Black Dynamite Day (plus a review of the soundtracks)

tn_blackdynamite3Here in the U.S. Sunday was Valentine’s Day, yesterday was President’s Day, and today is BLACK DYNAMITE Day. If you didn’t catch it at a random film festival or in its limited theatrical release (or even if you did) today is the day when you can finally buy or rent it on DVD or Blu-Ray.

I hope I haven’t raised expectations on this one talking about it so long, but I’ve seen it three times now and it definitely stands as one of my favorites of recent years, a really funny and affectionate blaxploitation homage that, while making fun of the absurdity of the genre also happens to capture exactly what I love about those movies. I will proudly put it on my shelf next to my previous favorite blaxploitation comedy, THE HUMAN TORNADO.

blackdynamiteBLACK DYNAMITE is also significant as a showcase for Michael Jai White, not only showing off his previously unseen comedic chops but also demonstrating his skills as an onscreen badass. I have found it works as a gateway drug that I have used to hook many people onto more serious MJW works like UNDISPUTED II and BLOOD AND BONE.

The BLACK DYNAMITE DVD includes a commentary track with director Scott Sanders, Michael Jai White and Byron Minns (co-writer who plays the Dolemite-like Bullhorn). It’s a good time but mostly serves as a definitive list of specific references made in the movie. Maybe more enlightening is the section of deleted scenes. There are some laughs in there but it’s mostly plot points – I thought it was interesting to see how much they improved the movie by cutting out the plot. For example there’s a pretty funny scene of Black Dynamite showing up in a tuxedo to make a speech at a charity event that outs the corrupt politician’s mob ties, but it works much better just glimpsed in a montage.

(By the way, the DVD has the trailers for BLOOD AND BONE and UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: REGENERATION. But just so you know I didn’t personally program the DVD they also got BOONDOCK SAINTS: THE SQUEAKQUEL on there.)

Now that everyone will finally be able to see this I thought it would be a good time to talk a little more about the two BLACK DYNAMITE soundtrack CDs which I’ve been enjoying for a few months now. Released by the record imprint of the excellent Waxpoetics magazine, there is an “Original Score to the motion picture BLACK DYNAMITE” album (the new songs created for the movie) and a “Music Track From the picture BLACK DYNAMITE” (the library music compiled by music).

When I first saw BLACK DYNAMITE at the Seattle International Film Festival last summer I think the aspect that seemed most miraculous to me was the music. If it had had a phony ’70s sound or was just a greatest hits compilation of funk classics I would’ve been picky about it, it could’ve killed the movie for me. Instead it hit the bullseye, so I wondered where the hell they found this Adrian Younge guy who did the music. Easy – he was editing the promo trailer. Coincidentally he was also a collector of vintage recording equipment and instruments who had been studying and experimenting with ’70s style soul for many years, so he got to score the movie.

blackdynamitescoreOn the liner notes Younge explains, “Vintage equipment is tantamount to a good period recording, because contemporary equipment is manufactured to produce a modern sound. My instruments are all pre-1979 (some dating back to the ’30s), microphones are pre-1970, mic pres are pre-1965, and my tape machines are all pre-1978.” [Vern note: I don’t even know what the fuck a “mic pres” is, let alone how to tell what year they sound like they’re from.] That’s exactly the type of detail-oriented savant they needed to pull this off, and he did it.

Younge plays most of the instruments on the songs, with excellent, period-authentic vocals by LaVan Davis, Toni Scruggs and Loren Oden (better known as Anaconda Malt Liquor spokesman Leon St. James). From the very beginning it sucks you into the world of Black Dynamite as Bullhorn toasts “I wanna tell you a story  about a friend I had / he’s a mean motherfucker and he’s superbad / so grab onto your seats and hang on tight / while I tell you a story about Black Dynamite.”

As you know from the movie the lyrics are pretty goofy – it’s funny to hear the conviction in LaVan Davis’s voice as he sings, “Use kung fu when he want to / have sex when he please…” But I’m looking at the lyric sheet and realizing most of them actually aren’t much more absurd than actual blaxploitation themes that I love. “Black Dynamite Theme” for example is very Dolemite influenced, with boasts like “When you see him don’t have shit to say / He beat the devil with a shovel three times a day.”

“Cleaning Up the Streets” might be my favorite of the upbeat tunes. “Man with the Heat (Superbad)” has a nice Curtis Mayfield style vocal without imitating one of his songs specifically. “Chicago Wind” and “Rafelli Chase” sound ready to be sampled by Wu-Tang. The genius of this music is that it doesn’t sound funny, most of it sounds intense. Divorced from the movie it has kind of a gloomy, acid-drenched tone, sometimes reminiscent of the first two Funkadelic albums. Not much of the obvious wah-wahs and shit most people would put on a movie like this. More than once I’ve had this album on and forgot that it was from this movie, mixing it up with some of the compilations of obscure old soul and funk tunes that I have.

Warning: the album’s only about 35 minutes long, so don’t expect an epic. But at least it doesn’t outstay its welcome.

blackdynamitemusictrackI didn’t realize until much later that the other secret to the authentic sounds is that some of it is authentic, and those are the songs on the “Music Track” album. Music supervisor and library music expert David Hollander wrote the liner notes, which give a pretty good overview of the history of this type of music. Created mostly by British white dudes (in this case Alan Tew, Brian Bennett, Alan Hawkshaw and Johnny Pearson), music like this was recorded in marathon sessions and then sold to whoever wanted to use it. It was a more affordable way to score a movie than to hire a composer and musicians (that’s why NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD used library music – even DAWN OF THE DEAD has some in between Goblin music).

Apparently most of the songs on this album come from Alan Tew’s Drama Suite Part I and Part II from the company Themes. Some of the Drama Suite was used for NFL broadcasts, for British cop shows such as The Sweeney, and even for the awesome theme song for THE PEOPLE’S COURT:

The “Music Track” is full of vintage incidental music of all kinds, including a whole bunch of variations on a scene-transition sting called “The Detectives.” One of the better tracks is “Action in Memphis,” which sounds like a super funky ’70s cop show intro – I forget which montage it was used for in the movie. “Name of the Game” kind of reminds me of some of David Holmes’s music for OUT OF SIGHT. There’s alot of tight percussion like you’d only ever hear in the ’70s, but also some kind of goofy vocal sounds and humorously doey eyed love tunes like the one called “Sunny Side Up.” Overall the tone is goofier than Younge’s songs, even though they weren’t made to be that way.

The biggest surprise to me is that the song “Dynomite” (where the often repeated “Dyn-o-mite! Dyn-o-mite!” sting in the movie comes from) is one of the library tunes. It’s sung by a guy named Sir Charles Hughes and it’s actually pretty corny. I don’t believe Sir Charles is actually singing about Black Dynamite. If so, he like to call Black Dynamite “girl” and really likes kissing him. He likes his smile too.

If you like this album I’d also recommend “The Champ” by the Mowhawks, re-released last year by Vampisoul. It’s led by Alan Hawkshaw and I think it’s all these same guys. A little different from the Drama Suite tracks, but it’s a good instrumental album that provided about thirty five thousand recognizable hip hop samples. Also, the cover shows a fist punching through a piano, which is pretty cool.



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41 Responses to “Black Dynamite Day (plus a review of the soundtracks)”

  1. Fantastic article. As a neophyte funk fan I appreciate accessible gateway grooves. That People’s Court track makes me want to save up for a chinchilla cloak.

  2. Vern – You could have just simply warned the people: “Check out BLACK DYNAMITE or I’ll put a foot up your ass!”

  3. Another thing about Library Funk is that the porno industry used it just as much as the cop shows. That People’s Court theme is used in a Seka porn (if my memory serves me right) and a lot of my favorite Hawkshaw jams are used in an Animal House XXX spoof from the 70s. Crazy stuff. People should check out one of the newest issues of Wax Poetics, which delves further into the Library scene (and Black Dynamite’s usage of it) than a lot of resources out there.

  4. Along with being Black Dynamite day it is also Mardi Gras down here.

    Since I do not partake in those festivities, I will instead *attept* to make to the video rental store and rent this. Then I will get fed up fighting traffic to go there and instead find a RedBox and see if they have it.

    Either way I’m off of work and finally get to see movie. Between vern and this one blog I read by a guy who hates everything made after the 60s (he absolutely loved it) I’m quite hyped up for it.

  5. This seems like as good a place for it as any, so here’s a link to an interview I did with Scott Sanders:


    It was originally published in Issue #44 of SMOOTH magazine, of which I am the executive editor. We mostly sell big butts (and I cannot lie) but I also try to use my position to ensure that we bring the badass whenever possible. I gave SEAGALOGY five stars, which Vern once said was one of his proudest moments. Hope you guys like the interview.

  6. I should be getting it in the mail today from Netflix. I can’t wait!

  7. LOVE this movie! Nice article about the music, I’ll make sure to pick up these albums along with the DVD. And The Champ sounds awesome too.

  8. Oh yeah, meant to mention that issue of Wax Poetics. It’s not the current one, but the previous one with Curtis Mayfield on the cover. It’s the film issue and covers alot of things people here are interested in including that movie 80 BLOCKS FROM TIFFANY’S. The library article is a much more extensive look by David Hollander and tells his story of travelling around Europe visiting the actual libraries. Some of the people are completely befuddled about why he cares about this music, and at one point he misses by a week rescuing an entire library of vinyl. (It was just thrown out when he gets there.)

  9. Black Dynamite is a really fun movie. I interviewed Michael Jai White, Arsenio Hall and Scott Sanders for Campus Circle in Los Angeles when the film was having its limited theatrical run. White made an interesting comment to me when he likened the heroes of blaxploitation to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, which I hadn’t really considered but is really a spot-on analogy.

    Here’s the full quote:

    “Those are the heroes,” says White. “Are they not really Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid? Are they not? We have the heroes that fought for the poor. You’ve got your Dillingers and everything else, very much in the black community it was the same way. I thought it bore some looking into later on. As a kid, seeing somebody like Jim Brown and wanting to be like that, seeing these alpha males in my color, that was a huge thing. I love the ’70s. I think music was the best at that time. Films were best. And when you look at this garishness of this blaxploitation era, the outfits, the fashion, the hyper sexuality…”

    BTW, you mention David Holmes at one point, and it really kills me that his score for Stander is still unavailable.

  10. […] posted here: Black Dynamite Day (plus a review of the soundtracks) | The Life … Posted: February 16th, 2010 Categories: Uncategorized Tags: a-gateway-drug, bone black, […]

  11. thanks for the heads up, i’ll go buy this today.
    i can’t afford to actually pay for every single movie i’m interested in, but BD deserves my money.

  12. geoffreyjar:

    >this one blog I read by a guy who hates everything made after the 60s

    This sounds like it might be right up my alley. Link please?

  13. Look what I found in the U-Tubes:


    Great stuff. Can’t believe I didn’t know about it. Yesterday, I was so uncool — but today I’m cool! Thanks, Vern.

    Speaking of NOTLD, it just occurred to me that it would have been even better if they’d had the nerve to go without a score. Or something really minimal like Hooper and Bell’s TEXAS CHAIN SAW score.

    (Anybody remember when “SAW” was an accepted abbreviation for TCM? But now you can’t use it anymore because of you-know-why.)

  14. Just watched BD on blu ray yesterday with a couple buddies. If I wasn’t convinced of MJW’s supernatural abilities before, I am now. I didn’t know he had such finely honed comedic chops.

    The boomerang? “I threw that shit before I even came in the ROOM!”

    Had me rolllllllllin.

    Great movie Vern. Thanks for buying me a ticket the the MJW show. Suprisingly not overhyped.

  15. Just picked this up yesterday. I’ll be watching it tonight. looking forward to it!

  16. “I’m 18-year-old Black Dynamite!!”

  17. Holy shit, I just watched this — I knew I would like it, but honestly, holy fuck. It’s just damn perfect. It’s EXACTLY what it needs to be, not a false note in the whole thing. Which is even more amazing because of just what an tricky balance they’re trying to strike. The fact that its a third straightfaced tongue-in-cheek a third half out-and-out comedy, and a third legit 70s blaxploitation… how in the hell did they make it work so well? Huge props to everyone who got helped make it, but especially MJW, who just fucking NAILS everything he has to deliver.

    We knew he could be a badass, but his line delivery on “I AM smiling” isn’t parody… its actual charm. And the comedy… holy shit. Who knew he had it in him? The goofball smile that he trots out after having cleaned up the hood — its genius! And the fact that he suddenly realizes he’s grinning like an idiot and immediately drops it makes it even better! And sure, “I threw that shit before I walked in the room!” is a funny line, but the way he delivers it — he just has the manic glee in his face, like even he can’t believe how clever it is. And his massive flipout about orphans — the guy just completely commits to it. It’s unbelievable. He’s asked to play a bunch of different comedy styles (by the script, which is great by itself) and he just knocks every one out of the park. And that’s not even getting into the rest of the great cast, the great production, and the sharp period observations. Not to gush but this one really knocked my socks off.


    Anyway, Vern, thanks for being a champion for this film — I might never have come across it if it hadn’t been for you and it ended up being one of the most satisfying films Ive seen in a long time.

  18. I agree, Subtlety… just everything about this movie is fun and MJW kills. And the music… I hope this does well on DVD.

    I was really glad I avoided spoilers before seeing it. A lot of people said that the last third wasn’t as good, but I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face once I saw what Black Dynamite was parachuting into.

  19. Wow, I really hated this thing. Sorry guys. I thought it pretty much had all the problems Grindhouse did except magnified about 10 times. I liked MJW and thought this was a good role for him but the whole movie lost steam for me about 15 minutes in. Everything after that was this annoyingly self-aware garbage that I hate. The real problem though is that director Scott Sanders and MJW think they are a lot more funny and clever than they actually are. Really wanted to like this and I actually have been looking forward to it for months but I just couldn’t get into this at all. Oh well at least Universal Soldier 3 was good. You reputation is still intact with me Vern.

  20. Finally got around to seeing this. Awesome stuff and another welcome addition to my MJW collection.

  21. You would think a student of cosmetology could spell it right.

  22. According to Amazon.de, the German Black Dynamite day will be on July 2, although a different website says it’s on June 11. The rentable DVD will be out on May 12.
    So yes, just like expected it goes straight to DVD here (although it had a run on some festivals).I just hope they won’t change the DVD cover (which is apparently the same as the US one).

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  24. Was is it about Black Dynamite Day that brings out the spambots?

  25. Don’t you know that spambots were created by The Man?

  26. You guys hear about this?


    Ghostface makes an album completely produced and orchestrated by the genius behind the BLACK DYNAMITE score. Just became my most anticipated album of, like, ever.

  27. They’re playing Seattle together on Thursday. I’m not sure if that means the band is backing up Ghostface, but I think it probly does.

  28. I bet GFK has a live band backing him at the show.

  29. Did either of you check out the Wu-Block album (Wu-tang & The Lox/D-Block)? I dug it, and Ghost holds it down the whole album.

  30. I sampled it but thought it was boring. There was way more D-Block than Wu in the sound. Nothing against those guys as MCs, but production was never their forte. Normally Ghost has some of the best taste in backing tracks in the business, so it was very disappointing to hear him try to rock over these bland, plodding Casio keyboard beats.

  31. I agree with you about The Lox and their production/sound. However, I think the production on Wu-Block is solid and in line with what you might expect from Ghostface & Rea. There are a few tracks that are more in the style of what you would expect from The Lox, but most of what I have heard is the type of soul and funk influenced production that you want on a GFK album.

  32. I gave it another quick sampling on iTunes, and you’re right, that Casio keyboard crack was unwarranted. There’s more elbow grease put into the sound than that comment implies. I still think the album sounds kinda dull, though. It’s not so much the style of the production as the plodding tempos that don’t appeal to me. It might not seem fair to judge songs based on minute-long previews, but I’m a firm believer in the idea that it only takes five seconds to tell if a hip-hop beat is good or not, and most of these didn’t pass the five-second test for me.

    “Been Robbed” and “Bust Shots” sound decent, though. I might download those two.

  33. I’m happy to report that the Ghostface and Venice Dawn show was great, and weird and hilarious. The crowd was surprisingly patient with these older dudes in ties playing songs from BLACK DYNAMITE for a while, and Ghostface taking forever to come out, and then doing a concept performance where it was supposed to be Italy, 1969 and he was the gangster Tony Starks who was trying to get out of the DeLuca family but then they kill him and press his flesh into records and he’s resurrected by a bunch of girls in robes with candles. He acted serious about it the whole time and Adrian Younge was really funny working the crowd and selling the story. And they weaved in plenty of Ghostface and Wu-Tang classics. And Killah Priest was his hype man.

    should be a good record. Also it’s gonna be a comic book.

  34. On a related note I am delighted to hear the wu-tang clan are playing some dates in the uk in a few months!

  35. Downloaded TWELVE REASONS TO DIE at like 12:01 last night, basically the second it was available. I fuckin’ love it. Those real snares hit so hard. So much more energy than those programmed 808s you hear so much these days. The dirty, filthy organ, the live bass, the cheesy/awesome background singers, all supporting the weird, oddly specific street horror stories Ghost excels at, it’s exactly what I wanted to hear when I heard about this project. It’s funny to think that Ghost was probably the least memorable Wu member on 36 CHAMBERS. Now 20 years later he’s the one who’s both the most reliable and the most adventurous.

  36. Also, I recommend getting the iTunes version. For $9.99 you get the entire instrumental version of the album, which is phenomenal in its own right. Just a solid purchase all around.

  37. I got the limited edition version of the CD which includes the instrumental versions. $11.99 on sale at the record store with crazy giallo style photos on the packaging.

  38. That’s a good deal. I probably would have gone for that if I knew where the fuck to buy CDs these days. What are your favorite tracks? Mine are “Blood on the Cobblestones” (can’t get enough of that old school scratching) and “The Sure Shot Part One & Part Two” (gotta love a rap song with a drum solo).

  39. Ha! Thanks for the heads up Mr. Majestyk. Because of you, I am now aware that there is an instrumental album that I am going to buy in the immediate future.

  40. Preview of the first 12 pages of the TWELVE REASONS TO DIE comic:


    Looks pretty awesome to me. I like the “inking”. Reminds me of Klaus Janson, who always gave everything he traced an endearingly jagged, sloppy edge.

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