Do you ever wonder what New York’s inner-city life was like in the 1980’s? This was a storied time when Hip Hop and graffiti art were still in their infancy, while white America thought of them as a dangerous sub-culture originating from its own poor black communities. Well, in Adam Mansbach’s latest novel Rage Is Back we get a taste of this nostalgic time from the perspective of the graffiti artists that ran rampant throughout New York’s inner sanctums and forgotten subway tunnels.
Dondi Vance is the son of two famous graffiti artists from the golden days of “bombing” subway cars in the 1980’s. Recently kicked out of his pompous prep school for selling drugs, as well as his mother’s apartment, Dondi now bounces from couch to couch, ignoring the rumors that his long lost father, Billy Rage, is back after sixteen years on the lam. However, this time, the rumors are true. Billy Rage really is back and, at the moment, Dondi is struggling to come to terms with this uneasy reunion. More so for Dondi, the stories and legends he’s heard growing up of his father don’t live up to the broken, homeless man that has materialized before him. Unfortunately for Dondi, there’s no time for answers from his father, as Billy has turned up at a critical time. Anastacio Bracken, a transit cop that killed one of Billy’s graffiti crew in the 1980’s, is now running for mayor. Now, only by assembling his old graffiti crew for an ambitious plan can Billy and Dondi finally bring Bracken to justice.
As Rage Is Back starts off with plenty of B-boy vernacular and name-dropping, it’s easy for an unenthusiastic reader to lose interest in the story right from the start. However, if you make it past the first two chapters of the novel, you’re rewarded immensely with a twisted and colorful tale of retribution. Also, don’t be surprised if you get sucked into this engrossing tale, because of its rich layers and unsavory but somewhat likable characters. More so, when was the last time you read a book that included subway graffiti “bombing”, Mole People, and a magical staircase into the future? Pretty sure the answer is never.
Overall, Mansbach crams all kinds of pop culture references into Rage Is Back, and his characters come to life with certain dramatic qualities that match the story’s darker tone. As if this wasn’t enough the novel also includes: shamanism, mind-altering drugs, as well as an epic scheme of payback all told thru Dondi’s free flowing, second person narration. If you’re interested in being lead into a darker world, seen through the eyes of its lead character, Dondi Vance, you won’t be disappointed. In his world of heroes and villains, Dondi’s racing to catch the light at the end of subway tunnel before everything around him goes dark. So, light up the blunt, throw on your shell-toed sneakers, and don’t forget to put on your fly Adidas track suit because, as a celebrated Hip Hop group once said, its time to get ill.