An MC with Tai Chi 

What's better than an East Bay hip-hop kung fu flick? One that's part of a trilogy.

Professor Pitt makes a very strong first impression. Sporting a red tracksuit, shoulder-length dreadlocks, and eyeglasses, he looks like one of the exotic killers from Master of the Flying Guillotine. But don't blame him if he startles you -- blame his chi, which pulses with resonance and aids in his quest to use hip-hop (and kung fu) to dispatch the evil A&R pimps currently running (and ruining) the rap game.

For Professor Pitt has made an independent film in which he does precisely that.

Pitt calls tai chi his "root," or base style, the one from which all his other martial arts flow. He's studied the art for about ten years now (well before Wu-Tang became a household name), and has branched out to include techniques from other disciplines, such as xing yi, ba kua, eskrima, and silat serak. Upstairs in the balcony/VIP room of the Oakland Box Theater, he notes that the breath control techniques he absorbed while studying martial arts proved easily adaptable to rapping -- Pitt moved here from Milwaukee four years ago to seek his hip-hop fortunes. Surely, if any place is ready to accept a full-fledged martial arts rapper, it's the East Bay.

So in addition to busting his head against the wall trying to make a name for himself in the local rap scene with the ultra-underground groups Delinquent Monastery and Pitt and the Pendulum, Pitt did what any sensible, entrepreneurial-minded aspiring rapper with martial arts skills would do: He filmed his own hip-hop kung-fu epic.

Three years later, Pitt is still couch-surfing between SF and Oakland, and his rap career hasn't exactly taken off yet. He still maintains close ties with his peeps in Milwaukee, yet he's far from being able to "whirlwind thru cities" like rapper Afu-Ra. But he has completed Hip-Hop Dynasty, the first feature-length installment in what he says will be a trilogy -- written, produced, directed, and starring himself (as himself).

In the tradition of the Shaw Brothers and Sonny Chiba, Hip-Hop Dynasty is gloriously low-budget, yet blessed with occasional moments of pure cinematic genius. The plot concerns a rapper (Pitt) who, it is prophesied, has the power to balance the universe once and for all. But before he can manifest his calling, he is tested by the forces of evil, represented by the devil, who coincidentally happens to own a gangsta rap label. The devil sends both assassins and A&Rs after him, as well as minions such as "Corporate Cutthroat," a cold-blooded label exec whose battle with Pitt is one of the film's highlights. Along the way, a Yoda-like DJ QBert makes a cameo appearance, instructing Pitt in the proper execution of the crab-scratch technique, which requires tremendous agility. Meanwhile, assorted demons, ninjas, and pimps stand between Pitt and the fulfillment of the prophecy.

Naturally, plenty of fighting sequences ensue. One of the craziest blurs the line between bushido and breakdancing, as Pitt (who does his own stunts) dispatches two acrobatic B-boys -- call it Rock Steady Fu. To top it off, the film's score is an original rap soundtrack performed by Pitt and his crew. What's not to love?

The Dynasty project began as a public-access cable program in Milwaukee before growing into a film. Pitt says the idea to combine his two passions (martial arts and rap) came about from applying a tai chi perspective to the music industry. "Right now there's no balance" in hip-hop, he laments. "To me, hip-hop is pushing the boundaries of short life and not-very-happy endings."

No matter how daunting a task it may be, like his hero Bruce Lee, Pitt believes he's the one who can right the wrongs and restore cosmic equilibrium to the rap game. And if that means depicting A&Rs as thugged-out pimps exerting pressure on rappers to "make them put out negative music," so be it. As Pitt explains, "Whoever wrote the book on the industry, that makes them a pimp."

It sounds humorous, even ludicrous, to suggest that hip-hop's main problem stems from demonic record label execs with big hats, ugly shoes, and loud clothing. But, on second thought, it may not be such a far-fetched notion -- the imaginary "Shoot Up the Club" (the song the A&Rs make Pitt record in the film) could easily be a 50 Cent song, or a Lil' Wayne song, or a Mack 10 song, or ...

Pitt says he undertook his filmmaking mission, which he compares to a "rite of passage," to combat the widespread ignorance spreading like locusts through the hip-hop community. This mission is not without its hazards -- he got hit in the head with a sword during the filming, though the mishap could've ended up much worse. Ultimately, Pitt learned a lot as he progressed, and now stands on the verge of world domination, or at least locking down a distributor in Canada (where his music video recently premiered on MTV). In time-honored Bay Area fashion, Pitt has sold five hundred copies of Hip-Hop Dynasty on DVD, mainly through word of mouth and the Internet (see ProfessorPitt.com)

One thing Pitt does have going for him is originality. Not just anybody could think of all the wild stuff he does, which is so far out there that if he pulls off half of it, it's an accomplishment. How many other rappers do you know who'd stop for a tai chi demonstration in the middle of screening their movie, then launch into a live set -- backed by a harpist and a beatboxer? But he won't stop there. "I wanna be the cat that figures out how to levitate," he confesses. Judging from his first cinematic opus, he's already quite lifted.

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