“My Five Favorite Films” with Rappers Uncommon Nasa, Short Fuze, And Curly Castro
Alex Koenig, Contributor
Filmmaker and Entertainment Journalist
07/18/2016 01:56 pm ET Updated Jul 19, 2017
At its best, Uncommon Nasa and Short Fuze‘s Autonomy Music bumps like a buddy cop movie soundtrack from the future. The beats are spacy and synthesizer-heavy. The rapping is playful, yet its lyrical themes of death and destruction suck you into its black hole. Unlike the characters from this year’s best buddy cop film, though, Nasa and Fuze aren’t The Nice Guys. If Mad Max were an MC, he might sound like the rappers on Autonomy Music: this mean-mugged duo spits bars like the last two surviving humans of a post-apocalyptic wasteland.
Uncommon Nasa worked as an engineer on a slew of classic Def Jux releases from 2000-2005 and is the founder of Uncommon Records. His most recent record is called Halfway and his last full-length album with his rhyme co-conspirator Short Fuze was in 2010 with Lobotomy Music. Curly Castro, a rapper in Philadelphia’s best current hip-hop group, Wrecking Crew, and an accomplished solo performer on his own right, contributes a scene-stealing guest verse. Given their tendencies towards cinematic scope, I approached the artists with a new feature idea in hand: to rattle off their top five favorite films.
1. Basquiat (1996)
This is the one film on this list that truly did change my life. I saw it at 17 or 18, when it first hit video. It was so influential on me at time, I went down a path of thrift store shopping to achieve the style that Basquiat (played by Jeffrey Wright) achieved and also caught myself trying to walk and carry myself like him then. The one thing I’ll always cherish about this film is the message that art is bigger than all of us, and that it’s more than just entertainment. That it’s a calling that should be valued, but that it’s not always appreciated by the masses. It’s still hard to believe this was Jeffrey Wright’s first feature role; he was essentially a phenomenon at this point in his career. Incredible cameos by David Bowie, Dennis Hopper, Benecio Del Toro, Willem Defoe and Christopher Walken really make this film special. If you have a young adult in your life that’s doing music or any art, make sure they see this.
2. Ravenous (1999)
I saw this film with my then future wife on a whim back in 1999 in theaters. I had no clue what it was about besides it being a period piece and somehow having to do with cannibalism. The blend of dark comedy, historical drama and a touch of mysticism-based horror was and is like nothing else produced. I can quote this film, and have on records before. The combination of Guy Pierce, Robert Carlyle and Jeffrey Jones really glues this movie together. Carlyle came into his own here playing the evil coward type of character that he does so well. A young Neal McDonough is also worth noting. It’s still one of the best scores of all time, certainly in the modern era, put together by Damon Albarn and Michael Nyman. It was the first DVD I ever purchased when that incredible technology debuted. I also bought the CD of the soundtrack, which I almost never do.
3. Fantastic Planet (1973)
I found this film on VHS in a discount general store when I was a kid and asked my mother to buy it for me. Life changing moment. I guess I sort of expected a weird b-movie animation like I’d been used to during my junior high school years, but what I got was an explosion of creativity, from the music to the design to the concepts and storyline. The style of music played on here is like nothing else. Composed by Alain Goraguer, it was heavily sampled years later for Madlib’s first Quasimoto record. I was so pissed off when that record dropped because Madlib had beaten me to it. I didn’t buy Madlib records for years, mostly because of the jealousy I had for him flipping Fantastic Planet before me. Later I learned I was a huge fan of his since his musical inclinations were clearly similar. The film itself still looks like nothing else; anything attempts to look like this will come across as a bite, that’s just how original it is. Everyone I’ve ever shown this movie to has had his or her mind blown and returns to talk about it happily. Another one of those movies that I’m glad I saw at a certain age, definitely helped form me musically and artistically.
4. The Warriors (1979)
It’s become cliché to be a person involved in hip-hop to regard The Warriors with high esteem, but that doesn’t take away from the influence this film had on me. I first saw this on a local station in New York City, WPIX, which was known for showing old movies almost all day and night. This was before the era of syndication ran wild, so they filled up their primetimes with movies back then. The Warriors was one such movie, and I watched it with censored curse words and bad edits for years on my home-recorded VHS tape before seeing it in full. This movie is of legend for any kid that saw it in that time; it was my generation that made this movie the cult classic and pop culture reference that it is today. Prior to the early to mid ‘90s this film was sort of known as a bomb that caused “riots” in theaters back in the ‘70s. The influence it had on me was showing me kids trying to accomplish something at a young age, running around in Manhattan on their own, it made me thirst to be a city kid as I was cooped up in deeper Staten Island at the time. I can still remember the first time I reached Union Square at 17 and how disappointed I was that nothing looked the same from the film anymore. Fair warning, the director’s cut of this film on DVD and Blu-ray is a disgrace to its legacy and Walter Hill went full George Lucas with re-edits and horrid comic book transitions. Hunt down an original cut of the film. The DC does have cool interviews on it though so to really nerd out, get both, but do not watch that DC first.
5. The Shining (1980)
I don’t remember the first time I saw this, probably the most well-known of the films on my list, it just exists and it’s just seen. But this movie grew for me over time as I reached adulthood. Growing up with a mentally ill parent, as an adult I get more and more out of Jack Nicholson’s epic performance. How accurate he is with the facial expressions and mannerisms of someone that is going through a breakdown. The fact that as a kid, I had a mop top hair cut and often rode around on a plastic bike like Danny Torrance makes it all the more creepy for me now. Every detail about this movie is spot on, from the raggedness of Jack’s sweaters to the visual symmetries of almost every scene containing dialogue. There is a level of craftsmanship in this film that I couldn’t even imagine thinking out the way Kubrick did. It influences with the performances, the dialogue, the overall plot — it all hits home for me. Being a child of the 80’s, seeing the bright colors and looks on everything from the hallways to the soup cans is always an instant flashback. It might not be a happier time period for me at all points, but it’s my time that I lived through as well. To this day, this is the only Kubrick film I’ve seen in full. I should probably change that.
1. Basquiat (1996)
This film spoke to me on a different level. I actually didn’t see this film until I was 30 or so. I think that is an advantage because I was able to relate to the story, the characters and the artist being portrayed much better. I’ve always been a cusp artist in my music career, meaning I’ve had some success and notoriety but have never gotten over the top. This film spoke to me because I’ve always believed your art is your legacy and will ultimately out live you. Basquiat struggled with trying to cement his legacy and dealing with the notoriety that came along. I always felt people viewed him as an attraction and someone to latch on to. He was much happier being an artist and expressing himself for the sake of his sanity. I sampled a scene from the movie that perfectly described my feelings with my own art. It was a creative struggle with this record at first. Then one day I watched this, and it opened the floodgates.
2. The Warriors (1979)
This film has special place in my heart because I’ve always had great respect for NYC as a city, culture and hip hop Mecca. When I was growing up, I was fascinated with the grimy street scenes and wanting to travel the city via subway. In my head, this is what I thought New York was because it matched the intensity and bravado that my favorite hip-hop records at the time encapsulated. We have our own vibe in Chicago, but New York is, well, New York. There’s a certain mindset you have to have to survive and live there. This movie captured that perfectly for me. I was disappointed when I went to New York in 2007. It was nothing like movie or my favorite records described. I wished I could’ve seen the graffiti and grime first hand. I’ve recorded and created my best work in New York. It was helped along with this movie.
3. The Matrix (1999)
I’m a huge science fiction nerd and for me, this movie was a life-changing experience. I was going through a lot at the time. A really bad breakup, people who I thought were my friends were turning their backs on me. I was lost, trying to find myself. I was gang affiliated at the time, and just questioning everything about my life and existence. I remember a friend and I rented American History X and The Matrix. My friend wound up falling asleep after a pretty heavy weed session so, I wound up watching this by myself and was absolutely blown away. I related heavily to Neo, the idea of us having the mental capacity to break free of physical and spiritual limitations and the idea that your life isn’t what you think it is. These things seem trivial and common sense now, but to a 20-year-old kid with no idea where to go, this was the experience that I needed to jump-start my current mindset. This is another movie that has been pillaged concept-wise within hip-hop as far as metaphors. But for me it really set me on course to do better as a human and to never let anything stop me from doing what I want no matter how long it takes. To Nasa, this is the best possible explanation of why I love this movie so much: I remember watching it the next day sober and I had the same feeling I did the previous night.
4. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Let me just say this: it was really hard to choose between this movie, A Clockwork Orange, The Shining, Full Metal Jacket and Dr. Strangelove. All of Stanley Kubrick’s movies are visually stunning, directed to the finest detail, and the stories always flow flawlessly. I’m a huge Kubrick fan, it took me some time to decide which movie of his to talk about and this one pulls on me the most. The first 45 minutes are set to just music, with no dialogue. He uses visuals to set up the entire story. With the way this film is shot it works with your senses very well. If you haven’t seen the movie or haven’t watched it in a while, do yourself the pleasure of watching it in surround sound. It’s beautifully EQ’d and the score drives up the intensity perfectly throughout the movie. The movie is perfectly built up all the to the end. It took me a few views to figure out the point and message. To this day, I find something new about it every time I revisit it. Now that I think about it, if I had to choose a movie that best describes my music, this would be it. Starts off heavy, builds with emotion through music and then makes you go back and listen again to piece together the story.
5. Inception (2010)
It really sucked trying to narrow this down to five movies. I stressed about my last entry. But gun to my head, these are the movies that are must-haves for me. Christopher Nolan is another one of my favorite directors. This movie is beautifully written, scored and acted by some of my favorite actors. You can’t go wrong with DiCaprio, Hardy and Gordon Levitt in any movie, let alone this movie. Those guys always bring it to the table. This is the equivalent to “Flipmode Squad Meets Def Squad” or “The Flava In Ya Ear (Remix)” in movie form. It just flows and just hits you from every angle. This movie may also have my favorite score ever. It’s intense, emotional, action packed and original. It also leaves you figure things out for yourself. There are a lot of theories out there about this movie. To me, that’s the mark of great art, when you make people talk about it, coming up with their own conclusions about what you were trying to present.
1. The Crow (1994)
The Crow was my first “obsessive” movie, in that I couldn’t stop watching it over and over again. I loved the character work, and the mythology of Mr. Lee’s demise and haunting of the set. “It can’t rain all the time.” The ultimate vengeance film. Revenge is best served undead. And so are Cold Sixteens. Ha!
2. Children of Men (2006)
It was the direction, Clive Owen, and some of the best long takes in cinema history. The film’s take on the future appeared chillingly accurate. This film illustrated scope to me, and how one minor display, lyrically or musically, can set a tone for an entire project. If you have paid attention to even my basest lyrics, I have referenced and name-dropped characters from this movie on numerous occasions.
3. Malcolm X (1992)
This is my Bible right here. I am his acolyte. And this was one of the greatest depictions of one of our greatest men. Spike Lee showed his mastery with this one. He was one of most important figures in history, and he directly feeds the militancy you hear in my work.
4. Inception (2010)
What can one say about this magnum opus? I can appreciate surrealism in its many forms but Nolan outdid himself and based it on one of our unknown frontiers — dreams. REM. The astral plane. And through that medium gave us some great performances, some great set pieces, and a mind-phuck I’m still suffering from. Highly recommend to all of us high-thinkers. I reference this film a lot, characters and ideals both.
5. Clockers (1995)
This one is organic and close to my heart. Spike Lee shot this across the street from my high school. The project used in the film paralleled the project I frequented in Chelsea where my grandmother stayed. One of my longtime friends came in second for the role of Strike to Mekhi Phifer. But the main draw of this excellent film is that my best friend, Zilla Rocca, my rhyme partner and Wrecking Crew cohort, and I cannot see eye-to-eye on this film. At all. He prefers the book, which highlights the cop in the story; I prefer the film, which focuses more on the culture and on Strike. We debate on it constantly. It is never ending! It’s a Wrecking Crew standard, how much we love/hate each other over this movie. It keeps the crew sharp.