Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Dime Squad #2: Miles Marshall Lewis

Second up in our series of interviews with recent contributors is American cultural critic, editor, fiction writer and "bohemian b-boy" Miles Marshall Lewis.

DVN: As soon as we first start talking about a Nineties Hip-Hop Issue you straight away mentioned Hype Williams. Considering the scale of what could be covered, what drew you to Hype?

MML: Contributor Michael A. Gonzales is a close friend. We've had a lot of private conversations about enjoying Belly, the 1998 Hype Williams film. When Michael mentioned the Hip-Hop Issue to me, we both thought immediately of Hype. With his omnipresence on late 1990s MTV, a lot of folks expected Hype to graduate to Hollywood in a bigger way, like former video directors David Fincher, Brett Ratner, Spike Jonze and McG, for example. But his imprint on Nineties hiphop is enormous if you think for even two seconds about the images of the culture that flooded that era.

DVN: Why do you think Hype has never really made that step into Hollywood? Do you think if big screen recognition never happens for Hype it might be something he looks back on and wishes he had achieved?

MML: Right now Hype's supposed to be directing Lust, an erotic thriller written by Joe Eszterhas, who did the scripts for Basic Instinct, Flashdance and Showgirls. In 2004 Hollywood made a live-action Fat Albert film that Hype was tied to at some point. Someone else directed and it flopped. He got hired to direct Speed Racer too, another flop that fell through for him. Researching for my piece in the Hip-Hop Issue, I found another project, a zombie horror movie called Thrilla, that got stuck in development hell for him. The period between Belly and Lust may just not have been Hype's time for Hollywood. Better for him to have spent the years improving his craft than for him to have blown his shot directing flops.

DVN: You were also interesting in doing something on the East Coast/West Coast rivarly, but we already had Charlie touching on that in his Pac piece and Michael in his Bad Boy feature. Charlie describes hearing about Pac's death and MAG talked about crying when he heard Biggie died in a recent blog post. Do you have memories of both those incidents?

MML: When Tupac died, I was headed to a Giorgio Armani party downtown at the Armory. I found out from David Mays, the founder and publisher of The Source magazine. He had just found out somehow, and went through the office telling everybody the news. I was on the phone with someone in the Source's conference room. Dave peeked his head in and said "he's outta here" or something like that. News reporters were outside the Armory asking people about his death as we all went inside. D'Angelo was performing at the party dedicating songs to Pac, and everybody there was talking about it. I didn't cry for Big, but definitely I cried for Pac. I remember that moment, smoking a blunt and listening to "Old School," off of Me Against the World.

When Biggie was killed, I was spending the night at a girlfriend's house in New Jersey: Asondra R. Hunter, the second editor-in-chief of Honey magazine. She was out in L.A. at the party where Big was shot. She called and told me what happened. I checked messages from my answering machine in Brooklyn. My father had called, my best friend Marc and Asondra again. It was numbing.

DVN: Can you remember the first hip-hop record you fell in love with?

MML: My childhood in the South Bronx was full of hiphop I loved: "Rapper's Delight" and "8th Wonder" (Sugarhill Gang), "The Breaks" (Kurtis Blow), "Feel the Heartbeat" (Fearless Four). "Original Human Beat Box" by Doug E. Fresh too. But the first rap record I loved enough to buy was "Roxanne Roxanne." I bought the whole UTFO album. Mix Master Ice could cut.

DVN: The Bronx seeps into your work quite abit, from your first book Scars of the Soul Are Why Kids Wear Bandages When They Don't Have Bruises through to the title of your publication Bronx Biannual. Looking back to those early hip-hop records you just mentioned, could you tell something special was happening?

MML: Well, yeah. Something special was happening whether or not it ever spread worldwide. I was just a kid in the backseat of the car hearing his parents laugh at the Sugarhill Gang when their records came on the radio. Dad said rap would never last, Mom agreed with Dad, and that was the end of it. From their point of view. But especially once Def Jam Recordings took hold, plus Krush Groove and flicks of that nature came out, I knew hiphop was never going anywhere. I never bothered to see Beat Street in the movies; I lived on Beat Street

DVN: Ha! And I think all Dubliners who didn't see Once can relate to that... So how did you end up making the jump from hip-hop fan to hip-hop journalist?

MML: I'd interned on Vibe's first two issues in the summer of 1993. I published my earliest work around that time in magazines like Noir, Freedom Rag and Eyeball. Then The Source had a famous editorial walkout that I won't get into here, but it left them with no writers, and I was one of the freelancers to fill in the gap. My Grand Puba feature for them was the first time I ever got paid. A year later I was reviewing Erykah Badu's first album for Rolling Stone. Three years later I was the music editor of Vibe. In 2004 I published my first book, sort of a memoir of my relationship to hiphop, including interviews with Russell Simmons, KRS-One, ?uestlove and Afrika Bambaataa.

MML's work can be viewed at and he tweets @futhermucker

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