Early on, authors like Donald Goines and Iceberg Slim captured hip-hop’s street sensibilities scribing books that explored the seedier side of urban living in the '60s and early '70s. Now the legacy of Goines will be resurrected for a new generation of hip-hop fans with DMX’s adaptation of his pulp classic "Never Die Alone.”
DMX is starring in and producing the Goines-adopted film, an action thriller, in which the Yonkers-bred rapper plays King David, a gangster seeking redemption. "Never Die Alone" is first of Goines 16 books to reach the big screen. Some of Goines’ more vivid tales can be found in his books “Dopefiend: The Story of a Black Junkie,” “Whoreson: The Story of a Ghetto Pimp,” “Black Gangster,” “Black Girl Lost” and “White Man's Justice, Black Man's Grief.”
The hip-hop community in particular has embraced Goines for his lucid, universal tales of the streets in Detroit. A former convict, pimp and drug addict, Goines wrote all of his books between 1970 and 1974, the year he was fatally shot.
Kool G Rap, a pioneer of street-hop, considerers himself the “Donald Goines of Rap,” for his own ability to use rap music to weave intricate stories.
“Before G Rap, they weren't talking about selling drugs in the street, murdering; they weren't doing nothing relating to the streets. They were talking about making new dances,” Kool G Rap said. “But with Donald Goines, I took what I was seeing and tried to make it visual like him.”
Many concur that rappers like G Rap, Nas and others were directly influenced by what they may have read in the prose of Goines.
Bringing cinema to hip-hop
“Kool G Rap really brought the cinema to hip-hop. He was truly the rap Donald Goines,” said Greg Watkins of AllHipHop.com, a rap Web site. “But obviously Goines was crafting book after book that revealed the hood to the reader. After getting out of jail, [Goines] had a work ethic similar to what we saw with Tupac. Goines put you right there in the action.”
And interestingly, Goines’ book, “Black Gangster” (1972), had an accompanying soundtrack over 20 years after its release. In 1999, the aforementioned Chaz Williams of Black Hand Entertainment brought together original tracks from hip-hop artists, like Jay-Z, WC, DMX, Mic Geronimo, Ja-Rule and others, to create a backdrop for the book, which originally was meant to be a movie.
“I was familiar with [Goines] from back in the day. His books transcended from then to now. I wanted to bring the book up to par,” said Williams, who works with Sony Recording artist Grapf. “Nas, Nore and some of the Wu Tang members had mentioned him in their songs. I got some of the hottest artists to read the [“Black Gangster”] and told them to give me back [songs that expressed] what they were feeling.”
“Hip-hop might not be the direct descendants of a writer like Goines, but you can never, ever deny that he didn’t have a profound influence on them. You have rappers like Nas and Royce Da 5’9” who both have songs called “Black Girl Lost” [like the title of Goines’ book],” said Big Ced, the editorial director of TheIndustryCosign.com. “Donald Goines helped create a blueprint that many street-oriented artists today mimic while creating their lyrics. Like many rappers today, Goines lived much of what he wrote about, too.”
In a recent interview with Film Monthly, DMX said he related to Goines’ characters, citing his own well-documented legal ordeals.
Drawing from actual events
“I had actual events and issues to draw from. I think that is the theme of my life. Right, wrong, good, bad, heaven, hell. I think you have to know both in order to honestly choose one. So I'm familiar with both sides of the fence. That was the character. All right, be a grimy ni**a for a minute, then f**k around and get a conscience.”
What was the intent of Fox/Searchlight Films and DMX’s own Bloodline Films in bringing Goines from the cult status to the masses?
"Well, you know, we definitely wanted to capture the feeling of a cinematic version of reading a Donald Goines novel," said Director Ernest Dickerson. "If you've read any of his novels, sometimes you feel like you have to take a shower after reading one of them.”
And even though he died 30 years ago, his legacy thrives.
“Donald Goines was for the streets [in the '70s] what the rappers are today. They speak about what is going on. When there wasn’t rap, he was speaking on what is going on in the hood,” Williams said. “And he spoke in the people's language. He was in the streets, of the streets and spoke for the streets.”