Thursday, May 24, 2012
Living in (Crack) City
In Spike Lee's half-brilliant Jungle Fever (1991), when protagonist Flip Purify (Wesley Snipes) wanders through the gritty streets of Harlem looking for his crackhead brother Gator (Samuel L. Jackson), the filmmaker chose to highlight the harrowing sequence by using Stevie Wonder's powerful soul anthem 'Living for the City'.
When the drug was introduced to the Harlem scene in the early-1980s it was only a matter of months before the foundation began to crumble. A year later, the majority of New York's low-income neighbourhoods looked like the war-torn landscapes of Europe during WW2. Watching the film during it's opening week-end twenty-one years, I related well to the disgust on Flip's face as he stared at the devastation that crack cocaine caused in our community.
As a native New Yorker born and raised on the uptown streets of Harlem, my personal version of 'Living for the City' went from stickball games in the street to dodging bullets in the day as crack vials shattered beneath my sneakered feet. Yet, while smoking crack rocks began its raging rein of terror in 1984, the same communities were also contributing culturally with the rise of rap music.
With rappers becoming the aural equivalent of Italian neo-realists directors, my favorite being Vittorion De Sica, these young poets were unafraid of showing 'the real' in their material. It was only a matter of time before crack culture (selling, buying, dying) and rap music began to overlap. Twenty-eight years after I first heard a cocaine corner boy on a 145th Street muttering, "Crack, crack, crack," there has been thousands of rock related songs released.
When I began working on my latest drug-related essay 'Memories of Crack City' for the forthcoming One More Robot Summer Issue, I spent a lot of time on YouTube getting lifted and inspired by crack songs created by everyone from Schoolly D to Lil Wayne to Rick Ross. However, since this is issue #10, I decided to pick my personal top-ten crack classics based discs to serve as the soundtrack. In addition, since the piece is about New York, all the songs selected are East Coast based. As one crack head screamed to the other, "Rock on!"
1. Cracked Out by Masters of Ceramony
2. Ten Crack Commandments by The Notorious BIG
3. Rap Game/Crack Game by Jay-Z
4. White Lines by Grandmaster Melle Mel & The Furious 5
5 Crack Attack by Fat Joe
6. Night of the Living Baseheads by Public Enemy
7. Incarcerated Scarfaces by Raekwon
8. Shook Ones by Mobb Deep
9. Just to Get a Rep by Gang Starr
10. NYC Crack by The Wu Tang Clan featuring RZA
Bonus Track. The P is Free by Boogie Down Productions
Read Michael's essay 'Memories in Crack City' exclusively in the new issue of One More Robot.