Whip Appeal.


I was at the book party, Tuesday, for colleagues Cey Adams’ and Bill Adler’s upcoming tome DEFinition: The Art and Design of Hip-Hop, which outlines the history of graphic art in the form. (I’d urged Cey to do a book about this topic easily a decade-and-a-half before, based on the work his company, The Drawing Board, was doing in the early ’90s for pretty much everything that left Def Jam in those years. I even strategized on how we might do it together, so I’m glad that it finally exists.)

There were many faces in the house I’d not seen in a month o’ Sundays, more I’d never met before, and hugs all around, but easily the most startling reunification was with rapper Positive K, above, who I’d not run into since, well, since I was talking to Cey about doing a book on rap music and graphic design.

Mad skills….Though he didn’t achieve the wide visibility and accompanying sales of some artists from the period—that’s his 1992 The Skills Dat Pay Da Bills album, right—I’ve always had a deep and special appreciation for K’s cocksure swagger and bouncy rhythmic swiftness. If you remember his work at all, it may be for his 1992 hit, “I Got a Man,” the music from which was so catchy it was even ultimately used in a Coke commercial. (The track most prominently sampled the much-beloved Funky 4 + 1’s “That’s the Joint!”, itself an interpolation of my favorite Taste of Honey groove, “Rescue Me.”)

But it’s the video for Postive’s 1993 follow-up, “Carhoppers,”, above, that I probably save most of my truest passion. Though less well-known, the work is rich for its so many deft touches: The way the honey by the Apollo rolls her hips with a saucy, “Come and get it” look; the fourth wall breaking throughout the piece, as characters turn to camera and ask the viewer to judge the interactions they’ve just witnessed.

“Hi!”But without a doubt, “Carhoppers”‘ most electric scene occurs near the end, when, completely unannounced, actor Bern Nadette Stanis, right, “Thelma” of Good Times, appears, going lyrically head-to-head with Positive K.

Perhaps you have to be a Black male of a certain age to have appreciated the power of this moment. But for those of us who, every week, from 1974-1979, crowded around our home’s one TV—a black & white one, frequently—to watch producer Norman Lear’s CBS ghetto fable, Thelma was all sweetness and light. (Those who missed Good Times‘ original run can pick up the complete series boxed set that Sony is finally putting out this month.)

As Stanis’ web site correctly insists,

In the 70s, Bern Nadette Stanis was the personification of Black Beauty. As sophisticated and graceful as she was, she still became TV’s first Black sex symbol or “It” girl.

Meanwhile, at the same time, hip-hop was being born, and though Good Times never acknowledged it, we, obviously, were formed by both the new folk culture we were making and mass Black pop forms, like Thelma’s own curvaceous one. Rap’s soulfulness was tied into everything we took out of the ’70s, and wide aspects of Black culture were ones from which it would ultimately sample, drawing content and context.

“And?”So, imagine the rush, when, in 1992, the actor, whom most of us had not seen anywhere in a dozen years—nearly half my lifetime, at that point—pops out of a blood-red BMW looking like she’d just got off Good Times‘ fake Cabrini-Green set that afternoon.

Then, with all of her irrepressible attitude and vivacious, neck-rolling glory, she flows.

Wow. Up to that pre-YouTube, pre-DVD moment, it was probably the most startling display of Black pop vitality I’d ever witnessed in a music video. In a mediasphere mostly devoid of delectable Black images, this was, and remains, simply delicious.

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#1 Sam on 10.07.08 at 5:01 am

Maan Positive K….. Jeez thats a blast from the past. I used to rotate “I got a man” back in a former incarnation as DJ at a club…in the middle of the bush. To think, brotha was speaking to Aboriginal mob in some of the most remote parts of Australia – bet he never even knew!

From time to time I’ve wondered what happened to him.


#2 Dan Tres OMi on 10.09.08 at 1:10 pm

While in the navy, a close friend copped me this album. brings back memories.

although i hated Good Times, I loved Bern Nadette Stanis

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