Catch Baltimore club legend Scottie B on the 1’s & 2’s at #KAHLON 5 on June 21st at The Crown (1910 N. Charles St 21201). Shit’s gonna be wild!
In 2006, Portland filmmaker Aaron Katz released Dance Party, USA, a 70-minute, deeply personal, heavily improvised, little movie. It debuted at South by Southwest, played many other festivals, and received praise from Art Forum, theNew York Times, and plenty of other fancy enough publications. Katz’s plotless snooze was heralded as part of a then burgeoning “mumblecore” movement spearheaded by young eager directors embracing the freedom of digital video and write-what-you-know earnestness.
That same year, Harlem rapper Cam’ron released an on-the-cheap, two-hour and eight-minute, meandering autobiographical feature called Killa Season. There were ten screenings in New York and a couple weeks later, it went to home video. For the most part, it was dismissed as sloppy and nonsensical. Just another “hood” movie in the Baller Blockin’ mode. Not that there’s anything wrong with straight-to-video rap movies (which, arrived around the same time as not all that different no-budget indie blabbers from guys like Kevin Smith), mind you. Some of these flicks, like Three 6 Mafia’s Choices: The Movie or, shit man, Baller Blockin’ itself, are solid genre affairs. And don’t tell your local real hip-hop head, but the fiction-meets-verité style of these movies has more in common with a rap classic likeWild Style than the supposedly “respectable” hip-hop movies with big budgets and crisp cinematography.
My takeaway from all of this: When a bunch of nerdy white kids make shaky, hand-held pictures about parties and drinking and feelingz bro, they’re given the benefit of the doubt. Hell, they’re ushering in some new cinematic scene! When one of the most word-nerdy, brightest, and bizarre rappers of the 2000s does a warts and all emotional epic about the ins and outs of hustling, he has crapped out some kind of unmitigated disaster. But here’s the thing: Killa Season is a very good, incredibly weird, and important movie and Killa Cam knew exactly what he was doing with it.
Killa Season brings Cam’s spur of the moment, off-the-dome-and-in-the-booth lyrical improv to hip-hop cinema. Whereas big budget autobiopic rap movies like8 Mile and Get Rich or Die Tryin’ tend to puff up their real life rapper protagonists into compelling dramatic leads, Cam (cast as “Flea,” but just playing himself, really) deflates his bigger-than-life, on record personality. There are two different scenes involving somebody lecturing Cam about lighting up a blunt indoors. In another scene, his aunt admonishes him for planning to rock all his jewelry to grandfather’s funeral. When he inherits 200-thousand bucks from gramps, he foolishly spends it on a Lamborghini (the act of buying the car involves being severely humiliated by Funkmaster Flex). Flea, savvy but arrogant, swaggers through the movie with the cluelessness of someone with an overabundance of street smarts.
Also, Killa Season doesn’t really have an ending? The gritty shootout at the two-hour mark recalls the climax of Michael Mann’s Miami Vice (another digital video crime ramble from 2006 that was severely misunderstood because it was about the downtime and awkwardness surrounding crime as much as it was about crime itself). But then, the movie goes on for a little while longer, cutting off just as the revenge-for-revenge narrative is about to kick in. Sure, it’s teasing a sequel (that never arrived), but it also has an abrupt Infinite Jest-style quality to it that tells viewers, “This isn’t a movie about plot, so LOL @ U if you wanted resolution out of this long-ass thing.”
And couched in its anti-style is the previous decade of proto-YouTube DV zeitgeist: Lars Von Trier and friends’ no-frills Dogme 95 sloganeering; the handheld mock-doc fun of Arrested Development; ugly-ass reality TV; and yes indeed, mumblecore, which Killa Season would be categorized as, if not for the fact that it circles around an uncouth and cocky d-boy instead of say, an annoying and arrogant dickhead in an indie rock band. Also on display is the improvisational on-the-cheap stylings of Curb Your Enthusiasm, a show we know Cam gleaned influence from because, in 2009, he referenced it while teasing a sitcom in development (He referred to this still unreleased show as like, “black Curb Your Enthusiasm”).
The easiest way to praise Killa Season is to say that it’s “real” – a little too real. In a scene often mocked by fans, Cam’ron witnesses the murder of his niece by rival dealers and while he holds her, he sniffles, whines, and generally freaks the fuck out. It’s hard to watch, not because it’s corny or cheesy, but because it’s how people actually look and sound when they don’t know what the hell to do in the midst of tragedy. Cam’s high-pitched wailing recalls the raw audio that opens up Wu Tang Clan’s “Tearz” and it’s safe to say the Wu’s off-the-cuff audio skits were an influence on Cam’s documentary-tinged fiction, here.
Tonally, the movie’s a mess, which is why some view it as a failure. However, moments in life tend to jump from horrifying to hilarious with no warning, too. Just consider the scene where Cam gets revenge on his niece’s shooter. He doesn’t kill his rival’s little girl, too (though he has the chance), but he doesn’t let her entirely off the hook either. He hocks a big loogie on her face, shown in a slapstick close-up. See also: Grieving at grandfather’s funeral interrupted by She’s Gotta Have It-like “please baby baby please” scenes of Cam’s friends hitting on funeral attendees; the coke mule scene, which is one big poop joke and a fairly brutal presentation of how coke gets smuggled into the states, at the same damn time.
Killa Season does what hip-hop does best: It facilitates conflicting ideas to create compelling chaos. Too many rap movies are content to chase the tightly structure tics of Hollywood. Cam’s got no time for all that – he’s too busy capturing the rocky, repugnant rhythms of real life. The rest of the rap movie canon still needs to catch up.
Noisey came down to Baltimore w/ The Kid Mero last month for our #KAHLON featuring Jungle Pussy. Big love to everybody who was a part of this: Abdu Ali, Schwarz, Go Ddm, Jungle Pussy, Kim Taylor and Brandon Soderberg.
KAHLON W/ BLACKIE TONIGHT!!
Homeless man with a laser gun defending his tree stump from mud monsters. True story.
HI$TO is one of the more well-versed producers in Baltimore right now. Originally from Houston, he’s immersed himself into the city’s underground electronic and rap scenes where he’s produced for collectives like 7th Floor Villains and last month at KAHLON, he completely ripped his DJ set. Last month he also contributed to True Laurels Vol. 3, as he touched on his journey as an artist and looked back on SWSW 2013. Read the full entry below and check HI$TO’s SoundCloud.
March 11, 2014
Yo, you know the cool thing about spirit? When you truly listen to it, destined things happen. I moved to Baltimore from Houston after graduating high school with pursuing my music career burning deep in my spirit. There were some, even people closest to me, that couldn’t understand my actions and grind (some still to this day).But I remained true to myself and where my spirit guided me.
I’ve been around here almost 4 years and I’ve experienced a lot acting out on this journey. From countless studio sessions to DJ gigs I got, and deal-ing withdifferent artists. Living here pursuing this dream sharpened me all around from the good and sometimes crazy situations I been in. Some people said they didn’t believe in me, some ﬂaked, some faded away, and some stayed down. But now after some time and a more conscious mindset, it’s seems the right people have been placed in my life in the craziest ways.
March 2013 I went to go visit Houston for SXSW in Austin. Everyone I planned on going with ﬂaked most of the week and I really wanted to go. The night before I sat down and thought about going alone. I didn’t have enough for a place to crash there over night and I thought staying on the streetswould be risky. I woke up the next morning and it was burning in my heart to just go so I bought my MegaBus ticket for noon and got my mom to drop me off at the station. As I boarded this guy already seated instantly gave me a CD and said he rapped. I sat across from him and said I produced. There was another guy boarding that over heard me saying that and asked what type of stuff. I told himI was pretty versatile. He sat in front of me then he asked if I knew a producer named “Juke Ellington.” I said I had a homie in DC that just did a remix for him and he said the same, plus he runs a Juke collective in Chicago. His name was Rashad.
From that point we exchanged SoundClouds, listened to each other’ssounds, talked about the events going on and ended up teaming up the whole night in Austin hitting up events. We ran into so many positive people togetherand went on a random adventure after everything ended. Next afternoon on the way back on the Megabus, we kept talking until I ﬁgured out he lived 5 minutes from where I was staying in Houston. Rashad and I kept hanging while I was intown. We made music, discussed ideas, and kept building. In January we put out a huge mixtape called Juke World Order that’s been featured on Rewd Bull, Do Androids Dance, FACT Mag and more.
Crazy experience but I went where my spirit led me to. Ever since, I’ve gotten to meet more people who are really down and positive. These people show love, keep me motivated and do positive things together. We’ve gotten far doing what we do. Not just for ourselves, but what the universe destined us to do. I’ve come a longway and I’m seeing how things are getting better for myself and the people Isurround myself with. We still have a way to go but persistence is the key. So if you have a vision or passion burning in your heart, just go for it and don’t be afraid to ﬁnd your full potential. Life’s short. So what do you have to lose when you could gain the whole time? Peace.
#tbt Baltimore shordy yurdme 😂 #baltimorevsphilly
I met producer and DJ, Neuport around the time of January’s KAHLON. He came down to DJ that night, played a great set and kicked it in Baltimore for a little while. We stayed in touch and I eventually asked him to submit a diary for True Laurels Vol. 3. He sent it to me within days and, because of Neuport’s transparency, it’s one of my favorite True Laurels diaries, to date. Read the full entry below.
Thursday Night / 11:28pm / March 7, 2014
I’m smoking a newport and looking down at Bushwick Ave from my 4th floor Brooklyn apartment. The air is cold coming in from the open window. My stomach hurts. My boy, Tony bought me dinner tonight, Indian food. I wanted to get the most of my one good meal of the day. The feeling in your gut when you’ve ate too much food feels similar to anxiety. I know that feeling well. I’ve always physically felt anxiety in my stomach. Its a sensation that I hate. The sensation that heroin and pills always took away.
I haven’t used heroin in years now. It almost killed me. It did kill me. I woke up in the back of an ambulance one summer night, in a grocery store parking lot. “Woke up” to the medics asking me if I knew my name. It took me a moment. I was drenched in sweat and the front of my t-shirt was cut from top to bottom, exposing my chest. They cut my shirt open to resuscitate me. The lady medic told me I was purple and not breathing when they arrived. I had OD’d in my car and somehow had the sense to get out right away. As soon as I opened the car door everything turned black. Someone saw me fall in the parking lot and called 911. I can say for certain that if I didn’t open my door and get out of my car I wouldn’t be here right now.
At the time I didn’t see this as a blessing. Now I do. I was pretty miserable after the incident. I was facing some pretty major legal charges and my family wanted to send me to a treatment center in Minnesota. I eventually obliged. If I thought I had bad anxiety before, I was in for a rude awakening. One thing about being sober is you don’t have those tools you once had to cope. Those tools that worked. Not having control of your emotions is very real. Learning to deal with these emotions is a struggle. Someone asked me a question that helped me a lot with this process, “What made you happy before you started using drugs?”.
As a kid I always loved music, skateboarding, and drawing. It wasn’t exactly easy to just jump back into but I knew it what I had to do. Somehow I got linked up with some pretty like minded people going through the same shit that I was. Its crazy to look back now and see what some of us have accomplished. For others its a revolving door of jail, drugs, sickness, and treatment. Others have sadly passed since. For me, I had a second chance to do something different. Sometimes it’s easy to forget this. I have to remind myself now and then.
My anxiety hasn’t gone away but facing anxiety and fears is the best way to overcome. If you’re scared to do something, do it. You realize it’s all in your head. You move forward. You have nothing to lose, only so much to gain.
Final time I’ll bug you about these! This time with a dumb selfie! My recent zine contributions:
Comics Workbook Magazine #3: I wrote an essay on Marissa Paternoster of Screaming Females’ comix and drawings. Also features, a cover by Dash Shaw, Nancy ruminating from Dorothy Berry, an essay on sexual assault in comics by Laura Knetzger, an interview with Annie Mok, and more.
True Laurels #3: I wrote reviews of ISSUE’s Liquid Wisdom and Ricky Eat Acid’s Three Love Songs. Also features an essay on rap videos by David Turner, an essay on Dolemite by Kasai Rex, an interview with Lil Bibby, SXSW photos by editor Lawrence Burney, diary entries by Schwarz, Chiffon, Neuport, art by Mike Hinson, and more.