Re: RARA-AVIS: Stagger Lee and Blaxploitation books

From: Mark Sullivan (
Date: 01 Apr 2000

Neil, I definitely agree with you that the best contemporary rappers are very aware of the oral tradition they are upholding, carrying on and extending. As you note, their videos are rife with references, some subtle, some overt to classic blaxploitation films. And, of course, to the signifying monkey.

And the films were definitely aware of their debt to the literature -- Melvin Van Peebles, writer/producer/director/star of the Sweet Sweetback's Badass Song, generally regarded to be the first blaxploitation film (although given that it was made by blacks for blacks, unlike most of the later films in the genre, it could probably be argued it was not exploitative), wrote the intro to the first volume of Payback Press-UK's three volume collection of Chester Himes's Harlem Cycle. Speaking of Van Peebles, has anyone read his I Was a Bear for the FBI? Is it hardboiled? Is it good?

I remember reading somewhere last year (I've got to see if I clipped the article) that a few rappers (not big names) were venturing into publishing, trying to create an updated version of the Holloway House books. I know HH continues to reprint Iceberg Slim and Donald Goines, but do they put out any new material?

Along those lines, am I under the correct impression that a well-known rapper (Ice Cube?) has an interest in the Old School Books series?

Although I haven't gotten that far with Pelecanos, I know he draws on Blaxploitation in the DC Quartet. I've only read Stray Dogs by Ridley. I don't remember the race of the protagonist ever being specified -- of course, I read it knowing Mickey Rourke was going to play the role, so that may have influenced my take. Is race a factor in his other books?

And PatZ, thanks for reminding me of Mosley -- Mouse most certainly fits the Stagger Lee mold. For that matter, so does Hawk, another strong black man who answers only to himself, holding himself above the law.


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