Rap Movie Reviews

Rap Movie Review: Thicker Than Water

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Year of Release: 1999

Film Studio: Palm Pictures/Priority Films/Hoo-Bangin’ Films

So I basically had thought of something to delve into and that is “rap movies.” I don’t mean movies that had the likes of Ice Cube or Tupac Shakur playing characters and them being the only rappers in them. I am talking about those low-budget “rap movies” that went straight to video, or even ones that surprisingly made it to theaters. I might touch on hood flicks in the future, but this right here will be the start of a category I have been wanting to touch on.

If you lived in the late-1990s to the early-2000s, there is a good chance that you may remember that there were low-budget movies that had come out that starred rappers, and I mean a good amount of supporting characters played by rappers. It was a common thing way back when. What better way to start this column with a movie that I remember loving as a teen that starred Mack 10 and Fat Joe as the leads called “Thicker Than Water.” Now that I am older and wiser, does this movie this hold up? Or was I just too blind and naive as the 14-year-old boy that I was who thought it was the best movie ever?

The funny thing regarding how I found out about this movie was when I was in middle school I saw an advertisement for it for pay-per-view. I then remembered it when a relative of mine had the soundtrack and then I came across this movie on Showtime. Oh yes, I remember watching this a lot on Showtime back in the day. However, nostalgia can only cloud one’s judgment for too long, and when one day when I bought it at a store a decade after having seen it, some of those positive memories of having enjoyed something as a youngster have faded away.

The story’s plot is as cliche as it gets. What it dealt with was DJ (Mack 10) and Lonzo (Fat Joe) are rival gang members who decide to put their personal differences aside to get into the drug game. Did I mention that these guys are also budding music producers who are trying to pursue careers in music in hopes to get out of the hood? What’s weird is that these guys are getting deeper in the crime world than just gang-banging in hopes to make it in some legitimate business. Oh, and these guys also have girlfriends that serve nothing more than either as arm candy (Or eye candy to the audience), which also makes me see how sexist, if misogynist, this film is (More on that later). If anything, this movie is nothing more than a glorified rap video, and it was even shot like one.

Let me get into a lot of the ridiculous aspects of this film. We start the movie with Mack 10’s character, DJ, narrating about how life in the hood is messed up and how there may not be ways to get out. Next thing we see is a bunch of friends playing football in the park with music playing in the background. It’s supposed to look like a happy time, until a couple of women get into a scuffle. One of the women, Leyla, is supposedly “DJ’s woman” and going off on some girl because DJ had talked to her on the phone. She beats the woman up, and then she makes a snappy comeback only for Leyla to blast her with a gun right there. Next thing we see is Leyla dropping off DJ at his girlfriend Brandy’s house, and her giving him shit about how she “shot a bitch over him” and now she was dropping him to see another woman. I mean seriously, this was only in the first five minutes of the film, and I already see that a lot of the characters are portrayed in a negative light.

I must add that only the first 15 minutes of this movie take place within that day period, where during that time we also meet Lonzo, Fat Joe’s character, as he is first seen hanging out with his friends on his porch playing some word guessing game for some odd reason, one of whom was played by MC Eiht of Compton’s Most Wanted, and was more than likely in this movie because at the time this movie was made, he was signed with Hoo-Bangin’ Records, Mack 10’s label. Then when Lonzo’s girlfriend Kim called him inside, Lonzo’z boys just decided to rough up DJ because he happened to have been walking down the street where he was not welcome. It was funny to see considering the bad acting from these rappers, and there was plenty of bad acting in this movie, believe me.

After this host of sequences within the first 15-20 minutes of the film, we finally get to the crux of the plot. You see, with DJ and Lonzo aspiring to be music producers, they come across a few problems along the way. Lonzo was producing an R&B girl group, portrayed by real life group named Soultre, whom were signed to Hoo-Bangin’ at the time, and then went to go meet with a record company executive, only to see that the group had already met with him. The executive told Lonzo that he offered the group an exclusive deal to record for his label, which pissed off Lonzo greatly to the point where he pulled out a pistol and threatened him with it. The crazy thing about this was that Kim, Lonzo’s girlfriend, handed him the gun right before left for the meeting. I am sure he needed to be strapped for protection against rival gang members, but did he really need to carry the gun into the record company building? While DJ’s record equipment blew up on him during a session in composing the beats. So both men were fucked in that situation. So what are they going to do? They are going to put aside their personal differences and join forces to find a way to raise money by selling dope on the streets. Enter Gator, played by another rapper named CJ Mac, who is living large with his operations primarily based in New Orleans, La. but also had some influence in California. If anything, this guy was like the Tony Montana-type in this movie, with a mansion and everything.

So there you have it, the story is just them selling dope, and then of course we have some dissension in their operation along with them regaining their previous conflict. Not to mention that we had a stupid surprise twist at the end of the film that made little sense. I will not say what it was, but if you were to watch it, you would find the revelation to be stupid, too.

Another thing that I must add, the poster and DVD cover say that it starred Ice Cube, but that was far from the truth. Ice Cube appeared in the film, yes, but only for two minutes tops. He played DJ’s cousin who was a mechanic and gunrunner by trade. He was never seen again after that. We also had some other cameos by WC, Krayzie Bone, Flesh-N-Bone, Bad Azz, B-Real and Big Pun. No disrespect intended for the late Big Pun, but when I see the scene when DJ and Lonzo meet with him at the diner, I wonder how he managed to fit into the booth. He looked like he barely got himself in there, and then of course we see that he has a drug stash hidden inside a refrigerator.

I have to say that this film did not hold up from when I was younger. Not that I thought that this was a movie deserving of awards, but I still liked it then. Nowadays, I would only watch it if I want to get a good laugh because this movie was obviously shot on a low budget. The acting was horrendous, especially from the two leads, and the story was predictable. I also must say that I could only count any positive characters on one hand. One in particular was DJ’s mother, who tried to tell DJ about his life and his father, though that subplot was an afterthought because there were only two or three scenes that mentioned DJ’s father. Another positive female character was Brandy, whose character was that of a college student trying to make something of herself, but even she became an afterthought with the only scene she had any real dialogue was when her and DJ were talking about their future at the beginning of the film. The only other time she was seen was when DJ and her, along with Lonzo and Kim, went to a comedy club. She had very little to do in the film and I am sure that the writers only added her in at the last minute. The aunt seemed like the only other positive character. DJ’s stepfather was only seen in two scenes, and I will say that I thought that the exchange between him and DJ was kind of funny in one of those scenes. All the other characters made it hard for me to root for them, especially the two leads.

This was indeed a bad movie, no doubt, but I have seen worse, MUCH WORSE, and I plan to review them in spite of how I felt about them (*cough*Hot Boyz*cough*). In the meantime, thanks for reading this. Also, I will review the soundtrack to this film. Stay tuned for that.

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Movie Soundtracks: The Substitute

The Substitute soundtrack

Year: 1996

Label: Priority Records

Track listing:

  1. Hoo-Bangin’ – Mack 10
  2. Licorice Stiks – Intense Method
  3. Danger – Road Dawgs feat. AllFrumThaI
  4. Miami Life – Ras Kass
  5. Bring It On – Organized Konfusion
  6. Bang ‘Em Up – TRU feat. Mr. Serv-On
  7. Head Up – Young Murder Squad feat. Sh’Killa
  8. I Got That Cream – Master P
  9. Hood Life – Lil 1/2 Dead
  10. Money, Power & Women – G-Spot Geez
  11. All of Puerto Rico – Afro-Rican

Many years ago, it would seem that a lot of movies were made in order to also sell soundtrack albums to said movie. That is not to say that the movies weren’t made for people to watch, but there was once a time when an advertisement for the film’s soundtrack was placed in a trailer/TV spot, particularly a list of artists on the film’s soundtrack.

This takes me back to when I was only a young boy. Having become a hip-hop fan at a rather young age, one thing that I will note was that when I saw a TV spot for the film, “The Substitute,” the main thing that caught my attention was the list of artists there. It had a good lineup, even though I was unfamiliar with a few of them at that time. Hell, a couple of acts on this album probably didn’t even have much work after this. However, that is not to say that they didn’t have bad tracks. Regarding the film, on the surface, it looked like a knockoff of “Dangerous Minds,” which came out a year prior, except the movie had more of an action twist and the school that Tom Berenger taught at made the school that Michelle Pfeiffer taught at seem like a Christian school.

But enough about the movie, it’s time to talk about the soundtrack, and how does it hold up compared to 20 years ago.

The first track that is heard on this album is “Hoo-Bangin'” from Mack 10. This song was actually a single for this compilation back in 1996 and being that Mack 10 was at one time Ice Cube’s protege and frequent collaborator, Cube had a production credit for this song. He was also heard in the song’s chorus. As for the song itself, it has a similar sound to Mack 10’s song “Foe Life,” not to mention that he mentioned it in a verse. Here is what I mean:

I’m on the hunt for the loot, watch your pockets cause I pat em
Bailin through the hood in chucks and stacey adams
Got the spot still poppin, got your legs still rockin
Ever since foe life, my ex bitch been jockin

The song is still quite a banger. It had a good beat and Mack 10 had spit some good rhymes in it. One of my top favorite songs on this album. 5/5

The second track is “Licorice Stiks” from Intense Method. No, this song is definitely not about a certain snack. I am not familiar with this group at all. In fact, I don’t think that they had many cuts apart from this one, let alone an album. This song was produced by West Coast rap producer Rhythm D, and there was a good rhythm to it. Plus, the group’s members had some good rhymes in their verses. However, the main flaw about this song is the chorus as it got a little repetitive after a while when it talked about having “phat beats.” But still a good song, nonetheless. 4/5

“Danger” from Road Dawgs and AllFrumThaI (And that is pronounced “All From The I”) is a typical West Coast gangsta track about gangbanging with violent lyrics. One thing to know about the Road Dawgs and AllFrumThaI is that they were collaborators of Mack 10. The album’s chorus is kind of infectious, though, as it would stay in your head for a bit. However, that doesn’t mean the track is bad. It’s still a good song to listen to despite its subject matter. 4/5

The irony about this album is that while the movie was set in Miami, FL, a lot of the artists on here are West Coast rappers. Ras Kass, who is from Carson, Calif., did the song “Miami Life,” which does go with the movie’s theme, but it doesn’t really talk about the events of the film. It’s more of a song that is inspired by the film, if anything. Ras Kass’s raw vocals are backed by a smooth beat. Ras Kass did not fail to deliver his lyrics on this track. Also, the beat had an interesting feel. One of the other top tracks on this soundtrack. It was even a single back then, too. 4.5/5

Now we take it to the East Coast with Organized Konfusion’s “Bring It On.” Pharoahe Monch delivers the goods whenever he rocks the mic, and the verse he did was no exception. Prince Po also delivered some ill rhymes in his verse. One of the best tracks on this album. 5/5

Now we head down to the South in No Limit territory with “Bang ‘Em Up” from TRU (The Real Untouchables is what that stood for) and Mr. Serv-On. Truth be told, I will say that I got this song confused with “Danger” in the past because the chorus repeated itself and the beat is somewhat similar, or at least the intro to the song was. The beat was actually good, as it was produced by KLC. Mr. Serv-On had a good verse, but the weak link to this song was Silkk The Shocker’s verse. It is still a decent track nonetheless. 3.5/5

“Head Up” from the Young Murder Squad, along with a female rapper named Sh’killa, is one of my other favorite tracks from this album. This song is different from what has been heard. The beat is fast-paced, and some of the rappers on this song had good verses. I was also impressed by Sh’killa, who, like even the Young Murder Squad, is someone who I am unfamiliar with. I heard that YMS and Sh’killa have albums. I may have to cop those someday to check them out. Maybe review them, too. 5/5

And now we return to No Limit with Master P’s “I Got That Cream.” Now Master P was never a good rapper, but this song was actually decent. Actually, during this time, he was not bad. The song had a good beat, though the subject matter of this song was basic, as it talked about drug-dealing. Not a bad track. 3.5/5

“Hood Life” from Lil 1/2 Dead is also another standout track on this album. Now I know that this rapper never achieved success like some other people in the DPG family did like Snoop, Kurupt, Daz, etc. but he actually had some raw lyrics about, you guessed it, the hood life. 5/5

The next track is from an unknown group called G-Spot-Geez, and it’s called “Money, Power & Women.” Now it’s obvious that the song title was taken from a particular line from the movie “Scarface,” however the song has a smooth beat and the rappers from this group actually had some decent lyrics that weren’t braggadocious about getting money and power. I wonder what happened to this group after this came out. It doesn’t seem like they had done much after this. 4.5/5

And now for a total shift into something different. This album closes out with “All of Puerto Rico” from Miami drum and bass group Afro-Rican. This song is kind of the oddball of this album, but it’s not a bad track by any means. It just felt like a dramatic shift considering the other 10 tracks were of a certain context, even though they varied in styles. It’s a decent dance track, though. 3/5

Overall, this was a good soundtrack album. I found this at a record store in 2010 for a rather cheap price. It’s a good mix of West Coast rap with a touch of East Coast and South, and a decent dance track to cap the album off. I highly recommend you track this down.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. Hoo-Bangin’
  2. Head Up
  3. Hood Life
  4. Miami Life
  5. Danger
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