PREFACE by Michael A. Gonzales: Like most hip-hop folks, I grew-up immersed in pulp culture. From the four-color fantasies of Marvel Comics to the superfly Blaxploitation films and kung-fu flicks to watching Kojak sucking lollipops on Sunday nights, I was into it all. Indeed, pulp fictions are an obsession that has rolled- over into my adult years, which is why I was so excited when respected crime novelist and comic book writer invited me to contribute to his latest book project Black Pulp . Co-edited with Tommy Hancock, Black Pulp also includes a Walter Mosley introduction and stories by Gar Anthony Heywood, Christopher Chambers, Kimberly Richardson, Mel Odom, Joe Lansdale and others.
Below is an excerpt of my b-boy/be-bop inspired short story “Jaguar and the Jungleland Boogie.” Taking place in Harlem during the golden era of 1988, when Rakim was on the radio, crack was in the pipe, rap clubs were “the joint” and New York City was still stylish and wild, this is a different kind of hip-hop fiction.
“Jaguar and the Jungleland Boogie” is the first in a series of texts I hope to create detailing the adventures of Jaguar, the owner of the Harlem hip-hop club called the Bassment, his murder-minded partner Shep, a hyper as a heart attack dude recently released from prison and their arch villain Jazzmatazz, a Miles Davis loving dude trying to rid the hood of hip-hop.
While reading, if you need a soundtrack, I suggest you blare a mix of Boogie Down Productions, Dianh Washington, Guy, EPMD, Big Daddy Kane, Miles Davis, Roxanne Shante, Billie Holiday, Just-Ice, Public Enemy, Charlie Parker, Al B! Sure, Slick Rick and Salt-N-Pepa from a boombox.
Jaguar and the Jungleland Boogie
by Michael A. Gonzales
Copyright © 2012
With the exception of Coltrane Jones’ employee Moses blasting a Juice Crew mix-tape on the other side of the closed office door, his cool nightclub the Bassment was peaceful. Sitting in the cluttered space, he silently stared at the striking photograph of legendary jazz singer Myrna Ashley on the cover of the afternoon paper. TORCH SONG TRAGEDY, the headline screamed. Kidnapped from her home the night before, the village of Harlem was on high alert to locate the middle-aged diva.
Coltrane softly stroked his black cat Winnie, whom he named after the dignified Mrs. Mandela. Studying the alluring image of the missing singer gracing the front of Harlem's only black daily newspaper The Lenox Observer , he thought the Bert Andrews photograph of her was beautiful.
Although it was 1988 and rap music ruled the airwaves, Myrna Ashley’s regal appearance transported Coltrane back to those forgotten days when saloon singers shimmered in sequined gowns, exuding glamour from their perfectly powdered skin.
To Coltrane, she still looked as majestic as he remembered her from his youth, when the vocalist was his mother’s best friend and regular visitor to their Riverside Drive apartment.
Finally focusing on the article written by journalist Nelson Tate (Mr. 1-4-5), one of the few newspapermen who still cared about the citizens of America’s premier chocolate city, the story was heartbreaking. Reading aloud from the tabloid text, Coltrane muttered, “The intruders broke into the spacious St. Nicholas Avenue apartment of the sixty-year old Harlem diva between 10pm and midnight. Her beloved poodle Tiffany was found, hanging from a leash, dangling from the living room chandelier. Stapled to the dog’s broken neck was a note that read, ‘Kill That Noise!’”
“The perpetrators shattered mirrors, broke furniture and disgustingly soiled an elegant Persian rug. Of course, at press time, the police had no suspects. However, anybody who has their ear to the Sugar Hill streets knows that this must be the latest dirty work of the musical maunder Jazzmatazz. More than likely a bugged-out bopper who still resents when Miles went electric, he is now determined to ‘Kill the Noise’ of rappers rocking the mic and DJs scratching records until the break of dawn.”
Disgusted, Coltrane threw down the newspaper.
Six-months ago, Jazzmatazz’s crusade against rap music began with the firebombing of popular uptown hip-hop spots Harlem World and Broadway International. As the owner of a popular hip-hop spot located on the corner of 145th and Convent, he was understandably concerned.
Yet where he came from nobody volunteered to stick out his neck for nothing. The following week, the villain stepped up his wrath a week later when he bombed the recording studio Primo’s, where the Fearless Four were recording their new single.
Contacting the Lenox Observer reporter via recording over the phone after snatching Myrna Ashley last night, the lunatic ranted, “Though I know it’s too late to get rid of this hip-hop trash on a national level, I would like to rid it from the streets of Harlem. No more boom boxes, no more freestyling on the corner or in back staircases, no more hip-hop studios, no record playing DJs performing in bars and no more jazz/rap collaborations. Bring back real music or suffer the consequences. If this order isn’t met by midnight tomorrow, Myrna Ashley will die in the name of jazz purity.”
What the paper didn’t say was why Jazzmatazz had targeted Myrna to send his anti hip-hop message, although Coltrane had already figured out that it had to do with a series of jazz meets rap showcases his homeboy Fab Five Freddy was planning. A few years before, Fab had done a similar event with Max Roach at the Mudd Club, and this latest jazz/hip-hop throwdown was going to be dope.
In his excited voice, Fab explained, “I’m getting Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman, Max Roach and Myrna Ashley on the microphone, team them up with some fly b-boys and let their genius just flow.”
Coltrane thought about the last time he saw the missing jazz angel. On stage a few years ago, from the moment she sauntered to the microphone, the chatty crowd completely hushed. With cigarette smoke stinging her eyes, she purely internalized the misery of the world and made Cole Porter's elegant ode of unrequited love "Down in the Depths" into a depressing suicide soliloquy that she sang beautifully.
Standing under the harsh lights, her lush playing quartet scattered perfect musical gems at her high-heeled feet as she crooned bittersweet standards. There was rarely a dry eye in the room when she finished.
Hailing from the hallowed sidewalks of Harlem, she was fond of telling friends and strangers, "That's where my black ass was born, and that's where my black ass is gonna die." Like Holy Scripture rolling from the tongue of a preacher, that prediction might come true if she wasn’t located before midnight.
Coltrane’s family were upstanding citizens who became social climbers and church folks. As a bridge-playing member of The Sugar Hill Society Club his mother chaired, he recalled Myrna’s boisterous bragging, constant cursing, Jack Daniels jugging and chain-smoking ways.
On the sneak tip, she allowed Coltrane to sip from her lipstick stained glass whenever his mom went to the bathroom. “It’ll put hair on your chest,” Myrna swore. But to then as now, his chest remained smoother than Kojak’s head.
Back in the day, when Myrna Ashley had been his first older woman crush. The fact she was as old as his mama meant nothing to Coltrane. All his horny twelve-year-old mind registered at the time was that she would one day be his woman, hanging off his arm as she sang sweet secrets into his ear.
"Why must you have that crass woman around?" his daddy inquired.
"Myrna’s an artist, Gerald," Mrs. Jones answered. “She doesn’t live by the same rules that we do.” Blinded by the glimmer of minor celebrity, his mother excused Myrna’s bad behavior. “Plus the fact, I think your baby boy is in love with her.”
The clamor of the telephone shattered Coltrane's deep concentration, pulling him back to the present. He snatched up the handset of the heavy rotary phone. Knowing instinctively that it was his now widowed mother calling, he stared at the Jessie Jackson for President poster that hung on the wall across the room and prayed for strength.
"Have you seen The Observer this morning?" Connie Jones asked, her voice slurred. Although it was only two o'clock in the afternoon, it was obvious she was already sipping sauce. "I can’t believe I just went to see her perform two weeks ago, and now she's been kidnapped. Between the crazy jungle music you kids listen to and everybody smoking that stuff, Harlem feels like it’s about to explode."
Connie Jones droned on about the bleakness of the world, her paranoid theories linking the kidnapping of her friend to the slow death of the community itself. In her mind, as well as in the thoughts of Jazzmatazz, the bombastic spread of rap music, with its brutal bass and anti-social stance, was the end of civilization, as they knew it. While listening to his mother, Coltrane got a White Owl cigar from his desk drawer, a bag of weed from his pocket and rolled a blunt.
"It's a terrible thing, Mom, but I seriously doubt it was a rapper that kidnapped Myrna. Jazzmatazz is the only one behind this and he ain’t hardly no b-boy.”
Immediately, he regretted his sarcastic tone and bad grammar. Still, he had grown weary of being the defender of the musical revolution that his mother and other proper Blacks equated with cultural Armageddon.
"I want you to do me a favor," Connie said. “Find out what you can about Myrna’s kidnapping. You need to find her, I know you can." Coltrane pictured his red-bone mama, with her grim expression, sitting in the plush living room that overlooked Riverside Park, looking out of her sixth-floor window.
"I might be dark, Mom, but I ain’t no knight. Just how do you expect me to do that?"
"She is a friend, you know. We belonged to the same society clubs, went to the same church. To think that somebody could just break into her apartment and drag her away is crazy. Suppose somebody did that to me?"
"But, what am I supposed to do? I run a hip-hop club, I ain't Starsky or Hutch." Taking another hit from the blunt, he exhaled white clouds of smoke from his nostrils.
“You know those streets as well as your father did. You know them from the good side and the bad side.” Arrested on a minor drug charge when he was a teenager--toking trees on the stoop of his homeboy Shep’s crib, he now had a family rep for being streetwise.
“Unlike Pop, I’m not a cop. What do you want me to do?”
“I don’t know,” she slurred. “You were in the Marines, you have what it takes to make a difference. You’re a fighter and that’s what the streets of Harlem needs right now, somebody who isn’t afraid to fight and do what’s right.”
"All right, Ma," he said, stabbing the blunt in a glass ashtray.
"Maybe you should talk to Gus," she suggested. The older man, one of his father’s jazz club cronies, had become his friend over the years. Additionally, Coltrane and Gus’ son Aaron had been classmates in grammar school. "If anybody knows what's going on in those streets, it’s him."
"I think you need to stop watching those midnight mysteries and get some sleep at night," Coltrane joked, then added, "But I'll see what I hear around."
Although raised on jazz, rap music and hip-hop culture had taken artistic control of Coltrane’s soul in 1978 and never let go. Hanging out with his best friend Shep smoking sess on Riverside Drive eleven years before, the two accidentally stumbled onto a rocking block party where DJ Hollywood and Lovebug Starski were throwing down a new brand of funk that didn’t even have an official name. As Starski cut and mixed funk and soul jams, playing the “get down parts” continuously, Hollywood rapped into the mic and commanded the listeners to throw their hands in the air and wave ’em like they just didn’t care.
From that moment, he was hooked; from that moment, there was something about that style of music that he just couldn’t shake. The following year, when the Sugar Hill Gang released “Rappers Delight,” it was over, Rover; the levee broke in New York City and the world drowned in hip-hop.
With Black comic book super hero names like Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Pebblee Poo Jazzy Jay, Kool D.J. A.J., Busy Bee, Afrika Bambaataa, Sheri Sher, Kurtis Blow, Run-DMC, KRS-One, Roxanne Shante, Ice-T, Public Enemy, Ice Cube and Gangstarr, they and thousands of others began contributing their own version of musical genius to the raw aural landscape.
After getting out of the service in 1985, with a few thousand he had gotten from the government, Coltrane hosted parties for a year at various downtown venues. Later, he decided to open his own spot and the Bassment was born.
Rising from the comfortable chair, he cradled the phone. Over the rowdy gangster beat of Big Daddy Kane’s superb single “Raw,” Coltrane stared at his collection of illustrated two-color posters and graffiti-lettered flyers advertising past Bassment Jams.
Admiring his clothes in the mirror behind the office door, Coltrane’s starched black t-shirt and black leather pants were perfect. Custom made by an aged Haitian dude who had once been Nicky Barnes’ tailor, the pants had a feline quality that reminded him of a skin of a giant cat. Soft to the touch, but durable.
Although he loved hip-hop culture, Coltrane could never dress exactly like the kids and did not have much patience for the so-called "fresh" fashions of the day; the gaudy gold chains, crass Cazels, Troop jackets and straight-legged Lee jeans just weren’t conducive to the aura of cool he wished to project. Even his footwear was different, preferring stylish Italian lace-ups to anything made by Nike.
Reaching into the closet for the one ghetto couture item that was a favorite, Coltrane grabbed his lightweight black and red Dapper Dan leather coat. Known for making clothes with high-end logos, like Gucci and Louie Vuitton all over them, he was famous for the pieces he made for rappers Eric B. & Rakim, Salt ‘n’ Pepa and others.
Coltrane’s coat was a black maxi joint covered with the Jaguar car logo. Picking up the coat from Dapper Dan’s spot a few weeks before, he had fallen in love with the fit instantly. It was sleek, as though the jungle cat logo gave the coat an animalistic quality and a cool power.
The instructional fumes of Pine-Sol hovered in the air as Moses mopped the drink-stained floors.
"I’m stepping out for the rest of the day. Remember, it's ten bones at the door. No guest list."
"No guest list?" Moses asked, surprised.
"Of course there's a guest list, just tell riff raff you don't know nothing about it. If they’re not Garry Harris, Fab Five Freddy, Russell Simmons, Grandmaster Flash or Red Alert, they pay." The main problem Coltrane faced with opening the Bassment in his own hood was homies trying to act as though their friendship befitted them free admission and drinks.
”Devin and Shelia are bartending tonight, but I should be back before it gets too late."
Excerpted from the new anthology of short stories, Black Pulp . Get it, HERE !