With Will Smith, DMX, Ice Cube, Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg making more movies than albums these days, there's certainly no shortage of rappers on the big screen.
In addition, within about a month's time, several other hip-hop artists will have released a variety of their own direct-to-video projects, from Eminem's "Slim Shady World" cartoon to Xzibit's largely behind-the-scenes "Restless Xposed."
These acts have taken a page from Master P, who in 1997 opened the floodgates for hip-hop's current direct-to-video craze with his self-financed "I'm Bout It." Since then, everyone from Jay-Z to Ice-T has mined the lucrative direct-to-video market, leading up to today's onslaught of releases from hip-hop artists big and small.
"The DVD thing is hot now," said DJ Paul of Three 6 Mafia, who released their own direct-to-VHS/DVD movie, titled "Choices," on November 6. "Choices" entered the Billboard Top Music Video chart at #2, behind Bruce Springsteen. "People like to look at them," Paul continued. "I know that I go to Best Buy and spend like $400, $500 on DVDs. I like sitting at the house, just chilling and watching DVDs. I figure that's probably the same reason why everybody else does."
Tha Liks, who issued their "X.O. the Movie Experience" last month (November 13), chose to go the more traditional route with their release, focusing on concert footage and their often wild backstage antics for the bulk of their feature.
"We're basically portraying what everybody goes through," said J-Ro, who is joined in Tha Liks by E-Swift and Tash. "A lot of people may portray a certain image while they're in front of the camera, while they're doing their videos or while they're onstage. But backstage, the everyday life, we've got a lot of fun going on. We're living our dreams out. We're having a ball with it, and we want to portray that image and just have fun with it. That's been our whole thing from the beginning, having a party, having a good time. Everybody that kicks it with us is going to have a good time, too."
Other rappers have more ambitious agendas with their movies. Jayo Felony, for example, will be releasing his straight-to-video "Crip Hop" movie in the first half of 2002. The film tells the story of how the notorious Crips gang started in Los Angeles.
"It wasn't about Crips killing Bloods and all that bullsh--," said Jayo, whose third album was also named Crip Hop. "It was about community, revolution and progress and Crips protecting their community against crooked cops and motherf---ers like that. It was a whole different story."
Many rappers play major roles in their own films, but Jayo said that although he'll be narrating his movie and will make some appearances, he's not an actor. "It's not like I'm trying to do any funny-ass acting like I'm Steven Seagal. I rap, so I'm not going to try to be out there on any acting tip."
Kurupt won't be doing much acting in his still-untitled release, which is also expected to arrive in the first half of 2002. "Mine is just nasty," said the member of Tha Dogg Pound. "I'm showing hos. There's a couple performance things, but mainly hos. It's the purity of Kuruption, period. In the gangster world, all we're surrounded by is the homies and naked hos besides when we go home to our wives."
As raunchy as his project sounds, Kurupt said also he may include the "Rent Is Due" mini-movie on his DVD. "Rent Is Due" shows how weed first got to Los Angeles, moving from Northern California via Oakland to Los Angeles.
But rather than be a drug caper, it's a comedy that focuses on college students who peddle marijuana to pay their rent. "It's almost like a sitcom because it's going to keep going and going," Kurupt said, explaining that the concept will hopefully provide enough material for at least three installments. "It's like 'Star Wars,' but it's 'Weed Wars.' "
The direct-to-video trend shows little sign of slowing. Three 6 Mafia, for instance, are toying with the idea of releasing another project that will include all of their videos as well as behind-the-scenes footage of their numerous tours.
Unlike Hollywood, however, where successful projects often lead to sequels, Three 6 Mafia's "Choices" can't be followed up most of the main characters die in the film.
"People were like, 'Why'd ya'll die in the movie? You can't make a part two,' " DJ Paul said. "I wasn't planning on making a part two. I wanted us to die in the movie and have our sh-- straight gangster. I wanted the bad guys to win in my movie."