The onslaught of black gangster films that were distributed in the early-to-late 1990s are the media descendants of blaxploitation films of the 1970s. They similarly portrayed black life in stark terms: as a limited, progressively negative view of blackness in the minds of Americans and international communities that have had scarce, if any, actual contact with black bodies.
The litany of Hip-hop inspired west-coast-gangster films did much to shape the perception of blackness in the minds of non-blacks and black folk alike. Further, it has had a tremendous impact on how young black folk came to understand their environment and themselves. These series of film used many rap artists associated with so-called gangster music to portray the decay of inner-city blackness. And while the films definitely illustrated stories of nihilistic suffering that engulfed ‘hood communities, it did just as much to perpetuate stereotypes of black men as “the wild black buck” and black women as the “scantily-clad vixen” that continues to be portrayed in contemporary Hip-hop music and culture.
“These are just an illustration of a few scenes that helped raise a generation.”
Running almost parallel to the timeline of the Golden Age of Disney films, black gangster films began to proliferate after the success of New Jack City; a gritty film about a ruthlessly aggressive drug lord in New York City, and, to a lesser extent, the attention Kings of New York garnered as a result of great performances from Christopher Walken, Wesley Snipes, and Lawrence Fishburne in 1991. But the marriage of Hip-hop and gangster film didn’t gain traction until west-coast-gangster rappers begin to influence the art and style of these films in the advent of Boyz ‘N The Hood, Menace II Society, South Central, Juice, and a host of other films.
In the late 1980s into the 1990s, representations of blackness on film was limited at best and deliberately stifled at worse. The commonality among all of these films is not only that they are about black youth in urban environments, but that they star Hip-hop artists that added to the credibility and authenticity of these films in the eyes of young black boys and girls. As Hip-hop continued to gain traction as the years unfolded, artists such as NWA and UGK brought urban, gangster life from cultural obscurity to the fore of the American life. Indeed, movie studios and young black directors sought to appropriate the marketing strategies that had become so successful in gangster music. As a result, young black men and women began to identify themselves with the antics of the films just as they had saw imitated and saw themselves reflected in so-called gangster music.
Lupe remembers. He reminds us with vivid detail of every gruesome scene; every drug deal gone bad, every tragic drive by, all of the angst that these films held because they are so ingrained in his psyche.
Lupe captures every scene with extreme detail in an effort to illustrate that most of his bars are coming from memory. He also weaves together scenes from a span of gangster films that have impacted his life and engages listeners in a way that conjures up a series of memories once so vivid in the imaginations of a generation of urban audiences:
Remember when Lorenze Tate beat Terrence with that pool stick…
Or when Caine pistol whip Chauncey and that fool snitched…
Remember when the whole crowd stopped and got tense/ Then they cheered when Steel put hi hand upon the fense.
Remember when Bobby took off his tear/and when Doughboy disappeared/After his brother died and he said nobody cared?/ I still do after all these years…
The purpose of such detail is to illustrate the impact of these films on his worldview. As a young man watching ganster films, the films had enormous influence because of the limited representations of blackness in the mass media.
It puts those familiar with these films back there, down to the infamous scene when Cain robs a guy at a fast food restaurants and makes him order a “double-burger w/ cheese” to throw salt in the wounds.
All of the films have young black kids experiencing trauma in vivid details that show how their dysfunctional conditions influenced the direction of their lives. Ironically, these films had done the same in the 1990s for a generation of young men and women who grew to associate these actors and lifestyles with their self identity. Only this time it was amplified by mass media distribution.
Lupe does a great job of breaking down these films from a psychological level to show how they each are connected and how they have shaped the black identity as a result of being bombarded and engaged by the black gangster film mystique.
On the whole, they were entertaining films that immediately shed light on the blight of blacks living in the shadows of Ronald Reagans America. On the other hand, they did much to perpetuate negative images of blackness in the minds of the young folk modeling themselves after these images.
These films were metaphorical “Double-Burgers w/ Cheese:” they helped satisfy the immediate appetite for black portrayals in film, but they also became idelible models of what young black kids aspired to become; and is detrimental in the long run. Tupac warned us about the effect of black self perception if changes aren’t made: “we’ll have a race of babies that will hate the ladies that make the babies.”
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