ESSAY// We Have to Save Batman v Superman!

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Throughout Man of Steel (2013),  there are vignettes of young Clark Kent performing acts of heroism in small settings despite his father’s advice. They’re acts of pure passion for Clark, compulsions, even though he’s terrified the world will hate him.  They contrast with a dreamlike montage in Steel successor Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) of Superman doing amazing feats with an intense sadness and mechanical presence.This montage is interspersed with him being torn apart in the news media. It’s like the mental and emotional weight is holding him down way more than any rocket or ship. It’s so sad, and reminiscent of director Zack Snyder’s controversial Watchmen adaptation (2009) on multiple levels.

People think Zack Snyder is a hack. His films have been critically divisive for years, though his reputation is obviously powerful enough for him to continue to take on bigger projects. This makes him more than just a regular hack to people when it comes to beloved properties such as 300 and Watchmen, it makes him a dangerous hack. Zack has cemented himself among icons; superheroes, devils, gods. Now that’s he’s helming the start of the DC Extended Universe (Dawn of Justice) he’s become the only thing scarier than any of the above- a hack in a suit.

And now I feel like Lois Lane.

The creator of this world is a complex human being with feelings, just like the rest of us!  Dawn of Justice uses its platform to heal humanity’s hatred.  Childhood trauma leads Bruce Wayne down a path of bitterness and rage.  Barely passing as a “normal” person himself, a fearful Clark Kent disses the Caped Crusader for working with the state to target and brutalize marginalized people. But despite what the trailers may show, its ultimate lesson is that our misunderstandings are not inevitable. Lois knows it from the start: the most heroic thing anyone can do is stop fighting long enough really try to listen to someone’s truth.

I’ve been talking about Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice  in real life a lot the past two weeks, and it’s always fun to do. Batman vs Superman is one of those movies that’s about itself a bunch! Which was demonstrated when it came out: like its heroes, the film was wildly successful with people but then heavily shat on in the media.  This is about how reality can shift around depending on perspective and press and fears of the moment.

The plot of BvS itself is triggered by real life – people responded negatively to its predecessor‘s relatability and collateral damage during fights so Batman hates Superman because of collateral damage from a Man of Steel fight and people find it hard to relate to Superman in BvS world. That the two are characterized as a racist billionaire and an undocumented immigrant respectively is also super relevant, this U.S. election season.

Of course my friends know about the film’s massively negative reputation but when I relate BvS to our everyday struggles with social media, it perks them right up. I’m increasingly worried about the iconic filmmaker behind the crossover, and the dystopia he depicts in film being so true to life that a perfectly good person is going to get crucified yet again for a planet that can’t – or won’t – relate to his beauty and grace.


Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is now playing in theaters worldwide.

OLD ESSAY// Defcee, Master of Ceremonies

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These pieces originally appeared in Side by Side Magazine.

Defcee is an excellent rapper. He’s such a good storyteller and sensitive soul that his words and presence would do well to be on any stage in this world. Attendees would experience a soulful vision of hip-hop dripping with knowledge and good humor. But what about his classrooms: the Chicago school kids who need Adam, their teacher? What about the Adam that needs those kids? The further you get into Damn Near Grown (2015) you get the sense of a vivid, aching world with Levin’s huge, overflowing heart reaching out to bring it all in. Any ceremony he masters isn’t just better because Adam is such a gifted speaker, it’s because he’s an even better listener.

Def is funny too.  Sometimes, such as on “Timeless,” he’s tearing apart other rappers. But his battle raps here are more riffs on the culture than anyone in particular, which gives the song a freewheeling joy. You’re ‘on the outside looking in like Dule Hill on the Cosbys;’ when Defcee imagines putting on Gucci goggles he compares himself to Horace Grant and then, with an implied and hilarious sigh, Luc Longley. Def is self-deprecating in a way that reveals itself as legitimately dangerous on “alter(ed) ego” but the production is hot so who cares? Def soars over jazzy boom bap, reminding us what it’s all about in the first place.

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I meet Defcee at Young Chicago Authors, a mecca for art kids in the city. Before I can do anything, Toaster shouts at me from across the room to settle a disagreement. He and a kid, probably 17 or 18, are arguing about Lupe Fiasco’s sophomore album The Cool. A class just got out: chairs are everywhere, hip-hop is playing, there’s teenagers chatting, young adults, mentors, and everyone is there to rap. Adam Levin, aka Defcee, is the teacher in the room.

Our interview takes place in December shortly after the release of the Timeless maxi-single, where Defcee captures the complexity of his own heroes.


Timeless
 starts off with “Forty II” highlighting Defcee’s history as a raucous battle rap emcee.
This time he’s subverting it though, roasting himself just as much in the process. It’s all about the line. The mix of dedication to craft and self-sacrifice is a defining characteristic of the Damn Near Grown (DNG) rapper. He’s only 24, but an elder statesman of his scene. Maybe it’s his influences.

“Wu-Tang is part of the bedrock, obviously. Jay, Nas.” Levin pauses to think. “Scarface.” Defcee has always had an affinity for rappers who popped in a bygone era. He keeps the energy alive, bringing East Coast lyricism to Saba’s jazzy trap beats and pairing Chance the Rapper references with Horace Grant jokes. Then, when his old soul is bare on Timeless’ last half, he searches openly for himself through tragic observation and magical realism.

“Purplewatersugardrank,” the first single for Def’s long-awaited DNG project features half of PIVOT Gang, Noname, and Bay Area word wizard Benjamin Earl Turner. Though Timeless is all about a solo journey through Adam’s world, Defcee’s rap family is large.  


And though Defcee has only a handful of projects to his name as a solo artist, he is always working on just as many projects as he has released. Grand Total, an EP project with the aforementioned Ben Turner followed DNG‘s release late last year. Following those two are 
a “love” project Hell of a Drug, and a “drug” project named Adderall Adam. Adam Levin is all of these things: a legendary MC, a tender love poet, an overprescribed Surburban kid, and he is damn near…

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Happy #DefceeWeek!