■ MELVIN VAN PEEBLES’s Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song premieres in Detroit in March, signaling a new direction in African American film and culture. Directed guerrilla-style in Watts, it ridicules SIDNEY POITIER’s ultra-assimilated image, instigates Hollywood’s blaxploitation era, and projects rebellious black heroism in visual terms that will echo in pop music iconography 20 years later. It will impact the black intelligentsia more directly than the working-class blacks who will frequent blaxploitation flicks.
■ MUHAMMAD ALI, back fighting after being stripped of his title for refusing to violate his vows as a Muslim minister and register for the draft, has his comeback derailed by defending champ JOE FRAZIER at Madison Square Garden. Despite this defeat, Ali’s religious commitment and boastful, poetic arrogance bridge ’60s activism and ’80s style.
■ AL GREEN’s “Tired of Being Alone” is the first hit for the last of the great soul singers. The central fixation of Green’s music — physical lust versus spiritual love — is a tension that new styles will abandon.
■ SLY & THE FAMILY STONE’s dark, murky, bitter There’s a Riot Goin’ On presages minimalist hardcore rap both lyrically and sonically.
■ Shaft, directed by GORDON PARKS SR., is the first Hollywood blaxploitation film, complete with fly threads, ISAAC HAYES’s Oscar-winning score, and a cameo by blaxploitation regular ANTONIO FARGAS.
■ Two new magazines address two complementary post-civil rights constituencies: BLACK ENTERPRISE, the bible of the burgeoning new class of white-collar blacks, and ESSENCE, which targets collegiate black women. Both document more subtle issues than the soul-era periodicals Ebony and Jet.
■ A feature-length documentary, Soul to Soul, contrasts footage of IKE & TINA TURNER in West Africa with scenes of African performers in the U.S.
■ THE REVEREND JESSE JACKSON forms People United to Save Humanity in Chicago. PUSH will confront economic and educational issues and serve as Jackson’s platform.
■ Bubble-lettered GRAFFITI pieces by Phase 2 (Lonny Wood) are displayed at United Graffiti Artists’ Rozar Gallery Show. Soon Twyla Tharp will use a graffiti backdrop for a Jaffrey Ballet premiere of her Deuce Coupe.
■ Trouble Man, starring ROBERT HOOKS, has a doowop-jazz title song and an excellent score by MARVIN GAYE.
■ Washington, D.C., security guard FRANK WILLIS reports a robbery-in-progress at the Watergate Hotel that will bring down the Nixon administration.
■ THE TEMPTATIONS’s “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” goes to No. 1. This Norman Whitfield production is a prime example of the cinematic funk that pervaded black pop during the blaxploitation era.
■ ISHMAEL REED’s Mumbo Jumbo, an innovative novel with 104 bibliographical citations, scores of photos and illustrations, and a plot about Third World art being “liberated” from Western museums, uses jump cuts and soundbites as if Reed were a film director or hip hop DJ.
■ Superfly’s depiction of a glamorous cocaine dealer so concerns civil rights leaders that the NAACP distributes leaflets asking the producers to reshoot the ending so that the dealer dies. RON O’NEAL’s charismatic Priest is a rebel with a capitalistic cause surviving in a world of sneaky partners, corrupt cops, Mafia thugs, and cartoonish nationalists (a staple of blaxploitation). GORDON PARKS JR. utilizes cutting-edge fashion and CURTIS MAYFIELD’s hit-filled score to reach the wide black audience Sweetback never attracted. Superfly’s seminal blaxploitation will spawn two sequels, one scripted by ALEX HALEY. In defense of the film O’Neal says, “The heroin pusher is the scourge of the black community. But we’re talking about coke, which is basically a white drug. Since coke is not physically addictive, people do not steal and rob to get it. There are no coke junkies.”
■ THE INCREDIBLE BONGO BAND releases the pioneering hip hop record “Apache,” which will be popularized along with the same band’s “Bongo Rock” by a Bronx mobile DJ named Kool Herc.
■ HUSTLER’S CONVENTION by Lightnin’ Rod (a/k/a the Last Poets) is a moralistic blaxploitation film on record that’s performed in the urban storytelling tradition hip hop will overturn.
■ The Mack, one of blaxploitation’s most popular films, features costar RICHARD PRYOR at the height of his wicked comic brilliance and WILLIE HUTCH’s “Brothers Gonna Work It Out,” later a Public Enemy title.
■ ENTER THE DRAGON, Bruce Lee’s first big-budget film, costars black martial artist Jim Kelly, indicating the importance of black ticket buyers to the makers of kung fu flicks and their prospective impact on combative young urban males.
■ Black Caesar stars FRED WILLIAMSON and is backed by a slamming JAMES BROWN score. Its title character, a Harlem drug chieftain, recalls the real-life Nicky Barnes.
■ The Census Bureau reports that INTERRACIAL MARRIAGES rose 63 per cent during the 1960s. Although marriages between white men and black women declined from 25,913 to 23,566, the number of unions between black men and white women grew from 25,496 to 41,223.
■ NEW YORK YOUTH GANG activity reaches a high of 315 gangs and over 19,000 members. The Black Spades of the South Bronx are the biggest. One prominent member goes by the street name Afrika Bambaataa.
■ PAM GRIER begins her reign as black America’s first female action hero. In Coffy she’s a nurse who hides razor blades in her Afro and takes on drug dealers. She goes on to star in Sheba Baby, Foxy Brown, and Friday Foster.
■ With its extravagant costumes and overwrought performing style, LABELLE is a turning point in blending the soul-gospel tradition with a flamboyant black gay style. Patti Labelle, Nona Hendryx, and Sarah Dash develop a strong feminist and gay male cult.
■ The Harder They Come, starring reggae star JIMMY CLIFF, turns into a midnight hit that helps popularize Jamaican dance music in the U.S., while showing the effects of American western movies in the Third World. In the next decade the sound systems and criminal posses it depicts will be transplanted to the mainland. With its blend of advocacy, rebellion, and music, this film will stand as both the best rock movie and the best blaxploitation movie of the decade.
■ A bounty of African American mayors: THOMAS BRADLEY in Los Angeles, MAYNARD JACKSON in Atlanta, COLEMAN YOUNG in Detroit.
■ At icebound Shea Stadium, O.J. SIMPSON not only breaks JIM BROWN’s rushing record, but becomes the first running back in NFL history to gain over 2000 yards on the ground in one season. The contrast between the two men is significant: Brown is a nationalistic black capitalist sympathetic to the dying black militant movement, Simpson a staunch integrationist whose apolitical avoidance of controversy will set a standard for post-’60s black sports stars.
■ RICHARD PRYOR’s That Nigger’s Crazy LP, a seminal piece of Africamericana, brings the N-word aboveground.
■ MUHAMMAD ALI regains the heavyweight title by using “rope-a-dope” to KO GEORGE FOREMAN in Zaire. Ali and his Flavor Flav, Drew Bundini Brown, dub the fight “the rumble in the jungle.”
■ The Joint Center for Political Studies reports that 2991 blacks hold elective office in 45 states and the District of Columbia, compared to 1185 in 1969. Prominent among them are Newark mayor KEN GIBSON and Brooklyn’s feisty Congresswoman SHIRLEY CHISHOLM.
■ DJ KOOL HERC hosts shows at Hevalo, a club located at 180th and Jerome, where he specializes in the short “break” sections of records. The dancers who follow him will come to be called “B-boys” or “break boys.” He also plays parks with a sound system he labels “The Herculords.”
■ GRANDMASTER FLASH, a/k/a Joseph Sadler, builds a rep as a DJ by playing at a park at 169th Street and Boston Road. Grand Wizard Theodore travels from the Bronx down to Times Square’s Downstairs Records to buy records for Flash. Among the jams he selects are “white boy records” such as Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way.”
■ MUHAMMAD ALI avenges his earlier loss to Frazier in a titanic fight he titles the “thrilla in Manila.”
■ ARTHUR ASHE wins at Wimbledon, crowning his pioneering career as tennis’s first black male star. Like SIDNEY POITIER, Ashe embodies white (and black) fantasies of the perfectly assimilated African American, though in reality he’s politically active. His smooth upward mobility is a prototype for Baps and Buppies to come.
■ Cooley High, directed by MICHAEL SHULTZ and written by ERIC MONTE (who created TV’s Good Times), is a sleeper hit that provides warm, humane portraits of young men growing up in the Chicago projects and exploits the nostalgia value of old Motown.
■ From the gay club underground a/k/a discos comes a long-playing orgy called “Love to Love You Baby” by a black singer named DONNA SUMMER. Summer’s success helps call attention to the increasing public influence of homosexual taste on the music mainstream. Paradise Garage DJ LARRY LEVAN is a crucial disco figure.
■ Rocky, with its prominent black characters and action format, shows Hollywood how to tap into the black action market. Leads like FRED WILLIAMSON and JIM BROWN give way to second bananas CARL WEATHERS and MR. T of the Rocky films.
■ A year before Star Wars, producer-conceptualist GEORGE CLINTON is already in space as the sci-fi motif of Parliament’s Mothership Connection frames extraterrestrial funk of the highest order. Spearheaded by keyboardist BERNIE WORRELL and bassist BOOTSY COLLINS, Clinton and the P-Funk mob carry the banner for a raw black music aesthetic.
■ Sparkle is noteworthy for CURTIS MAYFIELD’s neosoul, a plot that echoes the Supremes’ real-life soap opera before Dreamgirls, and a superb young cast that includes Irene Cara, Philip Michael Thomas, Lonette McKee, and Dorian Harewood.
■ NTOZAKE SHANGE’s For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf fuses a rich poetic language with feminist politics, part of the wave of African American literature by women that brings long-seething tensions between black men and women to the fore. It remains a staple of black college theater to this day.
■ STEVIE WONDER releases Songs in the Key of Life, a sprawling double album packed with great songs. At a time when most black pop is either sappy crossover or disco drivel, Wonder’s gift for melody earns him the “genius” designation.
■ JULIUS “DR. J” ERVING joins the mainstream when the National Basketball Association absorbs four American Basketball Association franchises. Dr. J and other brothers liberated from obscurity — David Thompson, George McGinnins, George Gervin — spark a revolution in style that eventually changes the NBA and elevates black schoolyard style to an art form. Soon the slam dunk will be as much part of our sporting culture as the grand slam.
■ AFRIKA BAMBAATAA DJs his first party at the Bronx River Community Center, supported by the Zulus, a new-style gang more into music and dance than crime.
■ NICKY BARNES, a/k/a “Mr. Untouchable,” leader of Harlem’s largest heroin ring, hands out turkeys on the corner of 126th Street and St. Nicholas for Christmas, a scene that will appear 15 years later in New Jack City.
■ Roots, a miniseries based on ALEX HALEY’s book about tracing his family tree to Africa, airs for eight consecutive nights on ABC, earning the highest ratings of any network program in history and generating a long-term interest in Africa among American blacks.
■ Yale student WARRINGTON HUDLIN makes Street Corner Stories, a film about working-class black men who hang out mornings at a New Haven diner that becomes a festival favorite in America and Europe.
■ CHARLES BURNETT has a similar success with the landmark black independent film Killer of Sheep, a neorealistic tale of an impotent slaughterhouse worker in Watts.
■ KRAFTWERK’s trance dance, “Trans-Europe Express,” is a left-field black hit that influences many young DJs.
■ Queens party promoter RUSSELL SIMMONS, 19, sees his first rapper, Eddie Cheeba, rhyming over the beat from Parliament’s “Flashlight” at Charles’s Gallery on 125th Street.
■ A year after his turkey triumph, NICKY BARNES is convicted of narcotics trafficking and gun possession, ending the reign of one of the biggest old-school dope kingpins and setting the stage for younger gangsters and synthetic drugs.
■ The Black Filmmaker Foundation is founded by a collective of businessmen and filmmakers including WARRINGTON HUDLIN.
■ DISCO FEVER, the first home of hip hop, opens in the South Bronx, a long throw home from Yankee Stadium.
■ Proto-B-boy LEON SPINKS beats MUHAMMAD ALI in a New Orleans shocker. Spinks ushers in a new generation of black athletes who battle drug abuse and the media.
■ A typical uptown “Super Disco” is presented at the Audubon Ballroom. GRANDMASTER FLASH, THE FURIOUS FOUR (Melle Mel, Keith Keith, Kid Creole, Mr. Ness), and LOVEBUG STARSKI are on the bill.
■ For several months this year the VILLAGE PEOPLE, a collection of gay male stereotypes fronted by soul-styled black vocalist Victor Willis, are the country’s hottest group. Many straight folks don’t get the joke. For many black gays, the Village People are a welcome affirmation of their existence in a culture that wants to ignore them.
■ Where the Village People are pop-corny, SYLVESTER’s “You Make Me Feel Mighty Real” is the kind of gay gospel dance music that will later inspire house.
■ The Supreme Court rules AFFIRMATIVE ACTION can result in reverse discrimination. The civil rights movement is over and conservative backlash has begun.
■ MICHAEL SCHULTZ is the first African American director to land a Hollywood film without a racial theme: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, an ill-conceived Beatles homage starring the Bee Gees and Peter Frampton that damages the careers of all involved.
■ MICHELE WALLACE’s Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman is published to amazing hype (she makes the cover of Ms.) and scathing criticism. For all its faults, the book is crucial for its criticism of the civil rights movement, which opens the discourse on male-female relations in the African American left and giving black feminism greater media visibility.
■ Former community activist MARION BARRY is elected mayor of Washington.
■ A study finds that 45 per cent of all NEW YORK CITY HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS use “some psychoactive drug.”
■ Model-turned-disco diva GRACE JONES celebrates the bisexual and campy black gay aesthetic New Year’s Eve at Studio 54.
■ Reviving interest in ZORA NEALE HURSTON, the Harlem Renaissance writer who has become the patron saint of black feminists, grows with the publication of I Love Myself When I Am Laughing, essays edited by ALICE WALKER with an introduction by literary scholar MARY HELEN WASHINGTON.
■ A Howard Smith Scenes column on the FABULOUS FIVE, a graffiti group led by Brooklynite Frederick Brathwaite (later known as Freddy Love and then Fab Five Freddie), leads to a show of the group’s work in Rome.
■ THE FATBACK BAND’s “King Tim III (The Personality Jock)” is the first rap record. But Tim, who spiels in the older black radio style, is not part of the Bronx hip hop crowd. He’s hired when the Fatback Band see DJ Hollywood hosting shows at the Apollo and, instead of making a deal with the original old-school rapper, try to do it on their own — a major goof.
■ CHIC’s “Good Times” joins MFSB’s “Love Is the Message” as one of the mobile DJs’ favorite grooves. Unlike many early hip hop favorites, these songs were black radio hits that DJs and rappers adapted to their purposes.
■ SYLVIA ROBINSON, owner of the troubled All Platinum Records, attends a show at Harlem World disco on 116th Street, across from the mosque founded by Malcolm X. Robinson hears DJs rapping over records and sees the reaction. She organizes the SUGARHILL GANG, who have the first rap hit with “Rapper’s Delight” on her brand-new Sugarhill label. Again these are not real rappers — one member is a bouncer at Disco Fever — but they at least bite rhymes from real rappers. “Rapper’s Delight” uses the music from “Good Times”; Chic requests and is granted writing credit on later pressings.
■ EARVIN “MAGIC” JOHNSON leads his Michigan State team past his great rival Larry Bird of Indiana State in the NCAA final. Johnson’s blend of height and playmaking ability changes basketball.
■ Billboard does a story on “DISCO RAPPERS” — “a spinner who talks in a lyrical, rapid fire, streetwise dialogue over the pulsating rhythm track, began in the black discos of New York.” The article notes that “Rapper’s Delight” is No. 41 on the disco chart and “King Tim III” is No. 42, and that Spoonie Gee has “Spoonin’ Rap” in stores. The story is picked up by the U.K.’s New Musical Express, which notes that the “deejay who raps does not appear to be a million miles removed from the ancient Jamaican art of toasting.”
■ RICHARD PRYOR’s Live in Concert opens. Pryor’s genius as mime, storyteller, and observer of human life has never been better documented.
■ THE BLACK FILMMAKER FOUNDATION presents films by independent black filmmakers around New York in parks, museums, and nightclubs.
■ CHARLES LANE’s A Place in Time, a silent comedy shot in black and white, is shown at Othello’s disco on Eighth Avenue.
■ The QUINCY JONES–produced Off the Wall elevates MICHAEL JACKSON to adult stardom, its 7 million sales the most ever by a black male. People begin remarking on how Jackson’s face is changing.
■ DARRYL DAWKINS breaks two backboards within a month, hastening the introduction of flexible rims.
■ Billboard reporter ROBERT FORD JR. and ad executive J.B. MOORE write and produce KURTIS BLOW’s “Christmas Rappin’,” which gets picked up by Mercury. The first rap artist on a major label is managed by CCNY schoolmate RUSSELL SIMMONS.
■ As the decade ends PCP, a/k/a angel dust, is the street drug of choice.
■ In January members of the HIGH TIMES CREW are arrested at a Washington Heights subway for “fighting” — that is, breaking. They are photographed by Martha Cooper for the New York Post, the first known photos of break dancing.
■ MOLEFI KETE ASANTE publishes Afrocentricity with Chicago’s African World Press. Over the next decade this brief overview will spearhead the challenge to a Eurocentric history.
■ Trumpeter WYNTON and saxophonist BRANFORD MARSALIS play with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. Wynton’s chops, sense of history, mastery of the classical canon, and well-tailored suits will make him jazz’s first truly “cool” figure in a generation.
■ NELSON GEORGE’s “A Consumer Guide to Rap Records” is rejected by The New York Times’s Arts & Leisure section because “it’s just too far off the beaten track” and “just seems too specialized.”
■ MAGIC JOHNSON leads the Lakers to the NBA title with an amazing sixth-game win over DR. J’s 76ers. Magic plays center for an injured Kareem and is named the series’s most valuable player.
■ Mr. Magic’s Rap Attack airs on WBHI from 2 to 5 a.m. Saturday nights. At several stations over the next decade, MR. MAGIC will play a crucial role in creating the hardcore rap audience.
■ RICHARD PRYOR critically burns over half his body while freebasing cocaine.
■ SUGAR RAY LEONARD loses to and then defeats Roberto Duran, who surrenders with the famous last words “no más.”
■ WLIB switches from an all-music format to a newstalk format.
■ KURTIS BLOW releases his gold single “The Breaks.” Futura 2000 bombs a subway car in tribute.
■ RICHARD PRYOR and Gene Wilder star in the Sidney Poitier–directed STIR CRAZY, which earns $101 million.
■ PRINCE establishes his off-center sexuality, multi-racial identity, and eclectic musicianship with Dirty Mind. He also wears black panties on stage.
■ Richard Goldstein’s lengthy Voice cover story on GRAFFITI notes: “Graffiti’s sensibility has a musical equivalent in ‘rap’ records — another rigid, indecipherable form that can sustain great complexity.” The piece also discusses two then unknown artists, Keith Haring and Samo a/k/a Jean-Michel Basquiat. The Voice centerfold features six whole-car designs photographed by Henry Chalfant.
■ The Rock Steady Crew dancers perform at the home of the downtown avant-garde, the KITCHEN. Graffiti artists, rappers, breakers, and even roller skaters perform at the ROXY ROLLER RINK. ABC’s 20/20 does one of the first national reports on this new rap phenomenon.
■ Six-month-old PROFILE RECORDS spends $750 to make Dr. Jeckyll (Andre Harrell) & Mr. Hyde’s (Alonzo Brown) “Genius Rap,” which moves 150,000 12-inches.
■ Young EDDIE MURPHY revitalizes Saturday Night Live with a slew of crazy characterizations including black pimp Velvet Jones, children’s show host Mr. Robinson, and exercise guru Little Richard Simmons.
■ “The Adventures of GRANDMASTER FLASH on the Wheels of Steel” is the first record to capture the mixing and scratching techniques of hip hop parties.
■ Dreamgirls, MICHAEL BENNETT’s homage to Motown, opens on Broadway to rave reviews and spawns JENNIFER HOLLIDAY’s No. I single “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going,” a phlegmy retrosoul success in an era of self-conscious black pop crossover.
■ FRANKIE SMITH’s gruff “Double Dutch Bus” goes gold, feeding the idea that rap records are a silly fad.
■ CHARLES FULLER’s Pulitzer prize–winning A Soldier’s Story opens at the Negro Ensemble Company. This mystery of murder and intraracial strife features a brilliant cast that includes ADOLPH CAESAR, CHARLES BROWN, and the then little-known DENZEL WASHINGTON.
■ Blacks constitute 11.2 PER CENT of those EMPLOYED and 22.3 PER CENT of those UNEMPLOYED according to the National Urban League’s “State of Black America” annual report.
■ The Saturday morning cartoon characters the SMURFS inspire a dance and numerous records, each with a different spelling to avoid lawsuits.
■ Capping a long campaign led by STEVIE WONDER, DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING’s birthday finally becomes a national holiday.
■ Junior’s “Mama Used to Say” is the first in a decade-long stream of BLACK BRITISH SOUL RECORDS to break through on black American radio.
■ British promoter COOL LADY BLUE’s weekly hip hop event at Negril brings uptown kids downtown and rap music to white hipsters.
■ AFRIKA BAMBAATAA & SOUL SONIC FORCE’s “Looking for the Perfect Beat” comes out on Tommy Boy.
■ HERBIE HANCOCK’s “Rockit” features the scratching of old-school DJ Grandmixer DST. It is one of the first collaborations between an established musician and a hip hop spinner.
■ Under the banner of GRANDMASTER FLASH & THE FURIOUS FIVE, Melle Mel and Duke Bootee cut “The Message,” the first commercially successful political rap single.
■ ALICE WALKER’s The Color Purple is published to critical acclaim. Many black men hate it, but QUINCY JONES vows to turn it into a film.
■ BELL HOOKS’s Ain’t I a Woman — which analyzes African American women in the context of male sexism, white female racism, and the interaction of all women — introduces a significant new voice in feminist thought.
■ LOUIS GOSSETT JR. wins the supporting actor Oscar for An Officer and a Gentleman.
■ In the concert film Richard Pryor Live on the Sunset Strip, the comic graphically describes the attraction of FREEBASING.
■ RICHARD PRYOR renounces the use of the word “nigger” in Ebony.
■ BILL STEPHNEY, Hank and Keith Boxley (a/k/a SHOCKLEE), William Drayton (a/k/a FLAVOR FLAV), Andre Brown (a/k/a DOCTOR DRE), and Chuck Ridenhour (a/k/a CHUCK D) begin hanging out at Adelphi University’s WBAU, playing hip hop records and making their own.
■ GEORGE CLINTON’s dance jam “Atomic Dog” is the last hit by the P-Funk leader. Its success with young audiences foreshadows the vitality of P-Funk’s music throughout the rest of the decade for the hip hop generation.
■ North Carolina wins the NCAA title against Georgetown with a jumper in the final seconds by freshman MICHAEL JORDAN.
■ Oakland A’s outfielder RICKEY HENDERSON steals 120 bases.
■ MICHAEL JACKSON’s Thriller reaches record stores in time for one of several Christmas pushes and goes on to sell more than 40 million worldwide. With his ongoing plastic surgery, androgyny, and prodigious performing talent, Jackson embodies the compromises, contradictions, and triumphs of the black crossover mentality.
■ TROUBLE FUNK’s “Drop the Bomb” brings Washington, D.C., go-go beats to rap.
■ RICHARD PRYOR is budgeted $40 million by Columbia Pictures president Guy McElwaine to fund Indigo Films. Pryor’s company — to be run by his buddy, Jim Brown — will specialize in black films. Some of that money goes toward a three-picture deal with ROBERT TOWNSEND — one of his proposed projects is similar to Hollywood Shuffle; some goes toward a script about Charlie Parker that will, years later, be made by Clint Eastwood; and GEORGE JACKSON puts in time there as a vice-president of production. But no films are made under the Indigo deal, though Pryor produced the autobiographical Jo Jo Dancer and his third concert film, Richard Pryor Here and Now, during the production company’s brief history.
■ Representative HAROLD WASHINGTON is elected mayor of Chicago after a racially charged campaign. The crusade-like mobilization of the city’s blacks makes Washington one of the few big-city black mayors with a clear racial mandate.
■ JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT moves beyond his roots in graffiti to national prominence with a show at Los Angeles’s Larry Gagosian Gallery.
■ Harvard undergrad REGGIE HUDLIN directs a short about a son who sneaks out against his father’s wishes called House Party.
■ JESSE JACKSON goes to Syria to free American hostages and becomes a hero.
■ Youth muggings at DIANA ROSS’s free Central Park concert make headlines and are blamed for a midtown crime spree.
■ LORENZO CHARLES wins the NCAA for North Carolina State with the dunk, a shot once banned from college basketball.
■ Led by DR. J and MOSES MALONE, Philadelphia wins the NBA title in four games.
■ EUZHAN PALCY debuts with the female coming-of-age film Sugar Cane Alley.
■ SPIKE LEE directs a “White Lines” video on spec for Grandmaster Flash with LARRY FISHBURNE in the lead. Sugarhill turns it down.
■ FLASHDANCE introduces the feature film as full-length music video and hastens the burnout of breaking.
■ EDDIE MURPHY’s comedy helps Trading Places make $90 million.
■ Al Pacino’s Tony Montana, the violent Cuban protagonist of Brian DePalma’s SCARFACE, written by Oliver Stone, emerges as the patron saint of coke dealers.
■ Black scholar HENRY LOUIS GATES JR. discovers the 1859 manuscript Our Nig, by Harriet Wilson, which he documents as the first novel written by a black woman in the U.S. Aside from spurring black women writers, this literary archaeology catapults Gates to a prominence that will make him one of America’s best-known scholars.
■ STYLE WARS, a documentary on breaking and graffiti, airs on PBS.
■ Ex-bodyguard and Rocky opponent MR. T has his season of fame on NBC’s The A Team. Some believe his gold fetish sparks the rope-chain craze.
■ JESSE JACKSON announces his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination.
■ The February 13 Washington Post reports that in a private conversation with black reporter Milton Coleman, JESSE JACKSON called New York “Hymietown” and Jews “Hymies.” For 13 days Jackson denies the comments; then he apologizes. The Nation of Islam’s Louis Farrakhan calls Coleman a “traitor” and a “Judas,” issuing what some interpret as a threat against the reporter’s life. This incident has two important repercussions: it weakens Jackson’s support among many whites and strengthens the Nation’s among blacks alienated from the American system, particularly the hip hop generation.
■ JOHN EDGAR WIDEMAN publishes Brothers and Keepers, an eloquent depiction of assimilated and underclass African America in which one brother becomes a college professor while the other goes to jail for murder.
■ Attending the Grammys with teen model Brooke Shields and kiddie star Emmanuel Lewis of TV’s Webster, MICHAEL JACKSON wins eight awards for Thriller.
■ UTFO’s “Roxanne, Roxanne,” produced by FULL FORCE, ignites a battle royal over this young woman’s virtue. First 14-year-old ROXANNE SHANTE disses back with “Roxanne’s Revenge.” Full Force recruits its own pinup girl, who replies with “The Real Roxanne.” The Roxanne series is an example of the verbal battles that proliferate in hip hop and a harbinger of the female bashing to come.
■ MARVIN GAYE’s father shoots him dead.
■ Georgetown beats Hakeem Olajuwon and Houston for the NCAA title to cap a season in which Georgetown emerges as black America’s team. Led by black coach JOHN THOMPSON, Georgetown plays a combative style epitomized by center PATRICK EWING, target of racist insults around the country, and relentless skinhead power forward MICHAEL GRAHAM. In a historic NCAA semifinal versus Kentucky, the Hoyas force the Wildcats to shoot 9.1 per cent in the second half. “Starter” athletic wear bearing the Hoyas’ pit bull–like logo becomes an integral part of urban style.
■ JESSE JACKSON, who had already bowed out of the race for president, delivers an inspiring speech that is the highlight of the Democratic convention. It soon becomes available on home video.
■ Wearing a trendsetting hi-top fade, CARL LEWIS wins four gold medals at the Los Angeles Olympics.
■ CHAKA KHAN’s “I Feel for You” samples Stevie Wonder’s “Fingertips—Pt. 2” and is sprinkled with a MELLE MEL rap. The promo clip is adapted from a Norma Kamali fashion video and showcases breakers SHABBA-DOO and BOOGALOO SHRIMP.
■ PRINCE’s masterful Purple Rain soundtrack elevates him into a pop icon and sets up the hit movie, which exploits his sexuality and blurred racial identity. The Time’s MORRIS DAY and JEROME BENTON seem primed to be the ’80s Abbott and Costello, but by the time the movie opens, Day has split Prince’s camp. So have two other original Time members, bassist TERRY LEWIS and keyboardist JIMMY “JAM” HARRIS, who begin producing full-time.
■ GRANDMASTER FLASH & THE FURIOUS FIVE split with Melle Mel and then Sugarhill to sign with Elektra.
■ Rappers RUN-D.M.C., KURTIS BLOW, WHODINI, THE FAT BOYS, and NEWCLEUS, and break crews the MAGNIFICENT FORCE, UPTOWN EXPRESS, and DYNAMIC BREAKERS, bring in $3.5 million in 27 dates on the Swatch Watch–sponsored Fresh Fest tour, which spreads hip hop across America. Run, Whodini, and the Fat Boys all garner gold records. Run D.M.C.’s onstage ingestion of Olde English Malt Liquor makes it the official B-boy brew.
■ The Los Angeles R&B station KDAY converts to the country’s first rap-only format.
■ In a year prominent African Americans picket the South African embassy to jump-start the U.S. anti-apartheid movement, Anglican bishop DESMOND TUTU wins the Nobel Peace Prize.
■ Syracuse University student VANESSA WILLIAMS is the first black Miss America. Three months later, when nude photos of her are published in Penthouse, she’s stripped of her title, which goes to another black woman, runner-up SUZETTE CHARLES of New Jersey.
■ Beat Street dancer/actor ROBERT TAYLOR makes the cover of Newsweek.
■ One hundred BREAK DANCERS perform at the Olympic Games closing ceremony.
■ The Cosby Show brings a proudly bourgeois black family to American households. Cosby, one of TV’s leading pitchmen for several years prior to the show, creates a vision of black life that annoys many and charms millions and goes on to reach the No. 1 spot. LISA BONET‘s character, Denise, becomes the nation’s first black boho pinup girl.
■ SADE’s “Hang On to Your Love,” a huge U.K. hit,. introduces the integrated Brit-soul band here and makes its Nigerian-British lead singer a multiculti fashion trendsetter.
■ CHARLES BARKLEY brings buck-wild style to the Philadelphia 76ers and eventually assumes the team’s leadership mantle from Erving. Where Dr. J embodied a jazzy elegance, Barkley represents B-boy bodaciousness.
■ AUGUST WILSON’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom opens at the Cort Theater with ex-con CHARLES DUTTON a featured player.
■ The Wall Street Journal hails RUSSELL SIMMONS, 26, as “the mogul of rap.”
■ The best balladeer of his generation, LUTHER VANDROSS, releases his most accomplished album, The Night I Fell in Love.
■ WHITNEY HOUSTON’s debut album, Whitney, synthesizes the pop-soul tradition of Dionne Warwick and the MOR shlock of previous Arista hitmakers Barry Manilow and Air Supply.
■ RUN-D.M.C.’s King of Rock cover features the band’s signature black fedoras, which become one of pop culture’s most distinctive trademarks. Sixteen-year-old L.L. COOL J writes the lyric to “Can You Rock It Like This.”
■ WILLIAM “REFRIGERATOR” PERRY, a 310-pound Chicago Bears tackle, scores a touchdown as a running back on Monday Night Football, which transforms him into a hulking, grinning endorsement machine.
■ JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT and Andy Warhol collaborate on a gallery show that mates new street and old Pop hype, elevating Basquiat’s public profile and trivializing his work.
■ THE FAT BOYS jiggle through a Swatch Watch spot.
■ The UZI submachine gun emerges as the dealer’s weapon of choice.
■ Boogie Down Productions, the brainchild of ex-homeless teen KRIS PARKER (KRS-One) and homeless shelter counselor SCOTT LAROCK, release the original hardcore classic Criminal Minded.
■ Harlem resident and Phillips Exeter student EDMUND PERRY is shot dead by undercover officer Lee Van Houten. Police allege Edmund and his brother Jonah assaulted the cop. On January 22, 1986, Jonah is cleared of all charges.
■ Krush Groove stars RUN-D.M.C., THE FAT BOYS, KURTIS BLOW, and RICK RUBIN in a scenario based on RUSSELL SIMMONS’s career. The feature has a black director, MICHAEL SCHULTZ, a black cinematographer, ERNEST DICKERSON, and a black producer, DOUG McHENRY. On October 25 Krush Groove, budgeted at $5 million by Warners, opens at 515 theaters and leads all releases by grossing over $3 million nationally in its first week, though there are several incidents of violence at New York–area theaters, where it makes $1 million anyway. Its combination of opening-week success and opening-week violence will be seen again.
■ Philadelphia representative WILLIAM H. GRAY III becomes chair of the House budget committee.
■ FISHBONE, a gaggle of mostly bused-in San Fernando Valley musicians, disdain the clichés of contemporary r&b for a bawdy mix of ska, punk, reggae, and funk that reflects the rising boho sensibility.
■ DWIGHT “DOC” GOODEN, barely 20, wins 24 games for the New York Mets.
■ LOUIS FARRAKHAN addresses 25,000 at Madison Square Garden.
■ The Color Purple, directed by Steven Spielberg, starring WHOOPI GOLDBERG and OPRAH WINFREY, and produced by QUINCY JONES, makes $94 million. Whoopi’s career will be a long succession of bad scripts, while Oprah, whose syndicated talk show is already challenging Phil Donahue, will establish herself as a multimedia force, starring in the film adaptation of Native Son and turning GLORIA NAYLOR’s feminist fiction, The Women of Brewster Place, into an ABC miniseries. No woman will capitalize on the African American vogue of the late ’80s better than Oprah and none worse than Whoopi.
■ The mass marketing of freebase cocaine, a/k/a CRACK, will change first the American drug business and ultimately American life. After its introduction, black youth culture becomes increasingly nihilistic and materialistic. Probably the decade’s most important social event.
■ A 26-piece BLACK ROCK COALITION big band plays the Kitchen.
■ ANITA BAKER’s Rapture displays her voice in all its husky, jazzy vitality, defying the standard dance-oriented formulas for female vocalists.
■ THE LATIN QUARTER, midtown’s only hip hop club, is the site of funky music and many a chain-snatching.
■ JANET JACKSON’s Control, one of several expertly crafted albums written and produced by JIMMY JAM and TERRY LEWIS, establishes her as brother Michael’s female counterpart. The video for “What Have You Done for Me Lately” is choreographed by Paula Abdul and helps popularize the snake dance.
■ PEPPER JOHNSON does the wop dance on the field after his Giants win the Super Bowl.
■ Uptown Records, owned by ANDRE “DR. JECKYLL” HARRELL, develops an r&b-styled rap epitomized by HEAVY D. & THE BOYZ. The first two videos on this MCA-distributed label are directed and produced by WARRINGTON and REGGIE HUDLIN.
■ EDDIE MURPHY mentions the “Black Pack” at a press conference for The Golden Child, listing its other members as ARSENIO HALL, ROBERT TOWNSEND, KEENEN WAYANS, and comic/writer PAUL MOONEY.
■ RUN-D.M.C. and Aerosmith record “Walk This Way,” a breakthrough record and video that confirms Run-D.M.C.’s trailblazing status.
■ Perhaps the best rap tour ever begins with four platinum-level acts — RUN-D.M.C., WHODINI, L.L. COOL J, THE BEASTIE BOYS. The Beastie Boys’ Licensed to Ill goes on to sell 4 million copies in the U.S. for Def Jam, a standard unsurpassed in rap until 1990.
■ MICHAEL JORDAN scores 63 points in a nationally televised playoff game against defending champion Boston Celtics.
■ LEN BIAS, 22, is killed by freebase days after being named the Boston Celtics’ No. 1 draft choice.
■ The Black Filmmaker Foundation hosts the New York premiere of SPIKE LEE’s She’s Gotta Have It.
■ Paul Simon’s GRACELAND, a controversial and innovative use of South African music, is released six months after the historic compilation of South African pop, THE INDESTRUCTIBLE BEAT OF SOWETO.
■ MICHAEL GRIFFIN is hit by a car on the Shore Parkway after being chased by a gang of white youths in Howard Beach, Queens. This racist outrage introduces several figures to the 6 o’clock news — the Reverend AL SHARPTON and attorneys C. VERNON MASON and ALTON MADDOX.
■ A Long Beach, California, rap concert headlined by Run-D.M.C. is halted by a brutal riot as black and Latino gangs bumrush the show. This incident incites “RAP CAUSES VIOLENCE” rhetoric and is the first national inkling that Southern California’s gang problem is out of control.
■ SCOTT LAROCK is shot dead outside Highbridge Gardens Homes in the South Bronx.
■ D.J. JAZZY JEFF & THE FRESH PRINCE’s”Parents Just Don’t Understand” is a huge crossover pop hit. The duo is booed when they perform the song at the Apollo, signifying rap’s hard-soft split.
■ The Cosby Show’s MALCOLM JAMAL-WARNER hosts a Saturday Night Live with his special guests, Spike Lee and Run-D.M.C.
■ In November, LARRY DAVIS, accused executioner of drug dealers and would-be rapper, shoots six cops and escapes. While he’s on the run, copies of his demo circulate around the rap business, but when he’s caught in the South Bronx a month later, no record deal is forthcoming.
■ MIKE TYSON knocks out Trevor Berbick in the second round to take the WBC title.
■ GREG TATE’s “New Black Aesthetic” essay appears in The Village Voice.
■ X, an opera composed by ANTHONY DAVIS with a libretto by THULANI DAVIS, debuts at the New York City Opera, an important moment in the mythologizing of Malcolm’s legacy.
■ GEORGE WOLFE’s play The Colored Museum, a humorous critique of black cultural truisms that reflects a new mood of self-examination in the black intelligentsia, opens at the Public Theater to rave reviews.
■ Black quarterback DOUG WILLIAMS leads the Washington Redskins to triumph in the Super Bowl.
■ Def Jam’s Less Than Zero soundtrack contains L.L. COOL J’s “Going Back to Cali,” which seriously damages his hardcore rep, and PUBLIC ENEMY’s “Bring the Noise,” which opens with MALCOLM X’s voice saying, “Too black, too strong.”
■ Wappingers Falls teen TAWANA BRAWLEY’s sordid tale of being raped by six white men is seized upon by the MASON-MADDOX-SHARPTON team to attack the state’s criminal justice system. Huge holes appear in Tawana’s account, but the trio refuses to address the details and she never tells her story under examination. The case profoundly weakens Sharpton and company’s impact with moderate blacks, but they continue to build their grassroots following.
■ JEEPS with booming systems become a new urban status symbol.
■ AUGUST WILSON’s Pulitzer prize–winning Fences opens at the 46th Street Theater with JAMES EARL JONES in the lead.
■ TONI MORRISON publishes Beloved to tremendous acclaim and takes her place as the nation’s preeminent African American novelist. This position was formerly occupied by men: Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, and James Baldwin.
■ ROBERT TOWNSEND’s Hollywood Shuffle, a satire on Hollywood’s mistreatment of blacks, continues the momentum Spike Lee began.
■ TERENCE TRENT D’ARBY, an American expatriate living in England, gets superstar hype from Columbia after major success in the U.K.
■ Black Athena, by white Oxford don MARTIN BERNAL, argues that Egypt rather than Greece was the cradle of Western civilization, and documents the obfuscation of the Afro-Asiatic roots of world culture by white historians. Black scholars around the world have made this case for years, but Bernal’s pedigree suddenly gives the argument credibility in European academic circles.
■ “I Cram to Understand U (Sam),” by 16-year-old MC LYTE, is one of rap’s first female hardcore records.
■ BIG DADDY KANE’s “Raw” and his hi-top fade are state-of-the-art hip hop style. Cold Chillin’ Records joins Warner Bros., bringing uptown legends Kane, BIZ MARKIE, and MARLEY MARL into the Burbank fold, another sign of hip hop’s embrace by the once-hostile record industry.
■ Amid rumors of drug abuse, BOBBY BROWN splits from New Edition and is replaced by JOHNNY GILL.
■ EDDIE MURPHY’s Comedy Express appears on HBO, introducing many to ARSENIO HALL, ROBERT TOWNSEND, CHRIS ROCK, MARSHA WARFIELD, and BARRY SOBEL.
■ MIKE TYSON wins a 12-round decision over James “Bonecrusher” Smith in Las Vegas to capture the WBA. A few days later, Tyson invites actress ROBIN GIVENS to dinner in Los Angeles and she comes, along with her mother, Ruth Roper.
■ A harbinger of the increasing quality of non–New York hip hop: three of the four finalists in the New Music Seminar’s DJ COMPETITION are from outside the Apple — Philadelphia’s Cash Money, Los Angeles’s Joe Cooley, and Mr. Mix of Miami’s 2 Live Crew.
■ On the cover of Boogie Down Productions’s By All Means Necessary, KRS-ONE poses with an Uzi, an homage to a famous photo of MALCOLM X with a rifle taken after the firebombing of his Queens home. On the album KRS-One talks about “jimmy caps,” an endorsement of condoms as a tool for AIDS-related safe sex. The Fab Five Freddie–directed video for BDP’s “My Philosophy” uses images of Louis Farrakhan and Malcolm X as symbols of empowerment.
■ MAGIC JOHNSON’s Lakers best Larry Bird’s Celtics for the NBA title.
■ T-SHIRTS with the slogans “Black by Popular Demand” and “It’s a Black Thing, You Wouldn’t Understand” spread across the nation from predominantly black colleges.
■ BLAXPLOITATION FILMS like The Mack and Superfly reach a new generation as VCRs become more common in black households.
■ ICE-T’s debut album, Rhyme Pays, gives nationwide exposure to L.A. ‘s gangsta rap — a style influenced by gang culture and the sensationalistic books of ICEBERG SLIM and DONALD GOINES.
■ Kids on subways are seen reading copies of THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MALCOLM X, Elijah Muhammad’s MESSAGE TO THE BLACK MAN, and the rap magazine WORD UP!
■ Dodgers executive AL CAMPANIS is fired for telling Nightline that blacks “may not have some of the necessities” to manage major league teams.
■ GEORGE JACKSON and DOUG McHENRY produce Disorderlies, a horrid film matching the Fat Boys and Ralph Bellamy.
■ NEW YORK NIGHTLIFE shifts as the Bronx’s Disco Fever closes, Union Square opens for the hardcore, and Nell’s becomes an in spot for black hipsters.
■ The robotic half-human hero of ROBOCOP provides a new street name for vicious police.
■ MIKE TYSON defeats Tony Tucker in a 12-round decision to win the IBF championship, uniting all three belts and becoming the first undisputed heavyweight champ since LARRY HOLMES.
■ Built around actor/coproducer TIM REID and utilizing the skills of black writers and directors, the CBS sitcom Frank’s Place is widely hailed for its humorous yet realistic depiction of black Southerners.
■ PBS’s six-part civil rights movement documentary EYES ON THE PRIZE introduces a new generation to historic figures of the civil rights movement, including MALCOLM X and the BLACK PANTHERS.
■ GARY BYRD, a proponent of Afrocentricity, makes his afternoon talk show on WLIB a forum for Tawana Brawley’s advisers, revealing the gulf between African American and European American reality.
■ The gleeful misogyny of EDDIE MURPHY’s concert film Raw (with an opening skit written by Keenen Ivory Wayans, photography by Ernest Dickerson, and direction by Robert Townsend) helps take rap’s anti-woman invective to a new level.
■ BARRY MICHAEL COOPER coins the phrase “New Jack City” to describe the violent teen culture of Detroit in a Voice cover story.
■ The slammin’ blend of rap rhythms and r&b harmonies Barry Cooper has already labeled “new jack swing” is instigated by TEDDY RILEY, who produces and/or arranges hits for Bobby Brown, Keith Sweat, Al B. Sure, Heavy D., Kool Moe Dee, and his own band Guy. Riley’s sound breathes new life into r&b, influencing its two top production teams, Jimmy Jam Harris and Terry Lewis and L.A. & Babyface, and dominating playlists at black radio stations reluctant to play rap.
■ Singing B-boy BOBBY BROWN’s “My Prerogative” establishes him as new jack swing’s breakout star and propels his Don’t Be Cruel to sales of 5 million copies.
■ MICHAEL JORDAN wins the NBA all-star game MVP trophy before a hometown crowd. Amid the Nike commercials featuring Jordan and Spike Lee and the game itself, the CBS broadcast sprinkles shots of MIKE TYSON and ROBIN GIVENS huddled at courtside. That evening they get married in a local church.
■ Patrolman EDWARD BYRNE is shot dead in Queens by drug dealers. HOWARD “PAPPY” MASON, a large new jack drug dealer, is convicted of ordering the murder.
■ TRACY CHAPMAN’s self-titled album follows the hit single “Fast Car.”
■ LIVING COLOUR, led by Black Rock Coalition co-founder Vernon Reid, debuts on Epic with Vivid. After much touring and groundwork, “Cult of Personality” becomes an MTV staple.
■ Dennis Hopper’s cop movie Colors unintentionally spreads L.A.’s gang culture across the country. ICE-T adds credibility with the chilling title track and DAMON WAYANS’s loopy gang-banger provides humor by dry humping a stuffed rabbit during a robbery.
■ RUN-D.M.C. star in the Rick Rubin–directed Tougher Than Leather, a movie so stupid it alienates hip hop fans and, effectively, ends the band’s reign.
■ Teenager JOHN SINGLETON meets SPIKE LEE in Los Angeles after a screening of Lee’s new School Daze.
■ EDDIE MURPHY tells the Oscar audience that black people are underrepresented in the film industry.
■ JESSE JACKSON wins the Michigan caucus, but the excitement level of this mainstream campaign is more subdued.
■ KEENEN WAYANS’s blaxploitation parody, I’m Gonna Git You Sucka establishes his raw comic style and features memorable turns by Damon Wayans, Chris Rock, Ann Marie Johnson, Jim Brown, Isaac Hayes, and blaxploitation’s own Antonio Fargas.
■ Alan Parker’s MISSISSIPPI BURNING rewrites the civil rights movement.
■ MAGIC JOHNSON’s Lakers are the first NBA champs to repeat since 1969, making courtside seats at the Forum, coach Pat Riley’s GQ look, and “Showtime!” part of our national lore.
■ PUBLIC ENEMY’s masterpiece It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back appears on Def Jam. Rick Rubin exits Def Jam and starts Def American Records in Los Angeles, taking Andrew Dice Clay with him.
■ The Seoul Olympics are dominated by FLORENCE “FLO JO” JOYNER’s fingernails (displayed while she wins the 100- and 200-meter dash) and JACKIE JOYNER-KERSEE’s determination (seen in her long jump and heptathlon triumphs). Ben Johnson bests Carl Lewis in the 100 and is then disqualified for steroid use.
■ DANNY GLOVER and Mel Gibson costar in Lethal Weapon, which earns $65 million.
■ Yo, MTV Raps!, hosted by FAB FIVE FREDDIE, airs Saturdays and garners the highest ratings in the network’s history.
■ On the cover of ERIC B. & RAKIM’s Follow the Leader, the duo sport Dapper Dan–designed Louis Vuitton outfits and more gold than Fort Knox.
■ In August MIKE TYSON breaks his right hand on Mitch “Blood” Green’s face outside Dapper Dan’s, where the champ is stopping off to pick up a custom-made “Don’t Believe the Hype” jacket. When not busy in the street, Tyson knocks out Michael Spinks in 91 seconds.
■ At the Dope Jam concert at the Nassau Coliseum, a young man is stabbed to death over a gold chain. In the wake of this tragedy, and the media’s attacks on hip hop, a group of performers and industry figures organized by Jive vice president Ann Carli and journalist Nelson George work on an anti-black-on-black violence record. The group calls itself the STOP THE VIOLENCE Movement after a song written by KRS-One.
■ JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT dies of a heroin overdose.
■ MIKE TYSON, ROBIN GIVENS, and RUTH ROPER appear on 20/20 with Barbara Walters with the champ looking drugged as Givens calls their marriage “torture.” Later it is revealed that Tyson was prescribed Thorazine and lithium prior to the taping.
■ Producer/director DEBBIE ALLEN takes over Cosby Show spinoff A Different World, pumping new relevance into this look at black college life by highlighting three crucial characters: JASMINE GUY’s Whitley, the ultimate Bap; KADEEM HARDISON’s Dwayne Wayne, a humorous blend of Bap, Boho, and B-boy; and CREE SUMMER’s Freddie, Bonet’s heir apparent as America’s favorite Boho.
■ Los Angeles musician and Lisa Bonet’s husband LENNY KRAVITZ is signed by Virgin. His retro nuevo rock and hippie costumes find a cult audience, making him and Bonet the first couple of boho African America.
■ ROBIN GIVENS in Los Angeles and MIKE TYSON in New Jersey file divorce papers. She claims Tyson beat her; he claims she tricked him into marriage with a false claim of pregnancy. Givens becomes a target of rap ridicule as the ultimate gold digger.
■ With George Bush’s election GENERAL COLIN POWELL is named head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Because he’s so good at running press conferences about invasions of Third World countries, he’s mentioned as a potential vice-presidential candidate.
■ JESSE JACKSON and other prominent blacks call for the word black to be replaced by African American in an effort to reinforce identification with the Motherland.
■ On Martin Luther King Day, the STOP THE VIOLENCE Movement releases “Self-Destruction,” which will go on to sell over 500,000 copies and raise $600,000 for the National Urban League. On the same day, for the fourth time in a decade, there’s a black riot in Miami triggered by the shooting of a black suspect by a white or Hispanic officer.
■ Sixty per cent of BLACK STUDENTS IN HIGHER EDUCATION are women, the highest female-to-male ratio of any racial group.
■ N.W.A’s gangsta masterpiece Straight Outta Compton, along with a slew of other records by Compton-based acts, turns this obscure city into the nation’s newest symbol of urban decay.
■ ONE-THIRD OF BLACKS live in households with incomes below the poverty level and 45 per cent of all black children live in poverty-level homes.
■ THE NEW YORK TIMES does a long front-page story on the increasing interest in Afrocentric education in the black community.
■ Yo, MTV Raps!, now also a weekly show hosted by DOCTOR DRE and ED LOVER, pulls in huge ratings and spreads hip hop culture.
■ The Love Ball brings VOGUING aboveground at an AIDS benefit.
■ SOUL II SOUL’s “Keep on Movin’ ” and NENEH CHERRY’s “Buffalo Stance” intensify the trans-Atlantic impact of U.K. black music.
■ RONALD BROWN is voted chair of the Democratic Party.
■ EIGHT HARLEM TEENS are charged with raping a white jogger in Central Park.
■ Do the Right Thing premieres at Cannes to the praise and outrage of American critics. It will eventually earn $27 million, make many top 10 lists, win an Oscar nomination for best screenplay, and elevate SPIKE LEE to the top rank of world filmmaking. Several journalists, including New York’s David Denby and Joe Klein, Newsweek’s Jack Kroll, and the Voice’s Stanley Crouch, predict the film will cause violence.
■ ARSENIO HALL begins his rule of late night cool by bringing urban slang (“Let’s get busy!”), an eager smile, and cutting-edge musical guests to mall America.
■ YUSUF HAWKINS, a 16-year-old black shopping for a used car in Bensonhurst, is shot dead after being chased by a crowd of Italian American youths.
■ Priority Records receives an FBI letter criticizing N.W.A’s “Fuck tha Police.” As they tour during the summer and fall, they are dogged by a police fax campaign urging local departments to get the show canceled.
■ BILLBOARD reports growing efforts to repress musical acts that “swear, engage in erotic posturing and sing lyrics touting violence.”
■ TERRY MCMILLAN’s love story of a middle-class teacher and a working-class construction worker, Disappearing Acts, becomes a Buppie favorite.
■ 20th Century-Fox agrees to release EUZHAN PALCY’s anti-apartheid A Dry White Season, starring Marlon Brando and Donald Sutherland.
■ The tastelessly funny, racially edgy comedy of KEENEN IVORY WAYANS’s In Living Color debuts on Fox. Brother DAMON emerges as the show’s star and ROSIE PEREZ brings new jack dance to regularly scheduled TV. The black rock band Living Colour sues Wayans for copyright infringement.
■ In a close election, DAVID DINKINS is elected mayor of New York.
■ The Los Angeles Raiders’ ART SHELL becomes the first black head coach of the postwar era.
■ I DREAM A WORLD, an album of photos and minibios of African American women, is a publishing surprise with six-figure sales, mostly to black middle-class families.
■ Designer PATRICK KELLY, a shrewd self-promoter who uses overall jeans, big round buttons, and toy black babies to market his flamboyant fashions, dies of AIDS.
■ One in four BLACK MEN IN THEIR TWENTIES are either behind bars, on probation, or on parole. The 610,000 black men between ages 20 and 29 who are involved with the criminal justice system outnumber the 436,000 blacks of the same age enrolled in higher education.
■ D.C. mayor MARION BARRY is caught smoking crack with model Rasheeda Moore in an FBI sting at the Vista International Hotel. The FBI videotape airs regularly on national TV.
■ REGGIE HUDLIN’s House Party, starring the rap duo Kid ’n Play and comic Robin Harris, earns $26 million and makes the director and brother-producer WARRINGTON hot properties.
■ Waterbury, Connecticut’s GARY FRANKS is the first black Republican elected to Congress in 50 years.
■ M.C. HAMMER’s scintillating performance of “U Can’t Touch This” on Arsenio helps mushroom the record’s sales and confirms rap’s new visual orientation.
■ CARTER G. WOODSON’s 1933 classic, The Miseducation of the Negro, is reprinted by the Africa World Press, influencing the likes of KRS-One.
■ NELSON MANDELA visits America, provoking a brief outpouring of brotherhood and African American pride. In celebration of his Harlem speech, “Black Bart Simpson Meets Mandela” T-shirts are sold on 125th Street.
■ ICE CUBE splits with N.W.A and records Amerikkka’s Most Wanted in New York with the Bomb Squad.
■ SHELBY STEELE’s The Content of Our Character wins a National Book Critics Circle award. While his neocon ideas about racial harmony struck many as naive, Steele’s emphasis on black responsibility and self-determination seems like common sense across the political spectrum.
■ BIG DADDY KANE steals JIM BROWN’s woman in a video. Off-camera, the ex-football and blaxploitation star mentors Kane and many gang-bangers in Los Angeles.
■ USA Today reports on the rising crossover appeal of black fashion — twisted braids, dreadlocks, hi-top fades, L.A. Raiders gear, banana headbands, African beads, baggy clothes — which it calls AFROCEN-CHIC.
■ Rapper WILL SMITH stars in NBC sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. QUINCY JONES is the executive producer.
■ The Oscar-winning Driving Miss Daisy makes over $100 million, spotlighting MORGAN FREEMAN’s magnificent acting, but disturbing blacks with its Reaganite feel-goodism.
■ VANILLA ICE’s “Ice Ice Baby” makes a decent dancer and wack rapper hip hop’s Fabian.
■ SPIKE LEE edits the October Spin, interviewing EDDIE MURPHY and AL SHARPTON and assigning AUGUST WILSON an incisive essay on African American aesthetics.
■ ST. IDES MALT LIQUOR, which has almost twice the alcohol content of the average beer, uses rap to market its brew, including a TV spot with Ice Cube.
■ CHARLES BURNETT’s To Sleep With Anger stars executive producer DANNY GLOVER. Glover’s presence gets the director his first commercial feature opportunity, but doesn’t guarantee blacks’ attendance. Despite glowing reviews Burnett claims his tale of black Los Angelenos haunted by deep South superstitions is mismarketed.
■ Hip hop media assassin HARRY ALLEN appears on Family Feud wearing a white kufi. His family, the McGregors, lose to a white midwestern clan.
■ Michael Bivins, a minor member of New Edition, introduces his post-new jack swing philosophy in BELL BIV DEVOE, a group he forms with two other New Edition members, which he says is “Smoothed out on the r&b tip with a pop feel appeal to it.” BBD also popularize Timberland gear hip among nonhikers. Two other Bivins-managed groups, ANOTHER BAD CREATION and BOYZ II MEN, go platinum. Boyz II Men’s album is called Cooleyhighharmony.
■ COOLEY HIGH is released on videocassette.
■ DR. DRE of N.W.A beats DEE BARNES of Fox-TV’s Pump It Up in a Los Angeles nightclub before hundreds of witnesses. Dre blamed her when an N.W.A interview was followed by an Ice Cube rebuttal. Barnes sues for millions as N.W.A gloats about the beating in interviews.
■ Family Matters’s STEVE URKEL becomes the first hip black nerd in history.
■ CORNEL WEST’s The American Evasion of Philosophy: A Genealogy of Pragmatism focuses attention on the eloquent ideas of this Princeton philosopher.
■ New Jack City, directed by MELVIN VAN PEEBLES’s son, MARIO, produced by George Jackson and Doug McHenry, and scripted by Barry Michael Cooper, opens to shootings at several theaters nationally and a riot at an overbooked Westwood venue. It makes $48 million, boosting the careers of Ice-T, Wesley Snipes, Chris Rock, and everyone else involved. Blaxploitation smartly updated for the ’90s, it starts this year of black film on an optimistic note.
■ ROBERT TOWNSEND’s The Five Heartbeats ends the optimism as the actor/director’s tribute to ’60s r&b vocal groups suffers from poor marketing, weak reviews, and the indifference of young blacks. The dichotomy between New Jack City’s youth appeal and The Five Heartbeats’s failure bodes poorly for adult-themed black films.
■ BILL DUKE’s A Rage in Harlem adapts Chester Himes’s cartoony novel of ’50s Harlem with verve as ROBIN GIVENS shocks her critics with her steamy, assured performance.
■ JENNIE LIVINGSTON’s Paris Is Burning documents the wellspring of vivacious style that is black transvestite life.
■ A four-CD JAMES BROWN package with extensive liner notes and discography gives the Godfather his props.
■ Nineteen-year-old MATTY RICH releases a hardcore rap 12-inch disguised as a movie called Straight Out of Brooklyn. Though he criticizes Spike Lee, Rich acts in a Spikean manner by dissin’ his elders and opening his own Brooklyn store.
■ FAB FIVE FREDDIE, a downtown scene icon, appears in a Colt 45 ad with blaxploitation sex symbol BILLY DEE WILLIAMS.
■ SPIKE LEE’s Jungle Fever, a tale of dysfunctional families, is cannily packaged as an interracial love story. Sam Jackson’s crackhead son and Ossie Davis’s blindly religious preacher father embody the generational conflict rife among African Americans. This generation gap is further illustrated when Amiri Baraka leads protests against Lee’s film of Malcolm X’s life in a nasty scene of artistic agitators from the ’60s and ’80s trading low blows.
■ L.A.’s KDAY is sold and its rap format discontinued.
■ JOHN SINGLETON’s Boyz N the Hood opens to more violence than New Jack City and almost unanimous critical acclaim. The film overcomes its nasty opening weekend to gross $55 million and turns Ice Cube into a household name. At 23, Singleton, like Rich, is part of the hip hop generation and his film balances traditional Hollywood storytelling with a raw, male-dominant viewpoint. Larry Fishburne’s strong, righteous father is an Afrocentric fantasy of child rearing.
■ N.W.A’s Niggaz4Life goes to No. 1 on the Billboard chart after two weeks.
■ MICHAEL JORDAN leads the Chicago Bulls to the NBA title over the Lakers. And, maybe more culturally important, splits Coke for Gatorade.
■ MAYOR DINKINS is jeered by angry youths in the aftermath of the Crown Heights riot while rappers X-Clan lead protests against the police.
■ Disney uses anachronistic, GRAFFITI-STYLE bubble letters for the logo of the Charles Lane–directed flop True Identity.
■ Virginia’s black governor, DOUG WILDER, announces his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination. Unlike Jesse Jackson, this mainstreamer plans a conventional campaign with neoliberal themes of tight budgets and efficient management.
■ Newsweek’s cover story on Afrocentrism asks, “Was Cleopatra Black?” Eleven years after DR. ASANTE coined the word, the battle over multiculturalism in general and Africa’s contribution to world culture in particular is the nation’s hottest educational issue.
■ Neocon CLARENCE THOMAS, nominated to succeed civil rights warrior Thurgood Marshall, is confirmed as the second black to serve on the Supreme Court by the smallest margin in history after he’s almost derailed by law professor ANITA HILL’s charges of sexual harassment. Never has America seen so many real-life Buppies on TV. Unfortunately, they’re all Republicans.
■ PUBLIC ENEMY’s blacker-than-thou posture seems to attract, not alienate, young white listeners as the rappers tour with their thrash-metal allies Anthrax.
■ Dancehall toaster SHABBA RANKS has the number-one black album in the country, a first for a Jamaican artist. The upsurge in grassroots popularity of Jamaican-style rapping symbolizes the long-overdue breakdown of tensions between African Americans and West Indians.
■ G. Heileman is forced to withdraw its POWERMASTER malt liquor, which was to contain 31 per cent more alcohol than Colt 45, in the wake of intense criticism from the black community and health activists. Like Uptown cigarettes before it, PowerMaster is stopped before it can be marketed to the black consumers targeted by its manufacturer.
■ MAGIC JOHNSON’s announcement that he’s HIV-positive awakens millions of sports-loving heterosexuals to the reality of AIDS.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on January 9, 2020