Originally created 03/15/97

Hip-hop flicks are in the money



In Hollywood, hip-hop movies such as "A Thin Line Between Love & Hate" and "Set It Off" each hit the $35 million box-office mark in the U.S. last year, and there are more to come.

"The era of hip-hip is expanding to the age of `urban alternative' - a multicultural variation that cuts across race to tap the cultural fabric of the day," says George Jackson, who co-produced 1985's "Krush Groove," one of the first hip-hop movies.

The genre got its start with B movies for B-boys, or hard-core fans, (1984's "Breakin' ") but soon broke out into everything from gangsta fare ("Colors," 1988) to politics ("Do the Right Thing," 1989) to humor ("House Party," 1990). The latter spawned a slew of copy cats and two sequels of its own.

"Boyz N The Hood," a gripping cautionary tale about life and death in South-Central Los Angeles, firmly established the gangsta genre in 1991, followed by films such as "South Central" (1992) and "Juice" (1992). Orion Pictures, distributor of last summer's "Original Gangstas," is sending out "Gang Related," starring Jim Belushi and Tupac Shakur, this summer. Other hip-hop films due later this year include "How to Be a Player," starring Bill Bellamy of MTV, and "Players' Club," starring rapper Ice Cube and actor Jamie Foxx.

The hip-hop film is not an explosively successful cross-over genre, studio executives say, but it is not a loser either. Every major studio has dabbled in the subject with moderate success, while independent companies have seen modest profits.

"For independent companies to have a $5 million film that does $20 million domestically is a home run," said Island Pictures President Mark Burg. Each film, of course, is accompanied by a booming soundtrack album.

"The same kid that buys a hip-hop record and a pair of Converse sneakers is going to the movies to see `Boyz N The Hood' or `Booty Call,' " says Steve Rifkin, an urban marketing consultant to Hollywood. "The major studios didn't pick up on that fact until a couple of years ago. Only recently have they regarded it as a market to be tapped."

Thanks to hip-hop movies, many Americans know the terms "colors," "dead presidents" and "booty call."

And television introduced the fist-rolling hoot of "The Arsenio Hall Show," which premiered in syndication in 1989 with plenty of rap acts on hand. The next year, Fox's "In Living Color" became the urban counterpart to "Saturday Night Live" and found no end of comedic inspiration from gangsta rappers and the Los Angeles riots.