Making Sense of the Rumored Hip-Hop Biopics
Whether you're the type of person with reservations about the N.W.A biopic Straight Outta Compton or not, the movie has been a massive success, leading the box office for two weeks straight and becoming the highest-grossing music biopic of all time. And naturally, with Hollywood's tendency towards sequels and running a formula into the ground, that's spawned plenty of ideas for more hip-hop biopics on the way. Rumors of a Straight Outta Compton sequel have muddied the waters; whether it would be a film based on Tha Dogg Pound or Death Row Records is a matter of debate. And this week, Big Boi tossed out the possibility of an OutKast biopic during a reddit AMA surrounding his latest project with Phantogram, Big Grams.
With rumors swirling and the hip-hop biopic craze just getting underway, XXL takes a look at the status of nine biopic ideas that have been kicked around in recent weeks. —Dan Rys
The initial talks about a Straight Outta Compton sequel focused on the possibility of a film chronicling Tha Dogg Pound and the rise of Snoop Dogg, Warren G, Kurupt, Daz Dillinger, Nate Dogg and the crew. Those rumors took hold further when Dr. Dre's son Curtis Young told XXL at the end of August that the film was real and that he had been cast to play his super producer father, confirming that Daz had played an integral part in putting the film together, that 50 Cent was rumored to help produce the project and that it was set to be called Dogg Pound For Life. Then last week a new report surfaced naming the cast for the film and suggesting that things were already in the works, with principal photography on a pair of scenes already completed. According to that report, Reggie Noble (not Redman) will play Suge Knight, Melvin Jackson Jr. from The Wire as Kurupt, Azad Arnaud as Daz, DaDa as 2Pac and more. That's about as real as it gets.
At the beginning of September, just as rumors about the Dogg Pound film started to take root, a story from the Hollywood Reporter indicated that the mid-1990s West Coast rap scene would be mined again for a film, this one focusing on Death Row Records. Reportedly, S. Leigh Savidge, who received a co-executive producer credit on Straight Outta Compton, wrote and produced both a Death Row book and documentary and is working on getting the notorious record label’s story turned into a full-length feature film to pick up where Straight Outta Compton left off. The Agency for the Performing Arts, who is shopping the film, however, doesn't have rights to the label's music, which could throw a huge wrench into the plans for the biopic, tentatively titled Welcome To Death Row.
Big Boi and André 3000 have gotten into films before with 2006's Idlewild, more of a semi-musical exploration of their acting chops than a fully-realized major motion picture. But the duo's legendary status is set in stone at this point and though the flow of music from OutKast has stopped, their reunion tour last year proves that the people still want more from Big and Dré. And while Big Boi was doing a reddit Q&A in support of his latest project with Phantogram, Big Grams, a fan asked him whether an OutKast biopic was in the works. “Me and Dre were just discussing this over Labor Day," Big Boi replied. "Stay tuned." Hey, it could happen.
Master P definitely has a story to tell. The No Limit Records founder has a long, successful track record in the music industry dating back to the mid-1990s and he first announced last July that he would be coming out with not just one biopic, but a whole trilogy. That ambition was pared down last month when P dropped the trailer for his biopic Ice Cream Man: King Of The South. He's described the film to XXL as "a love movie, mixed with a little comedy." It's being written and directed by P himself—conflict of interest, maybe?—and with a reported Spring 2016 release date, it looks like it's well on its way.
Mac Dre's life was tragically cut short when he was killed in 2004, but the Bay Area legend's legacy will reportedly live on in an upcoming biopic co-produced by The Wire's Tray Chaney, which he said will be "about Mac Dre, his life, his music and how he affected the culture of hip-hop and some of the artists.” According to an interview with Chaney last April, Dre's mom is supportive of the project and more Wire alums will help flesh out the cast. Since then, the rumor mill has been pretty quiet about the project, however, leading to some doubts as to whether it will actually see the light of day.
Raekwon's been talking about a biopic based on his life for at least five years now, when he told XXL he was working on a film called C.R.E.A.M. that would focus on his early life before rap, with Chuck Inglish of the Cool Kids on the wish list of people to portray him. “It’s basically a journey into the lives of young cats, such as myself,” he explained, “that go through so many things around themselves and dealing with family. [It’s about] that love that they have for everything they do, [that] takes them through hell to make it right again. So this movie is definitely a story of my life.” A year later, Rae mentioned that CeeLo Green had signed on to play the role of his father in the film, though with his Purple Tape Files film coming out to celebrate the 20th anniversary of his debut solo album Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... the talk on the biopic project has gone cold.
Wu-Tang is forever, as the legendary group proved again recently by coming back together for their A Better Tomorrow album late last year. RZA spoke about the possibility of a Wu-Tang movie back in 2009, but played down the speculation in favor of an ODB-specific film, at least one of which has already come out. But with Straight Outta Compton's success, Ghostface Killah recently told XXL that a Wu-Tang biopic is still a possibility. "I mean, we’ve been talking about that years ago, you know what I mean?" he said. "So I don’t know if brothers might get inspired from what they have seen. But we’ve talked about that before we even heard about N.W.A. was doing a movie. But you know how it goes, it’s timing, and you know, a lot of other stuff behind it."
The story of Def Jam is a familiar one to most hip-hop heads; Rick Rubin's NYU dorm room was the setting, while Russell Simmons came in to co-found the label. The story has been told and re-told as the influential company turned 30 years old last year and was recounted in Simmons' autobiography Life and Def: Sex, Drugs, Money, + God, co-written with Nelson George, in 2002. But now Universal Pictures is looking to turn Simmons' book into the basis of a Def Jam biopic of sorts, with Jonah Hill rumored to portray Rubin and Michael B. Jordan being considered for Russell Simmons. Things are still in the preliminary stages, however, but add another historical hip-hop story to the rumors flying in Straight Outta Compton's wake.
We've written extensively about the ups and downs of the long-rumored Tupac biopic, only for things to change again. Last April, director John Singleton told XXL that the film was "on hold until it's right," only to announce a week later that he had dropped out of the film entirely. "The reason I am not making this picture is because the people involved aren't really respectful of the legacy of Tupac Amaru Shakur," he wrote on Instagram. "They have no true love 4 Pac so this movie will not be made with love! And that's why my ass isn't involved!" But in July, the Hollywood Reporter wrote that Carl Franklin had taken over for Singleton and that production would begin in November. Which is great, but we've heard that before plenty of times.