or, Regards, Dieon Sanders, but this is the real SHOWTIME.
By Ryan Schreiber
The World Is Mine
I have something to admit. One of my top five favorite movies on all time is “Scarface” (the 1983 version with Al Pacino, not the 1932 one with Paul Muni). With Miami as the backdrop, the movie opens in 1980 when Fidel Castro allowed thousands of Cubans to immigrate to the United States. Many of those who emigrated were ex-convicts. That part is true. It’s during this exodus that Tony Montana, the movie’s protagonist, comes to Miami. Himself a serious criminal, Tony finds his way into a life of crime in the US. A graphic tale of his meteoric rise to the top of the cocaine trade, “Scarface” uses all the tools of the proverbial trade: sex, drugs, murder, and mayhem. Of course, I am not the only one who reacts favorably to this movie. According to the movie’s Wikipedia page (which I totally trust), the film has been recognized as one of the greatest of all time.
Actually, I guess it’s not that surprising that I like “Scarface” after all. You’re probably wondering where I’m going with this, right?
Okay, I have something else to admit. I’m white, middle-class, and was raised in suburbia but I LOVE hip-hop. I don’t mean pop-hop (if you will), I mean real true hip-hop. Also, you should know, I totally thought I made that term up until I googled it and found out that I did not, in fact, make it up.
I’m willing to bet it’s not terribly surprising to you that I love hip-hop, but that you are left with a strange feeling about it. That it’s just not “right” for someone like me to really and truly love hip-hop. When I started listening to hip-hop, it was more surprising for me to like it than it is now. Even so, the sentiment still persists that there is just something amiss when someone of a pale persuasion is genuinely interested in hip-hop as a genre.
When MC Hammer started to reach a broader appeal, he became too “white” to rap “purists”. I will be honest – I have never understood why hip-hop has been “off-limits” to large portions of the population. I never wasted too much time thinking about it, though, until a few days ago.
The wheels began to turn a little a few months ago when I went to see “Notorious” (on opening day and the earliest showing I could find in my area). I was supremely excited for a movie that I thought was so overdue; so much so that I went alone because no one else wanted to go at 10:30 in the morning. Of course, I enjoyed the film (despite some of its major flaws). As in real life, Christopher Wallace is killed. As in real life, I cried a little. After the funeral back in Brooklyn, his mother, Voletta Wallace, is in the back of a limousine driving down some of the same streets where she and her son lived most of their lives. She finds the streets full of people. She finds people hanging out the windows to get a glimpse of her and her son as they process through the streets. Instead of an outpouring of mourning, Voletta finds a celebration. She rolls her window down and hears the city exalting the memory and talent of her son. That’s when Voletta said what really struck me: Biggie touched the lives of all these people because he was a great storyteller.
Christopher Wallace’s rise to fame as The Notorious B.I.G. was meteoric. In a few short years he went from crack dealer to multi-platinum multi-millionaire. His vehicle to the top was an ability to rhyme like no one before (or since, in my opinion). He transformed “the game” by his ability as a storyteller. His stories featured all the tools of the proverbial trade: sex, drugs, murder, and mayhem.
I recognize that there are differences between movies and music. Of course, Christopher Wallace was both artist and subject. His work was, in some ways, a self portrait. Obviously the same is not true for a movie like “Scarface”. I understand why urban culture would relate to hip-hop, that is not my point. My point is that, like a movie such as “Scarface” (or even one like “Transformers”), hip-hop depicts a reality. If they depict that reality well, the subject matter becomes accessible to the audience.
In other types of artistic expression we exalt the ability of the artist to depict the “everyman”. Someone who is simultaneously nothing like us, but embodies the things that we all see in ourselves. Not everything in every Biggie song happened to him, or even to someone else, but The Notorious B.I.G. as a narrator was unparalleled. The Notorious B.I.G. was a character whose story included some truth, and some fantasy. The Notorious B.I.G. as a narrator guided (and guides) us through the story like Homer guided his listeners through the journey of Odysseus in the Odyssey, or like Al Pacino and Brian De Palma guided us through the rise and fall of Tony Montana. Just because some of us cannot relate to the particular struggle, he embodies many of the everyman characteristics we relate to in Scarface, or Odysseus.
This is true for all of hip-hop. The artists, like artists of other form, either depict a reality that is relatable or not. I recognize that there is more truth in their expression than in many others, but that should not take it away from me. I should still be able to love it openly and freely without judgment….. haters.
This column has been brought to you by the letter C as in “Colleen Jakey” (and has been inspired by the same).