Openly taking its cues from Scarface, New Jack City was an ‘anti-drug’ movie about a group of young brothers in New York rising to the type of the drug game in the early years of hip hop. I openly admit this was a personal favorite of mine growing up as a teenager in the early 90s. But this is about the grand scheme of things. Anyway, on to the tale of the tape…
Relevance: The movie was directed by Mario Van Peebles, son of the godfather of indie black cinema, Melvin Van Peebles. While on the surface it’s a gangster film, the true ‘message’ of the film was how drugs (especially crack) was destroying the black community. Hard to argue against the relevance of that.
Legacy: There’s a lot of directions you can go in with this one. The film that established Ice-T’s career beyond being a hardcore rapper? Chris Rock’s best acting job (I would argue) as Pookie, the addict unable to perform? The film that really put Wesley over the top as a headliner? You could argue any of these and win.
Craft: A lot of 90s black movies don’t age that well over time, but New Jack City is still watchable. As mentioned with the Van Peebles connection (he also played one of the cops trying to bring Nino down) you had a man who knew the language of film and film acting. It was made as a genre film and it worked well for what it was trying to be.
Crossover: Um, the film, I don’t know. But the soundtrack had some hits. Pretty boy Christopher Williams “I’m Dreaming”, Ice-T’s “New Jack Hustler”, LeVert remaking their daddy’s “For the Love of Money.” I would say this was the best of the ‘hip hop soundtracks’ from this era, but as far as I’m concerned Above the Rim still holds that crown.
Apollo: Again, I can’t pick one. I’m preferential to the midnight Commission meeting (parodied so well on Martin), where Nino makes an example out of pretty boy Christopher Williams. The obligatory (at the time) Wesley Snipes sex scene was also Wow-worthy. Even the opening scene of the film, where Duh Duh Man and Nino drop a cat off a bridge was great, it let you know what you were getting into. I just thought of three more scenes as I write; this was a well done genre pic, I’ll say again.
Next on the film countdown will be a film that could have made the list on the Apollo factor alone. Back at the end of the month.