Twenty years ago, a movie debuted that tackled the absurdity of Hip-Hop music, it poked fun at the music industry and the depth some will go to become rappers. That film is the cult classic CB4.
The film tells story of Albert (Chris Rock), Euripides (Allen Payne), and Otis (Deezer D), three middle-class friends who have ambitions of becoming rap stars. After Albert fails to get the help of nightclub owner and criminal Gusto (Charlie Murphy) to give them a break, Gusto is arrested and led to believe that Albert set him up.
While Gusto is behind bars, Albert takes Gusto’s name (sound familiar) becoming “MC Gusto” and forms a hardcore rap group, CB4 (Cell Block 4), with Euripides and Otis now known as Dead Mike and Stab Master Arson.
CB4‘s satirical depiction of gangsta rap still resonates with audiences today. Writers Chris Rock, Nelson George (author of the critically-acclaimed book, Hip-Hop America), and Robert LoCash are not only able to laugh at the sensationalism that was, and still is, such a part of rap, but also make a few poignant points about it as well.
In honor of the flick’s 20th anniversary , AllHipHop.com took another look at CB4 and came up with 5 reasons that the film should be deemed, “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and selected for the preservation by the United States National Film Registry just like its Rock-and-Roll counterpart, This is Spinal Tap.
Hip-Hop culture has made a lasting impression on music, and CB4 is one of the many ways it has done the same for film.
5) Music is a character in this film, and so the music supervision of the movie and its accompanying soundtrack are vital to the entire project’s success. Fortunately, neither disappoint. While the film’s focus is hardcore Hip-Hop, the music for CB4 ranges from gangsta rap to new jack swing and does a superb job of including all the popular types of urban music in the era of the film’s release.
4) Controversial lyrics and contemporary music go hand-in-hand. And while some younger rap fans may not be as well-versed in the 2 Live Crew obscenity trial as older ones, it is well parodied in CB4. But “offensive” material in pop culture is a never-ending debate between art and the establishment. So while the incident itself may be a dated one, the arguments for and against free speech still stand strong today and will probably remain intact well into the future.
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3). One of the things that this film captures very well is the transition that Hip-Hop made from its early stages to the gangsta motif that was so apparent in the late 1980s and early 90s. While the opening credits of the film play, lots of old-school rap memorabilia is seen and there is a part where the three friends pretend to be Run-D.M.C. and rap along with a tape of “King of Rock.” As CB4 progresses though, the music changes and then focuses on the popularity of hardcore rap at the then present time. The group CB4 even mimics N.W.A with their hit single, “Straight Out of Locash.”
2). Unlike the aforementioned This is Spinal Tap, CB4 has its support from the Hip-Hop community and that is evident in the cameos made by Eazy-E, Shaquille O’Neal, Ice Cube, Flavor Flav, and most memorably Ice-T. And even if the Rock-and-Roll satire preceded the Hip-Hop one, the lack of rock music support in Spinal Tap (not counting The Runaways’ bassist Vicki Blue) costs it credibility when compared to CB4. Years later, in Ice-T’s documentary, The Art of Rap, Grandmaster Caz famously says, “Hip-Hop didn’t invent anything. Hip-Hop reinvented everything.” CB4 is a perfect example of that.
1). The message of the movie is that wrong-doing and disrespect is nothing to be glorified. And while Hip-Hop has always had a fascination with crime and punishment in cinema, CB4 is notably significant because it presents potentially real consequences for even just pretending to be a thug. And impressionable Hip-Hop fans can relate to that far more than Scarface killing people, doing a ton of cocaine in a mansion, and then being shot to death.
Why do you think CB4 is a cult classic? Would you be interested in seeing a sequel? Sound off in the comments section!