Rhythmic American Poetry

JG The Jugganaut: Rhythmic American Poetry Review

You might remember JG The Jugganaut as the poetic force behind the intro to Yungg Soja’s, I Am Klasik Vol. 1. Setting the tone for that project, JG proved that his chops as a spoken word artist are not something that can be easily ignored. Rhythmic American Poetry is a testament to his lyrical skills as a poet, while giving an undeniable ode to what is perhaps one of his greatest influences: Hip Hop.

Rhythmic American Poetry (RAP) is not a Hip Hop album or a spoken word album, but a combination of both that aims to uncover the poetic roots of rapping through the use of spoken word against a variety of beats. The Hip-Hop influence is evident on J2 The Villain where JG uses a braggadocious, poetic flow against a heavy beat with lines like, “As heroic as I try to be, the Jugganaut is a villain, the prime suspect in a string of open mic killings,” presenting himself as a competitive emcee residing in the body of a spoken word artist. As atypical as combative rhymes may feel when it comes to poetry, it definitely sets the tone for what seems to be one of the running themes throughout the project: JG is a poet who has felt more at home with Hip-Hop than he has in his own lane as a spoken word artist. The skits throughout the album, like You Ain’t Got No Kufi? drives home the point that he is sometimes a displaced artist because he doesn’t follow the trends and stereotypes associated with being a spoken word poet. The inherent dichotomy in trying to be a poet who spits with the competitive soul of a rapper is further pushed in a track called Rhythmic American Poetry, penned after the name of the album:

When I first got hooked on poetry

they reeled me in and studied me

they said I sound too much like rap

they cut down my lines then they tossed me back

now rap, rap heard my words

rap said my flow was crack

but I never rhyme about rims and the trap

and Interscope ain’t found a way to market without that

JG also talks about his insecurities and desires when it comes to relationships on tracks like Marital Issues, where he discusses having marital issues as an unmarried man, Brick Walls, or I Need where he talks about all the qualities he wants in a woman; qualities that are subtly contradictory at times, which only adds to the complexity of the poem. Sperm Donor could be seen as a story of what happens when all that goes wrong, with a child inevitably trapped in the middle, while Black Widow is probably one of the most solid tracks on the album in terms of story-telling and matching the production with JG’s booming voice.

He continues to pay homage to Hip-Hop with 1995, reminiscing on his high school days growing up in Columbus, Ohio, and being influenced by artists like Wu-Tang, Biggie, Raekwon, Nas and Lauryn Hill. It’s another solid track, the production forcing you to reminisce right along with him.

While I won’t dive into every track on the album, I think that the ones that I mentioned are proof of JG’s abilities to craft stories with poetic wordplay. At times the poems can come off as rehearsed as opposed to performed because the emotion behind them doesn’t match the words on display. While the tracks on the album are, on average, the length of any Hip-Hop songs you might hear, the project feels long as a whole when combined with the skits. There’s definitely a theme to RAP, but I think it starts to get lost in the arrangement of the tracks and the length of the album, making it feel less cohesive.

None of that takes away from the fact that it showcases spoken word as something intrinsic and necessary to rap as an art, instead of a distant cousin far removed from it. JG talks about the conflicting nature of being a poet who feels like a rapper, while at the same time proving that the two are one and the same. If you’re a writer, a fan of poetry, or a Hip-Hop head who really listens to lyrics, then I would recommend this for you. Go cop it at the link below.

Until next time.

-Kia

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JG The Jugganaut

JG  The Jugganaut is a spoken word artist from Ohio whose album, Rhythmic American Poetry, was recently nominated for album of the year by the National Poetry Awards. You can vote for him on their website and download the album at the links below.

Rhythmic American Poetry Download: http://www.mediafire.com/download/gjb6juq8jo59db2/Rhythmic_American_Poetry_(final).zip

National Poetry Awards: http://www.thenationalpoetryawards.com/

JG’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jugganautical?fref=ts

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Shawna Mills – Creating Violator Union

Shawna MillsThe first time I interviewed Shawna Mills was back in October 2011, where we talked about her work with Titmouse, her feature in Black Comix, and how she used to hate animation, that is before she developed one of the freshest styles this side of moving line work (my words, not hers). This time around, Shawna has created a crowd-funding campaign for her personal comic book creation, something many artistic years in the making: Violator Union.

VU is a tale of four reckless criminals and their dog who fight, murder, and steal, becoming a prime target for the government as they try to find their way to a rumored paradise. I promise you that VU is one of the most eccentric, and truly creative properties you’ll currently have the chance to lay your eyes on. So likewise, the stage for the characters has to be just as crazy. VU can be summed up in one question: What if the power to destroy or change the world was given to irrational criminals?

“I knew I didn’t want good guy protagonists,” Shawna says when I asked her about VU’s tagline. “I didn’t want aliens or magical super mutants. I wanted villains.” The choice to use a group of villains as the main characters in the story may not be entirely unique, but it’s definitely rare and a well thought out choice for the creative direction she is taking with VU.

“The characters sort of come from my own desires and multiple personas,” Shawna goes on to explain. “My mind is not a bad or violent place, but IViolator Union wish to find justice and humanity in places, so I create the world those things can come true in.”

I found it interesting that humanity and justice were Shawna’s choice of words to describe the development of VU’s universe, because at first glance the Violators don’t even sound like they know what those terms mean. But like any well-developed characters, there’s always something under the surface. Shawna admits that underneath it all, the Violators are just “lost souls.”

“Well, I feel that, like you and I, they are works in progress,” Shawna says when I asked her to clarify. “But unlike you and I, they lack empathy and morale. They want to have something that makes them human, but find it difficult realizing it. And like so many lost souls in our real world, they turn to escaping in violent, criminal, and cold ways. They don’t naturally know how to find their way to paradise.”

So, let’s run this down: cold-hearted criminals (check), being chased by the government (check), trying to find paradise (check). Also, super powers (check). Also, they have a dog (double-check). How can you NOT love that idea? You know you do.

But execution is everything, and Shawna is determined to put out a quality product as evidenced by some of the preview pages she has already released through her campaign. Vivid and wild, the pages are everything you would expect from Shawna’s bold and creative style, matching the energy of the animation perfectly. I asked her whether she envisioned the comic book or the animation first, and her answer was simple:

Violator Union Comic Page Sample“I didn’t envision either one coming first. I do what feels great.”

She reflects on old Violator Union pages she created back in the days as she continues, “I looked at them and laughed at how much I’ve grown as an artist and writer,” Shawna says, her excitement showing through despite the humor she finds in her old work. “I want to do it all right now. Everything! The only inconvenience is that I am one person.”

She admits that there has been stress in juggling the creation of Violator Union with her other obligations. “I hide the stress behind sarcasm and a nonchalant smile. If you’ve ever met me and I’m all smiles with half moon eyes, you are in the company of a stressed out Mills,” she says. “But a friend has shown me a bit of a new release. Dance. I dance while at work. And back massages.” At this point I can only imagine she’s sitting on a throne with an evil smile as only the sexiest of men gather at her feet. “I’m really happy about that. Mama needs her back massaged daily.”

While the process has not been without its ups and downs (and apparently dubious amounts of back massages), Shawna is keen on making Violator Union a name to remember. She’s ready to take over, starting with the comic book and perhaps a full animation on the horizon.

“I want this to be my first of many properties. I want merchandise, games, comics, endorsements, cereals and food snacks. I want cameos in music videos and anything I can think of. I have been working hard on creating content and that won’t stop.”

The potential marketability of Violator Union is definitely there, and it’s something that’s not easily forgotten once you see it. But according to Violator UnionShawna, it’s actually some of you guys out there in the artistic community who influenced her decision to finally bring VU to the world.

“I’ve been on VU since my second year of high school. When i started making a move on it being out there, it was more of a thing that was inspired by the online art community,” Shawna says. “Deviant Art. The beautiful and supportive artists there had been watching my illustrations and I grew the characters openly. People became interested, and I started dreaming bigger.”

And now, she’s on her way to really bringing VU to life. The journey has been fruitful in more ways than one. “Two years ago, I wasn’t in this place. Personally, I’ve grown more serious and no-nonsense about everything. I’ve become way more of a woman if I may say so myself. Still much to grow on, but I see my progress. Becoming more confident. I’m proud of myself. I should also mention that I’ve been meeting some really outstanding people and I feel like they are a part of my own growth.”

Shawna is humble, and her potential is boundless. Already receiving recognition from artists like LeSean Thomas (of Boondocks, The Legend of Korra, and Cannon Busters fame), she is well on her way to achieving all the goals she has been striving for. If you guys support any crowd funding campaign in your life, it should be this one. I’m not trying to sound like a PSA or a campaign billboard for a presidential candidate, but I don’t think you need me to ask you to support this KickStarter to see the potential in its creation. The evidence is there for you to check out for yourself. If you can, help spread the word, and make sure you follow Shawna at the links below.

Until next time!

-Kia

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Violator Union Promo

KickStarter:

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/lazymills/violator-union-graphic-novel?ref=activity

Facebook:  

https://www.facebook.com/ViolatorUnion?fref=ts

Web:

http://lazymills.com/

The legal stuff: Violator Union and all respective characters are © Shawna Mills.  This article was written by Takeia Dunlop exclusively for Spraypaintandinkpens.com. You can link to this article as much as you want, as long as you don’t claim it as your own.

The Power Of The Acapella

Whenever I talk to people about who is lyrically nice in Hip Hop today my first question is, how would that person sound acapella? I argue that if you strip the beat out from under a lot of artists, all of a sudden they sound like they’re Dr. Seussing their rhymes. The beat carries them, and while lyrics are just one part of what makes an emcee (the other being flow), it’s the element that adds depth to the music. Without it, you get an artist who could possibly have a nice flow, but isn’t saying anything to make you really listen. He’s basically background music. At it’s core, rapping is a poetic art form and the best of emcees use poetic device, so that even if you don’t like an artist’s style of rapping, you can’t argue that she understands the science behind putting words together in a compelling way. So that being said, here are some artists that I think most  reflect that concept when spitting acapella:

If there are any artists that you listen to that you think deserve to make this list, feel free to drop a link in the comments!

-Kia

Yungg Soja – I Am Klasik

Yungg Soja -I Am Klasik

Dream Big, Live Klasik.

That’s the new motto of Columbus, Ohio emcee, Yungg Soja, and the theme behind his newest mixtape, I Am Klasik Vol. 1. The intro sets the tone for the type of lyricism you’re going to hear from this project – complex, gritty, and meticulous. But its the riveting spoken word of JG the Jugganaut following Soja’s lyrics that sets the tone for the entire mixtape by begging the question, “Are you classic?”

The idea of what makes an emcee classic becomes the conceptual basis for the entire mixtape. Soja often goes back and forth between asking himself that question, and answering it with life experiences and lyrical ability. Songs like Shoelaces and Hell Under Water paint a picture of someone with self-doubt searching for inner determination, ultimately contrasted by the more confident Crown Me Emcee, where he talks about his personal growth as an artist. At the same time, he’s not afraid to call out certain types of rappers on The Exception: those who want to be the exception to failure and want all the success without any of the work.

He goes on to pay tribute to the influence of Hip Hop in his life with tracks like Heart 2 Heart and All I Need, both cleverly disguised as more intimate love songs. The Feel is probably one of my favorite tracks on the whole mixtape as it questions the essence of the current state of  Hip Hop compared to where it has been, and you can hear the theme of being classic resonating between the bars:

I’m not knocking your flava/

I’m just saying don’t compare it to mine/

Cuz Hip Hop with that feel/

was in a different place and time

I’m not going to say that this is a perfect project by any means, but Soja’s growth, especially with penning concepts, is definitely there. There’s a solid theme going on here that is relatable to anyone with a dream. In the end, it’s clear that his stance on becoming classic is that it’s something that requires constant evolution and the willingness to step your game up.

Oh yeah.

And the ability to really spit. Let’s not forget that.

 

You can visit yunggsoja.com to download the mixtape for free. You can also follow Soja at the links below:

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/yunggsoja

Reverb: http://www.reverbnation.com/yunggsoja

Dream Big, Live Klasik guys. Until next time.

-Kia

New York Comic Con

So as you know, I attended New York Comic Con and it was awesome. And packed. I live in NYC, so I’m used to the crowded mass that encompasses this gritty city, but even I was like, “hot damn, it’s packed like a mother effer!”

Pictured above: Mother-effin Packed.

But it was all good. My partner in crime and I, Sha-Nee Williams, willingly descended into that conglomeration of cos-players and comic book fanatics to get to where we really wanted to be – Artist Alley, which was aaaaaallll the way past that Walking Dead banner in the distance. Luckily, we took a short cut underneath all that crowded nonsense and came up on the other side.  I spent a lot of time in Artist Alley just gobbling up inspiration. There were so many talented people there! I even got to take a picture with one of the illest artists out there right now, Alvin Lee.

Me and Alvin Lee

Then I got to hang with Sha-Nee and Denver “Sketch Bravo” Thompson for a little bit. I have no idea what’s going on with me here. I think I’m falling asleep because Denver’s hugs are just so cozy and warm.

Me, Denver, and Sha-Nee

And I finally got to meet this awesome guy right here, Antonio Pomares, who I’ve done commissions for and who I happened to just arbitrarily find in a crowd of people on my first day of the con.

Me and Antonio

But one of the major highlights of the con for me was talking about Hip Hop with one of my favorite artists, Sanford Greene. He immediately put me on to this Hip Hop & Comics panel that was happening, which Sha-Nee and I attended along with our friend Tre Worrell. Sorry, I don’t have a pic of Tre, but I’ve magically turned his name into a link to his work.  So yeah. Click that.

Jean Grae was at the panel too, but unfortunately she came late so she’s not in the shot. I did get to shake hands with her though and tell her how dope of an emcee she is.

Oh yeah, speaking of Hip Hop, I also got to spit for Sanford Greene, which was pretty awesome too. This girl – you’ll see her at the beginning of the video below – apparently was like this secret ninja rapper, and out of no where was like “Spit something!” She was really cool though. We talked art and hip hop, and she was much braver than me for attempting a freestyle on camera.

Unfortunately, Sanford is the only person with the video from a front angle that doesn’t shift in the middle of everything. I’ll probably pay him a hefty ransom to get it. But in the mean time, I hope you guys can do with this.  Shout out to Sanford for taking the time to talk  Hip Hop with us, making this year’s con even more of an enjoyable experience.

But wait, you didn’t think we were gonna walk away without getting Sanford to spit something, did you?

Psyche. We totally did.

So yeah, that’s it. I did a lot more than this, like the Womanthology panel, the show floor, and meeting other people, but I’m terrible at remembering to take pictures of everything. Don’t hate me, guys. I’ll try to get more pictures next year.

And hopefully I’ll run into more of you in 2013. Until next time.

-Kia

Yungg Soja – Rhyming With No Boxes

Anybody who knows me – like, really knows me – knows that I’m a sucker for lyrical prowess when it comes to Hip Hop. It almost doesn’t matter what’s being said for me so long as how it’s being said is dope. I listen for the poetry in it which is, no matter what, the true essence at the core of rhyming. Combine that with good storytelling, passion, and heart, then you’re golden in my book.

So it was a blessing when Soja hit me up with some new tracks from his upcoming EP titled No Boxes, a project the young emcee openly admits he’s doing in order to test himself. “I want to bring back the art of concepts and clever wordplay,” he said when I asked him what his mindset was while writing and producing the project. “I feel like it’s missing and I feel I am versatile enough to not be limited in a creative box.”

The two singles “Fly High,” and “Let Go” follow the precedent that Soja is setting with this project. Set against hard-hitting, thumping beats that are quickly becoming his trademark, Soja’s lyrics paint a vivid picture of someone who is breaking any and all restraints and really going hard with his craft. “‘Fly High’ is me saying I’m done holding back,” he explains. “I’m freeing my mind and aiming for higher ‘cause I’m dope enough and more advanced than these rappers lyrically.” Soja’s confidence definitely comes through in this song, and is a nice contrast to “Let Go,” which focuses more on his attempts to move past his self-doubts. “‘Let Go’ is a very emotional song for me,” he admits. “It’s literally me letting go of the doubt, the hurt, the confusion – reaching within self and letting it all out and going beyond your own expectations. That song means everything to me.”

In an era of music where the material things get more shine than genuine, from-the-heart, skillful rhymes, I think Soja is refreshing and is saying things in his music that we can all relate to. But I know you’re tired of hearing me talk, so I’ll let you listen for yourself. You can get both singles on iTunes for $0.99 each. And look out for No Boxes, dropping early 2013.

Leave a comment and let me know what you think!

Later,

-Kia

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Singles on iTunes: http://itunes.apple.com/us/album/fly-high-single/id561719388

Yungg Soja on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/yunggsoja614

Yungg Soja on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/yunggsoja

Yungg Soja on Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/sojamusik

Food For Thought

Yesterday Columbus, Ohio native emcee/producer, Yungg Soja, hit my Facebook wall with a handful of links that included new music, interviews, and performances. Among them was Vol. 2 of his collabo project with fellow Columbus emcee, Turnz, called Deadly Combination.  Another rhyme, one that really stood out for me,  was Food For Thought, a lyrically intricate message that observes blatant social issues while making the point that we are often the cause and solution to those problems.  Soja chimes:

Get your job right,

cause we on the verge of self destruction,

unlawful structure soaked in the stench of urban corruption

In an era of Hip Hop that’s more testes-hugging skinny jeans and pop than anything, it’s nice to see someone take it back to a street-conscious level. And, having heard Soja’s rhymes for a little while now, I can tell you one thing…social messages aside, this kid is about nothing but raw lyricism; that kind that you have to rewind to catch, making it seem like everyone else is just Dr. Seuss-ing their raps. I’m not going to say too much else. I’ll just leave  you with the links and let you hear for yourself. But drop a comment…let me know if you dig it.

Oh, and if you’re in the Columbus area, Soja and Turnz will be opening for Raekwon at Skully’s on April 23rd.

 

 

 

Yungg Soja & Turnz – Deadly Combination 2: 

http://limelinx.com/files/b464bc191310d5d4a90e46ed19e52124

Yungg Soja on Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/yunggsoja/info

Raekwon at Skully’s: 

https://www.facebook.com/events/371435259562862/

Stabb Gunner: A Review

Whenever I have to hop the 2 or the 5 train going into Manhattan, I’m always treated to an urban gallery showing of just a minute portion of the expansive graffiti art that the Bronx has to offer. Dancing alongside the buildings in awkward places are brightly colored tags, dripping with the passion of the artists that created them. This is what I was immediately reminded of when I read the first issue of Joseph Krzemienski and Courtland Ellis’ dynamically rendered digital comic, Stabb Gunner.

From the first glimpse of the cover, you’ll see what I’m talking about. I think I mentioned before that Courtland has a natural graffiti/hip hop influenced style, but Joseph’s colors only serve to enhance it, pretty much shoving Courtland’s art right in your face. It has a fluid motion, dynamic energy, and attitude that is pretty impossible to ignore thanks to the collaborative efforts of these two artists. With an animation-like, manga-influenced quality, Stabb Gunner almost reads just like that – sequential stills of an animation where the key parts of the story are hand-picked and wrapped in the nice digital package that is NxtBook, an app that makes reading digital comics simple and intuitive.

Joseph takes the helm as both colorist and writer of the Stabb Gunner universe. The story is pretty straight-forward. Enter Stabb Fisticuffs, a pretty nonchalant guy and talented fighter who has apparently given up a life of violence in favor of a more peaceful lifestyle as a wandering monk. If you can’t tell by his name, the story and characters don’t take themselves too seriously, but we still get the sense that there’s much more to Stabb than meets the eye. Without giving too much away, I’ll just say that there’s a part of his past that seems to haunt him even now, and I’m sure it will come up again the deeper we dive into this story.

Honestly, this probably won’t be for you if you’re a fan of raw, gritty comics with almost no undertone of humor. But if you’re a fan of quirkiness and comedy in your comics with a side of action and serious character development, then I would recommend checking this out. I would also recommend it because, well, it’s free. You almost HAVE to. And you’re not really doing anything anyway, right?

This first issue is really a preview of Courtland and Joseph’s upcoming Stabb Gunner graphic novel, which will be released in print. Stay tuned for more news on that, but in the meantime, the boys were nice enough to send me over some preview pages from what would have been the second issue, but is now being incorporated into the graphic novel. Don’t say I don’t love you.

Stabb Gunner has been brought to you courtesy of The Fictory.

Stabb Gunner Comic: http://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/postagevfx/nxtd/#/0
Stabb Gunner Facebook Page:  https://www.facebook.com/pages/Stabb-Gunner-Scene-City/126491060790646

Creating Blackguard: Willie and Jerrod Smith

It’s pretty rare that I’ll actually sit down and read a web-comic that I truly enjoy, mostly because reading comics on a laptop was never in my top five list of favorite things to do. But that’s exactly what I found myself doing at 3AM on some random day of the week. That comic was Blackguard, a comedic story written by brothers Willie and Jerrod Smith and illustrated by the former.

Willie had previously emailed me, requesting that I take a look at his work so that I could feature him in an article on the blog. That night, I baked some cookies, ate too many, and was absolutely wired. High on sugar at 3 in the morning, I started reading Blackguard and an hour later I was still laughing my ass off. I quickly emailed Willie to set up a phone conversation.

Besides talking about his adventures as a self-proclaimed emcee, and the state of Hip-Hop today, we got into a pretty deep discussion about Blackguard, what it’s like working with his brother, and the controversy behind the comic’s free use of the n-word. I’ll warn you guys now that Blackguard is not for the easily offended, so if you are, turn back now. Actually, don’t. You’ll be fine. We’re all adults here…sort of.

Art by Willie Smith. Blackguard is © Willie and Jerrod Smith

Anyway, not surprisingly, Willie grew up reading and studying popular comic strips like Calvin and Hobbes and Garfield. As a budding artist he picked up on creative nuances, like the way the characters’ hands and head shapes were illustrated. “Even as a kid, I knew I wanted to create my own comics one day,” he says. “Like, there was never any other career out there for me. I just knew.”

Jerrod was Willie’s partner in crime. They had been creating stories together from the time they played with action figures as kids. Both knew that it was only a matter of time before they would start writing comics together, but for the time being, life was calling them in different directions. “For a while, I was taking classes at the Savannah College Of Art and Design, performing at hip hop shows AND serving in the Army Reserves,” Willie explains. “Jerrod was studying Computer Science up at Clemson University.”

Willie spent the time honing his hip-hop influenced style of art as well as his skills with a mic. “My approach to character design is heavily influenced by the hip hop culture, and the key word there is culture,” he says. “Many people forget that hip hop is indeed a culture, a life style of sorts, so it makes sense that hip hop can be seen in my comics, ’cause after all, one of the founding elements of hip hop is the art style known as graffiti.” Coming from a musical background, Willie began incorporating his views and the spirit of hip-hop into his art. “As an emcee, I’m very proud to represent hip hop, so even if I’m not rhyming on a stage, I still want people to know it’s where I come from, so I showcase that in my art. And not just with the appearance of characters, but also with dialogue, and the approach to the stories themselves. Much like an emcee on stage, my style of art and the characters are very much in your face.”

Art by Willie Smith. Blackguard is © Willie and Jerrod Smith.

It was this “in your face” attitude that both Willie and Jerrod would bring to their comic, Blackguard, in the few months after Jerrod graduated from school and moved down to Savannah, Georgia with his brother. “Ideally, we both just wanted to make an easy going comedy that would be fun for the two of us to work on. We just needed a simple idea to get us into the routine of working on a comic together,” Willie explains as he reflects on the first time he and Jerrod worked on Blackguard. “The idea of doing a comedy about a team of black heroes seemed like fun to us. Even when we first mentioned the idea, jokes started coming out easily and we were laughing pretty hard, so that seemed to be a sign that we had something good to stand on.”

Blackguard was born as a story about a man named Eli Mercer, formerly known as Blackfist, the first African-American super hero to ever exist during the Civil Rights Era. After being cryogenically frozen towards the end of that era, Mercer wakes up in a world that is completely different from his own. People are praising rappers and athletes, but there are no black super heroes. So what does Mercer do?

“He decides to form an all black super hero team,” Willie explains. “However, he takes a shortcut and hires a group of former felons in hopes of training them to be his dream team. From there, it becomes an uphill battle as he must teach them to be morally courageous and keep them from killing each other WHILE they attempt to save the day.”

Of course, the team gives Mercer more headaches than actual results as each character’s personality comes into play. At first, it would seem that the characters are satirical versions of common stereotypes in the black community, but that wasn’t Jerrod and Willie’s intention when they began creating the comic.

Art by Willie Smith. Blackguard is © Willie and Jerrod Smith.

“We didn’t set out to necessarily address the stereotypes of the black community,” Jerrod explains. “It just sort of turned out that, by making a group of black characters with differing interests, backgrounds, and motivations, we covered many sides, both positive and negative, of the black race. The racist, yet proud Melanin. The cocky, yet talented Odan. The reckless, yet fearless Staples. The cynical, yet sensible Sequoia. The judgmental, yet inspirational Mercer. And the crazy, yet genius Darius Doome.”

Each character’s personality has deep roots, if only partially, in the personalities of their creators. While the perceived stereotypes have not been social commentary altogether, the use of the n-word by some of the characters has caught the attention, and offense, of some readers. So much so, in fact, that Jerrod actually wrote a lengthy entry on his blog about it. But what kind of writer would I be if I didn’t ask the creative team how they felt about it for myself?

“This could stem from the fact that I’m an emcee, but I’ve always been about saying exactly what’s on your mind,” Willie says. “I’ve always been drawn to ‘controversial’ entertainers such as Eddie Murphy, Eddie Griffin, Martin Lawrence, Richard Pryor, Dave Chappelle and Aaron McGruder. And not because they were considered controversial, but because they said exactly what they felt. Many of those same comedians, who were once seen as rude and inappropriate, are now praised for sharing their point of view.” Willie goes on to relate his experiences with Blackguard, and the open use of the n-word, with those aforementioned, controversial entertainers. “BlackGuard is just another example of two young men expressing themselves,” he says. “If anything, I think it may throw people off because such language and slang is being used in a comic. But it’s really no different than when Richard Pryor first came out with his comedy routines, or when N.W.A  first arrived in the hip hop scene, or when Aaron McGruder had Huey Freeman saying the n-word in the Boondocks comic strips, and eventually, in the Boondocks television show. At one point, these were all controversial.”

Art by Willie Smith. Blackguard is © Willie and Jerrod Smith

Jerrod also chimes in to give his stance on the use of the word in the comic, stating, “Simply put, we see the n-word as a joke. Not just the word itself, but the reaction that people tend to have towards it. ‘Ass’ and ‘Bitch’ may or may not be offensive based on the context in which they are used. The meanings of those words have gone through changes over time. Now compare those to the n-word. Not only is it also used today in a different context, it’s even spelled and pronounced differently. To claim that a word should never be used because it had a different meaning at one time is ridiculous to me. To the British, ‘fag’ means cigarette. Are we going to tell them not to use that word because some people interpret its meaning differently? Maybe the n-word does have harsh origins, but I think we have to get over it eventually. Why not start now?”

So far, no readers have come out and stated that they disliked the comic solely based on its use of the n-word, but many have questioned why. “It’s not like we just say the word out of ignorance. We often use it to portray ignorance,” Willie says. “But even more so, Jerrod and I don’t believe in giving power to a word. It seems ridiculous to us to ‘erase’ a word. If we as human beings have the power to create language, then we have the power to re-create it.”

“Bill Watterson apparently received angry letters about a few Calvin and Hobbes strips that seem entirely innocent to me,” Jerrod says, giving his thoughts on the offensive perception of the n-word. “If even he offended a few readers, then we’d be crazy to think no one would find Blackguard controversial. I think you have to realize that no matter what you do, someone, somewhere, is going to be offended. There are people out there who look for things to complain about. The sooner you realize that, the less you worry.”

At the end of the day, Willie and Jerrod just don’t want Blackguard to be taken too seriously. “The problem I have with many forms of African-American entertainment is that we often seem to try too hard to make ourselves look good. It’s like we’re trying to make up for years of negative portrayals,” Jerrod says. “Will and I aren’t trying to make a statement about stereotypes. People are drawn to BlackGuard because the characters are both flawed and bad-ass at the same time.”

Art by Willie Smith. Blackguard is © Willie and Jerrod Smith

While some controversy might have come out of the comic, Willie prefers to focus on the positives that have come his way as a result of creating Blackguard, instead of the negative. “My greatest reward has been knowing that even in the beginning stages of Blackguard, which have been the past two years, I’ve managed to inspire some people, and in particular, other Black kids who draw comics. It really warms my heart when other younger artists in middle school and high school ask for my feedback on their own comics that feature black characters.”

Despite the controversial nature of the comic, Willie and Jerrod both approach it like everyday professionals, making sure that they’re serving their readers with a healthy comedic dose every Wednesday. “I take my deadlines very seriously and I know that every Wednesday, there are about two hundred some odd people who want to read BlackGuard. I don’t like for people to ever have to wait on me, “ Willie says.

And as a team that doesn’t like to keep people waiting, tomorrow Willie and Jerrod are debuting a brand new Blackguard storyline called Psycho Therapy. Yep. That means now would be a good time to catch up on what you missed. And I know some of you are reading this on your lunch break, so you don’t have anything better to do, right?

Work?

Pfffft. Tell your boss to read Blackguard. He’ll understand.

_________________________________________________________________________________________

Willie and Jerrod Smith are a creative duo based out of Savannah, Georgia and co-writers of Blackguard. When he’s not drawing Blackguard, Willie leads a secret double life as Righteous The Poet, one integral part of the hip-hop collective, Dope Sandwich. You can easily find their music on iTunes and Youtube, and download Willie’s solo EP for free at his Bandcamp site below. The first installment of Blackguard, entitled Monkey See, Monkey Free, is available in print on Indy Planet, or on the Blackguard website for your viewing pleasure.  If you want to keep up with the comic, what Willie and Jerrod are doing, or get a taste of some of that dope sammich, you can follow the team with the information below. 

Email: righteousthepoet@yahoo.com

Personal Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/#!/profile.php?id=508763179

Deviant Art: http://suicidalassassin.deviantart.com/

Web Site: www.bosccomics.com

Bosc Comics Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/BOSCComics

Bosc Comics Twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/BOSCComics

Blackguard on Indy Planet: http://indyplanet.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=6260

Willie’s Bandcamp: http://righteousthepoet.bandcamp.com/

What’s in the Headphones

Despite what people say about hip hop music dying, the mainstream taking over, etc., etc., I actually think 2011 was a good year for Hip Hop. But there are three albums for me, specifically that stay in my headphones from the past year.

 

Elzhi – Elmatic 

Nas’ Illmatic is, and will always be, one of my favorite albums of all time. There’s no question to that. I used to listen to New York State of Mind just to get my day started. So when Elzhi dropped Elmatic, I was skeptical because Illmatic has a special place in my heart. I was so wrong. Elzhi not only paid homage to Nas’ classic, but he did it justice and took it to another level musically. His renditions of songs like Memory Lane, Represent, and The World Is Yours really made me think back to the first time I heard Illmatic and made me fall in love with it all over again.  Like I said, Illmatic will always be in my top, but Elmatic earned a special spot in my hip-hop loving heart too.

 

 

Pharoahe Monch – W.A.R.

Pharoahe Monch’s W.A.R. (We Are Renegades) combines two of my favorite things – hip-hop and revolutionary lyrics. Some people might not like his style of spitting behind the beat, but his lyrics are undeniable. W.A.R. just so happens to be my favorite song off the album, but Evolve and Assassins are a close second, if for no reason than it features one of my other favorites, Jean Grey. W.A.R. also has one other thing that I think most albums are missing nowadays – a complete concept. From beginning to end, the entire album fits into the overall theme of revolution.

 

 

 

Kendrick Lamar – Section.80

Even though Kendrick Lamar had been on the underground scene for a minute, he recently started getting more recognition in the mainstream. People have been wondering when Hip-Hop is going to get back to raw lyrics, and I think Kendrick Lamar is evidence of the second coming of that lyrical era. I know HiiiPower is the song off Section.80 that everyone talks about (well, those who have heard it), but there’s good reason. Kendrick Lamar doesn’t spit about the usual, and when you listen to this song, you’ll know that this guy understands the power behind his words. Not many artists approach their music today as a craft, but Kendrick Lamar is one of the few who I think actually studies the art of rhyming. Anyway, dope album, dope artist. Go listen.