In Villainous Color: Bishop

Riverside muthafucka!

Juice is a definitive selection in the black experience pantheon. More specifically, Juice is in the upper echelons of films heralded as both critically sound and culturally relevant to black folk, youth, and New York.

Part of this is due to Tupac Shakur’s unforgettable presentation of the sociopathic Bishop.

Cunning, unpredictable, brash, and nearly heartless; Bishop is the gotdamn boogeyman.

There’s nothing scarier than Bishop. Nothing. Scarier.


Well, let’s start at the beginning: the boys represent different facets of nascent black manhood. Through their collective experiences, we are given a macrocosm of what it was (is) to be young, black, and male in New York in the early 90’s. From baby mama drama to petty theft to sexual encounters and creative passions and brotherhood, we get it all.

However, Bishop holds a special place within this macrocosm because he serves as both a foil for Quincy, and, is an embodiment of a masculinity that thrives off of death and violence. More specifically, Bishop’s identity is forever linked to proving oneself, often through violence. As such, he doesn’t fear death because even in dying he can find self-worth.

This crushing lack of self-esteem, matched with an increasingly hostile environment, births a character that is incredibly chilling. This is especially true as we see Bishop unravel and begin to embrace death as a means, and not necessarily an end. To this day, that scene of Bishop holding Raheem’s mother and then giving Q the evil eye is scary as shit. Worse even, his complete fabrication of sexing up some woman in the basement of Q’s event, with engrossing detail and smirks to boot, is horrifying. His disassociation from reality and pursuit of framing Q only add to this.

The psychology behind this is explained, but for those unfamiliar with the famous scene: He doesn’t care about himself. He only cares about ill-gotten glory, and a misshapen understanding of honor and respect. In the midst of the violence around him, he’s surmised that it is only through violence (to others or himself) that he may find anything worth living for.

Given all of his actions, at his core, this is what makes him scary.

Think about it: Bishop lives…to die.

And death does come for him by the end of the film. The tragedy of that is that his, and everyone’s deaths at his hands, are totally avoidable. But, within the narrative (and realistically), they are inevitable because if it wasn’t Bishop it’d be another misguided and wounded youth.

Thus, Bishop is a placeholder of sorts. A catchall for the criminalized youth, the child left behind, the kid who never had a chance. Of course, much like New Jack City‘s Nino Brown, Bishop is characterized for the purposes of rhetorical warning. A scarecrow on the fringes of culture used to frighten and alert us to the point after which there is no going back.

Sadly, while the cultural discussion and colloquialisms include this warning, Bishop and his ilk have often overtaken both as cinematic (anti)heroes of street life; veritable idols of a lifestyle forced upon countless poor folk (see: mostly black folk) in America. The problem here lies in the irony of that fact. Any variably sane person does not want Bishop in their lives. Or Nino Brown. Or Rico. Or O-Dog. And yet, they have had much more critical and cultural impact than the characters they serve to counterweight in these (a)moralistic narratives of street life.

In a sense then, this brings us to the whole point of this series. It’s often the villains, the anti-heroes, who have more impact. Not only because they’re often more colorful than their counterparts, but because of the drama and tension they bring to screen. The combination of the two elicits true and visceral emotion from us. Whether because we know of someone like said villain, or even worse, if we ourselves can identify those same traits within.

As our personal abysses stare back at us then, they threaten to swallow us. Even as we enjoy being spectators to fictional representations of it all. Thus we play a thin line, battling our own demons just as Q and Bishop duked it out on the roof. Ultimately, we can only hope to be Q at the end of the day and refuse to fall into the gaping mouth of nothingness that Bishop did.

these boots mine. The original Homeboy With A Keyboard ™,  dap wants to be an enigma, but he’s pretty transparent. A transplant from “Back East,” he found himself in Oakland writing about alla the fun things.  He’s in love with the coco(a) (skinned women and butter,) among other things.  Find his rants and retweetery @dapisdope

Leave a Reply