Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Raheem the Vigilante Raps for King Ad Rock

In 1989, when The Beastie Boys had just exploded into mainstream popularity with their Def Jam records, corporate America was watching. And just like they've attempted to cash in on young pop stars' popularity by casting everyone from Elvis to Vanilla Ice in their own films, so too did King Ad Rock get to star in his big budget star vehicle. And really, if you watch any of these movies - from Britney Spears' Crossroads or Eminem's 8 Mile all the way back to Mamie Van Doren's Untamed Youth and before - they're essentially the story. Underdog youth has major family issues and runs counter to the status quo/ authority and usually specifically the law, only to discover the specialness within themselves, choose good friends over bad friends and overcome their circumstances. It's pure teen pandering, of course, since that's who these movies are aimed at, since their casting their heroes.

Well, Lost Angels is no exception, it's got every cliché in spades. Ad Rock comes from rich Californian parents who don't understand him. They're divorced and treat him like an outcast because he's in a gang (who strangely pretend to be Latin), even though he really doesn't want to hurt anybody and is just following along because of peer pressure. He falls in love with a bored rich girl (her mom tells her to clean her car, so she drives it into their swimming pool), who seems out of his league, but really she's just another troubled teen in with the wrong crown. He gets into a gang fight and there's some legal scenes which really make no sense if you think about them (his father walks into juvenile court with a paper bag full of pills his mother is abusing, dumps them on the floor, and so Ad Rock is sentenced for having them, even though nobody even suggested he they were his). So he's sentenced to a silly juvenile detention center, where Donald Sutherland is the one good doctor who cares about the kids and teaches Ad Rock to be a good person, while ironically learning the same lessons apply to his own life as well... essentially the Robin Williams role in Good Will Hunting.

It's all dopey and trite and very 80s. It's full of voice-over monologue of Ad Rock pontificating about what jerks adults are, and gang members who look like the cast of Fame. Despite it all, some scenes are well directed: well shot, dramatically staged and with good use of music, probably because it's directed by Hugh Hudson who directed Chariots of Fire, as well as some more questionable films. But his talents are usually evident even if his stories are sub-par. Sutherland is easily the best actor in the show, when we finally get to him. Other cast members seem to be struggling with just how straight or broadly to play it: are they satirizing clueless parents and doctors or playing real people? Some seem to have chosen A while others tried for B. And Ad Rock himself? It's a pretty bland, low key performance, but for a non-actor, he manages to slip through most of the drama without embarrassing himself.

Lost Angels is a fairly obscure film these days, and most people who know of it only do because they're diehard Beastie Boys fans who've tracked it down .But in 2012, it was finally released on DVD... or at least DVD-R, in its proper widescreen aspect ratio through MGM's MOD program. So you can at least order it in its OAR from places like amazon.

Still, If you're going in hoping for any Beastie Boys music, prepare to be disappointed. He doesn't rap at all in the film. They do show that he's a graf writer and so still kinda hip-hop, and his gang always hangs out in a big nightclub. So there's heaps of opportunity to shoehorn in the ol' typical scene where his buddies shove him on stage and he shows us how he's this artistic phenom, and at the same time makes the girl fall for him (he instead does this just by dancing with her). But no, there's none of that. There's also no original Beastie Boys song written for the title theme, or even a teensy clip of "Fight for Your Right To Party" playing in the background.  No Beastie music at all.

There is a lot of pop music and even a soundtrack album, but it's all stuff by groups like Happy Mondays, The Cure, Soul Asylum and The Pogues. There's only one rap song on there at all, and it's actually by Raheem. The Raheem who used to be in The Geto Boys. Fortunately, it was also released as a single, so you don't have to buy the whole crappy soundtrack album to check it out.

The song is called "Self Preservation," and it's not on either of his albums, though it's still been released by A&M Records and Rap-A-Lot. 1989 would put it a little closer to The Vigilante than The Invincible, and it has more of that vibe to the song. Produced by Bryan New, who did a lot of big stuff for Jive Records, and Rap-A-Lot regular Doug King, it's pretty hard and message-oriented, though a little too guitary for my hip-hop purist tastes. But it's got nice, huge drums and the guitars are at least scratched in samples (Jimi Hendrix, I believe), not some studio musician noodling around. It's sort of like early Paris or Esham would use guitars in their early work - in fact, I'm pretty sure they both have sampled these exact same riffs - and they're cut up during the hook; so overall it's actually pretty strong.

Raheem raps from a more negative perspective of a disenfranchised youth fed up with the system... I'm not sure I fully subscribe to this theory, but it's possible that he's specifically written this song for the film and is rapping as the main character. But he does refer to himself as a "vigilante," and he doesn't really follow the film's plot or get too specific with the references. In other words, he doesn't rap, "my crazy girlfriend actin' the fool, just drove her car into a swimming pool," which is good not just because that line would be awful but because it makes the song relatable and effective outside the context of the Lost Angels movie.

The 12" features a couple different mixes. They're all essentially the same music and lyrics, but you get an Instrumental and a couple different edits of the track. Most notable is the Dirt Cheap Edit, which is a pretty substantially extended version, doubling the length of the song. So that's just another reason you're better off with the 12" rather than the full soundtrack album. Because "Self Preservation" is definitely at least worth checking out, which is more than I can really say for Lost Angels.


  1. Sample is "Whole Lotta Love" by Led Zep, fyi....

  2. ....and then Hendrix's "Purple Haze"