Hip-hop/Spirituality/Freethinking. Speaking for all underdogs!
By Khalil Amani
The 1970’s brought about an era of black super-heroes via movies—“Blaxploitation” movies, as they have been dubbed. Superfly, The Mack, Shaft, Cleopatra Jones, Truck Turner, Coffy, Foxy Brown, Cross 110th Street, JD’s Revenge, Black Belt Jones, Dolemite, Three The Hard Way, Cooley High, Cornbread Earl & Me, Hell Up In Harlem, etc., etc. Finally! Hollywood had begun to tell our stories. It didn’t matter that many of these movies were about pimps & prostitutes, drugs and all manner of licentiousness. That mattered not, because the protagonists were black! They were our black heroes!
I was a coming-of-age teenager in the 70's, seeing for the first time, people that I could relate to on the silver-screen—black faces that told black stories of ghetto life; of trial & triumph, love & lost love. Back then, we were proud to be black and tried to emulate our favorite black movies stars. Who was flyer than Superfly? Who had more "mack-game" than The Mack? Who was feared more than Shaft?
All of these characters had a way with the ladies. All of these guys wore the finest “vines”—clothes. Pam Grier (Coffy & Foxy Brown) and Tamara Dobson (Cleopatra Jones) elevated the black woman to goddess status in the minds of we teenage boys! These women were our "Sheroes!" We couldn’t help but be influenced by their swagger, but no one exemplified and exuded the persona of Superfly, Shaft and The Mack more than the man I’m gonna tell you about.
His name was Ivory—Ivory Rutledge aka “Shaft.” (Rest in Peace) Ask me not how Ivory got the name Shaft or who bestowed the name upon him, but clearly, he lived up to the name and person we had seen at the theater.
(Ivory Rutledge aka "Shaft" Rest in Peace.)
I was best friends with his younger brother James. Ivory was out of high school by the time me and James and the rest of the guys I ran with got to high school. Somewhere around 1974 black dudes in Miami started driving Volkswagen Beetle cars, but like those fly characters from the movies, these VWs were tricked-out & souped-up with chrome rims, mag tires, pinstriped paint, diamond (window) in the back, sunroof tops, TV antennas, 8-tracks with boomin’ speakers and fur on the dashboard and the obligatory dice on the mirror. Indeed, the VW was the car to own, and Ivory aka "Shaft" had one of the flyest VW’s in Miami—black paint job with red pinstripes and all of the rest of that fly, jiggy stuff.
Ivory was that dude! Soft-spoken, well-dressed and the quintessential fly-guy—the closest thing we had to the real Shaft. My fondest memory of Ivory Rutledge aka “Shaft” was letting me and his younger brother James go with him to a night football game in his VW! We were like kids on a merry-go-round! If only the girls could see us getting out of Shaft’s pimped-out VW! As 50 Cent would rap 30 years later, “I let my whip (car) talk for me!” Yeah! Just being associated and seen in the company of one of Miami’s flyest cats was an awe-inspiring time for a young teenage kid like me.
Ivory Rutledge was a big-brother figure to me. On at least two occasions Shaft had come to our rescue when we were faced with overwhelming opposition in the streets. I’ve seen him back down a few guys much bigger than he. Like the Shaft of the movies, our neighborhood Shaft kept us safe and was a good-guy. I never saw Shaft “go for bad” or bully someone. He just had an aura that said he wasn’t to be messed with.
Ivory Rutledge aka “Shaft” shaped my manhood. He was our standard. He made me want to be dapper. Presentation, yes! That’s what stands out when I think about Carol City’s/Miami’s Shaft. His wardrobe was crispy—having his pants tailor-made by “King the Tailor.” Looking back, when I think of the older guys that I looked up to—there were my cousins Al & Joe and then there was Ivory/Shaft. Ivory Rutledge aka “Shaft” left an indelible impression on me and many other young kids in the neighborhood. Indeed, he was our shining black manhood! May he rest in peace forevermore!
Khalil Amani aka Lloyd Clark.