Long before MC Hammer was dancing in a KFC commercial for (wait for it) popcorn chicken in the early 1990’s, elements of hip-hop were infused almost subliminally in a television medium with a highly impressionable audience: Children.
The rhyming over hard beats was a predominantly African-American, rapid-rising art form in the early and mid-1980’s. Despite White America’s near-reticence to accept it, hip-hop creeped its way into seminal cartoon programming from that period. Two characters, seemingly hip-hop/racial stereotypes, from that era come to mind who represent hip-hop’s seeds planted and gestating in the collective consciousness of American youth: Roadblock from G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero and Wordsworth from Heathcliff.
Both characters are reflections of hip-hop influences during the 80’s. On one hand, you have Roadblock. He’s one of the more prominent Black characters on his series. He’s big, strong, muscular and always speaks in rhyme even in casual conversation (“Hey, I don’t like that sound. Tell me, dude, what’s going down?”; or “We’re gonna tangle with some pretty low dirt and we don’t want you kids getting hurt”).
Wordsworth is an anthropomorphic cat covered in white fur, walks with two legs on roller skates, has on headphones (with an antennae), and also always speaks in rhymes. Funny thing is, Wordsworth spoke with a good helping of African-American vernacular and traces of broken English (“I ain’t lookin’/’Cause Mungo be cookin’!”). But regardless, the actors who voiced them basically rapped all of their dialogue and it got me thinking, “Which one would win if pitted against each other in an emcee battle?”.
A week ago, I posted a similar question on Facebook due to a combination of boredom and a modicum of humor. A friend answered with Wordsworth because he could skate and rap simultaneously. I shot back by asking if it’s because the character is White and, if so, for him to not rationalize his choice by claiming that the character’s an albino. I chose Roadblock because he could rap and operate heavy machinery all at once. Plus, he fits the criteria for an archetypal modern hip-hop artist: Bald, Black and threatening.
In retrospect, both characters had elementary rhymes and were near-evenly matched. But then again, it was a sign of the times and the target audience were elementary school children. But, if forced to seriously choose, I still stand by Roadblock. Why?
Because Roadblock’s a Black man and most of us Black folk don’t like cats. I keed, I keed!
Sy L. Shackleford is a jack-of-all-trades columnist for Action A Go Go. A UConn graduate with a degree in both psychology and communication sciences, he is a walking encyclopedic repository for all things Marvel Comics, hip-hop, et. al.