Donald Goines: Street Prophet and Father of Gangsta RAP
As a long-term college instructor, I am accustomed to the weekend beginning on Thursday. I don’t know about you, but I like to go into my weekends a little light-hearted. We can get back to work when Monday morning comes. By the way, I do not own the copyright or license to the music included. I am not out to make money from the artist, but to show that the legacy of Goines is still alive.
Dear Reader, if you have stumbled upon this blog, I say, “Thank you.” Trust me, I truly appreciate you stopping by and value your time. If you are a long-time follower, I want to do something a little different today. Sometimes, when I am in the physical classroom, I try to end the weekend on a high-note. If that classroom happens to be at a public Historically Black College or University, this is essential for me, especially if a heated rival is coming to town. The band is gearing up, the football players are anxious, and the students are way too excited to pay me much attention any way. Even when we are not in the middle of football season, topics in my classroom can get heavy, and there are times when I give students a light day or even release class and chat with them in my office in order to give them some processing time. Everybody needs a mental breather. I truly, TRULY believe in bottom-up, metacognitive teaching and learning. That requires that the students spend a little time away from me in order to join what they know with what we’re discussing in class (but that’s another posting).
For this inaugural high-note blog, I have decided to go with the Father of All Gangsta Rap, a writer. Every Reader, meet Mr. Donald Goines.
You thought gangsta RAP was straight outta Compton? It was straight outta Donald Goines’ brain and he was straight outta Detroit.
Donald Goines was born in 1936 to a middle-class family who owned a successful dry-cleaning business. At the age of 15, he lied about his age, joined the military, and went to the Korean War. In spite of his rather prosperous background, Goines was already dabbling in street life BEFORE he joined the military. He came back to the streets of Detroit at the age of 17 with a heroin habit and a taste for prostitutes. Donald Goines was in and out of jail in support of an addiction he just could not seem to kick. While doing one of his stints, he ran across the memoir of Iceberg Slim, and began to take writing seriously.
Goines wrote at a feverish pace. One could say he was the Lord Byron of Detroit’s Black Bottom. He produced 16 novels between 1969 and 1974! And this does not include the books he produced under a pseudonym. For a list of his books in order, please follow this link: https://www.fictiondb.com/author/donald-goines~26200.htm
Unlike other addicts, who often drifted off or fell asleep in a heroin high, Donald Goines used his addiction to write. He used the writing to fuel his addiction. Goines was killed at his typewriter, according to urban legend. Some say he was killed by a dealer. Some say he was killed by a character in the streets. Maybe his fiction kept it a little too real?
Goines and his partner, Shirley Sailor were both murdered in 1974 (in front of their two children). But Goines’ literature continues to enjoy popularity. Black folk have an eye and a feeling for what’s real and Goines is as real as it comes.
But don’t approach Goines thinking that it is going to be all drug, sex, and money. Oh, no. Goines does not glorify street life and the dope dealer is not a hero. His first novel, Dope Fiend, introduces the reader to the hell of a heroin addict in Detroit’s Black Bottom. We watch as a couple makes an almost Inferno-like descent from middle-class life to the bottomless pit of begging for dope and committing crimes in order to get the next hit. Porky is an inhuman and inhumane pusher who hates himself specifically and humanity in general. He is a sadomasochist who seems to have a minuscule amount of feelings only for his long-term girlfriend and dope-addict, Smoky. As the book unfolds, we learn about racism in Detroit, classism in the African American community, poverty in the city, and the Detroit Riots of 1967.
Goines’ books, when they were originally published, were not carried in many major booksellers due to their content. They were raw pictures of the streets, gang life, drug addicts, drug dealers, prostitutes, pimps, lesbians…you name it! But they were always, well, around. Goines was like that cool underground RAPper that the rest of America had yet to discover. He was also widely-read in prisons. In that way, his books remained in print, though the rest of America had no about him.
Today, Donald Goines continues to be a best-selling author. According to the Detroit Free Press, he is still on the New York Times best-seller list. His books sell over 200,000 million copies every year. RAPpers reference him frequently. In 2004, his book, Never Die Alone (1974), became a full-length film (DVD release) featuring the late RAPper DMX.
There is even a singer in New York whose stage name is Lady Goines! Even though I had never heard of her until I was cruising the Internet for some reason, I gave her songs a chance and absolutely loved some of them. The following song is my FAVORITE tracks by her (I am not trying to make money off the Lady here). Check the name of her album (and how I am dating myself by using the word, “album”). It is from a 1974 novel of Donald Goines.
In addition to RAPpers and other young African American readers keeping the legacy of Goines alive, Donald Goines has a son who is actively writing. Full disclosure: I have not read any of his books. It’s on my “To-Read” List, which is longer than my “Done-Read” List at this point.
As you can see, Dear Reader, Donald Goines continues to be a giant of African American popular culture. I have several more books on my shelf for fun summer reading and look forward to tackling Patrick’s offering. Donald Goines, while writing support a habit, virtually created urban street literature as we know it (I could go a little deeper, but that’s another post) and became the Father of Gangsta RAP.
Okay, this post has gone on for a while. Get your weekend started tonight. And if you can make it, purchase a Goines book to read. You will thank me. I actually teach his first novel in the Hip Hop class.