By Linear Labs
BLACK DYNAMITE is a modern Blaxploitation film, directed by my close friend, Scott Sanders. He brought me on to serve as the film’s editor and composer. Production commenced in November 2007, and the film was theatrically released in October 2009. Black Dynamite has become a cult classic. It has been listed as one of the top 50 comedies of all time, with a score that has been equally revered. Black Dynamite is also an animated series, on Adult Swim, and the brand continues to flourish.
In celebrating Black Dynamite’s 5th anniversary, Linear Labs is re-releasing The Black Dynamite Score, with picture disc vinyl, bonus tracks, a limited t-shirt, condoms and more. Below, I shed some light on the making of this endearing project that has changed my life.
BLACK DYNAMITE THEME
The theme song, to a blaxploitation film, is very imperative. It sets the tone and essentially serves as the first piece of music the audience adheres to. Being that the movie is a nostalgic and intellectual comedy, I sought to create a theme that was stoic, cool and coupled with an earnest comedic appeal.
I commenced production by establishing a slow groove, as opposed to incorporating the fast paced high-hats and wah guitar that most composers were using in the post Shaft era. Initially, my slow-groove approach wasn’t well received by some members of the team. At one point, it was even suggested that the song’s tempo be digitally increased by 40BPM, but that idea faded quickly.
Lyrically, the Black Dynamite team was very meticulous and detail oriented. A detail that we wanted to fully capture was the fact that many blaxploitation films, of the past, exposed the entire story of the film within the songs theme. That’s why we incorporated lyrics that mentioned the details and impending plot of the movie.
The raspy voice, of LaVan Davis (he stars as the character “Curtis Payne” on Tyler Perry’s House of Payne), captured the theme’s energy very well. He’s also featured on “Cleaning Up the Streets” and “Jimmy’s Dead.”
CLEANING UP THE STREETS
I vividly remember writing this song with Sanders. While editing the film, there was a section that felt rhythmically sluggish; we solved this dilemma by creating a montage piece, coupled with the type of expositional lyrics that were popular in low budget blaxploitation films. In a matter of about 15 minutes, I wrote the bassline and Scott wrote the lyrics. We were laughing so hard.
Thereafter, I produced the song with the approach of being the Bomb Squad, producing a Public Enemy track, with their staple James Brown funk feel. If you listen to Public Enemy’s “Welcome To The Terrordome,” you may be able to better understand my compositional and sonic approach here. Sanders and I were mesmerized by how well this song solved our pacing problem.
MAN WITH THE HEAT (SUPER BAD)
This is our nod to Curtis Mayfield. I am such a fan; I’m so saddened that I never got a chance to meet him, prior to his passing. He was one of the most important soul luminaries in black music culture. Here, I sought to create the type of song he would have created for this movie.
I began by writing a bassline that had that early to mid ‘70s Mayfield approach (i.e. Mayfield’s “Kung Fu,” “Pusherman,” or “Give Me Your Love.”). Loren Oden, lead vocalist for “Venice Dawn,” captured the times by synthesizing the sweetness of Mayfield’s singing approach, with the grit of Syl Johnson’s soul.
Fun Fact: Man With The Heat (Superbad) was initially the theme song for this film because our film was initially entitled “Superbad.” The song lyrics actually provide this clue: “Won’t let Whitey shrink our dicks, put malt liquor in our mix, if you bring that scag around Superbad will blow your town, he’s Superbad, can you dig it…” However, the title was changed to Black Dynamite after the team discovered that a film, already titled Superbad, was slated to be released in 2007.
I was tasked with the job of composing a classic ‘70’s nightclub performance for the sultry Aphrodite. Dionne Gipson plays Aphrodite, and also happens to be the actual vocalist. It’s a Tina Turner type performance, with a Bboy breaks type of feel. If you watch the performance of this song, on the film, you can briefly catch me playing bass in the background.
This was the first scene that was shot and is also the first song I actually composed to film. It was filmed at a cemetery in Hollywood. I sought to create the emotion of death in a romantic sort of way. Listen to James Brown’s “Mama’s Dead,” from the soundtrack to Black Caesar and Luther Ingram’s “If Loving You is Wrong.” These songs served as my emotional inspiration. I instructed Davis to sing these vocals as if we had the singing group, The Dells. He executed this well, and become all of the vocal characters.
The instrumental version is just my nod to Grant Green and other classic artist that covered popular songs of their era. As a record collector, I am obsessed with old cover songs. This was just my chance to pay homage to their forward thinking.
Fun Fact: David Hollander served as the music supervisor for the film. Immediately after viewing a rough assembly of the film, he notified us of a potential problem. The problem was that he liked the song we used for the graveyard scene, but that we may not be able to clear it because he has no idea what 70’s composer created that song. When we informed him that it’s a new song, Jimmy’s Dead, we were all laughing and the rest is history.
JIMMY’S DEAD INTERLUDE
This song really has nothing to do with the film, other than it has the same chord structure as the original song. It synthesizes harpsichords, and analog synths, with fuzz guitar; these are staples of classic European soundtracks during the late ‘60’s to early ‘70’s. Essentially, the purpose of this interlude was to open the minds of my growing fan base, in anticipation of my follow up album, Something About April. At the time, I knew that this follow up album would be more exploratory because I wouldn’t have to stay within the musical confines of original blaxploitation music. This was the test.
SHOT ME IN THE HEART
Initially, the film’s record label, Wax Poetics Records, only planned on releasing one soundtrack consisting of licensed library music (assembled by David Hollander), as well as a few of my original compositions. At this time, I had no relationship with the label, but I was extremely fond of their magazine. It was my dream to release a fully complete original album alongside the soundtrack of licensed material. Therefore, I decided to create enough music to justify an additional album, The Black Dynamite Score. The only problem was that some of these songs were created after the picture was locked. Hence, these songs couldn’t be incorporated into the film. “Shot Me In The Heart” and “Chicago Wind” are a couple of those missing songs. When Wax Poetics heard the score, they were all in. This is why there is a Black Dynamite Soundtrack and The Black Dynamite Score – the score is based on original compositions as the soundtrack is based on library music assembled by David Hollander.
Shot Me In The Heart is one of Oden’s finest vocals on wax. Even though we were aware that this song would not make the film, we still lyrically reference Black Dynamite for consistency.
For the production, I sought to create a song that paid homage to RZA’s production techniques, as well as the kind of source material RZA discovered to create his majestic works. It’s Stax meeting Willie Mitchell’s Hi Recordings; it’s Wu-Tang working with Marvin Gaye; it’s what I want to hear in old and modern soul music.
If you listen closely, you will notice that I incorporate many breaks for Hip Hop producers to flip. I love old songs with breaks – sections that tangentially move away from a songs structure, usually for only a brief moment. DJ Premier, 9th Wonder and various other producers have sampled this track. It’s more than flattering. This song is very special to me.
Fun Fact: If you watch the Shot Me In The Heart video, the song, over the end credits, is taken from my first album entitled “Venice Dawn,” released in 2000.
Sanders requested another expositional song where the vocalist earnestly and candidly explains the current scene (“Ain’t it sad…somebody broke into Jimmy’s pad, are they still there, this sucka could be anywhere…”) To me, this is one of the funniest parts of the film. Initially, Tommy Davidson sang the vocals, but the team liked Oden’s version better, so we went with that one. On the Black Dynamite Score reissue, we added Davidson’s original version as a bonus track.
For production, I wanted to compositionally let the viewers know that we love Hip Hop! It’s my culture, and it has served as my portal to the classic source material that Hip Hop samples have derived. In essence, this song is a Hip Hop beat, with a taste of the past. Also, it is another RZA inspired production.
BLACK THEY BACK
This song was created to accentuate the pivotal moment when the character, “Black Dynamite,” was shot while entering his dead brother’s apartment. For the production, I sought to create some Bboy funk, but in a way that resembled an old soul recording, produced in a low budget ‘70s studio. There are so many interesting imperfections here and it works perfectly for the scene.
Loren Oden and Tommy Davidson are on the vocals. It’s a blast working with Davidson because he is so damn funny and energetic. I vividly remember him teaching Oden how to adjust his jaw to sing in a lower register. Imagine watching Davidson, with his draw dropped, singing like Sammy Davis Jr. It was hilarious.
While composing the extra material for my score, in 2008, I dreamed of one day working with RZA and or producing an album for Ghostface Killah. I created this song to show why and how I wanted this dream to become a reality. Fortunately, a couple years following this release, I was blessed with the opportunity to produce a collaborative album with Ghostface, entitled Twelve Reasons to Die, as well as write and produce on Wu-Tang’s A Better Tomorrow with RZA.
I wrote Chicago Wind, as if it was the chase scene for the Black Dynamite character “Chicago Wind,” even though I knew it was too late to make the film’s cut (as previously noted, this is one of those songs that I created after the picture was locked). Tony Scruggs, also the vocalist on “Gloria,” was instructed to perform as a stoic Aretha Franklin. This is one of my favorite songs and is also a nod to my Hip Hop roots.
GLORIA (ZODIAC LOVERS)
From the feedback I’ve received over the years, this may be the most popular song on the Score. It’s a love song that helped to spawn the creation of the new Black Dynamite condoms, manufactured by Linear Labs (notice how the zodiac theme on the box matches the zodiac theme on the movie’s love scene).
In producing this song, I sought to find a vocalist that could capture the feel of Barry White. I asked Oden what I should do. He suggested that Toni Scruggs sing the song, even though she is a woman. I looked at him like he was crazy, until she proved her insane vocal range.
Scruggs handled this difficult vocal in a matter of thirty minutes. She is a very exceptional singer. Compare her vocals on Chicago Wind and Gloria. It’s mesmeriing.
Fun Fact: Immediately after producing Gloria, I synched the song to film. Sanders was not impressed with my song; he wanted to use a library song for this love scene. I was disappointed, but instead of having a manic outburst, I had a plan. I went to the Black Dynamite set as the cast was filming the famous pimp council meeting. I pulled Michael Jai White (the writer and lead actor for Black Dynamite) aside and showed him the clip with my music. He loved it, so I asked him to let Sanders know how he felt. Believe it or not, the next day, Sanders reviewed the scene and somehow had a change of heart. We used the Gloria song and the rest is history. I always tease him about this because, in my opinion, it’s the only mistake he would have made in directing Black Dynamite.
This song was recorded prior to the commencement of the score, around 2004. While editing the film, I had the idea of using it for a chase scene for one of the villains. However, the entire scene was deleted; I still wanted it to be released as part of the Score. This is the only song on the score that was not recorded within the same time frame as the other material.
ANACONDA MALT LIQOUR
Michael Jai White, Byron Minns and Scott Sanders wrote the Black Dynamite script with the notion that we would use some rendition of Little Richard singing his notoriously high-pitched “Woooooooh” as a tagline for Anaconda Malt Liquor. However, due to legal reasons, the team was reluctant to utilize his likeness as a sponsor. Hence, I was commissioned with the task of creating a jingle for this fictional malt liquor, with some direction from Sanders.
Oden and I put this jingle together rather quickly because I was scheduled to DJ an event immediately after the session. I vividly remember that we kept laughing hysterically because we felt that the jingle was so reflective of classic afro-sheen commercials and the “Soul Glo” jingle from the movie Coming To America.
Fun Fact: The Anaconda Malt Liquor commercial, at the at the commencement of the film, was shot on super 8mm film in the downstairs foyer of my house. The lead actor, Leon St. James, is played by Oden.