I’m from Uptown. Harlem and the Bronx to be specific. For those not from the Big Apple, the significance is vital because perpetration was never my forte.
Back in the '90s, there was a very real tension between Kings County and the left uppermost sides of NYC. The lines were clearly drawn between 14th Street and Canal Street as the regional zones of neutrality. Still, we crept over the bridges to Brooklyn to see a honey dip because BK definitely had a different kind of cuties.
(Photo Credit: 40 Acres & A Mule Filmworks)
When Spike Lee came out with his semi-autobiographical film Crooklyn in 1994, I remember being a bit jealous of no one capturing the Harlem experience the same way for posterity. I was only 14 years old and already knew I would wax nostalgic about this movie one day.
The tonality of the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood was like granddad’s old leather: timeless and familiar, evoking that warmth that can only exist in a tight knit old school community of color.
When the soundtrack dropped, I was drawn to the lead track, featuring lyricists Special Ed, Masta Ace and Buckshot. The trio became the first of three incarnations of a loose-knit group called The Crooklyn Dodgers.
The video began with an intro from both Mike Tyson and Michael Jordan declaring themselves sons of Brooklyn. Immediately, the vibe was set and the symphonic melody crafted by sample maestro Q-Tip of A Tribe Called Quest dropped, spinning you into nostalgia.
As Special Ed drops knowledge with lines like “I wish I had a quarter for all the people they slaughtered,” the music video flashed the dance brilliance of the Soul Train line and aerial shots of the iconic Brooklyn Bridge.
However, Masta Ace’s incantation of the classic '70s TV shows and stars in the final verse was one of the most masterful lines of social voyeurism ever crafted.
“Feels so good to be a Crooklyn Dodger
What’s Happening to Rerun and Roger?
I think I seen him wearing Timberlands and running down the block from Dwayne and Dwayne had a glock
‘Cause he be selling rock for the Partridge family
And Reuben Kinkaid drives a 300e
And he be pimping Chrissie from Three’s Company
Plus he stuck Mr. T for all his jewelry”
The following year, Lee’s 40 Acres and A Mule Filmworks released the Brooklyn housing project drama, “Clockers” which gave insight to the plight of corner boys slanging drugs in subsidized housing complexes.
The “Clockers” soundtrack produced the follow-up single “Crooklyn Dodger ‘95” and revised lyrical trio of Chubb Rock, O.C. and Jeru da Damaja, with a sampling of Masta Ace’s previous vocals blessing the hook.
“We did it like that and now we do it like this,” bellowed Ace, providing entry for Chubb Rock to set it off with his oversized personality.
“So just die n*****, die n*****
You’re too black, can’t handle
Too strong, get high
In ’95 we take back Ebbets Field”
O.C. brought the smooth lyrical genius he was known for from his classic “Time’s Up”, cementing the golden era of hip-hop’s rhyming wordsmiths.
Disclaimer: I am a crazy Jeru da Damaja fan. For the same reasons why I love Rakim, Erykah Badu and The Wu-Tang Clan, the knowledge of self (K.O.S.) lyrics collectively generated by the 5% Nation and Rastafarianism have always appealed to my truth-seeking sensibilities. On this track, Jeru did not disappoint in the least.
“Chips that power nuclear bombs power my Sega
Subliminal hypnotism and colonialism leaves niggas dead or in prison
In Crook land right hand cuts off the left hand
Despite the hand jealous of the next man.”
Literally, the song plays like today’s Black Lives Matter movement speeches, or an Afrikan-centered education curriculum.
Breaking from the movie soundtrack genre, North Carolina producer 9th Wonder released the third and final installment of The Crooklyn Dodger group in 2007 with the single “Brooklyn In My Mind.”
The song featured Mos Def, Jean Grae and Memphis Bleek, who again borrowed Masta Ace's vocals to retain the authenticity of the its progenitors.
The Crooklyn Dodgers will always represent the best of Brooklyn MC’ing, paying homage to a borough full of pride and notoriety. If you love black music then you must salute The Crooklyn Dodgers.
(The Crooklyn Dodger Collective, Photo Credit: bomboclap.wordpress.com)