(EDITOR'S NOTE: The photo of Bob Odenkirk a/k/a Saul Goodman is by Gage Skidmore from Wikimedia under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. The author has requested attribution for any usage outside of Wikipedia, which we are happy to provide. Please credit Gage for any other reuse outside of this article.)
I've been on a Breaking Bad kick of late on Netflix. It's helped me take my mind off an assortment of problems - including a leaking basement due to heavy rainfalls this summer and a family member who had some serious health issues (but who is happily doing better as of today's editorial). One of the show's most compelling characters is sleazy lawyer Saul Goodman, expertly portrayed by Bob Odenkirk, a man who's work I first discovered decades ago thanks to Mr. Show with Bob and David. (Cheap plug - if you're a fan of Odenkirk and haven't ever seen it you owe it to yourself to watch Mr. Show!) Odenkirk's been in increasingly high profile roles ever since those days, but it's not that hard to draw a direct line between Sen. Howell Tankerbell and the sleazy Albuquerque attorney he made famous.
For those who haven't seen Bob's portrayal of Saul, which was good enough for AMC to greenlight a Breaking Bad spinoff, he admits that even his fictional character is a fictional character (isn't that meta) in his very first televised appearance. "My real name's McGill. The Jew thing I just do for the homeboys. They all want a pipe-hitting member of the tribe, so to speak." It's just as likely if not more likely his made it pseudonym perfectly fit his tagline of "(It')s'all good, man!" Goodman is an unapologetic unrepentant cultural appropriator, which in a less skillful actor's hands would play as racist, but which for Odenkirk constitutes part of Saul's sleight of hand. He lets everybody think of him as a buffoon with bad informercials who chases down drunk drivers for representation while working out of a strip mall legal office, when in fact he's slicker than grease with a knowledge of the law good enough to get the "bad"-dest men in Albuquerque out of trouble with both local and federal cops.
Breaking Bad is itself a cultural jack in many ways, including the usage of Hispanic hip-hop and narcocorrido songs - sometimes called the "gangster rap" of Northern Mexican ballads. Starring character Jesse Pinkman (portrayed by Aaron Paul) is a walking talking plethora of hilarious misappropriation, overinjecting the word "yo" into every sentence to the point of being a drinking game, yo. No shortage of episodes of the show illustrate that despite his affectation of hip-hop swagger, he is the furthest thing from tough or street - allowing the reputation he gained by word of mouth to make him a "blowfish" who is bigger than his actual mild-mannered persona. Pinkman avoids actual violence as much as possible, while his partner Heisenberg (Bryan Cranston) becomes increasingly blase about it as a "cost of doing business," ultimately losing the moral core he once had and turning into an almost unrecognizable monster to his family and friends. He's a bad bad, oh he's bad bad.
Back to Odenkirk though - the man who will be the focus of Better Call Saul when it debuts on AMC in 2015. The ambulance chasing lawyer may have been a good place to start at when the character was first conceived, but Saul Goodman himself provides a better meta-fictional reference - he wants to be consigliere to Heisenberg - directly comparing himself to Tom Hagen in the process. It is in this moment and this episode that the show and character transition into what hip-hop fans know intimately well as the anti-hero of gangster rap. From Eazy-E to Schoolly D to Gucci Mane and Lil Bibby - whether articulate or simplistic - it's the Tony Montana fantasy which listeners can live through vicariously. It's Saul's willingness to get ahead by any means legal or illegal that prove to be Heisenberg's gateway drug. He rises to legendary status on the wings of Saul's duplicity and "cleaning" services, and fans root for the criminal enterprise because it's good to see a bad guy win - beating the odds and the system all at the same time. Heisenberg is to Albuquerque as Frank White is to New York, all thanks to Saul.
The point here is that Saul Goodman is the kind of lawyer that Jeezy wishes he had right about now. He's the kind of fictional attorney that would fit into any fictional tale of trapping, hustling, pimping or robbing. If you're going to be a good criminal, you need an even better lawyer. The more I think about it, the more I've realized what hip-hop's most revered tales of profit by misdeeds lack. Songs often mention being "out on bail" and a few even mention "beating the charge" but more could use a slick shyster like Saul who would be completely morally bankrupt were it not for his loyalty to his clientele. As the show wanders down figurative and literal dark alleys, making it harder for the viewer to cheer Heisenberg on, Goodman remains as a constant to the axiom Jesse Pinkman so aptly described at the outset - not a "criminal lawyer" but a CRIMINAL lawyer. He serves his clients with zeal even though their reprehensible deeds would make most attorneys turn state's evidence. If every rap song had a Saul Goodman in it that would quickly grow tiresome, but now and then it wouldn't hurt. After all if you want to root for an anti-hero to beat the poverty and disenfranchisement of his upbringing even by nefarious means, it wouldn't hurt to have a lawyer who can beat the case - even when the case is murder. S'all good, man.
It's time for another new edition of The Hip-Hop Shop. Episode #285 is "Best of the Best" Summer 2014, pulling top quality cuts from recent episodes. Enjoy music from Has-Lo, GDP, Bad Nuze and Nick Nemesis among others! Follow us @RapReviews so you never miss a new show when it's released each Tuesday.
* Has-Lo & Castle - D.L.S.
* GDP - Good Rumors
* Bad Nuze f/ Rapper Big Pooh - Fight
* Nick Nemesis - Believe
* Christopher Michael Jensen - Troubles of a 20-Something
* MarQ Spekt f/ Aesop Rock, Open Mike Eagle - Air Pegasus
* Sean Scott - In My City
* Chox-Mak f/ DJ Yrs Jerzy - Dopeamine
Johnny: BCMG Recording artist Maine Event & Jay Burna get together to freestyle over Tinashe's Summer Anthem 2 On. Jay Burna is actually working on his album "Music Angel" and will be dropping an EP titled "Fear is a Lie" late Sept. early October.
TIO: Let us take this moment to introduce you to “the sickest Afro-Nautek beat maker” this side of...? Well, you've got to hear it for yourself...and after doing so, maybe just maybe you will post the music on your blog, play it on your radio station, or blast it and shout it out to whomever wherever!
Q The Question on Journalism, SKE Records & Petter Jones
Q: Q The Question recently spoke with Vann Digital, as the SKE Records movement is growing by the day as the workload only increases. With Trel Mack on the rise as one of Philadelphia's hottest new artist and with SKE Records adding Petter Jones to the roster as he prepares his "Super Saiyan" project, 2014 has been strong for the independent Philly label.
Video: Paris Jones - "Above The Water #Ferguson" (#MikeBrown)
Sean: Paris Jones understands music. The 24-year old self-produced artist from Virginia also understands racism continues to show its ugly face in America. Tomorrow marks the two-week anniversary of Mike Brown's unfortunate death. The death of the 18-year old, who was gunned down in Ferguson, Missouri, has left the city at the front of the media's attention. Unfortunately, a majority of the news reports fail to capture the pain of one city, who has rallied around the Brown family in support.
Drew Imagination - "Sorry I Mix Taped Over Your Songs"
Wanja: Composed of revolutionary vignettes rapped over a selection of songs not quite hip-hop,”Sorry I Mix Taped Over Your Songs" evokes a new direction for the Honolulu/Oakland artist. After appearances at the San Diego County Fair, LA County Fair & Unfuck the World Day, the challenges of being an independent artist fueled the gradual progression of outreach. In looking to build with artists, community leaders and musicians alike, this mix tape hopes to encapsulate the passion behind Drew Imagination’s music and activism.