s and combine them in a “hot off the press” comedic faux-news skit?

“Superfly Meets Shaft” falls under the format of “the break-in record”, a cut n paste sound collage that uses bits and samples of other recorded music to break into  the narrator’s commentary creating satire and comedy.  Goodman sourced popular soul/R&B tunes to make this record popular and radio-friendly.

The gist of the tune is that Shaft is caught in a compromising risque position with the President while investigating the whereabouts of a missing Superfly, last seen in Egypt with Mrs. Jones.  After the key witness is knocked off, chances of solving the investigation become slim.  The humor in the song to me is that Goodman diverts these two characters from the machismo-ist, power-stoked blaxploitation situation they are known for, into a further twisted comedy agenda.

The break-in record is actually the earliest form of audio sampling of prerecorded material and had significant creative and legal ramifications as a pop culture production.  This tune charted at #31 and Goodman’s highest-charting break-in record, “Flying Saucer” topped at #3 in 1956.  Dickie Goodman was sued by 17 record companies for sampling on “Flying Saucer” and won the case on the basis that a new work of art could be created without copyright infringement when permissive and compensated use of prerecorded elements is agreed.

This style of sampling also shows up in early 80’s hip-hop music.  Double Dee & Steinski’s Lessons 1, 2 & 3 are more danceable versions of the break-in style, using all manner of sample sources from James Brown, Culture Club, Humphrey Bogart, The Supremes, Johnny Carson, and the list goes on.  The News Crew produced Special Bulletin, a break-in record more reminiscent of Goodman’s narrative style with its Reagan-era social commentary.”

Check out some of Arc Direct’s other posts on blacks and comic books here and here.

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