Hip Hop History: Never Forget Donald Goines Has an Album
Donald Goines is one of my all-time literary heroes. He applied Shakespearean tragedy to the hood characters I was getting to know through Rap music and instead of lauding them he proved the street eats its babies. He left no one winning and every sentence exciting. He was the first author after I left high school I started reading on my own.
While enlisted in the Air Force Goines developed a heroin habit that stayed with him until he was murdered in his home in 1974. The heroin changed his course leading him to a life of crime: pimping, robbing, gambling all to support his addiction. By the time he went to prison he would write all morning and do heroin all night. His books showed empathy for all characters. He was an author who cared about the internal life of the white jailer in White Man’s Justice, Black Man’s Grief and the hitman’s daughter in Daddy Cool. He was able to present crime and poverty as an ecosystem where no gunshot rings without consequence. Reading him grew me emotionally for that reason. I am not alone.
The whole reason I knew his name was because of rap music. While literature failed to acknowledge Goines every prison library was stocked with his sixteen novels. Every rapper had Goines references from 2pac Jay-Z to Jadakiss. The love affair went so deep that in 1999 a soundtrack to the book Black Gangster was put together for the express purpose of getting interest up for a movie. The soundtrack does have names you’ve never heard of: Kasual, Killa, Ghetto Mafia. That happens on any hip hop soundtrack but it has peak performances by Ja Rule, 50 Cent, Freddie Foxxx, Mac Dre, DMX, and Jay-z.
As a forgotten piece of history it is perfectly hip hop. The only man that could get 50 Cent and Ja Rule on his album is Donald Goines. The only book with a soundtrack and not a movie is Black Gangster. Goines badly wanted his books optioned into movies and this 1972 novel even more so. It is giant sized in scope and epic in execution. One of my favorite books brought the best out of some of my favorite MC’s. S.Carter era Jay has the ability to shake you to your core with the simplicity of a single line on This Life Forever: “Let’s face it. Either ya dough chasin’ or basin’. “Mac Dre comes onto Give It Up like a lion fully aware that his music is so oddly versatile it will never seem dated or antiquated the way Ja Rule does on Represent. DMX feels the most connection to Goines and the wounded nature of his literary universe. He doesn’t bark violence he whispers it on The Story. He got the only Goines movie made from a book, Never Die Alone (which I saw in the theater). Like the book it is a mixed bag but a lot of effort was put into the lead performance. X gives it all and that’s what Donald would have wanted.
This Life Forever
Give It Up