in loving memory
The Illy Funkster,
The Funky Uncle,
The Dirty Doorman,
The Joint Chief of Snaps,
The WeeGee of Hip Hop,
The Bummy Sophisticate,
The Kool Substitute Teacher,
Former One Time
International Hot Monkey,
The Man Pussy Forgot,
The Lazy Hustler ...
... what type of person would spend so much energy self-mythologizing, via hashtags, all covered with a heavy dressing of self-deprecation?
The same type of person who would call Instagram customer service multiple times a week to complain that cornballs were high-jake-ing said hashtags.
Ladies and Germs, Exhibit A *thru* Z, the one, the only **RICKFORD J POWELL**
(Put some eternal respect on that name.)
It’s probably a truism, and doubly true for those of us invested in the idea of culture, that when we finally go, we have a nagging fear that others will eulogize us with half-baked notions about who we were, what we cared about, what we brought to the party. A lot of empty pontificating, getting the important details all wrong.
Well, lemme tell you, Ricky wasn’t just interested or invested in culture, it was his lifeblood, his *‘raisin dead rat’*.
It should go without saying, he DREADED the idea of what people were gonna say about him when he was no longer around to speak for himself. Matter of fact, when the recent doc about his life (THE INDIVIDUALIST), had its premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival last year, height of #Pandemonia, which meant everyone had to watch it remotely, he hit me up while I was in Cali and begged me to check it for him so I could report back and let him know if he had anything to worry about.
“You’re not gonna peep it?” I asked.
“Nah, What? Are you kidding me? No way!”
The left coast sunshine must have had me stupid for a second. Of course he wasn’t going to do that. Had no intention of watching it. Probably never would. I mean shit, he acted in a feature film I had made 8 years prior, that numerous people had given him props for his performance in, including hotties he had cerebral-cypha Sapio-sexual feelings for, and he could never bring himself to getting around to watching that either. So a *documentary*? About his *actual life*. Nope, wasn’t gonna happen.
“That’s why I’m calling you, Einstein. Just let me know if they did me dirty.”
Later that day, I had to call back and tell him the connection was bad and that I only caught the opening montage before the stream went haywire.
“Oof... Well how was the part you saw.”
“Y’know, it was actually pretty good”.
“Ok, I’ll try and get you a link so you can watch the rest.”
He never got around to sending me that link. And I still haven’t seen the whole thing. And now we’ll never have that conversation.
But on that premiere day, I felt bad that I couldn’t offer a more calming post-game wrap up. Because you could hear it in his voice, he was legit stressed about this situation. Ricky knew he had done foul shit in his past that he really wasn’t proud of, regrettable behavior that we’d discussed at length many a late night phone call over the years, the type of shit he was genuinely ashamed of, that he definitely didn’t want to be a part of his so-called “legacy”. Which in turn, gave rise to a stank suspicion that this whole razzmatazz of other people somehow conjuring work and words about him, that would inevitably outlive him, having the power to define him to even the slightest degree, free of any rebuttal, was something that didn’t sit too smoothly in his stomach. Certainly didn’t help his blood pressure. This in no way was directed solely at the team who made the doc. It was a general feeling he was constantly flipping over in his head, like a flapjack that was already burnt on both sides. The type of midnight pondering you do when what hair you have left grows coarser and the pebbles are clearly fatter on the bottom half of the hourglass.
New Jack Cornballs having the final say on *his-story*? Needless to say, shit weighed on him heavily.
So please, with the above in mind, for the love of Pistol Pete, sprinkle a single grain of salt on everything I’m saying here, too.
Furthermore...rest assured, I’m not gonna post up and play my homepickle cornbreeze like a soggy cannoli by wasting everyone’s time going over shit as pedestrian as a resume. Wikipedia is WICK WACK. Besides, it’s all a part of the collective historical record at this point anyway (Google the shit, if you must).
Instead, let’s face facts and be real, Ricky was sooooo so SO much more than his accomplishments/photographs/creative collabs/what have yous. His greatest stroke of genius was simply being himself. Hold up. Do you know how difficult and profound that is? Let THAT simmer for a sec. You really think he would have gotten all open and hyped by simply being remembered as the sidekick who took snapshots of scenesters and dicked some homeboy’s girl? His flicks of random dogs meant as much to him (‘cause dogs, unlike most humans, know the diggy wiggy). He had a special Scorpion venom for those who were gassed on their own accolades. AND he held himself to that same standard. Having found himself in the company of so many hi*falootin big shots on so many occasions, he had really grown to despise the DFAs (“Huh? What’s that, Ricky?” “You know, the ‘Desperate For Attention’ types”). People feeling themselves a little too tuff, Ricky was allergic to that bullshit. But come humblized and have a little flavor, WHATTTTT? Uncle Doinky would immediately get all touchy feely and whatnot. He couldn’t help himself.
He really loved people. As much as he couldn’t stand certain people, in general, he really loved people. REALLY really. Like ‘loudest cheerleader/proud parent’ type style, he was THEE major proponent for anyone doing anything *FRESH*. And for him, FRESH could come in a million different packages. If what you had was original, unique, bold, or with some sort of effortless, unaffected, non-contrived style, Ricky would get geeked. This is key to understanding why he seemed to know everyone everywhere. Eyes would light up crossing paths out in these village streets. *“Oh DIP!!!!”* Best co-sign you could ever wish for. It’s why so many of us cared about him so damn much. You could be feeling like shit and he’d flip the mood and make you feel like you WERE the shit, just on the strength of his child-like enthusiasm. And it’d be the highest praise you’d ever need, because 1) he had impeccable taste, 2) he had the most highly attuned bullshit detector...ever, and 3) he had too much self-respect to gas people on any phony baloney funny style nonsense.
Mutual appreciation of the highest order, to the highest order.
The shit was spiritual, sanctified, sacrosanct to him.
Let me get specific for a second. Ricky loved animals. Dogs, Cats, Owls, Squirrels, Ferrets, Giraffes, Opossums, Rollie Pollies, Scorpions (of course), Crows, Frogs, Garter Snakes, Cows, Sea Anemones, Polar Bears, Lemurs, Crawdads, Grasshoppers, Bumble Bees, Kangaroos, even Daddy Long Legs, he loved them all. LOVED them.
He loved pre-cornball New York. LOVEDEDED IT with all his heart. It pained him to see the culture of the city he loved so deeply get watered down by squares, doofuses and jake-offs who had no flavor. He had utmost appreciation and reverence for the original culture of hip hop (in contrast with the manufactured mainstream bastardized commercial crap). But more precisely, it was BLACK CULTURE (underline that) in its myriad forms that had Ricky’s ultimate and unwavering respect and allegiance. There was no denying the gifts that Black culture brought to the world and Ricky lived his life in a way to acknowledge and offer praise of that in *everything* he did. It’s what earned him his lifetime hood pass, the thing he was truly most proud of, the true signifier of NOT being wick wack. Let that sink in for a second. If it hasn’t sunk in, don’t keep reading until it does. It’s something that damn near every pale-skinned person could do well to learn from. “Wigga Pleaze. Enough with the Cornball Convention already, Jeez.” Look no further than the quote unquote “whiteys” he cherished–they all had that same quality: entering into *all* spaces with respect and humility, but then shining there with their own sense of flavor. Never just expecting props on some unearned privilege shit, never thinking they deserve the spotlight just because. Instead getting theirs by actually bringing something to the cookout... Pistol Pete Maravich, Sandra Bernhard, George Carlin, George Lois, Grandpa Al Lewis, Debi Mazar, Broadway Joe Willie Namath, Walter Matthau, Martha Cooper, Shirley Clarke, John Cassavetes, Bill Cunningham, Patsy Kelly, Ron Galella, Kimmy Matulova aka the Faye Dunaway of Hip Hop, Revolt, Zephyr, Haze, Reas, Etc. And if you’re having trouble seeing the thread here, dig a little deeper and do some research. Shit is ample. Instructive. And key to who Ricky was and what he really cared about. Again, slowly for the dumdums, MUTUAL RESPECT.
Another key ingredient? A DiagnolPerpendickular, if you will: Ricky placed a PREMIUM *premium* on sense of humor. What?!? If you can’t see the redonkadonkulousness of life? Relax, have a knish/nectarine/fig newton/cream soda. Ease back pepperjack. Git off the proverbial Richard. Don’t be a Jake-off. And don’t act like you don’t shart on the DL. Be able to laugh. At life. At *everything* around you. At yourself. Nobody is so important they should or shall be spared getting goofed on. A credo set in stone in Ricky’s cosmology.
Shit really is bucknutty, bugged in a bad way, tight solar plexus upset stomach gut wrenching to be talking about him in the past tense. I’m gonna be in shock for a minute. Safe to say we’re all still shellshook. Because
Rickford Julius Powell was truly one of a kind.
Nobody embodied that New York wisecracking/goofing on cornball fakes the way he did. *EVERYONE* was a wannabe or a cheap imitation in comparison to him. High key low key high key, I’ve been around DeNiro a couple of times. No offense to Bobby, but his New York groove is at least partially an act (*ba da boom*). Ricky though, it wasn’t mimicry at all. It was his pure essence. Real talk, nobody could really hold a flaming wax stick to the effortless NYC charisma of The Rickster. Shit, charisma doesn’t even really do it justice. Swag doesn’t either. It was something deeper. Reminds me of an interview with Prince some guy was doing a long time ago. Dude said he couldn’t quite find the words to describe funky and wondered if Prince could help explain. His royal badness replied: “if you could put it into words it wouldn’t be funky”. That’s Ricky to a T. In a nutshell. A nutshell he would have been feeding to his favorite squirrel-friends on the Washington Square benches. Blasting his Jewish boom box (micro-transistor radio locked on WBGO Jazz 88, naturally) kicking it with all the kooks in the park, forever on the hangout tip, always on the prowl for some *serendipitous parfait*, all in a calculated attempt to keep his vibe alive.
words: Monihan Monihan
images courtesy: The Ricky Powell Estate www.rickypowell.com
The Funky Uncle Sloppy.
Doink Master Flex.
The epitome of the epitome.
What a force of nature.
Impossible to believe
Impossible that he’ll ever be forgotten.
video by BRICOLAGISTA!