Twenty five years ago, a heartless Harlem native slung a sharply-dressed adversary over the Queensboro Bridge and pacified the man’s shrieking fear with a callous shrug: “Don’t start bitching up now.” A gangly drug addict was trapped in the vice grip of crack cocaine and made sure just about everyone was aware how much “it just keeps calling” him. Plus, the question “Am I Brother’s Keeper?” bounced from a silver screen and into the minds of an entire generation.
In 1991, “New Jack City” hit theaters and, well, nothing was the same. Other than turning the table on America and reminding everyone how it eats its young, the film shattered expectations and mended a gem that continues to stand the test of time. Wesley Snipes, Ice T, Vanessa Williams, Allen Payne, Chris Rock are just some of the many figures within this all-star cast that helped turn a street noir into a long-lasting mouthpiece for Ghetto America.
With so many layers to its madness, REVOLT took a trip back to The Carter to uncover some of the many notable gems from the brilliantly written and perfectly portrayed masterpiece, “New Jack City.”
Ice-T’s First Foray As A Cop
Known for his hardcore gangster raps, and two appearances in Breakin’ and Breakin’ 2, Ice-T’s first major acting role was as Detective Scotty Appleton in "New Jack City." Ice would further this plane of his career with appearances in the film "Trespass," and on the popular police procedural New York Undercover (even killing New Jack co-star Michael Michele on the program) before landing a role on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Since his 2000 debut as Fin Tutuola, Ice’s seasoned detective has become a mainstay in the Law & Order universe and one of the series’ most popular characters in its seventeen-season run. Ice-T’s come a long way from “6 in the morning, police at my door, fresh Adidas squeak across the bathroom floor.”
Chris Rock’s First Major Film Role
The comedian we’ve come to respect as a legend, over a multi-decade career, played the ill-fated Benny Robinson, best known as Pookie. Due to "New Jack City’s" popularity and subject matter, The Notorious B.I.G. even referenced the character on his 1994 track "Suicidal Thoughts," “you see it’s kinda like the crack did to Pookie, in New Jack.” At the time, Rock had made appearances in "Beverly Hills Cop II" and as the scene-stealing rib joint customer in "I’m Gonna Git You Sucka," as well as playing on Saturday Night Live. Rock’s career would take off during the 1990’s, earning positive reception for his HBO series, "The Chris Rock Show," and a string of successful movies. More recently, the comedian earned critical praise for his film 2014 film "Top Five," which he wrote and directed.
“Sit Yo’ Five Dollar Ass Down Before I Make Change”
Nino Brown’s gathering in the aftermath of The Carter being destroyed is an iconic one. From the growling dog, to the all-black attire, the scene even spawned the classic line “sit yo’ five dollar ass down before I make change.” The only scene that can rival the one in this picture is a parody sequence in a 1994 episode of Martin, titled ‘Suspicious Minds’:
‘New Jack City’ Is Mario Van Peebles Directorial Feature Debut
Mario Van Peebles carved his name in pop culture with this 1991 crime drama. Peebles, the son of legendary filmmaker Melvin, crafted "New Jack City" with screenwriter Barry Michael Cooper, in addition to playing the role of Stone, a cop leading the anti-Cash Money Brothers unit. With a career as both an actor and filmmaker, Peebles has the ability to transcend genres, having participated in fantasy and action pictures, as well as directing films that focused on the Black Panther movement.
Wesley Snipes: From ‘New Jack’ To ‘Jungle Fever’
Just months after the release of "New Jack City," Wesley Snipes starred in the romantic drama, "Jungle Fever." His character, Flipper, is the total opposite of Nino Brown, and if anything, it’s a testament to Snipes’ ability as an actor. Unfortunately for Flipper, his brother Gator is a junkie in the height of the crack epidemic.
“You Are Now About To Witness The Strength Of Street Knowledge”
The opening of the film makes use of the popular N.W.A. quote uttered on "Straight Outta Compton." In addition to the words of Dr. Dre, the epilogue helps bookend the film’s inglorious subject matter: “Although this is a fictional story, there are Nino Browns in every major city in America. If we don't confront the problem realistically—without empty slogans and promises—then drugs will continue to destroy our country.” That’s real.
The rap comedy flick focused on a group of wannabe rappers, played by Chris Rock and Allen Payne. The pair play best friends in the movie but if you’re feeling trivial, you’ll know that Payne’s character as Gee Money in New Jack City discovers that Pookie is an informant for the police and ultimately kills him. Rock’s character Albert compares the character of Gusto to Nino Brown. In addition to the casting, Rock re-enacted the sequence that featured Pookie relapsing and getting high.
Star-Studded Soundtrack Topped Chart
Fairly an amalgamation of hip-hop, R&B and house, the 11-song soundtrack spawned three hits, including Christopher Williams’ chart-topper “I’m Dreamin.” Ice T, Keith Sweat, Johnny Gill, Color Me Badd, Troop/Levert, Guy, and Queen Latifah all make appearances on the film’s score. The soundtrack went on to peak at No. 1 and 2 on Billboard’s R&B and 200 album charts, respectively.
Judd Nelson (Ice T’s Cop Partner) Originally Played John Bender On "The Breakfast Club"
Six years after stealing the show as badboy John Bender in 1985’s “The Breakfast Club,” Judd Nelson flips the script in this crime drama as Judd Nelson, where he plays a cop and still keeps that maverick sensibility in tact.
Cameos And Songs Performed By Keith Sweat, Guy, Troop And Levert
Filmed during one of the most exciting eras in music with the bloom of New Jack Swing and hip-hop “New Jack City” was built over a foundation of music. In addition to its star-studded soundtrack, the film itself featured various cameos and performances from acts such as Keith Sweat, Guy, Troop, Levert, Flavor Flav,
Vivica Fox Auditioned For Keisha Role
Before Vanessa Williams wowed viewers with her stunning portrayal of the heartless Keisha, Vivica Fox happened to be in the running for the role. In a recent interview with Ambrosia For Heads, the film’s screenwriter Barry Michael Cooper revealed that Fox gave an “incredible” audition. “She killed it. It was just that she was on her soap opera at the time, called Generations. She wasn’t really that known,” he said. “She had the New York accent and everything; she just didn’t get [the part].” Years later Fox would set it all the way off in “Set It Off” as a wicked gangstress. “Rock-A-Bye baby!”
Martin Lawrence Was Originally Casted As “Pookie”
The role of “Pookie” almost called Martin Lawrence. Before Chris Rock would play everyone’s favorite feen, the original hire happened to be Martin, who went to auditions and secured the role of “Pookie.” However, the actor-and-comedian backed out last minute due to an emergency. “Chris Rock was not the original “Pookie,”” said Cooper to Ambrosia For Heads. “Martin came in… Martin may have auditioned before [Rock], because the late George Jackson, God rest his soul, and Doug McHenry, they were the producers. Martin Lawrence, he came in and killed that audition.”
But what happened was, his mentor Robin Harris died [in March of 1990]. Martin, he didn’t take it well. So he opted out of the movie,” added Cooper. “He stepped out of the movie, and that’s when they gave the role to Chris Rock. So when people talk about that “New Jack City” [“Suspicious Minds”] episode on Martin, he never forgot that movie, man!”
Upon Opening, Warner Bros. Suggested Theaters In Gang-Infested Areas To Double Security
Upon its nationwide cinema release, many of the film’s showings were dealt with violence in the theaters. As the film’s opening coincidently took place five days after the infamous Rodney King beating, incidents included the death of an 19-year-old man, while in line in New York, a melee in L.A. that erupted after hundreds of ticket buyers were turned away from the theater, as well as reported gunshots fired inside theaters Chicago and New York. Warner Bros. provided extra security the weekend after its premiere. Despite all the drama, within the two weeks of its limited release, “New Jack City” pulled in $15.9 million. It would later become the year’s highest grossing independent film of that year with a total of $47,624,353.
The Film Initially Premiered At The Sundance Film Festival In January 1991
Prior to its March 8, 1991 premiere, “New Jack City” graced the silver screen at the Sundance Film Festival on January 17, 1991. The strong debut garnered plenty of buzz.