Menace: A Multi-Part Sociological History (exhibits R-V)

July 8, 2010

Exhibit R: Menace II Society

The list of skateboard companies conceptually based on motion pictures is not long. Indeed, the only other one I could think of was Young Guns [z?]. ANYWAY, the extent to which Menace was based on the plot and characters of Menace II Society is up for debate. What is obvious is how Kareem, simply by dubbing his brainchild as such, drew a parallel between the experiences personified by the tightly-knit group of characters in the film and the tightly-knit group of skaters on Menace. One cannot say for sure if Young Guns [z?] was conceptually related to a bunch of cowboy dudes hired by some rich dude to protect his cattle, but who knows.

In addition, as I mentioned earlier, Menace sprung up amidst a cultural renaissance of sorts–on the musical side of things including Death Row, the neonatal backpacker stylings of Freestyle Fellowship, Aceyalone, etc.–and on the visual side including Menace and a myriad of other films like the originator BiTH, Fresh, 187, and South Central. A few months ago, I spent an evening watching MIIS in, yes, all 10 or 11 youtube parts. And I must say, if the film seems at all dated, let’s keep things in context here–the Hughes brothers were twenty years old when they made the shit. Twenty years later, one would be hard-pressed to find a pair of twenty-year-old gentlemen who could coherently explain why they like a certain film, let alone coherently write and direct one.

Also, while the dialog may seem simplistic and overly moralistic, several key themes emerge. First, the concept of Atlanta as a nexus for some kind of African-American cultural renaissance–an idea I discussed previously here. Secondly, it is possible to draw parallels between some of the personalities in MIIS and the personalities on Menace:

  • Suriel = O-Dog (both relatively loud & gregarious)
  • Fabian=the M.C. Eiht character (a serious gangster-type dude with whom one would not, under any circumstances, fuck)
  • Kareem=Caine (the one dude trying to formulate a [master]plan to make it in a legit way)
  • Pupecki  – the white insurance fraud dude (doesn’t really fit, but he was the only white non-cop in the film, I think…)
  • Cales=Chauncey (the dude who was always trying to creep on Jada Pinkett)

and of course, Javier:

Oh, lest we forget:

Exhibit S: 20 Shot Sequence – The Menace Section

While researching this post, I rewatched the Menace section of 20 Shot with Clyde Singleton’s commentary. The most productive way to view it, I think, is as a “day in the life” piece–a mezozoic-era version of those web clips that pop up every once in a while featuring Cory Kennedy, Austyn Gillette, and dudes like that. By doing so, one can see the stark contrasts between the Menace era and today.

First of all, while modern-day “day in the life” videos feature a relatively docile portrayal–eating healthy food*, doing laundry and/or yoga, skating–20 Shot depicts the Menace team pummeling one of their friends, resulting in a broken rib and/or collarbone. This could not be any more different from the “let’s all be bro’s just ’cause we exist” zeitgeist so prevalent today. The aftermath, however, in which the victim is apparently all smiles, makes the whole thing come off less disturbing than, say, the beatdown in Fine Artists, which was still awesome.

ANYWAY, after the skating, the dudes chill, as mid-Nineties pro’s were wont to do. However, due to the filming and that weird video effect, it’s hard to tell exactly what is going on. Fortunately, Clyde mentions that they “put some serious work on that bitch–like a homeless dude.” One can reasonably infer from that statement that the gentlemen were taking liberties with a young lady.

Other notable details about this life-changing video part are the most obscure promotional hip-hop t-shirt ever in a video ( Parrish Smith —Shade Business) and the ultimate irony of situating Menace, the blackest team ever, next to the whitest–the “cargo kit”-rocking dudes on Prime. Chris Lambert, specifically, could not have been any whiter. If, as Clyde proclaims, Prime were “the original [Baltimore] Colts,” Menace were the Michael Irvin “white house”-era Cowboys.

*Although, I gotta tell ya, that Cory Kennedy DITL inspired me to put in work in the kitchen (no, not in a Young Jeezy kind of way). I don’t have one of those panini machines, nor even a Foreman grill, so I made a grilled cheese with monterey jack, lettuce, and tomato, and just smushed it down mad hard with the spatula. exquisite:

Exhibit T: Cales and Nunez Join the Team

Hailing from Bayonne and East New York, respectively, the addition of Javier Nunez (who had only been skating for about three years at the time) and Steven Cales to the squad gave Menace a more nationwide, metropolitan presence. It also flooded the streets of NY–well, those streets south of 8th Street–with World/Menace product in a way that has not been seen since. The only comparison I could think of is when the CIA/Contra connection helped Rick Ross (no, not this dude, although I have been running that particular song mad hard this summer) flood the streets of LA with cocaine.

As I mentioned here, Kareem’s plan for Javier was “next Guy Mariano,” and although that may have not been how it turned out, it’s sick to see him still killing it, as “pool thug” or regular ol’ street skating.

Exhibit U: Gabriel Rodriguez inLas Nueve Vidas de Paco

Right off the bat, I would like to state that this video, as a whole, doesn’t get the credit it deserves in the annals of skate video discourse. Mouse is pretty much in everyone’s top three, Gino in Chocolate Tour is memorable as fuck, but Paco, with the cinematic motif, combined with low-impact mid-Nineties badassery, combined with what would become trademark soul/funk music supervision, exemplified the low-key, slow-burn place that skating inhabited at the time. Specifically, I consider Rodriguez’ last part a prequel, predecessor, or antecedent, if you will, to Guy in Mouse.

How so? Perhaps not in terms of raw progression or switchery, but rather in terms of badassery and transporting the viewer to another place and time. Although there are virtually no switch tricks in Rodriguez’ part, the selective nature of the most progressive tricks–like the fakie 5/0 on the small orthodontist ledge–magnifies their impact.

That alone, however, does not warrant inclusion on this list. What does deserve to be included is the most menace tech non-Menace video part. Rodriguez in Paco is that video part.

Why, may you ask? You know how sports journalists wax poetic about Brett Favre, how he’s a “gunslinger”–whatever that means– from some bygone era? How he exemplifies some arcane code of badassery?  If L.A. in the late Nineties is the wild west –which, contextually, it was–then Rodriguez’ part in Paco evokes how to live in such an era. Throwing up pieces. Getting up on picnic tables. Throwing down forties of Old English while smoking Newports. Rolling blunts. Pulling bitches. This was the skill set.

Whether or not Rodriguez actually lived in such a manner is irrelevant; the lifestyle existed in the theater of the mind.  The schoolyard I skated the summer of Paco‘s release, which was my main spot throughout high school, became Lockwood. Further evidencing the impact of this part, I think I rocked that long-hair-and-backwards-cap look until about 1998, at which time I switched to a ponytail & wispy mustache Mexican gangster kind of thing.

*It warrants mentioning that no one was really getting up on picnic tables until Pupecki in 20 Shot and this part. If you have never skated a schoolyard picnic table, A)they feel weird and hollow B)it’s tricky to navigate around the bench part. Rodriguez’ picnic table mastery was a paradigm shift of sorts–previously, it was somewhat acceptable to do tricks on the bench; after, no longer. Also, as eluded to by Guy in his EL series, Rodriguez’ and the Menace dudes’ filming at Lockwood served as inspiration for Mouse. Like a bunch of old jazz motherfuckers riffing off each other.

**Just for the record, I didn’t know Pupecki and Alomar had cameos in there until about a year ago.

***I wonder how Spike feels about David Chase using that Journey song 11 years later. By the way, if you ever have an hour or so to kill, here is a very convincing and rigorous piece about how Tony, without a doubt, was killed in the last episode. I’m going to pretend the Glee version does not exist.

Exhibit V: Video Coming Soon

Just as Sartre’s No Exit used a common, seemingly benign everyday phrase to encapsulate the conundrum of modern existence, the Video Coming Soon at the conclusion of the Menace section in Trilogy became both a punchline and a rallying cry–even inspiring the 2000 Expedition project Video Out Soon, which I was unable to locate in the internet.

When was the video coming? We did not know. Of what would the video consist? We did not know either. Waiting for the Menace video became a Waiting for Godot-esque exercise in the theater of the absurd. The years flew by like the wind through the trees–still no Menace video.  Menace begat All City which begat City Stars–still no video, until, finally, Street Cinema. And let’s be honest here–there was some cool shit (to be discussed in exhibit Z) in that video, but it’s not a Menace video, nor did it come soon. A true 1997-era Menace video, perhaps existing in some alternate universe somewhere, will go down in history as one of the greatest “what-if?” scenarios of all time.


6 Responses to “Menace: A Multi-Part Sociological History (exhibits R-V)”

  1. Frank said

    You did know the Suriel cameo?

  2. smorales said

    some damn fine exhibits here.

  3. alex dyer said

    Amazing. Thanks again for another great update.

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