Tricks are for kids he plays much gigs
He’s a big bad wolf and you’re the three pigs
He’s a big bad wolf in your neighborhood
Not bad meaning bad, but bad meaning good
– Run-DMC, “Peter Piper” (Raising Hell, 1986)
When Run-DMC were spitting out those couplets in 1986, life was good meaning good.
Their third LP, Raising Hell, had spawned two gigantic singles, they were arguably rap’s first bonafide crossover sensation, and more impressively, the duo had survived being two of the protagonists in the 1985 Warner Brothers film Krush Groove, which was a really bad film. Bad meaning bad.
Naturally, when I saw that Krush Groove was on HBO-GO recently, not only did I watch it, but I also revisited the soundtrack, which I found in the dollar bin within the last year.
The fact that both the movie and the LP would enter my periphery roughly 30 years later had to be a sign. I like to think of it as God’s way of telling me to start a blog that no one will read, to revisit a movie that no one should revisit.
So it goes.
My initial direction for this very post, was to write a few paragraphs about how Warner Bros. Films attempted an extremely lukewarm entry point into the world of Hip Hop, and basically hedged their bets on making a movie about rap, just in case it was a passing fad.
Krush Groove is literally credited to be “loosely based on the life of Russell Simmons,” budding rap mogul, and yet only four of the ten songs featured on the Soundtrack can even be considered rap songs. Chaka Kahn, Shiela E, Debbie Harry, and Force MD’s get just as much real estate as The Fat Boys,The Beastie Boys, and LL Cool J.
That was my pre-conceived theme in a nutshell.
But as I re-watched the movie for the first time in decades, I got derailed by two things: The non-existent character development of Blair Underwood’s Russell Walker, and the looming spectre Prince.
ITEM ONE: The Awful Character Development of Russell Walker.
In the opening minutes of Krush Groove, we learn that Run-DMC has the hottest selling single in New York City. It’s so hot that their manager, Run’s brother Russell, doesn’t have enough cash to keep the record in print.
What does Russell do? He goes to church to borrow money from his father, the Reverend, who is played by Simmon’s actual father. Rather then lend Russell the money, the good Reverend tells Russell that he is being challenged by God to raise the money on his own.
THEME STATED: Russell is on a mission from God to to keep his fledgling label afloat.
You can watch for yourself in the edit below, but the movie pretty much defies the golden rule of screenwriting, in that you are suppose to see (and root for) your protagonist to transform for the better throughout the movie.
In Krush Groove, Russell doesn’t get money from his father, but he also doesn’t rise to the occasion to raise the money himself. Instead he borrows money from Jay B, a local crime lord.
As we enter the final act of the movie, Russell has been rejected by his father, he has lost Run-DMC to a rival label, and is in debt to Jay B and his jehri-curled thugs. Certainly he is ready to prove his worth and earn his own keep, right?
Not really. Ultimately he just ends up borrowing money from Run to pay off his debt to Jay B.
Roll the credits. The same credits that spell MCA’s name as Adam Youck.
ITEM TWO: The Looming Spectre of Prince.
I couldn’t help but notice the ubiquity of Prince throughout the movie. This is a movie called Krush Groove, centering around a fictional rap label called Krush Groove Records, based on Def Jam Recordings, and yet rap music essentially gets second billing.
It’s as if the studio didn’t know how to fully market rap music yet, and figured anything centering around Prince’s Paisley Park scene would satiate the urban demographic for this film. Krush Groove was released just a year out from Prince/Warner Bros. breakthrough Purple Rain. The purple one was white hot, and this movie serves as a constant reminder that this was Prince’s world, and these rappers just lived in it.
The first sign of Prince comes in the form of Sheila E, the anointed chanteuse of the movie. Sheila E. was Prince’s protege at the time.
When we first visit Sheila at her apartment, it’s Prince’s portrait that we see in her living room.
When Run-DMC visit Run’s father, and explain that they have a big selling record. He dresses them down with a belittling comparison to Prince.
Then we have Force MD’s “Tender Love,” the love theme of Krush Groove, which was written by Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. Two Minneapolis based producers and founding members of The Time.
The best Prince touchstone, by a long shot, comes in the form of Sheila E’s performance of “A Love Bizarre,” a song co-written by Prince, and featuring a healthy dose of Prince accompaniment. The clip below sees Prince’s part as lip synched by New Wave Adrian Brody. Big ups to this guy for not shying away from the task.