As you can read in Armond White's interview with the director, elsewhere in this issue, Toback has a rather impressive history of being completely fuckwitted about race himself. To his credit, he doesn't pass himself off as an expert?the movie is supposed to promote discussion. A terrible movie about pop and race is indeed preferable to the American tradition of keeping our knottiest cultural issue under the rug. But now that hiphop has made such efforts ludicrous, can we hear from someone who does know who he is? The two minutes of screen time Method Man has in Black and White are supremely entertaining, and all he does is riff into a video camera. Meth's mere presence says more about hiphop than 10,000 James Tobacks ever could, so how long do we have to wait to see him in a feature he wrote?
Jim Jarmusch offered a glimpse, via RZA's Ghost Dog cameo, of what could result if artists who love hiphop, and know what they're doing, made hiphop movies. Other than that, Ice Cube is all alone for now. His critically maligned box-office smash Next Friday doesn't explicitly deal with interracial politics?it's more of a statement about (i.e., streetwise mockery of) the striving black middle class. (Could that be why The Source hated it?) Cube is inarguably among hiphop's greatest writers. If he'd teamed up and stayed with an equally talented DJ/producer early on, there'd be no chance of his films surpassing the greatness of his recorded output. As it is, we'll see. His new album, War & Peace Vol. II (The Peace Disc)?in stores now, on Priority?definitely has its moments. Everyone interested in rap and race needs to at least hear the brilliant skits, "Pimp Homeo" and "Dinner with the CEO." For fans there's another N.W.A. reunion track, and lots of excellent poetry conveying the view from Cube's unique vantage point. The beats, as on every Cube album since Straight Outta Compton, conform to the style of the moment. He's brave, but he ain't crazy.
I guess the same could be said for RZA, whose soundtrack for Ghost Dog comes out on Tuesday (4/11, on Epic). Instead of the mostly instrumental score used in the movie, the CD has vocals?raps by some of the Wu-Tang proteges who appeared on that summer-of-'98 compilation Wu-Tang Killa Bees: The Swarm and other special guests. I have no argument with Kool G Rap and RZA himself rhyming on "Cakes," or Masta Killa and Superb on "The Man," or Jeru and Afu-Ra on "East New York Stamp" or even Suga Bang Bang on "Don't Test." And Meth, ODB, U-God and Masta Killa on "Samurai Code Quote #5"?forget about it?as soon as they heard that one in the movie, heads knew they had to buy the album. But the rest I liked better instrumental. The Wu-Tang nine and rappers of their caliber can improve a RZA track?Black Knights and Tekitha can't. I've noticed that a lot of people who don't think they like hiphop loved the music in Ghost Dog (just check the film's capsule review in the Post). Unless he's going to release a nonvocal version later in the year, I think RZA might have blown his chance for an Oscar nomination and a whole new audience. Of course, I'm inspired by the way Prince Paul runs his career, so in hiphop-business lingo I'm "out of my goddamn mind."
Wu-Tang executive, actor and generally imposing fellow Oli "Power" Grant put together the Black and White soundtrack, which is out now on Loud. Along with RZA's brother Mitchell Diggs, RZA and Power make up the team who handled the business side for most of the great Wu-Tang albums, so it's interesting to see how they're working apart. The album Black and White probably had a much bigger budget, and perhaps that's the main reason it's more satisfying than the Ghost Dog CD. It's just that neither soundtrack packs the wallop of a carefully conceived, full-length whole, and Black and White's highlights get higher. Prodigy's rhyme for "Don't Be a Follower" opens with the best timely verse of 2000, an admonition of trigger-happy yahoos who ruin hiphop shows. "Niggas need to save that shit for outside," declares the 25-year-old rap elder. Dead Prez's "Dem Crazy" is in its sly way more confrontational than anything on the radical duo's album. The song is breezy and beautiful, with Stephen Marley in the background sounding just like his dad, and then the hook goes: "Everything you got/Is what you took from me." Raekwon and his Cream Team pick up slack between the inevitable filler, manifesting the quality of ghetto intellect and energy that the movie Black and White can only clumsily try to frame.
People keep asking me about the new Common album, Like Water for Chocolate, but I reviewed it for other publications, so I'll summarize: get it if you like Common, or want to like Common. It sounds great, much like D'Angelo's Voodoo. And everybody should get D'Angelo's Voodoo, even though the establishment loves it. The establishment is right on that one.
Since such cases are rare, Jah praise Ego Trip. This collective of five rap journalists is smarter than me, as they figured out that almost no one wants to read intelligent hiphop criticism. After their magazine went under, they found ways to comment on hiphop without making people, y'know, read a bunch of hard words. Ego Trip reinvented itself with last year's very funny and informative Book of Rap Lists. On Tuesday the book's "soundtrack" hits stores (4/11, on Rawkus). Comprised of 12 forgotten singles from the Reagan era, it's called The Big Playback. It's a serious crit job Ego Trip's doing here, because the comp proves that to know only the great rap albums is to miss out on a lot of crucial hiphop history. Singles, before rap radio went corporate, is where the most direct lyrical action took place. Quality liner notes by Ego Trip's Chairman Mao put The Big Playback's tracks in context. Some of them are a bit too primitive for repeated plays, but the wit on display in the Bizzie Boyz's "Droppin' It," Rammelzee vs. K-Rob's "Beat Bop" (an influential single impossible to purchase for less than $500 because Basquiat did the artwork) and MC EZ (later known as Craig Mack) & Troup's "Get Retarded" will hold up for at least a few more decades.
For those of you joining us late, this is the events column, and I am all kinds of Jewish. This is the week when my people immerse themselves in rap music. So I had to enlist some colleagues to tell you about the rock shows in town this week. First up is the O.G. of New York Press, John Strausbaugh:
"From crossdressing punk to lounge lizard to old blues guy?not a bad way to grow up gracefully in public. David Johansen & The Harry Smiths play two shows Friday at the Bottom Line to party for their new CD, on which he matches his froggy rasp to fine old chestnuts like 'Richland Woman,' 'Little Geneva,' 'Don't Start Me Talking' and the great 'Oh Death.'" (4/7, 7:30 & 10:30 p.m., 15 W. 4th St. at Mercer St., 228-7880, $15.)
Ben Sisario, in some ways the Outsidaz of New York Press, has a pick as well:
"A year or two ago I told you to like the Figgs because they're a great rock band that's been unjustly overlooked in the marketplace and abused by bottom-liners in the industry. True as that may be, I don't want to use pity and guilt as critical values, so forget it. Dig the Figgs because their latest, For EP Fans Only (HearBox.com), is a bare-bones discourse on anger and power-pop, made with nice low-fi intimacy." They perform Saturday at the Knitting Factory. (4/8, 74 Leonard St., betw. Church St. & B'way, 219-3055, $8.)
And Lisa LeeKing, listings editor and official Bed-Stuy representative of New York Press, thinks you might want to know about these three shows: Dirty Three with Storm and Stress, Thursday at Bowery Ballroom (4/6, 6 Delancey St. at Bowery, 533-2111, $12); The Need and Kathleen Hanna's band Le Tigre, Friday at Brownies (4/7, 169 Ave. A, betw. 10th & 11th Sts., 420-8392, 6 p.m. all-ages matinee, $8, 10 p.m. grownup show sold out); and the return of Swingin' Neckbreakers, with Mooney Suzuki, Saturday at CBGB. (4/8, 315 Bowery at Bleecker St., 982-4052, $10.)
Mary Lou Retton, America's Sweetheart just two or three America's Sweethearts ago, will appear at the Rockefeller Center Barnes & Noble to sign copies of her new book, Gateways to Happiness, on Wednesday. (4/5, 12:30 p.m., 600 5th Ave. at 48th St., 756-0590, free.) On both Wednesday and Thursday a remarkable film-noir coincidence was supposed to have taken place: Cinema Classics was planning to screen Abraham Polonsky's mobster classic Force of Evil on the exact same two days when Film Forum unveils its new print of Orson Welles' Touch of Evil (see "Movie Clock" for details). But Cinema Classics is closed until further notice. Not since the Dick York/Dick Sargent unpleasantness has a note of synchronicity rung so ominously. Also ominous is the call "To All People of Talent in the New York City Area" that headlines the press release for Sunday's "Talent America" preliminary competition. Be on the lookout for even more disturbing uses of the "people of..." locution in the near future. (4/9 at the Julia Richmond School, 317 E. 67th St., betw. 1st & 2nd Aves., 473-6237, 10 a.m.?register at 9 a.m.)
People of crippling illness tend to appreciate when people of relative health raise a lot of money for medical research, so why not participate in Sunday's 12th-annual Manhattan MS Walk (people of talent will be busy that day, and so are excused)? There's a 2.5-mile route, a 7.5-mile route and, for people of robustness, a 12.5-mile route. Persons of dubious fame Rudy Giuliani and NBC's Dr. Max Gomez will send off walkers from the World Trade Center at 11 a.m. on April 9. Internet service provider of maddening inadequacy RCN is the event's primary sponsor. Call 463-9791 to register.