Chris Rock, so lanky he seems frail, has a shy, self-effacing air. But the words he speaks in his high-pitched, almost squeaky voice can take you by surprise. ”Whatever music you’re listening to when you first get laid is the music you’ll love for the rest of your life,” he says, launching into a riff.
The comedian, whose hollow cheeks and big brown eyes make him look younger than his 26 years, leans back in a director’s chair on the set of his new movie, CB4, outside an old Santa Monica, Calif., theater.
”The first time I got laid, Run-D.M.C. was the big thing,” continues Rock, who grew up in Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn. ”I was 18, which was pretty late where I’m from — some of my friends were grandparents by then. Ah,” he says, leaning farther back , ”I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for Run-D.M.C.”
Rock may have a soft spot for Run-D.M.C., but even those legendary rappers are not spared his acerbic wit in CB4, the Saturday Night Live star’s irreverent parody of hard-core rap. The film, which opened March 12, stars Rock, his SNL cohort Phil Hartman, and Get a Life’s Chris Elliott, and it takes on everything from the racist and misogynistic lyrics of gangsta rap to the violent public images of rappers themselves. In an ethnic cross between The Naked Gun and This Is Spinal Tap, Rock, Allen Payne (New Jack City), and Deezer D (Colors) play middle-class kids — the group CB4 — whose masquerade as hardened ex-cons (the CB stands for Cell Block) catapults them to rap superstardom. But that’s not all the movie guns down: CB4, which Rock wrote and produced with his friend, journalist-cum-producer Nelson George (Strictly Business), gleefully skewers Afrocentric nationalists, conservative white Republicans, and black filmmakers as well.
”If you want to see The Cosby Show or more accessible mainstream comedy, watch TV,” says George. ”If you’re going to do a comedy about this edgy, controversial culture, you can’t do it namby-pamby.” Rock approached George with the idea for ”a rap Spinal Tap” in 1990; after writing the script, they hooked up with producers Brian Grazer (Boomerang) and Sean Daniel (American Me), who brought CB4 to Universal. Rock, who had small but memorable roles in New Jack City and Boomerang, insisted on creative control to insure the $6.4 million film’s rap credibility.
”Rule number one was, ‘No one who (doesn’t play) a rapper will rap in this movie,”’ says Rock. ”(The studio) wanted everyone rapping. ‘Hey, wouldn’t it be fun if your father rapped at the breakfast table?’ ‘No. F— you.’ In the long run, if you have any brain you realize that a 26-year-old black kid knows a lot more about rap than a 52-year-old white guy.”
”Whatever this film is, it has never been made before, I can assure you,” says CB4’s 30-year-old director, Tamra Davis (Guncrazy), a self-described ”little blond girl from the Valley” who made her name directing videos for rap artists like N.W.A and Tone-Loc. ”The powers that green-lighted CB4 said, ‘We don’t get this film. Just go out and make it.”’
The fact that studio executives stayed out of the way is also a testament to their awareness of hard-core rap’s bottom-line cross-racial appeal. Still, there was some concern that CB4’s graphic comedy — when the group performs its hit, ”Sweat of My Balls,” giant testicle-shaped balloons are thrown into the crowd — might provoke an NC-17 rating (it did not).