While I started this venture to review 80’s hip hop films I’ve already decided to branch out and do some films from the 90’s.  Who’s The Man is probably my favorite film of the hip hop genre.  The film starred pretty much everyone who was a major rapper at that time.  This is probably thanks to the stars of the film Doctor Dre and Ed Lover.  The two were well known radio DJs who moved to hosting a very famous hip hop show on MTV called Yo! MTV Raps.  Everyone and I mean EVERYONE was on that show.  You weren’t a rapper unless you were brought on Yo! MTV Raps to hang out with Doctor Dre and Ed Lover.

Doctor Dre and Ed Lover came up with the story, writing it with Seth Greenland.  The film was directed by Ted Demme who was well known for his films like The Ref, Beautiful Girls, and Blow.

Now I always wish that SOMEONE had the foresight to make a Native Tongues movie.  I’m not sure why that never happened.  You had these groups like Leaders of the New School, De La Soul, Brand Nubian, A Tribe Called Quest, Jungle Brothers, and Black Sheep who were this big ol’ posse that did music together.  It’s a damn shame that someone didn’t harness that idea and do a film.  Who’s The Man is probably the closest thing you’ll ever get to a Native Tongues film as it features Phife Dawg, Busta Rhymes, Charlie Brown, and Dinco-D,  Yup – that’s it.  Now Q-Tip would go be in John Singleton’s Poetic Justice but didn’t make an appearance in this film.  Damn shame.

The plot for this film is really silly.  Doctor Dre and Ed Lover are barbers who cut hair very, very, very badly.  NO ONE wants their hair cut by these two.  And when they do get a haircut?  It looks like the most god awful cut you would ever get in your entire life.  They are constantly made fun of by the other barbers like G-George (Bernie Mac) and K.K. (Bill Bellamy) but are kept on by the barbershop’s owner Nick (Jim Moody) because he thinks the boys can do good.

Nick ends up getting tired of sticking up for the boys and tells them that they need to get a real job.  What is a real job?  Well the NYPD is currently looking for new cops so…that sounds perfect for two guys from Harlem.  Immediately the guys shoot down the idea.  They DO NOT want to be “The Man.”  But they truly have no choice in the matter as Nick gives them an ultimatum.

So the two enroll in the police academy and are pretty goddamn horrible at their jobs.  However because, for some reason, everyone knows Nick…the two are kept on in the Academy and are not kicked out for being total idiots.  Somehow these two modern day Abbott and Costellos are cops in New York City.  I think I’d trust my 12 year old with a gun before I gave these two firearms.

At first they fully embrace being cops.  They fuck around.  They pull people over for no reason.  They totally pimp out their police car.  It’s all fun and game for Dre and Ed.

But then?  Then the plot kicks in.  It seems that someone wants to buy Nick’s barber shop but Nick isn’t selling.  Nick’s barber shop is then burned to the ground under mysterious circumstances and Nick is killed.  Ed and Dre suspect that Nick was murdered and decide to launch their own investigation into Nick’s death.

What comes is a bumbling investigation as these two walk around New York trying to figure things out.  This includes hunting down Nighttrain (Ice-T) and Martin Lorenzo (Guru) who may know some facts about the crime.  The two are consistently yelled at by their commanding office Sergeant Cooper (Denis Leary) who loves nothing more then to bust both of their balls.

The two have the assistance of their friend Frankie (Colin Quinn) who is a street-wise guy who seems to know everybody.  They uncover that the land was wanted by a guy named Demetrius and the investigation actually reveals that there is possibly oil under Nick’s old barber shop.  A bunch of oil in Harlem?  Well that would make someone super rich indeed.

So what do Dre and Ed do?  They go forth to bust everyone – Doctor Dre and Ed Lover style.

This film is just one HUGE cameo from the hip hop community.  It is utterly amazing how many acts, groups, and artists make an appearance in this film.  I mentioned Ice-T, Guru, Phife, and the Leaders of the New School.  But Everlast and House of Pain make an appearance.  Heavy D.  B-Real from Cypress Hill.  Pete Rock and CL Smooth.  Bushwick Bill.  Bow-Legged Lou.  Flavor Flav.  Humpty Hump from Digital Underground.  Kid Kapri.  Kris Kross.  Monie Love.  Queen Latifah.  Salt n Pepa.  Del the Funkee Homosapien.  And to cap it all off Run-DMC (and Jam Master Jay) has a cameo as a bunch of police detectives.  Run-DMC!  Way to get back into the movies, fellas!!!

The film isn’t a hip hop film with all these different acts performing.  Actually there is one lone performance and that is by Naughty by Nature as Ed and Dre, before joining the police force, decide they want to be club promoters.  Other than that all of these rappers are just used in the film AS ACTORS.  That is friggin crazy, right?  All of these rappers and none of them performing???  Now some of them actually did perform on the soundtrack (which I’ll get to in a second) but beyond that it is just Bow-Legged Lou once again showing off his acting abilities.  Hey – he did much better than he did in House Party.

The film itself is decent.  Because Doctor Dre and Ed Lover are decent actors who can pull of some of the better jokes the movie is able to be carried by these two alone.  Having a great supporting cast like Denis Leary, Colin Quinn, and Bernie Mac certainly helps the film.  The Soprano’s Vinny Pastore is actually in the movie as well and it is always good to see him acting.  AND this movie bring Colin Quinn and Ken Ober back together.  Anyone remember MTV’s Remote Control?  Probably not…but I do.  And it was cool seeing them together.

The plot is pretty friggin stupid.  No matter how badly the New York Police Department needed cops they would never, ever take Doctor Dre.  No offense Dre but you are much too heavy to pass the physical requirements for the New York Police Department.  But, in a movie like this, you are supposed to just forgo reality and just enjoy yourself with the stupid plot.  If you do that – you are probably going to be happy with the film overall.

For me it was huge to see Phife in a movie.  While Q-Tip has been featured in many different movies over the years, Phife Dawg was not much for the silver screen.  As a matter of fact Phife only did this film, a voice in The Rugrats Movie, and as himself in the Tribe Called Quest documentary.  Phife doesn’t do much here as he is just one of the recipients of one of Dre and Ed’s horrible haircuts.  STILL – phenomenal to see one of my all time favorite rappers in a feature film – even if it is for such a small cameo.

Ice-T gets a pretty big role as the street wise cat named Nighttrain who Dre and Ed are trying to hunt down.  He had done New Jack City and Trespass prior to this (and, of course, Breakin and Breakin 2 long before this) but this is still a very early role for a rapper/actor who would go on to much bigger acclaim.  I do always find it funny that the man who performed the song Cop Killer played a cop on TV for such a long time, but that’s a whole other story.

This film was also the debut performance by Terrence Howard who would, obviously, go on to such bigger and better things.  So a future Oscar nominee would get his big screen debut opposite a whole slew of rappers.  If I were him, this would certainly be my favorite role.  Fuck Iron Man.

This film is certainly very fun and if you love early nineties hip hop it is certainly a love letter to that time period.  There has never been such a collection of rappers since Who’s The Man in a film that is not a concert film or documentary.  Maybe it was just an easier time where egos didn’t get in the way.  Can you imagine if Kanye was in a movie like this?  I’m pretty sure that the man would implode.  It’s a shame they weren’t able to land Biggie Smalls or Tupac (who was already an accomplished actor by this time) but I guess you couldn’t cast EVERYONE.  Well, I mean, they could.  But they didn’t.

Now the soundtrack to this film was pretty rocking indeed.  The soundtrack featured one of the first songs by the Notorious BIG titled ‘Party and Bullshit’ – which is an excellent song.  Other groups included Mary J. Blige, Jodeci, Father MC, Erick Sermon, Heavy D, and House of Pain with the “Who’s The Man” title track.  The album itself was decently successful and landed at #32 on the Billboard 200 – not bad at all.

Now Who’s The Man was not a very successful film by any means.  It only grossed a measly 11 million dollars.  That is pretty horrible for a film that had all these rappers in the film.  You would think that they would have been a pull to get the butts into the theater, but that is a totally wrong assessment.  It certainly made more than the Run-DMC film Tougher than Leather, but it only came very close to the total gross for Krush Groove.  Considering Krush Groove came out some seven years earlier featuring much less famous rappers (well…Run-DMC and the Fat Boys were BIG, but they weren’t the huge breakout stars they would become after that film) you would have thought that this film would have gained a wider audience.

When it comes to hip hop films Who’s The Man is rarely mentioned.  Which is a shame.  It’s hard to do a hip hop comedy and both Who’s the Man and Disorderlies pull this off swimmingly.  I’m not really sure if more hip hop comedies like this will come out…I mean we’ve had films starring rappers that were comedies but the days of the Fat Boys or Doctor Dre and Ed Lover are gone.  Kaput.  See ya.  Nowadays you have Kanye or Drake.  Sure Drake was on Degrassi, but is he going to go out with Kanye and do Who’s The Man 2?  Doubtful as fuck.

Who’s the Man is truly one of my favorite hip hop films.  I can watch it maybe once a year and still laugh at the movie all these years later.  It’s humor is timeless.  And as it had a bunch of amazing rappers right at their prime it can also serve as a great time capsule for that early nineties era…before rap got really whacked out.

Luckily if you are interested in the movie you can pick it up pretty cheap new from Amazon for $6.  Not bad at all.  The special features on the disc are pretty damn lousy (Widescreen or Full Screen versions) or the original trailer.  But no behind the scenes.  No featurette featuring all the rappers from their roles.  No new documentary looking back at the film.  No commentary.  NOW I FULLY UNDERSTAND that Ted Demme has passed on, but you can still have Doctor Dre and Ed Lover giving their two cents about this film they dreamed up.  I’d love to hear the stories of how they landed all these rappers and what it was like making a film with all of them.  It would be damn fun.  Again – I also think a new documentary of all the rappers getting together to talk about the making of the film would be great.  I mean a few have passed on (Heavy D, Phife, Guru) but there are many still out there to talk about the making of the film.  Throw in Denis Leary and Colin Quinn and it is one hell of a special feature.  I think I need to call someone over at New Line/Warner Brothers to get a new Blu-Ray out.