''We're makin' MONEY, baby!''
When you hang out with Kid 'N Play, the Fun Guys of rap, you hear that over and over: It's a joke that breaks the tension, a slick slogan that punctuates a point, a hip-hop cri de coeur bellowed with satirical abandon. Watch these two guys, decked out in baggy jeans and matching gold Rolex watches with pave diamonds, ducking in and out of a waiting limo, making deals on their cellular phone. They're whisked from their publicist's office to a well-known Manhattan restaurant for lunch, from a TV studio to a radio station, at each stop hyping their new movie, House Party 2. Make no mistake, Kid 'N Play are makin' money, baby, and havin' the time of their lives doin' it.
Kid 'N Play had already carved out a niche as upbeat, soft-core rap stars when filmmakers Reginald and Warrington Hudlin tapped them for their 1990 comedy House Party, the story of middle-class black teenagers who throw a wild party when their parents are away. Kid 'N Play's first two albums, 2 Hype and Funhouse, had sold nearly 1.5 million copies combined, and their videos had sold MTV viewers on their hip-and-happy images: Kid (Christopher Reid) had That Hair, a six-inch-high flattop fade that meant he could never be lost in a crowd, and Play (Christopher Martin) had a slicker, lover-not-a-fighter persona. But when House Party, which cost only about $2.5 million to make, grossed more than $28 million, it helped set the stage for the wave of black films that followed and catapulted Kid 'N Play to a whole new level of fame. Suddenly they were a highly marketable duo with crossover appeal, and along came the Sprite commercial, the now-canceled NBC Saturday-morning cartoon, and the MTV comedy specials.
With the inevitable House Party 2, a $4 million production that jumped straight to number one at the box office on its opening weekend, and a new, grittier album, Face the Nation, in the stores, Kid 'N Play are now out to prove that they're more than rappers with a high school kid's comedic edge. In a symbolic break with the past, Kid's high hair has been replaced by a marginally tamer tangle of dreadlocks. Play wants to spend more time building up the custom-clothing business and hair salon he owns in their old stomping ground, East Elmhurst, in New York City's borough of Queens. They may be having fun and making money but they are plotting their futures with meticulous care.
It's easy to imagine Kid and Play as childhood friends: Play was tough and street-smart; the more articulate Kid was book-smart but cool enough not to let everyone know it. Growing up in East Elmhurst, a rough neighborhood in the shadow of Shea Stadium, Play was notorious as the son of a narcotics dealer known as ''Skull'' who later became a minister.
''I was very lucky,'' admits the 29-year-old, who wears a black satin jacket with his company's ''IV Plai'' logo on the back and digs at his cuticles with a large pair of scissors. He and Kid are sitting in a small, airless conference room at the Terrie Williams Agency, the publicity firm that handles such clients as Eddie Murphy and the Hudlin Brothers.
''Being from the streets, I used to dabble I used to stick people up a long time ago with a sawed-off shotgun,'' Play says bluntly, not pausing to notice the effect his words have had on his listener. ''I'll never forget one particular time when I knew God was in my life. Me and another gentleman he's incarcerated right now wanted to get money to go to a rap concert. We went in the vicinity of where all the white people lived, and that night, for some reason, I still don't know why, when it was time to load up the gun I said, 'No, we don't need to load it. When people see this thing, they know it's real.'
''We ran up on a lady and I put the gun to her body and she chose to struggle. She hit me with the gun and it went up to her head and by accident my finger clipped the trigger and it went off. Time just stopped. Me and my friend just looked at each other because we knew what could have happened she would have been a goner and I would have been caught in no time. That's one of the things I can look back on and realize I was saved.''
Kid has been sitting quietly during this story, popping cherry Certs one after the other and twisting locks of his hair. His childhood eerily echoes that of his character in the House Partymovies. His mother, who was white, died in a car crash when he was 9 (Kid was in the backseat), and he went to live with his father, a black Jamaican who was a strict disciplinarian not unlike the film's Pop.
''When I read the script, I asked Reggie Hudlin, 'What up? Did you know me beforehand?''' says Kid, who refuses to give his age but says he's a bit younger than Play.
While Play dropped out of high school, Kid attended the prestigious Bronx High School of Science, then graduated from Lehman College, where he majored in English. By the mid-'80s, Kid and Play had rapped together at parties for years, but were discouraged by the chances of making it. Then ''Kid and I were listening to a live remote on the radio from the Apollo Theater,'' says Play. ''Friends of ours were performing on the show. We knew we were just as good, if not better. I remember saying, 'We're gonna do this.'''