Saturday night at Good Life, veteran hip-hop scenester Ricky Powell blessed a roomful of wide-eyes with his world-famous slide show, in which he flashed and joked about his pics of celebs ranging from Jam Master Jay to John Lee Hooker. As a self-described frozen-lemonade-salesman-turned-photographer and host of the legendary New York cable-access show Rappin’ with the Rickster, Powell — who’s also known as the “Fourth Beastie Boy” — has made a career out of shooting superstars and nailing groupies without having to perform. You might recall his name from the song “Car Thief” off Paul’s Boutique: “Homeboy throw in the towel/Your girl got dicked by Ricky Powell.”
BE HIS GUEST: Heir 2 tha $treetz is hardly Meet the Press — hyperbole is valued over accountability.
On the same night, across town at Harpers Ferry, Boston rap character Wally Sparks stood outside the Styles P show interviewing cats with Frankie Blanco, the co-producer and cameraman behind their nightly Comcast cable-access show, Heir 2 tha $treetz. Although he’s a long way from attaining Powell-level status — and still a short way from having panties slung at him — Sparks has in a year become a highly visible face on Boston’s rap scene. His half-hour show, which splices interviews with music videos and everything else you might find on Beef, Smack, and Cheddar DVDs, airs every weeknight from 10 pm to 4 am on channel 12. That’s 30 hours total.
In nearly two decades of Rappin’ with the Rickster there have been three essential elements to Powell’s success — vision, hustle, and hilarity — and Sparks packs every one. Heir doesn’t discriminate; Sparks and Blanco are at almost every concert, often landing exclusives with heavyweights like AZ and De La Soul, but, in the spirit of cable access, allowing scrubs to shine as well. In fact, the less famous someone is, the better chance he’ll say something hysterically foolish, like claiming he’s the “King of Boston” despite having released just one CD-R mixtape.
Unlike most “hood DVDs,” as shoddily compiled street rap videos are often called, Sparks’s show is more fun than threatening. He’s a comically inclined host who can simultaneously make guests feel comfortable and wink at viewers when his subjects give their phone numbers away unsolicited, shout out entire neighborhoods name by name, and claim to be chief executives of imaginary businesses. Heir 2 tha $treetz is hardly Meet the Press; guests are not only permitted to hyperbolize without being held accountable, they’re almost encouraged to do so.
“I know that I take a whole different approach than a lot of these other guys,” says Sparks. “I’m a little more positive, and I want people to laugh. A lot of those hood DVDs are about turning people against each other, and there’s too much of that going on. It’s not like I go out of my way to make it funny, but I don’t write any of my questions in advance, so I guess that helps.”
Sparks, who also rhymes and has dropped more than 30 mixtapes since 2004 (he’s at Harpers this Friday), hopes his show will take him to the proverbial “next level” — the one most of his guests claim to be taking it to. He and Blanco are pitching Heir to commercial stations; in the meantime they’re compulsively shooting and editing. And though 10 years ago it might have been absurd to think that a cable-access show with chronically misspelled captions and a name that half the interviewees mispronounce (“Ear to the Streets”) could make it all the way, these days Heir and Rappin’ with the Rickster would be the most entertaining programs on MTV
WALLY SPARKS + A.S.N. + BRE & G HARD + KAYBIGGS57 + RE-SURCH + AZ | Harpers Ferry, 158 Brighton Ave, Allston | December 19 at 8 pm | 18+ | $18-$20 | 617.254.9743 or www.harpersferryboston.com