Did you see your new favorite movie yet? I'm talking about Straight Outta Compton, of course, which is worth paying for if only to see the looks on the rest of the group's faces when they hear "No Vaseline" by Ice Cube for the first time.
Since it's a thing we're collectively excited about, this seemed like a good time to look at a few more famous musicians whose background shenanigans might make for a decent flick. We talk about a few of them on this week's Unpopular Opinion podcast ...
... where I'm joined by Cracked editor Dan O'Brien (see us tell jokes in San Diego on 9/18 if you're bored, plug plug plug!) and actress Shelley Regner (Ashley from Pitch Perfect and Pitch Perfect 2). I'm talking about exactly that in this column too, as you probably gathered.
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Why a Public Enemy movie? Well, for starters, any insight I can get into exactly how Flavor Flav turned out the way he did would be all sorts of good times. That's a fairly obvious draw. But they have a lot more going for them besides the fact that they featured the former Mr. Brigitte Nielsen.
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You probably got all the background info you needed watching Flavor Of Love, though.
In fact, their story is quite similar to that of N.W.A., right down to the fact that Doctor Dre was instrumental in their success. It's just that it's this Doctor Dre ...
You know the one!
... whom you maybe recognize as the former co-host of Yo! MTV Raps and, even more importantly, the co-star of the cinema classic Who's The Man?
Yes, I do actually own that poster.
Still, his influence was enough to give the group the break they needed. The parallels don't end there. For one thing, founding member Chuck D and Flavor Flav met while Chuck was in college. One of my first thoughts upon hearing that an N.W.A. movie was coming out was whether they'd cover the fact that Ice Cube was actually a communications major at some college in Arizona when they formed the group.
Public Enemy was also among the first rap groups to add an element to their songs that hadn't been seen in the genre previously: politics. They weren't just sort of political, though; they were militant about it. So much so that their stage show included a full-on security team doing choreographed march numbers while carrying Uzis.
This is a fact that would make the scene in which they start their career opening for the Beastie Boys during their Licensed To Ill days easily exploitable for entertainment purposes. Think about the juxtaposition there -- basically the music version of the Black Panther party opening for the drunken white douchebags who wrote "(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party)".
Does it have anything to do with why their next album, the unspeakably important It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back, features a song called "Party For Your Right To Fight"?
I don't know ... watch the movie and find out! Were they as successful as N.W.A.? They were the first rap group to have an album top The Village Voice's hugely influential and absurdly named Pazz and Jop list. That's a thing. They also sold a shit-ton of records. Three of the first five were certified platinum by the RIAA (that means they sold over a million copies each). The other two went gold (that's 500,000 copies each).
I know what you're thinking: "What about antisemitism?" The aforementioned "No Vaseline" (in which he scolded his former friends because they "let a Jew break up the crew") eventually landed Ice Cube in the middle of mostly well-earned reputation as an anti-Semite. Could a Public Enemy movie offer similar thrills? You bet! In 1989, Professor Griff, the group's Minister of Information (I know) was quoted as saying "Jews are responsible for the majority of the wickedness in the world."
That's a pretty bold statement, especially coming from someone signed to a record label that, at the time, was owned in part by a Jewish man named Lyor Cohen. Unsurprisingly, people lost their shit. Griff claimed that his words were taken out of context (the actual recording the quote comes from has never been released to the public). Apologies were offered, but didn't suffice. Shortly after word of the scandal got out, Griff was fired from the group. Even worse, a few days later, Def Jam Records' other leader, debit card scam legend Russell Simmons, announced that Chuck D was disbanding Public Enemy for an indefinite amount of time.
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How's that for an act three plot twist? A group that built its reputation by raging against racism ultimately taken down by accusations of racism. Except not so fast! That lasted all of about six weeks before Chuck D announced that the news was false, and that Public Enemy was not breaking up. On top of that, he not only reinstated Professor Griff, but also promoted him to "Supreme Allied Chief of Community Relations" -- which I'll admit sounds insane and silly, but think of how huge of a "fuck you" that is to the people who were criticizing them at the time. The guy you had to fire for maybe being an anti-Semite is now the liaison between the group and the rest of the public, at least in title. To further confirm that they weren't going to be silenced by the controversy, the first single from their next album, the superb Fear Of A Black Planet, was a song called "Welcome To The Terrordome," and it addressed the controversy directly.
If you don't have time to listen, that acknowledgement comes when Chuck says, "apologies made to whoever pleases, still they got me like Jesus." Which, I mean ... still maybe kind of anti-Semitic. Anyway, I personally think that Public Enemy would actually have been the better choice for a movie, simply because they have a longer career to work with, meaning more opportunity for movie-worthy scandals. Like the time they wrote a song called "By The Time I Get To Arizona" to protest that state not recognizing Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday as a state holiday, as the rest of the nation had already done ... and then shot a music video for it which depicted them traveling to Arizona to assassinate its governor.
It might not have generated any form letters, but shit like that still gets you some attention from the government. Besides, who needs to send letters when the CIA could just invent gangsta rap to destroy Public Enemy, instead? For the record, it didn't work. The group has been recording and touring consistently ever since and, in 2014, were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
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This one's pretty obvious, right? Who in the hell would not want to see a Vanilla Ice movie? One of the reasons I'm so behind the idea is that the window of time in which his story was actually interesting was short enough that you could fit pretty much all of it into one film. What was it? Eighteen months, maybe?
It all started innocently enough. In his earliest days, Vanilla Ice was very much accepted by the rap community. In fact, the gig that led to him finally signing a record deal was an opening slot on the legendary Stop the Violence tour, which featured legitimate rap legends like EPMD and Ice-T. He was in the tenth grade at the time. How's that for a start to your Vanilla Ice movie?
It gets better. One of his earliest supporters, weirdly enough, was none other than Chuck D of Public Enemy.
It's rumored that he tried to persuade Def Jam into signing Ice before he finally settled on a deal with a different label. From there, he had one of the most action-packed eight months or so in music history. His debut album, To The Extreme, became the fastest-selling rap album of all time. He appeared on Saturday Night Live. He had sex with Madonna, you guys. He did so much.
He also went to great lengths to protect his family from the glare of media attention, and weirdly enough, that was his undoing. Because he was so unwilling to talk about his background, his label, SBK Records, took ... extreme ... measures to give the world the info they so desperately craved. They accomplished this goal by writing a completely fake biography and releasing it to the media without his knowledge. Among the wildest of the claims was that he attended high school in Miami with 2 Live Crew founder Luther Campbell.
A lie like that is fairly easy to debunk, and people quickly did just that. Vanilla Ice did his best to explain, but it wasn't enough. He was officially labeled a fraud by the rap community. His subsequent appearance on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2 soundtrack didn't help that at all.
Nor did his borderline insane attempt to explain how "Ice Ice Baby" and "Under Pressure" by Queen aren't actually the same song ...
... which they totally are, of course. That's how samples work.
Real talk alert. Let's just admit what we all know we really want to see in a Vanilla Ice movie. Say it with me: the part where Suge Knight allegedly dangled him by his ankles over the edge of a hotel balcony and forced him to sign away the publishing rights to "Ice Ice Baby."
It says a whole lot about how reviled Vanilla Ice eventually came to be that this incident has always been thought of as a funny thing. Think about the implications, though. What if Knight had dropped him? At that point in Ice's career trajectory, would anyone have given it a second thought if his death was reported as a suicide? If the story is true, it's an unspeakably dark situation. Would people still find it funny if they could watch it happen? Probably not, but I hope we find out someday.