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From The VIBE Vault: 'Racer X' (The 'Fast & Furious' Inspiration)

Read the May 1998 VIBE magazine feature that inspired the Fast & Furious film and franchise.

Rafael Estevez leads a new generation of fearless young racers burning up New York’s streets and racetracks in their tricked-out Japanese compacts. -- By Kenneth Li (May 1998)

At dusk, they take over the road. Roaring and buzzing like locusts, the swarm of asphalt-scraping Japanese cars — with swooping rear wings and brightly colored logos — merges from the side streets of Uptown Manhattan onto the traffic-congested Henry Hudson Parkway. Zigzagging back and forth like jet-fueled go-carts, they slow to a stop, blocking off three lanes of oncoming cars in preparation for the infamous mile-long run.

A black Nissan 300ZX and a white Mitsubishi Starion pull out of the pack and creep up to the starting line. As the sun dances on the nearby river, the sound of honking horns and screaming drivers is drowned out by the sonic blast of the two engines revving for takeoff. A stocky Latino dude in a blinding yellow shirt stands in the middle of the highway and raises his hands. Both cars lurch and halt like chained pit bulls, their wheels spitting out black smoke. The hands drop.

10 mph: Off the starting line, the Nissan pulls ahead by one car length.
40 mph: Still in first gear, the driver jams the stick into second, and his head snaps back. The tires let out a brief squeal.
100 mph: The Starion pulls closer. There’s a halting moment when it looks like the Nissan might lose. It lasts about one hundredth of a second.
160 mph: Gritting his teeth, the man behind the wheel of the Nissan begins to shake from the speed; his vision is a blur. He doesn’t see the Starion closing in.

“The excitement of going fast is like nothing else. Another group gets excitement from doing drugs or whatever. Speed excites us.”

Crossing the finish line, the Nissan driver, Rafael Estevez, wins by one car length. In less than a minute, the guy in the Mitsubishi has lost $7,500. Glowing with confidence, Estevez immediately challenges him for $2,500 and offers an 18-car lead and beats him again.

Estevez, a 30-year-old Dominican drag racer from Washington Heights, is considered an OG among a growing legion of young speed junkies terrorizing the back alleys, highways, and legal racetracks around New York City. The urban dragracing frenzy was started in the early ‘90s by a tightly-knit crew of Asian-American boys in Southern California and is now hitting hard on the East Coast. The hundreds of kids who line New York hot spots like Francis Lewis Boulevard in Queens or the Fountain Avenue strip in Brooklyn every weekend are an urban polyglot of Puerto Rican, Dominican, Chinese, Filipino, Jamaican, Italian and other ethnicities who have one thing in common: They love hurtling metal, meat and rubber through the concrete jungle at dangerous velocities.

Young men have been fascinated with tweaking and tuning big block Chevys and Mustangs since the days of Rebel Without a Cause. But the new guys wouldn’t be caught dead driving the gaudy muscular beasts of yesteryear. Instead, they’re tricking out low-buck Japanese imports like Honda Civics and Acura Integras and tattooing them like skateboards with Neuspeed and Greddy car parts stickers. By stroking the engine, adding a supercharger, and hitting the “juice” (nitrous oxide: a gaseous liquid once used to boost bomber planes in WWII), they can smoke the herb in the Iroc at the stoplight. And to do it with a puny four-cylinder rice burner that your moms would drive is downright arrogant.

“It’s about power. It’s about the control of power,” philosophizes Shawn Rousseau, a chunky West Indian racer in baggy jeans and Timberland boots. He’s hanging out at the packed Eastern Autosports store in Queens, New York, where kids in the scene go to chill and tune their cars.

“The excitement of going fast is like nothing else,” says Javier Ortega, a Columbian-American who screeches his blue Honda Civic to a halt in front of the store. “Another group gets excitement from doing drugs or whatever. Speed excites us.”

Few know that excitement like Estevez. Six feet tall with stooped shoulders and a healthy gut, he writes his own rules. Forget about valor, compassion, honor; in his book, that’s all synonymous with second place.

“People say I cheat all the time,” explains Estevez, a Huck Finn grin spreading across his face. “They say I jump the line, I do this, I do that. Drag racing is war. If you bring a knife, and I bring a machine gun, you’re dead. That’s it.”

SEE ALSO: The Racer X Reunion: A Conversation With Kenneth Li and Rafael Estevez

Street rule No. 1: Gun it before the hands drop.
“Whenever someone is about to go, they always do something with their body,” says Estevez. “Right before they drop the clutch, they usually pitch forward. I don’t watch the guy [in between the cars] to say go. I just wait for the other guy to move, and then I go before he does.”

Juan J. Sanchez, Estevez’s road dawg of 16 years, describes him as an unbeatable foe. “Half of the race is psychology, and mentally he’s set,” says Sanchez. “One way or another, he’ll find a way to beat you even if he’s driving the slower car.”

--

As a kid growing up in Washington heights, Estevez remembers being transfixed every week by TV’s The Dukes of Hazzard. “The Dukes pulled a lot of stunts, soared through the air, and were always getting chased by cops,” he recalls.
“The best part was they would always get away.”

Estevez’s own fantasies of jetting from the potbellied law came together when he first discovered “the Strip” along 190th and Amsterdam Avenue, in Upper Manhattan. Over many humid summer nights amid the caramel-colored bodega lights and din of merengue and hip-hop, a younger Estevez came to study the form of the best oldtimers. “The guy Carlito, forget it,” says Estevez, both arms going up in mock defeat. “We always used to want to race him.”

Estevez stood there for hours every weekend evening, taking mental notes: how Carlito’s body shifted moments before take off, his deadlocked gaze, the catlike smirk. It became a to-do checklist for later. Carlito quit racing before Estevez ever got to challenge him. Instead, Estevez raced his boys on a strip behind Shea Stadium. His first car was a 1972 orange Datsun 510 grocery getter that he pulled apart and reassembled hundreds of times to eke out extra juice.

“Half of the race is psychology, and mentally he’s set. One way or another, he’ll find a way to beat you even if he’s driving the slower car.”

By the time he was 16, Estevez dropped out of school to devote all his time to cars. He worked at several garages, honing his skills on other people’s autos. All the money went right back into his own machine. He constantly remade his car, forging his reputation every time he smoked another friend.

SEE ALSO: VIBE Presents The Ultimate ‘Furious 7? Takeover

That was the heyday of street racing, when wagers soared and reputations rose and fell in the blink of an eye. But then the cops started cracking down. “It’s a real problem,” says NYPD Chief Michael Ansbro, who’s witnessed racers cutting up traffic along the mile-long strip on the Henry Hudson freeway.
“I couldn’t believe how many people were weaving in and out of traffic. I’d be doing sixty, and the next thing you know, they’re flying right by.”

Last summer, a joint operation between Highway One police and the local 24th Precinct targeted illegal racing on 190th and Amsterdam. Between July and December 1997, the police issued 310 speeding tickets and 150 summonses for various violations. Now, a marked squad car works in tandem with an unmarked car during prime weekend hours to apprehend speed demons on the Henry Hudson.

Estevez and crew are forever playing cat and mouse with the police. “I do anything I have to do to get away from the cops,” says Estevez, who’s been chased on more than one occasion. “I’m not trying to go to jail.”

In the past year or so, the street racers have found a few “new drag spots,” but they’ve also begin to turn to the legal racetracks in new Jersey and Long Island to test their mettle. To gun it against the towering digital time boards, among the heavy metal-heads in domestic Mustangs and Camaros, no special license is needed at the entry gate, run through tech inspection, and you’re ready to race.

--

Tacked onto Estevez’s yellowing fridge door, the flier reads in bold: DRAG WARS: THE TRISTATES FIRST IMPORT STREET DRAG. The stakes are high. Big money sponsors like Penzoil and HKS U.S.A., car magazines Turbo and Super Street, and thousands of spectators from the streets will be keeping score at the Atco Raceway in New Jersey.

Two months before the big race, the boys at Speed and Sound, a tuner shop in Yonkers, relentlessly hammer away at Estevez’s civilianissue ’92 Civic. The transformation is sick. The stock engine has been replaced with a graniteblack motor borrowed from the Acura Integra GSR. Enlarged tubes of matte silver metal called headers loop around the top of the engine bay. They are intended, along with the softball-size turbochargers affixed to the front of the GSR, to dramatically boost output.

Just three days before the event, everything starts to go wrong. Estevez is rushed to the hospital and has to be operated on for an infected appendix. That same evening, he’s back at the shop massaging his bandages as he slowly limps around the car to check everything out.

On the big day, the flatbed tow truck they ordered never shows. The car is also acting up. The turbo computer mounted on the dashboard jumps out of its saddle every time the Civic lunges forward.
“I just hope I don’t break anything,” Estevez says with fingers crossed, not sure if he means himself or the car. He drives it to the track in New Jersey.

It’s an overcast morning, with temperatures hovering near the 70s — a perfect day for racing. On the first run of the day, Estevez scores 12.02 seconds on the quarter mile. Respectable for an amateur, but no big shakes. On Estevez’s second run, it happens.
The Christmas tree lights drop down: Yellow, yellow, yellow....His wheels are squealing in their disc-brake bear traps. Green! He stuffs the accelerator. The car lurches out of the gate and disappears across the horizon.

SEE ALSO: Digital Cover: The Fast Cast of ‘Furious 7? Speeds Back

Eleven-point-three-six seconds later, Estevez makes history, becoming the East Coast’s fastest Honda car racer. The five thousand sitting on the bleachers jump to their feet, roaring in the day’s first standing ovation. Estevez didn’t break the California Honda record of 10.61 seconds; but unlike the stripped-down trailer-towed compacts in the West, his car was driven to the track in heavy stock trim, with full glass and interior.

Back at Estevez’s tent, auto industry reps and reporters line up to shakes his hand. Lucrative endorsement deals will pay for the pricey car parts he needs to follow the race circuits up and down the eastern seaboard; and maybe, if Estevez is lucky, he’ll head to Cali, where the big boys will be waiting to take a crack at him. It’s the first glimmer of a legal career in the growing, adrenaline-charged sport of import drag racing. And it’s making him misty-eyed today. “I said I would do it, and then I did it,” Estevez says proudly.

A few days later, Estevez is streaking down Henry Hudson Parkway in the Civic, past the sparkling tiara of the New Jersey nightscape. As he floors the now record-setting ride, the cockpit rumbles with Gatling gun intensity. Over the roar, whistle, and hiss of the engine, he screams, “Do you hear that fluttering?” He checks off a list of problems. “That’s just one thing. The headers are leaking. We need to weld a differential to put more power to the ground; remap the computer.

“Every time I find another problem with the car, it makes me even happier,” he adds. “When I fix it, it means I’ll go even faster.” His eyes are lowered half-mast, nodding occasionally like he’s studying what the car has to tell him. For Estevez, it’s not the contest between racers that really matters but the abstract dialogue between the soul of a racer and his machine.

SEE ALSO: Racer X Returns: A Fast & Furious Reunion With Kenneth Li and Rafael Estevez (Photos)

Oddly, the makeshift dash cluttered with gauges — telling him everything from water pressure to fuel mixture — is missing one key thing: a speedometer. There’s a good reason. “When you know how fast you’re going,” says Estevez, punching the throttle again, “you’ll slow down.”

Photo credit: Raquel Rivera of the Cornell Hip Hop Collection

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Katie Spoleti

How Dinah Jane Shed Her Pop Coating And Bloomed Into An R&B Butterfly

With just 21 years around the sun, Dinah Jane has accomplished more than most. Her star initially rose alongside her pop sisters Fifth Harmony in her teens but in between chart-topping hits like "Work From Home" or "Worth It" was a longing for something more.

The "more" arrived this spring in the form of her debut collection, Dinah Jane 1, three tracks that play to her power vocals and confident nature. Leading single "Heard It Before" gives listeners the feels of the aughts with the help of producer extraordinaire, J. R. Rotem. Jane's accompanying tracks like "Pass Me By" and "Fix it" are just as alluring given her honey coated vocals. Instead of jumping from genre to genre, the songs are in the vein of Jane's R&B language, a move that transpired after a reflection into her musical identity.

The journey included experimentation with her first solo effort, "Bottled Up" with Ty Dolla $ign and Marc E. Bassey. The song was a bop by nature due to its similarity to her work in Fifth Harmony, which left Jane determined to find her sound.

"Being a solo artist now made it hard to define who I was because I was singing so many different styles before," Jane tells VIBE. "I had to take time for me to really cope and understand what it is that I really want to come out as my true identity. When I dropped my first record "Bottled Up" it was more me transitioning from Fifth Harmony to myself, I really love that I took some down time to understand who I was and who I want to be."

After a session with a producer in Atlanta, Jane arrived at the realization that the artists in her phone (Monica, Mariah Carey), was a sign for her to dig up her soulful roots. It's hard to deny Jane's vocals helped to build her former group and now, her own career.

"The most challenging part about making music has been me being honest," Jane said. "I have a tendency of holding back but keeping people's image safe. I was always afraid to portray them as something that people didn't know about and so my thing is like, 'Oh, I don't want them to think of my family like this or my friend who's not my friend right now.' I felt like if I wanted to create something authentic, real and raw I have to be honest not only to myself but to the public and stop putting a front that everything's good."

With a new attitude and direction, Jane is ready to fly above her worries. Check out our chat with the singer-songwriter below.

***

VIBE: When you were putting your three-pack together, what was going through your head? Was there a particular sound or moment you wanted to catch?

Dinah Jane: It was more like a certain direction. I felt like there was a part of me that had not been exposed yet as far as style. I really love that I took some down time to understand who I was and who I want to be. I started listening back to records where I was like, 'Wow, this is something that I wish was mine.' Some of Monica's records, Faith Evans or Mariah Carey, by the way, she followed me on Instagram [Laughs].

Congratulations!

She followed me on Instagram so I kind of got that verification that I should definitely do R&B. Those are artists that I've always been inspired by. I remember I went back to when I did my first audition on X Factor, and I said, "Who is that I want to sing and showcase my talent?" It was Beyoncé's "If I Were A Boy."

I felt like if this is a perfect time for me to throw in a bowl of my favorite artists that I've always looked up to and mesh it into who I am now. When I did "Fix It," I felt like it was so organic for me to go that direction and lean towards, so, when that happened the song became what it is now. I love the message behind it, I didn't realize it would empower so many people.

"Fix It" is actually my favorite out of the three. You just referenced your identity. Do you know what that is now? Or is that sonically or personally?

I think more so sonically, that's where I was lost the most because I had to put myself in a drawer for seven years. Now that I'm here, being a solo artist like I said, I was lost. Sonically I had to redefine who Dinah Jane was this whole time. I remember being in a session in Atlanta and this guy at the time asked me, "Who do you have on your phone? Let's look through it."

He's going through my phone and it's all R&B, not even that much pop, just singers from back then. And he's just like, "I was not expecting this, I thought you'd be the hype girl listening to all trap music." I have that personality trust me, but musically this is me. That clicked in my head that I was heading somewhere else and I needed to jump back to my old ways.

I love that. "Heard It All Before" has gotten so much love from your fans. I know you're not supposed to look at the comments but one that stood out was "I love this sound, leave pop alone." Do you ever feel trapped in one genre since you started within the pop bubble? 

It's funny that you say that. I feel like people or fans they kind of want to box you into who they think you are. I was telling someone, my fans they sometimes think they know me better than I know myself and it's kind of scary. There are times where I'm like, "No I don't have to be one way." It's crazy cause when I go to the studio I feel like I can be so versatile. I can do R&B easy but there are sometimes where I want to do those pop records, "Always Be My Baby" is that pop record to me and some people are good with it, some aren't but I think it just comes with your fanbase.

For me, they know my potential, honestly, they saw me on X Factor or even my YouTube days when I was 11 or 12 years old. They're like, "No Dinah, this is you, this is you, I want you to keep doing more of these." Eventually, I'll want to do some other things as well. But as of right now, it's truly R&B.

When it comes to creating you're always challenging yourself. What were some of the challenges that you've been facing this year while making music?

The most challenging part about making music has been me being honest. I have a tendency of holding back but keeping people's image safe. It's always been my challenge and I felt like if I wanted to create something authentic and real and raw I have to be honest to myself as well, not only to myself but to the public and stop putting a front that everything's good. My Mom always told me, "You've got to be real with yourself."

For sure. All three of these songs are super straightforward. What was it about keeping that energy while you were making these songs?

I was just trying to balance it. Like I said it was the most challenging part balancing that and I feel like with "Heard It All Before," it was the most fun, relatable song to write because my best friend was going through something. I was like "What?! He said what?!" We were literally having a full on group chat about it. When I did the music video, I wanted it to be about the situation that I was in with my girl. We were like, "You know what we've heard that all before." I just want to make this bundle relatable, sexy but then also swaggy and just not try so hard. So, when we put these three songs together, it felt so organic and true to who I was.

Even in the video, you exude so much confidence. What does confidence mean to you?

I think it's self-love. When you truly love yourself, you can see it in your face. You can see it in the glow and the energy you're giving to people. I wasn't always this confident, I would definitely say I was never this confident but, thanks to my mom, she always expressed that to me.

She said, "Dinah, I know you don't feel that beautiful today but you need to pick on the little things that matter. What's your favorite feature? Your lips. What's your favorite outfit you got going on? Pay attention to your best qualities other than that one negative thing you're picking on."

The confidence was never there but when you have people that are around you always encouraging you to love yourself and realizing your truth and worth, that's when the confidence kicks in. It's not something that's overnight, it takes time. It took years for me to realize that. Like I said, you have to surround yourself by honest, real people who can definitely make you see what you're not seeing.

Facts. Have you become that vessel for your friends as well? Like passing all of that on. Your mom passed it to you, you pass it to your friends, are you that person?

Yeah, it's like a telephone game. I have a younger sister who's 17 and she's always been insecure about her weight or her breakouts and I'm like, "You're a teenager, you're supposed to go through that phase. If I went through that you've got to go through it too."

In a way, I have to guide her through the stages. I was just talking to her last night and she's telling me about her friends and how she feels like she doesn't fit in, or certain cousins where she feels like she has to be a certain way. I was like, "Don't be a certain way, the way you carry yourself will vibrate and you will be so much more vibrant, it'll grasp more onto you. Just be your true self, you don't have to be anything else. I know who you are and you know who you are."

I feel like kind of being that older sister I feel like her mom sometimes. So I always feel this responsibility that she always feels 100.

What are some other plans you have for yourself, with your music for the year?

This is the first bundle. People wanted it to be named an EP but I was like, "Nah. It cannot be an EP because an EP is at least five to seven songs top."

This bundle is like a mini-project, it's the anticipation for the actual album. So, I want you to keep getting the feel of who I am, keep giving you these sneak peeks and then boom, hit you with the album. That's in the works, we'll see what happens. That's what we say now but sometimes things change, so don't get too excited.

Have you've been working with anybody? Any featured artists or any producers who are really understanding of who you are as an artist?

As far as features, I have one and then I'm working on another one.

So you can't say who they are?

I can't say. As far as producers and writers, J.R. Rotem is literally my dog. We walked into the studio and all of his plaques are all over the wall, plastered everywhere and we were like, "We get it, you're a legend. You're going to make me a legend," is what I felt in that room. I feel this great connection with him where we can be friends but also have that chemistry musically where he can connect with me instantly.

I love how we did  "Fix It," he brought out all of the live instruments and he made it feel like you were actually on stage, he made it feel bigger than what it was. So, I give him so many props for that because I've never felt that way in a session where I felt like I was onstage and it was just me by myself, no one else, well of course with a whole a** band, but I just felt the topic and the song, the musicality behind it is what meshed so well because of him. He is my dog for sure and my therapist because if it weren't for him this song would have not been made.

Stream Dinah Jane 1 below.

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Beyonce, Jay-Z and Blue Ivy Carter attends the 60th Annual GRAMMY Awards at Madison Square Garden on January 28, 2018 in New York City.
Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images for NARAS

An Ode To Jay-Z, The Ultimate Rap Dad

Rap, throughout its history, has always referenced parenthood in some form. Most often, it was to extol single mothers for their goodness while deadbeat fathers were berated and called out for going ghost. In recent years, as the social media landscape has blown open the avenues of communication, famous rap dads, in particular, have become increasingly transparent about their lives as family men. Where years ago there seemed to be endless bars mourning the demise of the father, artists are now using their platform to balance the scales. They’re showing themselves to be present and intentional.

Few albums make me think more about the concept of parenthood, and legacy, than Jay-Z’s 13th studio album, 4:44. It’s a stark and blistering work of memoir, heavy on confession and self-examination. When 4:44 finally dropped, I, like many others, was filled with wonder. How was it that Jay had managed to so fluidly deconstruct everything I’d been wrestling with for the last few years? Though the specifics of our experiences differed greatly, the central ideas dissected on 4:44, especially those concerning fatherhood and family life, had been swimming around my brain for some time.

***

Hip-hop saved my life. And it was fatherhood that set it on fire. This bears explaining.

What hip-hop has done for me, is what it has done for millions of fatherless and heart-wounded kids—it provided, at the very least, the shading of a better life. If it wasn’t for hip-hop, and the value I ascribed to it, it would be impossible to know just how far I’d have settled into the more lamentable aspects of my environment. Forasmuch of a goon as I was growing up, something always kept me from becoming too emotionally invested in harsh crime. I dabbled in mischief like an amateur chef knowing he would only go so far. I saw in hip-hop, in the art of it, something worth pursuing with tenacity; something like a healthy distraction. So I committed to finding my lane.

Though there were brief stints dedicated to developing my modest graffiti skills and footwork, it was the words that flowed and came without struggle. The school cyphers sharpened my wits and compelled me to feed my vocabulary daily. Only my wordplay could save me from getting ripped to shreds in a lunchroom battle. I read books and scoured the dictionary for ammunition, I listened to stand-up comics who fearlessly engaged the crowd and proved quick on the draw. It seemed fruitless to know a billion words if I couldn’t convert them into brutal attacks. I had to break the competition down and render them defenseless, stammering for a rebuttal. There could be no confusion as to my superiority. So instead of joining the stickup kids or depositing all of my energy into intramural sports, I put my soul and mind into the task of taking down all manner of wack MCs. That’s why I say that hip-hop saved me.

But fatherhood was its own saving grace. It showed me that the world did not revolve, nor would it ever revolve, around my passions. Fatherhood put an extra battery behind my back as a creative, sure. But it’s more about being a consistent presence at home than chasing any dream.

***

As an artist and writer, I cannot so much as think about fatherhood without considering some of the material that deals with feelings comparable to those I felt after I became a father. Songs that contextualize very specific emotions over the drums.

In his 2012 track “Glory,” Jay-Z, someone who had long been vocal about his strained relationship with his father, reflects on the birth of his daughter Blue Ivy, his first child with wife Beyoncé. Produced by the Neptunes, “Glory” was released on January 9, just two days after Blue was born. From start to finish, it carries a sort of gleeful melancholy that resonates on multiple levels. While it is, in essence, a comment on the exuberant joy attached with welcoming a child, “Glory” is also a note on death and mourning.

Before Blue came along and flipped the script, Beyoncé had suffered a miscarriage. The pain the couple experienced left them fearful of not being able to conceive. The dual purpose of “Glory” is made clear from the outset, and with blazing transparency. “False alarms and false starts,” offers Jay, laying the groundwork for what immediately follows: “All made better by the sound of your heart.” The second half of the couplet establishes what was, as we come to learn, the most pivotal moment in the rap mogul’s life up until then. The moment where all is made right, where the sting of loss is eclipsed by the possibility of new birth. Jay continues in this mode, shining light on the redeeming gift that is Blue and, also, how the child is a composite of her mother and father, yet more still.

The opening bars of the following verse are equally striking as Jay, addressing Blue, touches on the death of his father from liver failure. Jay is signaling here, leading us somewhere but with the intent to shift gears. Instead of dwelling on his father’s shortcomings like one might expect him to, Jay breaks left, resolving that deep down his father was a good man. What begins as an indictment of a cheat who walked out on his obligations, ends with a declaration of forgiveness and generosity. But Jay soon directs the focus back to his blessing and how hard it is not to spoil her rotten as she is the child of his destiny. It becomes apparent that this is a man at his most self-actualized. A few more welcome digressions and “Glory” closes the same way that it begins, with the final line of the hook: “My greatest creation was you.” This points to something that I, too, came to know as fact. That no matter what I do, and regardless of what I might attain—power, wealth, the esteem of my peers—nothing is quite comparable to the happiness and the terror that comes with siring a child. “Glory” succeeds as it casts aside any traces of bluster and bravado, making room for Jay to unearth lessons that were hard-won yet central to his maturation. And what is the purpose of making art if not to bust open your soul and watch it spill over? Shout out to the rap dads raising babies and doing the work to shift the narrative.

Juan Vidal is a writer, critic, and author of Rap Dad: A Story of Family and the Subculture That Shaped a Generation.

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Mike Coppola

The Cast Of 'SHAFT' Talk Family Traditions, Power And The Film's Legacy

Back in 1971, Richard Roundtree became the face of the legendary crime/blaxploitation film SHAFT. His influence in the role paved the way for a new generation of black detectives filled with a gluttonous amount of swag, clever one-liners, and action-packed scenes. Samuel L. Jackson followed suit in the franchise’s 2000 installment as he took over the streets of Uptown Manhattan and Harlem filling in for Roundtree’s original character.

Fast forward to 2019, and SHAFT’s legacy has risen to higher heights, incorporating Roundtree and Jackson together with an extension of their detective prowess. Director Tim Story created a familial driven movie centered around three different generations of SHAFT men. Roundtree plays the grandfather; Jackson plays the dad—and Jessie T. Usher plays the son. All three embark on a mission that’s laced with dirty politics, Islamophobia, and highflying action in efforts to solve a seemingly homicidal death.

The dynamics between all three are hilarious and dotted with lessons learned from past paternal influences. On a recent sunny Friday afternoon at Harlem's Red Rooster, the trio shared some of the traditions and virtues the paternal figures in real life have taught them. Most of the influence passed down to them was centered on working hard.

“People say to me, ‘Why do you work so much?’” Jackson said. “Well, all the grown people went to work every day when I got up. I figured that’s what we’re supposed to be doing—get up, pay a bill, and take care of everything that’s supposed to be taken care of.”

“For my family, it was cleanliness and masculinity,” Usher added. “The guys in my family were always well put together, very responsible especially my dad.”

In spite of the SHAFT men's power, the film's story wouldn’t be what it is without Regina Hall and Alexandra Shipp’s characters. They both play strong women caught in the middle of the mayhem created by the men they care about. Both are conscious of the power they exhibit as black women off and on screen, yet are aware of the dichotomy of how that strength is perceived in the world.

“It’s very interesting because I think a lot of times as powerful black women we are seen as angry black women,” Shipp says. “So it’s hard to have that voice and that opinion because a lot of times when we voice it; it becomes a negative rather than a positive. In order to hold that power, it has to be poised. It has to be with grace, I think there is strength in a strong but graceful black woman.”

“People have an idea of what strength is and how you do it and sometimes it’s the subtleties,” Regina adds. “Sometimes our influence is so powerful and it doesn’t always have to be loud I think a lot of times how we navigate is with conviction and patience.”

VIBE chatted with the cast of SHAFT about holding power, their red flags when it comes to dating, and why the SHAFT legacy continues to live on. Watch the interviews below.

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