There’s a line in #BLX, BET’s new webseries about celebrities representing the blocks where they grew up, that defines the whole project. Angela Yee (of the nationally-syndicated morning radio show The Breakfast Club) is recounting the time her Chinese father, “who everyone assumed knew karate,” suddenly sprinted across the street to beat up a man who had previously tried to rob him. “You can’t rob somebody who lives in your neighbourhood,” she explains, “and not run into them again.”
These tales of a rough yet communal upbringing are the common thread that tie together the blocks that have been featured on the series so far: Yee’s in Flatbush, Brooklyn, and actor/musician Mack Wilds’ on Staten Island. Yee speaks of playing music on her porch, writing down the words of Run DMC’s ‘You Be Illin’’ so that she could perform the song back to her friends. Wilds takes us to the neighbourhood barbershop where “you get all the stories, the new music, the old music.”
Amid this camaraderie, however, there is a disconcerting pride about the prevalent violence on these blocks. An anecdote from Wilds’ youth (“some dangerous times but some great times as well”) sees him being dragged upstairs by his parents after his first scuffle with the local “bruiser.” Terrified of the repercussions, he is surprised by their initial question: “Did you beat him, though?” At one point, Yee’s parents ordered her not to leave their porch, which meant she could not aid a friend in a fight. Afterward, they scolded her, saying “You could’ve left the porch for that.”
There’s always the possibility of exaggeration in these sort of reminiscences, though, and many of the #BLX recollections do seem to be about playing to the camera. Wilds’ assertions that he had a “shorty on the fourth floor…and [pointing randomly in another direction] in that building” sound like the bleating claims of the schoolyard liar who knows it is unlikely that she’ll be doubted. Indeed, Wilds’ father even seems a little embarrassed when his son relays his story of urban fisticuffs. His statement that, while he doesn’t live on Staten Island anymore, his music “resonates here, this is where it comes from, so I’m home all the time” sounds like it was drafted by a PR firm.
#BLX videos are a short watch, however—a trifling investment at only three or so minutes per episode. And there’s certainly something to be said for brevity and its ability to smooth over any faults. #BLX lacks the power of the authoritative mini-series that it is trying to be—it leaves too many questions hanging—but its tales serve as interesting little kernels nonetheless.
Screengrab via BET video