1993 can seem so long ago. Vanilla Ice and MC Hammer were still considered relevant. Snoop Lion was Snoop Doggy Dogg. A Tribe Called Quest was still together before one of the times they broke up. Bill Clinton was newly elected to his first term as President. The Buffalo Bills were perennial Super Bowl losers. Saturday Night Live cast members included Chris Farley, Dana Carvey, Mike Myers, David Spade, Adam Sandler, Rob Schneider, Tim Meadows, Kevin Nealon, Phil Hartman, and the brilliantly hilarious Chris Rock.
Chris Rock teamed up with esteemed scribe Nelson George to write a mockumentary about rap, a culture which at that point was in its early teens. But even at the young age, there were hip-hop tropes to mock, styles to laugh at, and rappers to laugh with, and Rock and George hit each one square on the head with their film, CB4, which celebrates its 21st anniversary this week.
The sharply funny story of how Albert (Chris Rock), Euripedes (Allen Payne), and Otis (Deezer D) turn into MC Gusto, Dead Mike, and Stab Master Arson, collectively the planet's most gangster rappers, was not only a jaw-dropping take on hip-hop then, but extremely incredible in how close it would be to reality in 2014. (Or maybe it's incredible how close 2014 comes to 1993?) So come along with a crazy motherfucker named Gusto as Complex explores the 17 Ways CB4 Predicted Rap Today.
Written by Eric Rosenthal and Jeff Rosenthal (@ItsTheReal)
Rappers have their own personal film crews follow them around
Scene from the movie: A. White documents MC Gusto behind-the-scenes
Real life examples: From Coodie and Chike (Kanye) to SpiffTV Films and Dre Films (Rick Ross)
While no one in 1993 could have predicted the idea of YouTube, not to mention the sheer breadth and user-friendliness of the tool, CB4 was extremely forward thinking in terms of giving MC Gusto his own documentary team, led by A. White (Chris Elliott). A. White, in an effort to put the guys from Cell Block 4 in the best light, fully commits to capturing MC Gusto's captivating story, be it through snow, sleet, or raining bullets.
And in 2014, if a rapper doesn't have a professional videographer—or at least a friend with an iPhone—recording each and every moment on stage, in the studio, on the tour bus, and fan interaction, is that person really a rapper? So much of hip-hop today is perception, and when building up a persona, trumping up a back story, and establishing a career, rapping might not be a rapper's best bet. Having a member of your entourage who can navigate Final Cut Pro is more important than a hypeman.
Suspicious record sales celebrated by the music industry
Scene from the movie: Trustus Jones spray painting a record gold
Real life examples: Record companies buying back records
Rule number-one in marketing? Be number-one in sales. It's a self-reinforcing cycle: a good weekend at the box office leads to a great selling point; a great selling point means another solid weekend at the box office. But record albums aren't as easily moved as movie tickets: no one goes to the record store each week, looks down the list and says, "Well, there's an album I want that's unavailable at this time—but what can I buy now?"
So, sometimes the best way to ensure popularity is for a record company to fake it. And the best way to do that? Buy back large quantities of the albums they ship! (Def Jam was long accused of doing this, years ago; so was Massachusetts rapper Sammy Adams, when he—out of nowhere—landed on the top of the iTunes charts in 2010.) If it sounds like conspiracy theory, it might be. Especially now, when record labels simply don't have that kind of money to throw around. Maybe they should take a note from CB4's manager Trustus Jones, who—when we first meet him—is spray painting records gold. Much cheaper!
Hip-hop groupies aren't to be trusted
Scene from the movie: Sissy says to the other girls on the video set, "See this watch? This is what the right picture of the right man doing the wrong thing can get you...It's fine and dandy to go out with these guys, and it's fine and dandy to drive around in their car and have them take you to an expensive restaurant for dinner, but if all you get out of it is a fuck, then youse a Ho."
Real life examples: Superhead, Kat Stacks
It's a tale as old as time: Eve meets Adam in the Garden of Eden, uses her feminine ways (and perhaps a piece of blackmail) to get a Daytona rose gold Rolex with a black face, a good Fendi fur, some Tom Ford thigh highs, and a crocodile Birkin, and then leaves Adam for the next guy, all while blabbing about being in God's image.
CB4 struck the exact right tone back in 1993, writing the script for girls like Kat Stacks. Video sets today, just as they were 20 years ago, are filled with ladies who're on a mission to parlay a 2-second on-screen cameo into a car, some jewelry, or a baby to keep the money rolling in. (What CB4 couldn't predict: video budgets taking a nosedive in the mid-aughts, resulting in lesser-quality everything, including leading ladies.)
Record companies completely overvaluing new artists
Artists stealing real criminals' names
Scene from the movie: MC Gusto says, "We take Gusto's image, right? Make ourselves into hardcore rappers. Then we take stories from Gusto's life, get Trustus Jones to handle it..."
Real life examples: Rick Ross, 50 Cent
Now this is where you say that writers Chris Rock and Nelson George were not only brilliant, but most likely clairvoyant. In 1993, when you're in a movie theater (way before Netflix) enjoying your reasonably-priced popcorn with lots of butter (way before trans-fats), and a extra-large soda (way before Bloomberg) and you see Chris Rock's character unknowingly aid the police in bringing down the way-cooler, street-certified, gangsta/club owner Gusto, you chuckle because it's a funny, clearly scripted moment.
Then, when Chris Rock's character formulates a plan to borrow Gusto's name and credibility while the real Gusto is in jail, you guffaw because it's so far-fetched! And after MC Gusto and his crew become super-famous off the name and image, and the real Gusto fights to get his name back, you wave it off because this could never happen.
Flash forward to 2014, and see that Rick Ross (the rapper) has successfully won a court case over "Freeway" Rick Ross (the real drug trafficker upon which the rapper's stage name was based), letting Rick Ross (the rapper) keep the name and all monies associated with it. The next move is obviously to find Chris Rock and/or Nelson George and buy lotto tickets as a group.
Eventually, real gangsters get fed up and come running for you
Scene from the movie: When Gusto starts shooting up MC Gusto's car
Real life examples: Rick Ross' shooting incident
Children can play dress-up all they want, the gangs of Imagination Land never come gunning for your head. Less understanding are the real-life hustlers and bosses of the criminal underworld, who have lived the lives people fantasize about. And so when someone like—say, as an example—Rick Ross goes on and on about how he's just like Larry Hoover (the "chairman" of the Gangster Disciples), there exist many people who have a problem with that.
On his Black Bar Mitzvah mixtape, Ross used the six-pointed Jewish Star of David; maybe not-so-coincidentally, the GD's use the six-pointed star in their imagery, the pamphlets they hand out or whatever. They advised him to pay dues to the organization; he did not. Death threats were issued, repeatedly throughout late 2012. Concert dates were canceled. In January 2013, he was shot at in Fort Lauderdale. In February, the NYPD offered him round-the-clock protection. Similarly, MC Gusto quite literally took Gusto's identity...and a few of his bullets to the side of his car. Oh, and he had his house broken into. Is it still fun to play dress up when you have to wear a bulletproof vest?
Rappers make easy political points for the right wing
Scene from the movie: Virgil Robinson tells a crowd, "Through rap music evil influences have invaded our castles. Representatives of a demon culture that must be stopped at all costs."
Real life examples: Bill O'Reilly going after Luda, Nas, Jay, etc.
Right-wingers typically haven't been fans of rap music (publicly). They've tried to pigeonhole hip-hop as the opposite side of family values, and have largely run away from the culture on the whole, much to their detriment. And just as we see in CB4 with Virgil Robinson (Phil Hartman), a politician out to score points, rappers become an easy target. They use language the old White folks don't understand, they incite dancing and playful grabbing that the old White folks blanch at, and worst of all: the old White folks' kids like it!
While on the whole, the nation has undergone a Tanning (copyright Steve Stoute) over the last 20 years, there still is that segment of the population that watches Fox News in 2014 and runs for cover every time Bill O'Reilly freaks out about Jay Z and Beyoncé traveling to Cuba, or Common reading poetry at the White House.
Rappers get out of interviews by saying utter nonsense or just walking out
Scene from the movie: MC Gusto talks with The Source reporter
Real life examples: Rick Ross' Noisey interview
There are so many ways for rappers to get out of interviews. Obviously the best-known tactic? Be super vague and run out the clock; stonewall with catchphrases and other empty words. ("At the end of the day" is especially popular.) In CB4, Dead Mike turns Afrocentric and MC Gusto turns antagonistic, accusing the female interviewer of being a slut. ("Man, she ain't nuttin' but a groupie with a pen.") He walks off. In 2014, the best way to duck questions is to say you're done.
When Noisey's Ernest Baker attempted to segue Rick Ross into talking about his complicated relationship with Reebok, the conversation was finished as soon as it had begun:
Baker: Nah, a n***a had Rees in like middle school, when the Pumps came out, I know what it's about.
Ross: Yeah, classic. [Handler to Def Jam employee, when I'm obviously about to start talking about the controversy and him losing his endorsement: You got the next one?] Much love. Great interview. Wish you much success.
Baker: Yeah, man. Same. You don't have time for a couple more questions?
Ross: We got a couple n***as waiting, man.
Clearly, the best way to end an interview now is to end an interview right now.
Rappers trying out different fads in order to find their voice
Scene from the movie: CB4's stage show at Gusto's, prior to becoming CB4
Real life examples: Tyga
CB4 wasn't born CB4. (One could argue that "MC Gusto," "Dead Mike," and "Stab Master Arson" were never actually CB4.) But along the way, the guys once known as Albert, Euripedes, and Otis had to figure out who they were. And that took some trial and error, from their tribute to RUN-D.M.C. in the car, to their ill-fated stage shows at Gusto's, sporting different get-ups and using different rap styles, to no avail. It was only later on, when Albert stole Gusto's moxie, that the group came into their own.
Things aren't that different in 2014, where artists need to grow up before they take center stage, or else their flip-flopping will be on center stage for everyone to see... like Tyga, who's had lots of different personas; he went from being MTV's guy to being Pete Wentz's guy to being Lil Wayne's guy to being Kanye's guy. What a guy!
Rappers sit counting money all day for no real reason
Scene from the movie: MC Gusto counts money in a meeting with A. White
Real life examples: Just Google the words "Gucci Mane money" or "50 Cent money"
As a kid, nothing beat being the Monopoly banker. Not only did you have the money, but—if spread the right way—you had a fan. Every kid did that thing where they fanned themselves with $4,000 of play money and acted like they were the shit for being just good enough at math to sit behind the plastic thing. A lot of rappers have not outgrown this tendency: in an industry where everyone feels an obsessive need to flaunt wealth at all times, how could you expect them to act any different?
It's something one sees in almost any rap video. As often as Birdman rubs his hands together, 50 Cent counts money. In fact, his video for "Money" lasts for 3:40. For those three minutes and forty seconds, he and two semi-nude girls sit on a bed and count money, over and over and over. They just can't figure out how much they have! Maybe they simply have too much money to count; maybe they just don't have their short-term memory under control. If so, maybe they should see a doctor.
Being put in the Hannibal Lector costume still looks cool
Scene from the movie: When they arrest Gusto
Real life examples: Boosie's "Mind of A Maniac" Video, Joe Budden's Padded Room album cover
The soothsayers behind 1993's CB4 have been spot-on a number of times so far, so it wouldn't be surprising if they might predict the clothing that'd be popular 20 years later. And wouldn't you know it, we're currently in a cycle of 1990's nostalgia, from music to language to style!
For instance, when Gusto is hauled out of his own club by the police, what's he wearing? That's right: a Hannibal Lecter outfit, much like Lil Boosie would wear in his 2008 video, "Mind of a Maniac", and that Joe Budden would rock in his 2009 video for "In My Sleep." Though not every clothing trend has translated. To be fair, MC Gusto, Dead Mike, and Stab Master Arson would NEVER be caught in a Joe Budden-style vest.
Rappers getting gold teeth
Scene from the movie: MC Gusto's teeth at 32:20
Real life examples: ASAP Ferg, ASAP Rocky, Kanye, etc.
No, Paul Wall and TV Johnny did not invent the grill. In the 1980s and '90s, New York's Eddie Plein started the trend, drilling gold in the mouths of Big Daddy Kane and Flavor Flav, and later Outkast, Ludacris, and Lil Jon (after moving to Atlanta). A few years passed before Nelly hopped on "Grillz," and that's when things went...awry: the Wikipedia entry for "Grill (Jewelry)" lists such diamond-toothed aficionados as Marilyn Manson, Travis Barker, "members of the metal band Avenged Sevenfold," and Ryan Lochte.
And that's even before A$AP Rocky brought back the simple gold fronts for "Purple Swag," before Kanye strapped on his gold mouthguard, and before Madonna came in and made it uncool.
Rappers doing a lot of writing in prison, probably on toliet paper
Scene from the movie: MC Gusto goes to jail
Real life examples: Lil Boosie claims he wrote 1,018 songs while in jail
When MC Gusto is sent to jail in CB4, he's put into general population, where he encounters the worst: autograph seekers and artists looking to audition their rhymes. But knowing that he'll have to pass the time somehow, MC Gusto gets to work, putting pen to pad—or rather, pen to toilet paper—and writing poetry. Reading from a roll of single-ply, he states, "Just because I had the cash, doesn't mean I killed his ass; I didn't do it. Just because the blood was in my hands, doesn't mean I stabbed the man; I didn't do it."
In 2014, celebrated Louisiana rapper Lil Boosie was set free after 52 months behind bars. When asked at a press conference celebrating his release whether he'd had any conjugal visits, Boosie replied that he visited with himself. When asked how many songs he'd written in jail, he stated, "1,018." When Complex went to press, there was no word on whether either situation with Booise involved toilet paper.
Rappers getting stuck up at home
Scene from the movie: Gusto goes to MC Gusto's house
Real life examples: Soulja Boy's 2009 home invasion
The Notorious B.I.G. told some great stories, perhaps none greater than when—in "Gimme the Loot"—he says, "I'm slamming n****s like Shaquille, shit is real / When it's time to eat a meal, I rob and steal / Cause mom dukes ain't giving me shit / So for the bread and butter I leave n****s in the gutter." Ha-ha-ha, what fun to listen to.
When Gusto approaches MC Gusto in his own home and tells him to quit stealing his character? Sorta funny, but sorta...uncomfortable. When it happens to Soulja Boy? Yikes. In 2009, after an album release party held in his home, some guys kicked in the door and put guns to the heads of SODMG members, looking for money, jewelry, and other valuables (white-rimmed glasses?) he might've had. It must've been a scary site. Luckily, no one was hurt in the process. But Soulja was quoted saying “One dude ran in put the AK to my homeboy head, put him on the floor.”
Rappers get spiritual and don't wanna rap no more
Rappers dressing like women
Scene From The Movie: When MC Gusto dresses as Sissy
Real life examples: Hopsin, Lil Wayne's jeggings, Young Thug's skirts
We all have reasons for wearing the things we wear: for instance, I put on a coat when it gets cold. In CB4, in an elaborate and probably unnecessary twist, Albert dresses up in Sissy's skimpy pink lingerie in order to arrest Gusto for escaping from jail. (Why they couldn't have arrested Gusto without this adventure into cross-dressing, we'll never know.)
Anyway: that does little to explain why Young Thug wears skirts or Lil Wayne tights. Fashion is like an umbrella; it covers everything and everyone. It'd be nice if there were some higher purpose, like one of those rappers working with the FBI to bring down corruption on Wall Street.
The Hip-Hop Retirement Home
Scene from the movie: The Hip Hop Retirement Home
Real life examples: VH1's Programming
Writers Chris Rock and Nelson George recognized in 1993 that not only was hip hop going through it's first generational shift, but that this was no fad; hip hop was definitely here to stay, which meant that the genre would survive at least long enough to establish an assisted living center for the OGs when the time was right.
A Hip Hop Retirement Home would be a place for those folks who helped create and defined a certain era of the culture, to operate and live out their later years. They'd be amongst friends, they'd recall fond memories, they'd snap on each other. It'd be an extension of the rap lives; a chance to live on. What Rock and George could never have imagined though... that place for forgotten rap stars would be called: VH1.