In the early ’90s, hip-hop was going through a series of changes. A decade after its birth, the genre already had a handful of big hits and a variety of bona fide stars—N.W.A, LL Cool J, Public Enemy, Run-DMC, Queen Latifah, and countless others. Still, challenges lay ahead.
There was the issue of radio. Pop stations only played non-threatening rap (think DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince’s “Parents Just Don’t Understand”) when they played it at all, while black stations restricted rap airplay to nighttime and weekends. There was cultural appropriation (i.e. Vanilla Ice). There were sampling lawsuits—most notably against Biz Markie, which affected how the music itself was made—and other changes, too. In 1990, the lyrics on 2 Live Crew’s third album were declared obscene by a federal court judge (though the ruling was appealed and overturned).
These problems, among others, are explored in writer Dan Charnas’ 2010 tome, The Big Payback, the inspiration for VH1’s forthcoming original movie, The Breaks. The film, airing Monday, Jan. 4, at 9 p.m. on VH1, is set during the summer of 1990, and in it, the characters confront these problems. Charnas, an executive producer on the project, talked to us about those concerns.