RARA-AVIS: Stagger Lee and Blaxploitation books

From: Mark Sullivan ( DJ-Anonyme@webtv.net)
Date: 29 Mar 2000

For those who don't know, Stagger Lee (AKA Stacker Lee or Stag-O-Lee) is a legendary folk hero. He appears in both white and black folk ballads
(it's unclear which race the real Stagger Lee was), but has probably been a more recurring figure in black culture, the ancestor of all those
"bad motha -- Shut yo' mouf" figures in blaxploitation films and gangsta rap.

The cover of Ice T's Home Invasion CD pokes fun at the stereotype of the white suburban youth into gangsta rap, surrounding him with, among other things, books by Iceberg Slim and Donald Goines. Now both of these contain Stagger Lee figures, men who take no crap and live life their own way, even if they may eventually go down in a hail of bullets.

But both Slim's and Goines's books are a couple of decades old now. Depending upon which side of the Atlantic you call home, Old School Books and Payback Press are publishing other older black pulpish books.

So I'm wondering if there is a hardboiled literature equivalent of gangsta rap. Are there more recent books of this sort? I'm wondering if there are new examples of the glorified gangsta. I know there are in the UK -- books by Victor Headly and other books published by X Press, whatever the name of that book by Q was and several of the books in the Backstreet series. Are there US equivalents of the bad motha? Or are US books in this setting more about making the best of the bad living conditions of the inner city? For instance, I see the books of Jess Mowry (especially the incredible Way Past Cool) and Nathan Heard (Howard Street) being more about people (kids in Mowry's books) trying to get by while living in hellholes.

So, can anyone point me towards contemporary Stagger Lees or has this folk hero outlived his usefulness, at least on the written page, returning to the oral tradition of rap?


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