Track Trek: Crooklyn Dodgers—“Crooklyn,” “The Return of the Crooklyn Dodgers,” “Brooklyn on My Mind” (Part One)

By Alex Ryu, Feature Photo via Red Bull Music Academy

Track Trek is an irregular retrospect review of forgotten tracks of various genres that deserve a second viewing, with an analysis that describes why it deserves so. Track Trek is written by Alex Ryu.

In 1994, Spike Lee released his then-latest film to the masses interestingly named “Crooklyn”, A semi-autobiographical drama vignette film that follows a tradition of Spike Lee’s examination of the black community and contemporary issues. From an audience standpoint, the film follows a young girl named Troy (played by Zelda Harris) and the life lessons that she and her family come across in her 1970s Brooklyn neighbourhood. The film could’ve been left to obscurity and dodged cult status if it wasn’t for the soundtrack that came with it. While mostly a two-part 1970s “Best of” compilation, two songs were specifically recorded for the film, one of them taking a life of its own.

“Crooklyn,” the self-titled track, was considered a impromptu work consisting of a supergroup called the Crooklyn Dodgers consisting of Masta Ace (formerly of Marley Marl’s Juice Crew), Buckshot (of Boot Camp Clik and one half of Black Moon), and Special Ed (his first project in 4 years, making the song his comeback of sorts). Apart from all hailing from Brooklyn, they have never worked together prior to the project. Lee’s direction for the song was a two-step process: one, it must be a “Brooklyn anthem” and two, the anthem must reflect the “back in the day” attitude and atmosphere that the film projected.

The project proved to be a conscious one, as proven from Lee’s planning steps. Prior to the production, he special screened the film to specific Brooklyn rappers (including the late Ol’ Dirty Bastard of the Wu-Tang Clan) as to give an idea of what the song should be like. “He specifically knew what he wanted, to my knowledge. He said, ‘I want a team to represent Brooklyn, but conscious Brooklyn,’” according to Buckshot. While many left the project (“Man, ain’t nobody getting shot in this movie!” Ol’ Dirty Bastard said before leaving), those who stayed behind instantly became a group under Lee’s supervision. “…after we watched the movie, for me, the ideas really started to come together as far as what I wanted to talk about,” Masta Ace recalls.

Using Special Ed’s famed The Dolla Cab Lab recording studio as their base of operations with A Tribe Called Quest as their producers with additional help from Black Moon’s Evil Dee and Love Action (Special Ed’s DJ), the group work turned a group session. “We were all creatively involved – it was just a matter of having Tip helming it as a producer and we respected that. We all contributed to the hook,” says Special Ed. Evil Dee added, “Spike Lee is the one that put the baseball samples in the record [at the start and end], so you could say that Spike produced it also.”

The initial verses differed from the final product – Q-tip from ATCQ recalls that “at first everybody was freestyling for a couple of minutes. Then everybody recorded different verses and we went in and did it again.” Masta Ace supports the claim personally: “I don’t remember one line from those original verses! But I do have a cassette somewhere in a pile of bags that has the original version of that song.” Masta Ace adds that the verses began as “being dope or whatever, just typical rap verses” before Spike Lee intervened by stating that “the song needed to reflect more of what the theme of the movie was, which was the ’70s.”

Eventually the song began to take shape under each artist’s take. Masta Ace focused linking past and present by modernizing 70s TV characters in a 90s setting:

Uh-huh, what’s happening to ReRun and Roger / I think I seen ’em wearing Timberlands and running down the block / From Dwayne and Dwayne had a Glock,

Special Ed took a philosophical approach on reflecting on his Brooklyn past:

You know where to find me whenever you need me / If you know the Ave, follow the path / To the land of the aftermath but don’t frolic in the midst / Crazy ass Crooklyn kids,

while Buckshot reflected his on a hyper-personal level and references:

Let’s take a sec to think back / To the year of the 7-0 when Brooklyn was the place to go / Flow on a journey up to Crown Heights / Ebbets Field, feel the reel to reel on your life / Trife individuals live in the PJ’s

The lyrics were definitely meant to evoke a “trip down memory and a tour around Brooklyn,” with some intervention made from Spike Lee. For each lyric spit, it evoked a sense of nostalgia that only the Crooklyn Dodgers can share – whether they ranged from childhood or a street that they used to hang about. Raps Buckshot, “Howard, Tapscott and Sutter / I remember way back in the days playing hot peas and butter.”

For the beats that support the song, A Tribe Called Quest takes a snappy steely beat sample and twists it with a Miles Davis horn sample from the song, “It’s About That Time” that makes its rounds throughout the song, alongside with a descending violin and piano loop combo and some scratches. The beats complements the contrast between simplicity of the song and the complex emotion of the theme in a way only A Tribe Called Quest can deliver.

In the end, the song was more than just an impromptu collaboration that was meant to promote a film: it was a moment scratched in history for the industry in general. During the Golden Age of Hip Hop, where innovation and experimental were the keywords in the genre, the song promoted the personal, nostalgic, and important causes that showcases different stories from varying perspectives. The artists have shown that despite the restrictions, they were molded and formed by the city of Brooklyn, with each verse presenting their respective tight-knit lyricism and bravado delivery that comes off as being humble yet knowledgeable. The song would give the audience and critics a different retrospect to prior albums released, were among the samples, the techniques, the social activity, and the personification, came a different twist to the often-misjudged “message rap” portion where among the dark brings something to relate with that brings the audience together – in this case their upbringing to the world in Brooklyn.

In April 1995, Spike Lee released his then-latest film, “Clockers”. The film was promoted with a soundtrack that included the second incarnation of the Crooklyn Dodgers called the Crooklyn Dodgers ‘95. While the inaugural incarnation didn’t return to record a new song (with failed plans of creating an album under the group name), the new incarnation continued the tradition that the original group left, but once again, gave more than a promotion should. But that’s time for another story…

 Works Cited

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