The Book of Melee: The Rise of Dr. PeePee

The following is an excerpt of “The Book of Melee,” my upcoming 150+ page account of competitive Super Smash Bros. Melee’s history.


Chapter 17

Kevin “Dr. PeePee” Nanney is an unusual case study of how to become the best Melee player in the world. Unlike Mango, Mew2King or Hungrybox, the North Carolina native came from an obscure Smash region. He also had an especially embarrassing tag – it came from an inside joke, referring to when he was younger and spilled juice on himself.

After years of casual play with Mario, Dr. PeePee stumbled onto videos of MLG era Melee around 2007. Fascinated by what he saw, he continued to watch the competitive scene from afar, furiously taking notes, learning about advanced techniques and thinking about Melee every day. He was hooked before he had ever entered a tournament.

“I spent more time than anyone else I can think of just recording matches versus my brother on my VCR, uploading it to my computer and watching it for hours,” he told Red Bull.

Dr. PeePee had seen success in other activities, like running, soccer and academics. According to him, he graduated with the fifth best grades in his high school class. Studying and hard work were nothing new to him.

In Melee, the star student found untapped strategy and potential. Rather than primarily seeking to become the best player in the world, he hungered to push his own limits, not just as a competitor, but as a student of the game.

Eventually switching to Falco and entering tournaments, within two years, Dr. PeePee became the best player in North Carolina. An active Smashboards user, he also slowly gained a reputation for being the hidden Melee guru of the Atlantic South, frequently discussing Melee’s intricacies online with whomever would engage with him.

There were still roadblocks – particularly his Floridian rival Hungrybox, who dominated him whenever they played. Moreover, as a college student pursuing a bachelor’s degree in psychology, Dr. PeePee knew traveling for Melee could be difficult.

Nevertheless, he persisted. With a dedication toward learning the rules of Melee, Dr. PeePee would be deterred by no one.

By mid-2009, Dr. PeePee already had a slew of victories, including wins over both of the East Coast’s top Captain Falcons, Scar and Hax. At Revival of Melee 2, his first-ever national, he finished second, defeating Lucky, Jman and the Mango-slayer Kage. He then took games off Hungrybox, showing signs of progress in a matchup he previously looked lost in.

Dr. PeePee’s Falco stood out from his contemporaries. He liked playing at medium and long-range distances, also boasting a better ground game than any other Falco, with a deadly dash dance that made his pinpoint lasers more threatening. In an age where Shiz, Zhu and other Falco players saw success, Dr. PeePee began to slowly stand out from the pack, leading many to wonder if he could soon reach an elite level.

He began taking sets from Hungrybox, winning North Carolina’s HERB3 over him in late March 2010. After a fourth place showing at Apex 2010, just under Mew2King, Armada and Hungrybox, Dr. PeePee looked ready for a greater breakout, one that would happen at Revival of Melee 3 in November.

After initially dropping a set in winner’s bracket to Toronto Sheik legend KirbyKaze,  Dr. PeePee clawed his way back to grand finals here, tearing through  Hungrybox, Jman  and KirbyKaze in the runback. His only opponent left was the tournament favorite, Mew2King.

Before grand finals, to the shock of everyone watching the two competitors, Mango announced to the venue that he was going to bet $50 on Dr. PeePee winning the tournament. Perhaps Mango noticed the same will to win in Dr. PeePee that he had in the past.

As the star of a new era clashing against an old guardian, Dr. PeePee battled Mew2King for  two fierce sets, finally coming out on top in a game-five classic  second set. His brilliant stage control and decision making surpassed the man who once looked like he had solved Melee.

Two months later, at the start of 2011, he traveled to San Diego for Winter Gamefest VI. The dorky Southern Falco with an even dorkier tag was suddenly the new kid on the block. Now competing on the other side of the country, Dr. PeePee prepared for a clash with Mango, his new mentor.

When the two played for the first time at Pound 4, Mango destroyed Dr. PeePee in friendly Falco dittos, casually three-stocking him. Nevertheless, his new apprentice remained determined as ever to improve, now listening to Mango’s advice for improving, and incorporating newer ideas of his own.

A year after Pound 4, they were now ready to play again in bracket at Winter Gamefest. Testing his own apprentice, Mango played Captain Falcon for most of their sets, as well as the tournament. Dr. PeePee would end up on top, not just beating the Captain Falcon, but staving off an effort from Mango’s Falco in grand finals.

With Hungrybox, Mew2King and Mango off his hit list, Dr. PeePee only had one name left among the Melee elite: Armada. At mid-February’s Pound V, 2011’s first supermajor, he’d get his shot against the Swede.

But first, the Swede needed to get far enough in bracket to play him.

After getting destroyed by Hungrybox at Apex 2010, nobody knew Armada’s plan leading up to Pound V. Most expected him to pick Fox against Hungrybox; others suggested that he’d try Ice Climbers.

When the stone-face Swede picked Young Link to start his winner’s bracket set against his nemesis, nearly everyone watching the set gasped. This marked the first time a player of Armada’s caliber had seriously picked a low tier in tournament since the MLG era, when ChuDat used to pick the same character against Peach. For the first few minutes of the match, people in the audience laughed and groaned at the heavily defensive, projectile-spamming, zoning heavy gameplay.

After four minutes passed, Armada’s brilliance began to show. The Swede started to run away with the first match, slowly gaining a big lead through the use of bombs, boomerangs and nimble movement to weave in and out from Jigglypuff’s aerial threatening space. This wasn’t a gimmick – this was the art of war.

Eight minutes later, Armada completed a double-two stock 2-0, with a simultaneously baffled and wildly cheering crowd. Soon following, he faced off against a red-hot Dr. PeePee, fresh off a 3-0 over Mew2King.

This was a set that featured Mew2King willingly falling off the stage to end a three-stock loss game one, rage quitting under a minute in game two and a final loss in game three. According to Dr. PeePee, the set made many smashers consider if Falco was the best character in the game.

Like Mango at Genesis, Dr. PeePee was the United States’ last defender against Armada. Meanwhile, Armada desperately looked for his first ever major victory in the United States, having already failed three times. The Swede ended up prevailing, eking out a close 3-1 set to make it to grand finals.

As he had done at Revival of Melee 3, Dr. PeePee rose from the ashes. Grinding out a 3-2 victory over Hungrybox in loser’s finals, he once again prepared for a rematch with the only player left in Melee’s stratosphere whom he hadn’t defeated.

Both Dr. PeePee and Armada came from regions that weren’t known for having any notable competition. Their rises came at unexpected times when no one had ever heard of them or where they came from. Because they were forced to improve on their own, both became known for their analysis, as well as their adaptation skills.

However, they still had their differences. Armada played reactively, picking “correct” options to earn his openings, extensively comboing his opponents and overwhelming his enemies through sheer willpower. Dr. PeePee excelled in the neutral game, frequently ending his combos early and hiding any technical errors through tactical genius, safe play and positional pressure. If Armada could break his opponents in just a flash of a few seconds, Dr. PeePee preferred to entirely dictate the pace of his matches.

Grand finals started off with with a bang. Dr. PeePee three-stocked Armada, locking him down and never letting him get a chance to start his combo game. American spectators began to cheer “USA,” just as they did with Mango at the first Genesis. Alongside this chant came a chant that became synonymous for following Dr. PeePee, “Stack it up!”

In a video of a North Carolina local grand finals, North Carolina Melee community leader MrBeenReady claimed that it came from two local smashers telling another group of people at a movie theater to “stack it up” in reference to the high prices for popcorn. Over time, it became a running gag, catchphrase, dance and chant. To date, however, many argue over its origin, with some saying it came from a fast food restaurant. 

Armada responded with a victory of his own, then defeating Dr. PeePee in game three to go up 2-1. Just like the first Genesis, the American defender stood on his last legs. Heading into possibly his last match of the tournament, Dr. PeePee went all out, intentionally opting to play off raw emotion and not overthink any more.

In game four, the two of them went blow-for-blow again, dragging each other to their last stock. The crowd screamed at every hit either one of them got, with the lights shutting off in the venue adding unintentional hype for a hollering packed group of spectators. In the closing seconds of match four, Dr. PeePee finally hit Armada with a final back air to catch his recovery, sending the set to its final game and leading to an eruption of applause from the heavily American crowd.

On Fountain of Dreams, the last game of the  set, the two once again pushed each other to their limits. One combo later, Dr. PeePee had taken a set from Armada for the first time ever, reset the bracket and now had another set to win. The Swede never recovered.

It wasn’t as dramatic as the first set of grand finals, but when Dr. PeePee followed  the reset with a 3-1 victory, it was official –  the man from nowhere had become the clear world No. 1. He had defeated each of his greatest challengers over the span of four months.

The Melee community boasted many talented players, with five names now standing above everyone else: Mango, Armada, Dr. PeePee, Hungrybox and Mew2King.

Inspired by a similar concept within the Street Fighter community, these group of players were eventually dubbed the “five gods” of Melee, known for their consistently high placings at supermajors and their remarkable consistency against the rest of Melee’s playing field.

It’s not clear when the term “god” started to catch on. Some think it came into fruition after Pound V, while others say it only became widespread after 2013, due to Scar’s frequent use of the term on commentary. To date, smashers argue over which of the “gods” were actually qualified for the title, as not all of them had an equal level of success.

By this point, the Melee community had already seen Mew2King and Mango rule the game. Hungrybox had his stretch of excellent play, while Dr. PeePee looked like the newest contender for Melee’s top spot.

Only one player among the Melee gods had not yet achieved an American title: the European wanderer himself, Armada.


Thanks for reading. The current release date is expected sometime in late August 2018. Stay tuned.

Kids See Ghosts: A Track-By-Track Review

For those who are long-time followers of my website, you may be surprised to see that I haven’t updated it with a post about my upcoming book. I’ve taken some time off from Melee writing to pursue my love for music. However, the new Kanye West-Kid Cudi collaboration finally lit the spark inside me to write about music.

I won’t beat around the bush – “Kids See Ghosts,” the self-titled debut of the new Kanye West-Kid Cudi collaboration, is the best release from either artist in years. It’s probably my favorite hip hop album in recent memory.

The stunning return to form is remarkable for West, but it’s even more so for Cudi. If you don’t believe me, listen to the 2015 Cudi release, “Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven,” an album so bad, it garnered a rare zero rating from music critic Anthony Fantano.

That said, let’s take a look, track-by-track, at “Kids See Ghosts.”

Feel The Love

“Feel The Love” starts off with a simple bassline and a gospel-like hook by Kid Cudi ( “I can still feel the love”) before Pusha T drops a badass, braggadocio, intro verse to the album. In standard Pusha fashion, he talks about his fame and history of dealing drugs, but he also sneaks in a clever Eazy-E reference. Not exactly anything jaw-breaking, but if you like Pusha, you’ll dig this verse.

When Pusha finishes a line with the words, “trap music,” that’s when the real meat of the song kicks in. West starts doing this onomatopoeia bit, but it’s not eye roll-worthy like “Lift Yourself,” a West single released earlier in the year. It’s far more aggressive, sounding like mimicked gun noises and now backed up by forceful, loud, adrenaline-pumping drums.

With Cudi’s soulful vocals, these elements create a larger-than-life starpower reminiscent of songs from 2010 West classic “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.” All the emotions “Feel The Love” evokes from you are that level of magnified, but you only get less than three minutes before the album takes you to its next destination.

Fire

“Fire” is shorter in length, but it isn’t as in-your-face as “Feel The Love.” There’s marching band-esque vibes, with a 1966 sample of Jerry Samuels’ “They’re Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa.” It’s an artistically fitting choice because Samuels’ song reflects  an individual’s struggle with mental health, a prominent theme over this stage of West’s and Cudi’s careers.

Along with a twangy guitar lick in the back comes a flute-like melody between West and Cudi’s contemplative lines, which detail their status, but also their failures. Both sound like they have been beaten down over the last few years – and they have been – but they’re trying their best to stand up again.

Suddenly, “Fire” transitions to a seemingly out-of-nowhere Louis Prima sample.

4th Dimension

It’s not every day that you get to hear a 1930s Christmas song used in a hip hop song, but somehow West and Cudi use one to make an absolutely killer track. As soon as I heard the drop, I immediately thought to myself, “oh shit.”

“4th Dimension” has shades of the 2013 West classic, “Black Skinhead,” but it’s even more menacing. West’s lines in this song are so ridiculous they make you laugh (“It feels so good, it should cost/Bought her alligator, I ain’t talkin’ Lacoste”) and have overt sexual imagery (“She seem to make me always feel like a boss/She said I’m in the wrong hole, I said I’m lost”). This is the trademark West we know, hate and love.

Following West’s grand entry, the background transitions into this strange, horrifying, psychedelic laughing track, with the heartbeat-like bass still pushing the song onward. Cudi’s verse follows, but the subject material is far darker than the lines of excess we heard before. Cudi talks about sin and losing everything he had for fame. He even reflects on his drug abuse, along with his depression, creating a stark, but intentional juxtaposition with West.

Clocking in once again at just under three minutes, “4th Dimension” has a strange ending: a Shirley Ann Lee line from her song, “Someday,” which is also sampled in “Ghost Town,” from West’s previous 2018 album “Ye.” This segues into the most memorable song on “Kids See Ghosts.”

Freeee (Ghost Town Pt. 2)

After a brief build up, “Freeee” starts with heavy guitar chords, a hard-hitting drum track and a recorded Marcus Garvey excerpt, in which the famous Pan-Africanist leader asks his listeners to acquire an understanding of themselves. Already, you know you’re in for a listening experience unlike any other.

“I don’t feel pain any more,” West calls out, as if he’s simultaneously in the heavens, but staring down into hell. He continues with a “I feel free,” with emphasis, distortion and a stretched out echo on the last word, eliciting both nightmarish dread and divine euphoria to the listener.

The song continues with similar vocals from Ty Dolla $ign and Cudi. There’s even a brief interlude, in which the percussion completely stops, but a few heavy synth chords match melodic and angelic vocals of “I feel free,” parallel to the all-encompassing, lower-pitched, and demonic sounds from before.

I could write an essay about this song, but no words can do it justice. If there’s one track from “Kids See Ghosts” to listen to, it’s this one.

Reborn

It’s hard to follow the dynamic “Freeee,” but Cudi and West somehow manage to do it with an uplifting, static, but motivational track in “Reborn.” It focuses on the idea of rebirth through adversity, learning from your mistakes and moving forward, as Cudi sings in the chorus (“I’m so, I’m so reborn/I’m moving forward”).

The drums stay as prominent as ever, though they’re subdued, slower, yet still impactful. Similarly, a simple piano line replaces the tantalizing guitars from before.

Cudi and West have especially poignant verses. West (“I was off the meds, I was called insane/What an awesome thing, engulfed in shame”) captures his public struggle with bipolar disorder, while Cudi offers an uplifting resolution to his existential crisis (“At times, wonder my purpose/Easy then to feel worthless/But, peace is something that starts with me”).

Kids See Ghosts

Like “Reborn,” the self-titled track is mostly static, but it’s no breather. Instead, the percussion drives the pulse of the song forward, as if it’s running into a great void.

Mos Def guest stars in a hushed chorus with a repetitive emphasis on the phrase, “kids see ghosts sometimes.” Reportedly, the inspiration for the title came from how children can see, both literally and figuratively, what adults can’t. Both West and Cudi are still dealing with the ramifications behind their respective parent’s deaths, so the name is somewhat fitting.

Cudi’s first verse is a calm, soothing, but still haunting self-reflection. In direct contrast to his optimism from the previous track, he ends his “Kids See Ghosts” verse in ominous, chilling fashion (“I guessing I’m just sick of running/All this time searching hard for something/I can hear the angels coming”). At least in how I interpreted the line, it felt like a callback to 2016, when Cudi checked himself into rehab for suicidal urges.

West then delivers a fast-paced stream of consciousness that’s more in line with the track’s speed, but detached from its emotional resonance. He mentions the time he took to make music (“Well it took me long enough to rap on this strong enough”), reconciles his faith with his actions (“Constantly repenting cause yes, I never listen”) and briefly shills for his own fashion and art sense. Honestly, it’s all over the place; I’m not sure how it fits into the rest of the song, even as a point of comparison, but it’s also Kanye West, so one of these is expected per album.

Cudi Montage

The album’s conclusion begins with an affecting loop of “Burn in the Rain,” a posthumous Kurt Cobain recording released after artist Cobain’s death. Notoriously, the grunge star committed suicide at the peak of his career, making Cudi and West’s use of the sample even more powerful, or at least infinitely better than Cudi’s poor attempt at a Cobain imitation across much of “Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven.”

Following a few opening lines by Cudi, West once again delivers bars that are among the best of his career. It’s not a personal verse though – it’s more like “College Dropout” era Kanye, as he references gang violence, the desire for revenge, the institutional systems that lead them to it and pain caused from all three areas (“All growing up in environment/Where doin’ crime the requirement/They send us off to prison for retirement”). While it’s not thematically consistent with the personal narratives of the album, it’s still among my favorite moments of the album, as it shows West can still offer valuable social insight.

At just over 23 minutes, “Kids See Ghosts” is a brilliant, heart breaking, but inspirational experience. It showcases Cudi and West confronting their flaws in a unique and unforgettable manner, bringing out their greatest strengths. After having heard it for about a week straight, I’m still floored at its sheer cohesiveness and artistic value; I can’t stop listening to it.

It’s a tough time to be a West fan. His music stayed strong, but relatively underwhelming for his standards since 2010. Moreover, between openly supporting Donald Trump and making poorly thought out statements about slavery, his public antics made many question their fandom. I would have liked to see West take back his previous statements, or at least take direct ownership of them and closely examine why many of his fans felt betrayed.

Then again, whether or not he’s obligated to explain his beliefs, maybe he’s already done it. On “Wouldn’t Leave,” a “Ye” song dedicated to how his flair for needless controversy caused conflict in his family, he at least made a self-aware effort to address his penchant for saying, frankly, stupid shit (“I said ‘slavery a choice’ – they said ‘how, Ye?’ / Just imagine if they caught me on a wild day”). I’m not impressed by it, but perhaps others are.

I also can’t repeat enough that at least “Yeezus,” “The Life of Pablo” and “Ye” were still acceptable releases for West fans. Cudi’s “Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven” sincerely made me think that Cudi lost his mind. This is the third time I’ve mentioned this album, but it’s that mindbogglingly terrible, to the point to where Cudi’s 2016 subsequent release, the forgettable “Passion, Pain & Demon Slayin’,” doesn’t even register in my mind as a Cudi album. As far as I could have previously told, the artist was dead.

Ever hear the cliche, “don’t call it a comeback?” I’m calling “Kids See Ghosts” a comeback.

It’s the clear frontrunner for best hip hop album of the year and I can’t wait to see what West, Cudi or both have in store next.

9/10