An animated sitcom about an early ’80s hip-hop crew could be coming to the small screen, thanks to one of the genre’s leading figures.
Ice Cube, his Cube Vision Productions partner Matt Alvarez, and “Futurama” co-creator David X. Cohen are executive producing a pilot tentatively titled “Grandmaster Freak & the Furious 15″ (an obvious nod to Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five) for a potential FOX series.
“The show came about through thinking about the early stage of hip-hop and the idea of animation being a collector’s mentality,” Alvarez said. “When I say that, I mean fans of animation really get into following all of the characters and that sort of thing.”
“This is something I’ve been working on since ‘Futurama’ ended, and it actually started with looking through my high school yearbook,” added Cohen, a longtime Ice Cube fan, “even though, standing next to each other, we look like we’re from different universes.”
The cartoon will center on a 17-year-old hip-hop pioneer and his absurdly large posse in Englewood, New Jersey. “I grew up in Englewood, where Sugar Hill Records came out of, and saw hip-hop start up firsthand,” Cohen said. “I always thought it would be fun to do, and it’s such the opposite of ‘Futurama,’ going back to the past.”
“[Grandmaster Freak] is a cool, trend-setter-type kid,” Alvarez said. “His parents would rather him be a doctor or a lawyer than pursue this pipe dream, which is a pipe dream now but was really far-fetched back then.”
Ice Cube will provide a voice for the show, but not that of Grandmaster Freak, which would require too much of a time commitment. So far no other famous rappers are on board.
“With animated shows, it’s really about having great voices,” Alvarez said. “Celebrity voices can’t carry a show, as we saw with Eddie Murphy and ‘The PJs.’ ”
However, “It’s a great show for guest stars, both old-school and current, people playing rappers similar to them but in a different time,” Cohen said. “And Cube will help get those musical people.”
And Grandmaster Freak and his crew will also be cast with actors who can rap so that performances of new and old tracks can be part of every episode.
“Music will be incorporated, but not like ‘Fat Albert’ where the end of each episode is a song about the lesson learned,” Cohen said. “If there’s an MC battle, then that’s where the music will be. If they’re fighting over a girl, there might not be music. And the jokes aren’t going to be in their talent. They’re going to be good.”
“Every character serves a purpose,” Alvarez said. “One of the guys is the DJ. One of them is the mic guy. One of them has a computer so they can make beats. One of them beatboxes.”
Cohen, who has also written and produced episodes for “The Simpsons,” will script the series. “It’s going to focus on the big group at the start, which poses some challenges,” he said. “If they do a show for $25, they have to split it 16 ways. And hopefully this will last a while and we can go into them finding success.”
Rough Draft Studios, which animated “Futurama,” will also be animating “Grandmaster Freak & the Furious 15.”
“It’s going to be great animating the early hip-hop world,” Cohen said. “Just looking through books of old hip-hop photographs with the graffiti on the walls and everything, I can see it in my head.”
Cohen and Cube Vision are finalizing the pilot script now and will shoot it by spring with the intention of the debuting next fall.
Along with “Grandmaster Freak,” Cube Vision is also developing a “Barbershop” TV series for Showtime, which Ice Cube will produce but not star in.
Cube is currently shooting “XXX: The State of the Union” (see “Ice Cube Pushes Back Album Because Of ‘XXX’ Movie” ). His next movie, “Are We There Yet?” (see “Ice Cube Puts Off Recording With Dre To Focus On Harassing Kids” ), is due January 28.
“It’s a big move for Cube,” Alvarez said. “It’s really opening the door for him to do family movies.”
After that, Cube might shoot “Willie,” about a junior high custodian who gets the chance to coach the school’s basketball team (see “Ice Cube Armed With Windex And A Whistle In Next Film Role” ), although he’s also looking at other projects.
“We’re definitely thinking a drama, to balance it all out,” Alvarez said.