MHC Seminar 1, Professor Casey Henry

Category: Mean Streets and Ghostface (Page 1 of 2)

Victor mean Streets

The rap uses strong words to display his discontent with the system and he is very mad about how he can’t get what he needs for no good reason. He uses a lot of curse words because it makes him sound tough and that is good. He is saving face with his word choice. That is a very powerful tool in rap. He is quite loud which creates a connection to the listener. He draws from his life experience which also creates a strong sense of comradery with the listener. He is difficult to understand when he raps but that draws one to check and read his lyrics, should they feel compelled.”Fast pace of a CREAM chasing team” Shows Raekwon roots of New York and New York rap in the fact that he appreciates and draws inspiration from Wu Tang and his production.

Macho Masculinity in Mean Streets and Ghostface

Throughout Mean Streets, a constant motif of toxic masculinity and uncouthness in order to seem more masculine was very much apparent. The main characters embody this through their lives of crime, considering themselves as the alphas of their social group due to the lives they lead. Everything is about doing things with the boys — whether that be organized crime, hanging around swanky strip clubs, or full on homicide. This can be correlated to Ghostface Killah’s extremities in vulgarity and violence because both sort of emphasize this very twisted approach to conventional masculinity. The idea of being a murderer or a thug or a mobster is enticing in these contexts because they embody some sort of solidarity between the “alpha males” of a social class. The ease at which both sides disregard their effeminate counterparts, such as when Ghostface openly spoke out against gay rappers, is an example of both sides’ toxic masculinity, and the violent content of their characters only serves as a medium to express said masculinity.

Mean Streets and Ghostface

One of the first things that I noticed while watching Mean Streets was the issue surrounding money. Money essentially dominates everything because it is motive for our works (going to college, getting a job, etc.). We need money to buy food, clothing, housing, and just about everything. However, money is also often the culprit behind conflict and crimes, as evident in the tension between the characters in Mean Streets. For example, the altercation between the characters in the pool table scene brings question as to, are they really “friends”? The definition is broad and open to many interpretations. Maybe for them, “friends” are those with money? Additionally, the police officer that was supposed to come to do his job of controlling violence is sent away after being bribed. This further shows that money plays an important role in crimes. Compared with Ghostface’s, “Shakey Dog”, the song is presented much more intense with the vulgar lyrics right from the beginning and the depiction of crime. Most aspects of the song are negative and that can be a statement and insight as to how the rapper functions in life (robbery, crime, and not caring about anything except money). Mean Streets does show some form of warmth in friendships and even though “Shakey Dog” is a four-minute song, there is no inclusion of that aspect like the one present in Mean Streets, which makes a distinction between the two.

The side of New York depicted in Mean Streets is one of masculine hypocrisy. The film opens with its lead character asking God if it’s okay that he repents for his sins in his own way, and moves on to the crimes that this man commits with his friends. They are gruff and violent, insulting and punching each other as often as they can. They call each other “friends” while exchanging money for their gambling and deals for illegal items, but quickly break into a brawl because, after all, they aren’t really fond of each other. The song “Shakey Dog” depicts a similar taste for violence, as the rapper, Ghostface Killah,  and his friend plan to rob a group of drug dealers that trust Ghostface Killah. The saying is true – there is “no honor among thieves.” But, Mean Streets, being in its longer format, is able to depict a happier side of the story of these violent men, showing that there is a degree of camaraderie when they all relax in a bar together.

New York as seen in “Mean Streets” and “Shakey Dog.”


Both the film Mean Streets and the Ghostface Killah’s song Shakey Dog encapsulates New York as a harsh place with an abundance of illegal activity. Both medias contain gun violence as well as references to New York. This can be seen in Mean Streets through the shooting at the bar and the many shots of old New York as well as in Shakey Dog when the lyrics reference gun violence and 125th street separately. The mix of gun violence and relatable references to New York City helps develop a sense of sentimental criminality. They convey an element of organized illegal activity but do not preach against that activity. The people conducting the illegal activity are not painted as evil, but somewhat moral and relatable. This can be seen through the religious aspect and the humor prevalent in Mean Streets as well as the situational humor in Shakey Dog. This desensitization of violence and criminal activity could potentially reflect the rampant amount of criminality in both the New York depicted in Mean Streets and Shakey Dog.

Despite their similar tones and subject matter, Mean Streets and Shakey Dog have some distinct differences. The song Shakey Dog seems more narrative that the movie so far. The movie seems to have a loser plot that focuses on capturing the life of the characters rather than telling a story. This slow-paced narration is very different than the narration heard in Shakey Dog, as the song is extremely fast-paced and action-packed. That being said, in general, a film gives a slower and more detail and perhaps nuanced view of life while a song gives you the most important, action-packed moment that captures the life.


The slower pace of Mean Streets, along with the film genre itself, allows for a more detailed depiction of characters when compared to Shakey Dog, or the music genre in general. For example, Mean Streets is able to dissect Charlie’s struggle with balancing religion and criminality in a way that Shakey Dog cannot. This struggle is one that can be developed throughout the time span of a movie, while Shakey Dog only has three minutes to convey and necessary plot and character points. Mean Streets is able to depict character development in a way that Shakey Dog cannot.

Mean Streets and Ghostface


Mean Streets introduces the viewer into a world of unattended crime in the of New York City, specifically in a small area in Little Italy. Johnny, one of the protagonists of the movie, is introduced as a crime seeking character by setting an explosive for reasons still unclear out on the street. In another scene, Johnny and his friends are shown taking advantage of teenagers looking to pay for drugs. Gambling is shown to be a big part of the crime that takes place in the movie as well as debt counts and friendship confrontations. The friendship aspect is what makes Mean Streets so compelling, in my opinion.

In one of the scenes in the movie, Johnny becomes involved in a fight with one of his friends. Charlie then comes in and reminds the two that they are all fiends. Friendship appears to be the one of the bonding forces between these group of men who actively participate in crime and at the make time look out for each other. In the movie, Charlie looks after Johnny and making sure he pays off his dept to Michael. Charlie pressures his friend into keeping up to date with his payments after seeing Johnny enter the bar with two women by his side and without a single trace of preoccupation on his face. Charlie, nonetheless, appears to have hidden motives for taking care of Jonny. Later on in the movie, Charlie is shown in a relationship with Johnny’s cousin and he promises her that very soon they will move out together.

One of the moral paradoxes in the movie is depicted in the scene in which Charlie goes to church for confession. He expresses his frustration with the religious system in handling the forgiveness of sin and points out that praying does not absolve him of his wrong doings. What adds on to the moral paradox in the movie is that Charlie knows what he is doing is wrong because he makes it clear that he goes to church every week, perhaps because of the remorse he feels for what he is doing in his neighborhood. As a result of his dissatisfaction with the way the church “absolves” him of his sins, Charlie goes on to create his own way of paying for the wrong he has done.

“You don’t make up for your sins in church; you do it in the streets; you do it at home. The rest is bulls–t, and you know it.”

What makes Mean Streets different from Ghostface Killah’s “Shakey Dog” different is the level of violence portrayed in each. In “Shakey Dog,” it is clear that people participate in face to face confrontations and that they are ready to either live or die if they have to. Such example is seen in the following lines from “Shakey Dog.” In Mean Streets, on the other hand, the pool fight scene takes place while an upbeat song is played in the background, which takes away seriousness behind the fight.

Frank shot the skinny dude, laid him out
The bigger dude popped Frankie boy, played him out


Mean Streets highlights the everyday lifestyle of an Italian mobster. The movie focuses in on the moral paradoxes of Charlie, the principal character. At the beginning of the movie, the audiences is made cognizant of Charlie’s conscience. He contemplates his life as a Catholic, inquiring other ways for atoning  his sins rather than praying “Ten Hail Mary’s, Ten Our Fathers, ten whatever.” Being forgiven on the basis of prayer doesn’t sit right with him. Instead, he desires to find his own method of atonement.

Mean Streets , like all mob movies, revolves its plot around money. In the beginning, the audience learns oh Johnny’s reckless nature regarding money, given that he spends money despite being in debt to a collection of mobsters. Johnny begins to feel obligated in helping Charlie, given that they are friends and is sleeping with his cousin. He is loyal towards Johnny, a trait that is deemed of the highest importance in such organizations.

“Shakey Dog” further highlights this drive for money seen in partners involved in organized crime. In his rap, Ghostface Killah unveils a specific incident where he tries to get money from his end of a drug deal. The song centers on the violent aspect of organized crime. In it he raps, “Told him Freeze! lay the fuck down and enjoy the moment, Frank snatched his gat, slapped him, asked him Where’s the cash, coke and the crack? Get to smokin’ you fast.” Eventually, the rap ends with Ghostface’s companion, Frank, shooting people with his gun. Frank himself is then taken out, leaving the rap on a bit of a cliffhanger.

Mean Streets and Ghostface

Mean Streets portrays the world of organized crime in NYC. We are sucked into the world of these gangsters and it becomes apparent that money is a central theme in their life. Friends, enemies are decided based on money and the crimes committed are somehow related to money. It’s interesting though that this film does not romanticize nor condemn their lifestyle. It just takes us into their day to day life and shows it to us specifically through Charlie and following his life.

However, Ghostface Killah raps about a specific crime.  We get a glimpse into criminal life in NYC but in Harlem – a very different culture than in Mean Streets. Furthermore, the crime he raps about  seems quite dramatic and out of the ordinary whereas in Mean Streets their criminal lives are portrayed in a no  big deal kind of way.  This  is probably because in a short song it is impossible to comprehensively portray the crime scene in Harlem so Ghostface chose to rap about a specific event which taken out of context seems very intense. In conclusion, since Mean Steets is a film and “Shakey Dog” is a short rap , the realities perceived when watching/listening to them are very different though both relate to crime.


Mean Streets and Ghostface

The film, Mean Streets, depicts the cutthroat lifestyle in which wealth is at the center, and artificial friendships are formed on the basis of giving and receiving money. We see the moral paradox most prominently within the character Charlie especially in the church scene. Apart from the fact he goes to clubs, gets tangled in fights and shootings, and isn’t dedicated to religion, his action of going to church may be a way for him to feel better about himself, and make up for his actions. Nevertheless, in the movie we are made aware that he recognizes the Catholic Church as a man-made organization, a business diverging not too far from organized crime, and capable of human fault.Charlie even mentions how he says prayers but the words have no meaning to him. Thus, we can see his attitude towards church is not spiritual but more ironic.The compelling nature of the movie is the thrill and rush, it seems as if the characters live in a world where every next moment is either a fight, adventure, or opportunity. Time doesn’t slow down and the characters move along without looking back.

Within Ghostface Killah’s song “Shakey Dog”. the rhythm and the tune of the music matches the environment of a neighborhood with mystery, crime, and danger. The language used represents a carefree attitude and one that is not looking to respect anyone.The song starts to reach a climactic scene within the house and when the shooting goes off leaving the listeners with an intense feeling. The lyrics have no filter and portray the deep and grimy undertakings of the gang lifestyle. This song connects to Mean Streets as they both represent a life of danger and crime, and most especially how people are out for one another. There is no friendship in the lyrics, nor is there someone to lean back on, as showed in the movie Mean Streets between Charlie and Johnny Boy. Charlie looks out for Johnny and even mentions to Teresa that one of the reasons why he’s staying back is to help his friend out.Thus, the song is a more brutal portrayal of what it is like to be a part of a gang, as opposed to the movie that shows there is loyalty and respect among the members.

Mean Streets and Ghostface

The concepts portrayed in both the Mean Streets and Ghostface’s songs highlight lives lived through organized crime. One has an hour and a half to portray the complexities of “mafian life” while the other is limited by three minutes to only display the negatives of the gangster living. In Mean Streets, the movie followed the life of a morally and spiritually young mobster named Charlie who’s future was more than uncertain. The film did capture the essence of the “mafian life” but it softened the harshness of its reality. In one of the bar fight scenes, the director decided to play a rather up beat song, as if to distract the audience from how violent that way of life truly is.

Image result for mean streets pool table fight

The film also threw a comedic perspective into every element of the mafias. With the obsession over money, loyalty and power, the movie deliberately failed to display the blunt truth. When Charlie was asked for the money he had owed, he nonchalantly failed to give a care and slyly removed himself from that position, even able to persuade the men to have drinks with him afterwards.

Image result for mean streets bar

Ghostface in his song, Method Man states,

You know the gun show off, whips is gleaming, clean as a fuck
In dirty hallways, the ninas’ll cluck
This is crime station, my obligation is to look raw as ever
Feed my little sons and patients
Cause they hungry, shining, bullet fly right through the lining
Catch me on the plane, humble and wining

Here, there isn’t any romanticization. Here, you have what Mean Streets failed to deliver, the exact truth. Without blurring lines, Ghostface paints the harsh realities of living in this style. He describes violence, death, drugs and sex as it plays in daily life.


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