Hip-hop at the Movies

Rappers produce reel profits on the silver screen

at the box office.

Because of the success of those movies, Ice Cube’s production company, Cube Vision, has been able to snare some of the biggest budgets to produce movies aimed at African Americans. New Line spent $22.9 million to make the action comedy, All About the Benjamins, which like the Friday trilogy, was produced by and starred Ice Cube. In its first two weeks Benjamins grossed $18 million. “Cube brought that to us as a complete film,” says Emmerich. “He said, ‘Here is the script. I want Kevin Bray to direct. Are you guys in?’”

Ice Cube’s upcoming Friday After Next has a budget exceeding the gross profits of Next Friday. New Line plans to spend north of $60 million to make and market the film, which is scheduled for release in November release. The studio upped the ante because Ice Cube’s success rate is so high. “Cube has a .750 batting average. In baseball, if you bat a .400, you are going to the hall of fame. A guy like that you want to keep saying yes to,” says Emmerich. Universal has been following the trend by attempting to mine such potential in Def Jam artists Method Man and Redman. (The company provided a $12 million bankroll for the duo’s film How High, which grossed $31 million when it was released earlier this year.)

FIGHTING THE POWER
But Ice Cube is clearly an exception to the rule. Hollywood studios are still resistant to giving African American filmmakers the benjamins they need for film production and marketing–rappers or not. Love and a Bullet’s Ramsey says hip-hop artists don’t always translate into financing. “We put up the budget out of our pockets,” he says. “Screen Gems just stepped in and bought and distributed it.”

Veteran filmmaker Ernest Dickerson’s challenge was gaining a sufficient marketing push to ensure that Bones, a horror film starring rapper Snoop Dogg, was a hit. “The budget for Bones was $10 million, and it grossed around $2.5 [million opening weekend],” says Dickerson, who also wrote and directed Juice. New Line’s marketing execs, he maintains, took the approach of, “Put a rapper in a film, and the audience will come.” But this field-of-dreams strategy left theaters with empty seats since fans didn’t know Bones had been released, says Dickerson. “I had people call me weeks after the film was out of the theater and ask me when is the movie coming out.”

In defending New Line’s strategy, Emmerich says it “tested the movie, and the only audiences that really liked and supported Bones tended to be younger African Americans.” As a result, the movie received weak marketing support and limited theater release.

The films that produce the greatest commercial success are those that make full use of a hip-hop artist’s celebrity and talent. For example, when Warner Bros. marketed Exit Wounds, not only did the studio prominently feature DMX in the film’s trailer and on the poster (above Steven Seagal) it also used the rapper’s hit single, No Sunshine, in television commercials and

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