This one goes to the homie Gabe Tolliver. Don't worry, dude's still alive so no misty eyed R.I.P. thingie at the end of this post. Being that he's still living though, he might be a lil' pissed at me for putting his shit on blast like this, but fuck it, that's what friends are for.
I met Gabe back in 1989. Or was it 1990? I had just gotten back to New York from law school and was mad green in the jeans working in the record business. Gabe was legendary from the gate, legendary because upon graduating from N.Y.U. film school he instantly landed a gig working as a producer at M.T.V.'s classic and groundbreaking video show, the seminal "Yo! MTV Raps". Back then, that title right there meant instant pantie disintegration on any first date. But I digress, Gabe and I didn't become friends solely because of his job title, we became friends because dude's mind was incredible. As a producer, screenwriter and director, Gabe was so ahead of his time that a gig at M.T.V., as much as it bigged him up, served to hold him back from demonstrating how talented he was behind the pen and camera.
Not only was he skilled at the above-mentioned talents, Gabe had the uncanny ability to spot stars years before they popped. Like back around '93/'94, Gabe was working on a short called "Connects", a brilliant piece that centered around a cast of characters living in Brooklyn whose lives though separate and diverse, but for a series of events, were connected intimately to each other in ways that they were unaware of. For that and some of his other works, Gabe mined the young and unknown talents of Saul Williams, Bobbito Garcia, Craig "muMs" Grant of "Oz" fame, my man Walter Mudu who is currently killing 'em out there in the commercial world as well as cameo appearances by yours truly. In his works, Gabe masterfully directed us all in helping to create great unknown pieces of social commentary by, of and for a young Hip Hop generation.
On top of all that, my dude possessed a criminally genius deviant mind for all things concerning the art of the come up. If you wanted to serve revenge, justice or to plain punk folks out, you'd call Gabe. See Gabe was born and raised in Shaker Heights, Ohio. Gabe's dad was a military man who died too early for his son to appreciate. In an attempt to connect, to identify, to continue in his pop's legacy, Gabe poured himself into military history, weaponry, wars and strategy, C.I.A. lore, covert and black ops shit. All that. Basically, Gabe would fuck you up in such a manner that you never saw it coming or going, shit, you wouldn't even know you were fucked up until my dude had done left the premises, like four days earlier.
For example, during the mid '90's Gabe had an ill duplex on St. Felix Street in the Clinton Hill/ Fort Greene section of Brooklyn way before gentrification began rearing its ugly bland homogeneous head. At night though, baseheads would populate his block like zombies straight out of a George Romero flick. Gabe had a problem with that, with how the crackheads would harass his neighbors and even at times, take mean shit dumps on his stoop. So one night and like a true deranged vigilante on some Charles Bronson shit, Gabe pulled out some black military wear, painted his face black, put on the night goggles and dusted off his high powered and fully loaded paint gun. Dude climbed the flights of his building up to the roof, then camped out and waited like a hunter for his prey, the living baseheads, to appear as they did nightly and congregate on and about his building's steps. As they gathered, arguing and fussing about whose turn it was on the pipe and who hadn't paid for such and what not, you know, having that mindless conversation that crackheads have, Gabe held each of them in his scope's sight and let loose with the pellets. POP! One landed on a nigga's neck, and as the sting from said pellet exploded into a blood red mist, that crackhead started yelping out loud as to how he got shot in the neck. POP! Another one landed on another one's wrist. Like the sniper he was, Gabe let loose with a coupla more shots, each landing right where he intended. Screaming in pain and fear, them crackheads broke the eff out with the quickness, running for their lives. They never ever showed up again either. Most effective way of getting rid of undesirable "neighbors" I ever heard in my life. Don't sleep though, even with all the shenanigans, shits and giggles, Gabe kept the real authentic trusty Mossberg shotgun tucked in his closet for actual fire fights, just in case and for good effin measure. He named her "Daisy". True story.
Gabe pulled off mad other hilarious pranks on many an unsuspecting victim. I won't go into detail about how the F.B.I. showed up at his door one day, months after he prank called THE Reggie "Red Man" Noble on some red-necked K.K.K. shit. Funny shit is how the feds tried to squeeze Gabe on some hate crime shit, but were flummoxed since both he and Red Man were Black.
When I wrote "Bling, The Hip Hop Jewelry Book" back in 2006, Gabe was my co-author. He introduced me to the then new book "Generation Kill", the very same book from which I copped my name "Combat Jack". According to that book, Combat Jack means:
"To jack off in the middle of a firefight, or any combat situation."
Yes, that's right, in the heat of battle I will jizz on nigga's manuscript, on GP and just for fun. [||]. Gabe's organized creative mind helped us in not only landing the book deal, but dude was mad integral in keeping all that info and all those pictures in order. That book also took us 1/2 way around the world as we were hired as consultants for the 2006/2007 Bling Exhibit held in the Diamante Museum in Antwerp, Belgium, the diamond capital of the world. Amsterdam was the shit too.
When we got back from Europe at the end of '07, Gabe shared with me that he was enlisting in Uncle Sam's army. Being in television and the film industry for so long, Gabe reached a point where he was no longer willing to kiss ass, be subservient or compromise his talents for a dollar. He had written mad intricate scripts as enthralling as the Coen brothers, he broached topics as broad as Steven Soderbergh, on top of directing some memorable pieces for shows like PBS's "Sesame Street". Still and all, as the industry began to turn it's back and once again ignore, as it did before the civil rights movement and affirmative action, talent that didn't neatly fit into what it believed was Black culture and what was appropriate content wise as to what Black writers and directors should be delegated to, my dude got shut out from making a decent living. Film and television became whiter, bills piled up and my dude fell more and more in debt.
We argued. I was like wtf!?! "Nigga, you about to fight this bullshit George Bush war, plus, you just turned 41!!!" Mind you, politically, Gabe knew how fugazi Bush's war against terrorism was and didn't sip the kool aid one bit, but as the military, desperate for recruits during a cynical age, had just upped their recruitment cut off age to 41, he knew this was his last shot. Yeah, we fought, shit got a lil tense between us as well. But Gabe wanted to stop the financial hemorrhaging he was going through, and the US Army was very attractive with the financial packages it offered. They knew the time, employment options were becoming very slim in every city USA. They also knew how to make a nigga's debts disappear overnight, plus some. In hind sight, we both know that part of what drove my dude to join was his fascination with all things military, plus a final opportunity to jump feet first into that adventure as he identified with and got closer to his father's legacy. In December 2007, Gabe and his friends gathered at a restaurant in Brooklyn and celebrated together in what would be a new departure for our friend.
I've seen Gabe frequently since, on his leaves and when he drops by Brooklyn. He's done survived basic training and dropped at least 25 pounds. Nigga is ripped! Scary how on top of how he already knew 100 ways to chop you down, he can now also deliver a well old fashioned bare handed beat down. Brutally. Being an "old man" in a young man's arena has helped create some hilarious stories as well, like the time, during basic chemical warfare training, how he was in a gas chamber and had to take off his gas mask, inhale a breath of mustard gas and "calmly" put his mask back on. Let's just say that that one didn't work out so well, and upon waking up from passing out, lunch, eye juice and snot all over his army greens, his superiors ordered him to redo that exercise. Or how his drill sergeants, Black and white, would refer to him as "Ole Nigga". Funny shit. You can peep more of his stories from behind the barracks on his blog.
In wrapping, I really want to shout my dude out, just for doing the damned thing. For also further teaching me how it really is that different strokes for different folks ish, and how, at the end of the day, I can no way in my right mind criticize another man's choices unless I stand firmly in his shoes. I really believe what they say about not waiting to big up your peeps when they're no longer among us. My dude Gabe, for being a true friend, an official Combat Jack salute to you. Stay safe homie, and wrap up that commitment on the quickness!