Q. Bishop. Steel. Raheem. These iconic characters are forever part of hip-hop lore. Their quest to get a rep drove Ernest Dickerson’s directorial debut, which was a morality tale on the dangers of peer pressure. With a magnetic cast, including a young Tupac, an amazing soundtrack, on-set beatdowns and a minor gun controversy, the only logical result was an urban classic.
Ernest Dickerson was having none of it. It was 1990 when the veteran film director—who first gained notoriety as Spike Lee’s groundbreaking cinematographer on such landmark films as She’s Gotta Have It (1986), Do The Right Thing (1989) and Malcolm X (1992)—was set to finally direct his own big screen vehicle entitled Juice. With the backing of Hollywood heavyweight Richard Donner, the gritty drama about four teenage Harlem friends who get caught up in the vicious cycle of street politics, was given the green light. But Hollywood had plans for something entirely different.
“They told us, ‘Maybe you should make this more of a comedy,’” recounts Dickerson 20 years later. The 62-year-old auteur has since taken his talents to the small screen as the director of the new FOX supernatural hit Sleepy Hollow. “‘It’s too dark…make it funny full of one-liners about these kids in Harlem who get in trouble.’” Dickerson and longtime friend and Juice co-writer Gerard Brown weren’t biting. “[We] looked at each other and knew what they were suggesting was not something we wanted to have our names on.”
However, a year later, Juice would indeed be made on the duo’s own terms. Featuring a virtually unknown cast of actors, the two-fisted film was driven by the brazen attitude and chest-beating spirit of hip-hop under the musical supervision of groundbreaking Public Enemy producer Hank Shocklee. Barely out of high school, Omar Epps, Jermaine Hopkins, Khalil Kain and future rap icon Tupac Shakur— whose riveting star turn as loose canon Bishop led the way—added unfiltered authenticity to Juice’s already fast-paced morality tale of peer pressure gone tragically awry.
Cobbled together for a miniscule $3 million, the film would go on to gross more than six times that. For the fans that witnessed this unlikely triumph and snatched up Juice’s star-studded soundtrack, featuring the game-changing likes of Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, Naughty By Nature and Cypress Hill, they had no idea of the boiling drama behind the scenes. Violent brawls, a shooting death, competitive brinksmanship ignited by Shakur and creative battles with studio heads that nearly derailed the film were just some of the issues that Dickerson and crew faced. This is the story of how the whole damn thing prevailed under unforgiving circumstances. This is the oral history of Juice.
Ernest Dickerson: Before directing and co-writing Juice, the Newark, New Jersey native made waves as one of Hollywood’s most respected cinematographers from his work on such Spike Lee classics such as She’s Gotta Have It (1986), Do The Right Thing (1989) and Malcolm X (1992). Following the success of Juice, Dickerson helmed a string of films including Tales from the Crypt Presents: Demon Knight (1995), Bones (2001) and Never Die Alone (2004). In addition to the big screen, Dickerson has taken his directing talents to acclaimed television series such as The Wire, The Walking Dead and Treme. More recently, Dickerson has handled direction duties for the FOX supernatural television drama Sleepy Hollow.
Gerard Brown: Playwright, teacher and Juice co-writer. In 1985, Brown conceived and wrote the stage comedy JONIN, which was overseen by legendary late producer Joseph Papp (A Chorus Line). Brown went on to write for three seasons for the award-winning HBO animated series Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child and penned three episodes for Todd MacFarlene’s Emmy-winning series SPAWN. A former writer-in-residence with the celebrated New York Shakespeare Festival, Today Brown is a frequent guest lecturer at such learning institutions as Duke University, Howard University and NYU.
Peter Frankfurt: Co-producer of Juice and co-founder of the creative studio Imaginary Forces, established in 1996. His award-winning production company has produced title sequences and marketing campaigns for such blockbusters as Se7en (1995), Men in Black 1 (1997) and II (2002) and Spiderman (2002). Frankfurt also served as a producer for the Blade movie trilogy, which has grossed more than $400 million worldwide.
Omar Epps: Veteran actor who played the role of Q in Juice. Epps has appeared in such films as Higher Learning (1995), Scream 2 (1997), The Wood (1999) and Love & Basketball (2000). His television work includes a one-season stint on the Emmy-winning ER and a long-running role on the Emmy-nominated series House as Dr. Dennis Gant. Epps is set to star in the upcoming ABC fantasy drama Resurrection, due to debut in March of 2014.
Anthony “Treach” Criss: Actor and founding member of the Grammy-winning hip-hop group Naughty By Nature. Appeared in Juice and recorded the hit Naughty single “Uptown Anthem” for the film’s gold-selling soundtrack. Treach has several acting credits including roles in Jason’s Lyric (1994), Oz (1999), The Sopranos (2006) and Person of Interest (2013).
Khalil Kain: Played the role of Raheem Porter in Juice. Kain has also appeared in Love Jones (1997) and had the lead role in Showtime’s The Tiger Woods Story (1998). In addition to television roles on Girlfriends and most recently Elementary, Kain has transitioned into stage direction on Sam Shepard’s theatrical play Buried Child. He has taught a class at Harlem’s City College entitled “The Responsibility of Imagery.”
Jermaine “Huggy” Hopkins: Played the role of Steel in Juice. Hopkins has also been featured in such films as Lean On Me (1989), Strapped (1993), Def Jam’s How To Be A Player (1997) and the upcoming independent movie, Tears, as well as television’s Murder One, Moesha and the Wayans Brothers. The veteran actor, who heads up the independent film company Jhop Entertain, is currently developing a reality show entitled Here Comes The Hopkins and the comedy television pilot Moving In With Jermaine.
Fab 5 Freddy: The actor, director, visual artist and former host of Yo! MTV Raps appeared in Juice. Freddy made his film debut in the landmark hip-hop movie Wild Style (1982). The respected Brooklyn-born rap pioneer has also directed videos for Boogie Down Productions (“My Philosophy”) as well as Nas (“One Love”), and served as associate producer on the iconic crime film drama New Jack City (1991).
Hank Shocklee: A member of the influential production team the Bomb Squad and 2013 Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame inductees Public Enemy, Shocklee served as the film composer for Juice and executive producer of the Juice soundtrack. He is the founder of the media site Shocklee.com.
Big Daddy Kane: Grammy-winning influential MC who recorded “Nuff Respect” for the Juice soundtrack. Kane has released several standout albums including Long Live the Kane (1988), It’s a Big Daddy Thing (1989) and Taste of Chocolate (1990). Most recently, Big Daddy Kane formed the hip-hop-jazz-soul hybrid band Las Supper, who released a debut album, Back to the Future, this year.
DJ Muggs: Acclaimed producer and member of the veteran multi-platinum California hip-hop group Cypress Hill. Muggs was behind the studio boards for the Juice-featured Cypress track “How I Could Just Kill A Man” and their contribution to the Juice soundtrack, “Shoot ‘Em Up.”
THE SCRIPT THAT WOULDN’T DIE
Gerard Brown: I met Ernest when we were students at Howard in the late ‘70s. He’s from Newark and I’m from Asbury Park in Jersey. And he came down with another friend of mines. I remember walking into my living room and Ernest was sitting there and I’m thinking, “Who is this motherfucker?” We have been friends ever since. Ernest became Spike Lee’s cinematographer. I was just doing theater at that point.
Ernest Dickerson: Spike and I went to film school together. You have to understand, when we were shooting movies like She’s Gotta Have It, School Daze and Do The Right Thing, we were learning and getting paid for it. That was a great place to be. But before that, my co-writer Gerard and I wanted to do a film to debut as a writer/director team. This was 1982. I wanted to do a film noir [where] the main characters were 16 and 17 years old. It was something I was dwelling on for a while, so Gerard and I worked on a script that would become Juice
Gerard Brown: So Ernest calls me at 1 in the morning. I think he had been smoking something to tell you the truth. [Laughs.] And he was like, “Look, look …I got this great idea, man.” He just had four scenes in his mind, but I got up, dragged out my notepad and started to write these things down. Juice became the first screenplay I ever wrote. I re-wrote a second draft and that was it. It sat around for four years.
Ernest Dickerson: Some of the characters were based on composites of kids that I knew, the brother of my wife at the time and some of his friends. I wanted to make Juice as realistically as possible, because we were dealing with something that a lot of kids deal with: peer pressure. We wanted to show how kids turn to guns to prove their self-worth. Some of the people that read the script thought it was too dark. But it was our intention to do a movie that was as honest as possible.
Peter Frankfurt: I was working with Richard Donner (legendary producer and director of Superman and the Lethal Weapon franchises) at the time. I was his associate producer and he was a big action movie guy.
Gerard Brown: One of my plays was running in Los Angeles. From that, I got a West Coast agent. She called me and said, “I saw your play and I would like to represent you. Would you sign with me? Send me everything you’ve ever written.” And I sent her everything including Juice. David Heyman—who has since went on to do the Harry Potter movies—Neal Moritz and Peter Frankfurt, they had an inner city script that needed a rewrite to produce. But they read Juice and called her back and said, “Listen, we don’t want to do that other project…we want to do Juice.”
Peter Frankfurt: David Heyman and I go way back. We were always looking for something to do, so we were thinking it would be cool to remake The Warriors…just something urban, stylized and that had great music in it. We were talking [about this] in 1990. So we got this script written by Gerard and Ernest, and David thought it was great.
Ernest Dickerson: Richard Donner’s company wanted to buy Juice. They gave us a list of directors and it was three pages with my name at the very bottom of the last page. We started getting notes like, “Well, you need to think about hiring some of the kids that are on television. I remember one of the names they suggested was Malcolm Jamal Warner, who I loved, but this wasn’t the right project for him.
Gerard Brown: We wanted a rapper to play Bishop. In fact we wanted Q, Steel and Raheem to [all] be played by rappers. So we brought in 30 or 40 rappers. And the only rapper that could act was Tupac.
Ernest Dickerson: We took the script back and said, “Thank you, but no thank you.” Then I got a phone call out of the blue. It was an English gentleman and he said, “My name is David Heyman. I read your script for Juice and I really thought it was very interesting. I’d like to meet with you about it.” David asked me, “What do you want this movie to be?” I just told him I wanted Juice to be real. And David listened to me and finally said, “I really like what you are saying about this. Do you want me to raise money for it?”
Peter Frankfurt: Ernest was just blowing up as one of the most influential, interesting cinematographers working. Do The Right Thing had just come out the year before and had blown everyone away. So we got the script to these financiers—it wasn’t Donner or a studio, it was Island World. Chris Blackwell and John Heyman, who happened to be David Heyman’s father, saw the potential in Juice. So they gave us a $3 million budget. We went off to New York and did all the casting there.
Ernest Dickerson: Our casting director, Jaki Brown-Karman, started looking for unknown actors because I told [the producers] there was nobody that we knew of that could play these roles. Jaki started going to high schools for the performing arts and community church theater groups. She literally ran through hundreds of applicants. It had to be four guys that could play together to create a fifth character—which was the group mind. I pretty much knew who I wanted Q to be. I wanted him to be Omar [Epps].
Omar Epps: That’s funny Ernest remembers it that way. [Laughs.] Because that was the first callbacks I ever had. That summer, I was 17, and just got out of high school. I looked at this script and it was funny because it was written in ‘70s vernacular. The characters were like, “Jive turkey” and all that. But they told us, “Yo, y’all just run with how y’all would do it.”
Ernest Dickerson: Khalil [Kain] was running strong to be Raheem because he felt like such a natural leader. Steel was originally written as this skinny little kid. But the person who came with the best reading of the character was Jermaine. Talking to Jermaine it was important to get across that in the script Steel was the push over…he was supposed to be the weakest member of the group. But in the script we wanted it to be known that even though he gets shot by Bishop he survives it. He’s the one that helps resolve this. You just expected him to be the next one to die, but he doesn’t and pulls through. So I told him, “You have been afraid of Bishop, but by this point you have just had enough.” Basically Steel was telling Bishop, “What the fuck do you want from me?” He just has a generous soul. And he was the only member of our cast that had previous acting experience with Lean On Me. But Bishop was much more of a challenge. So one day, Treach from Naughty By Nature came in to read and he did a really good job, but he had this young brother hanging out with him. Treach turns to the guy and says, “What about you, man? You want to read?” The brother says, “Yeah, sure.” He was Tupac Shakur.
Treach: So Pac went and read. I’m sitting outside, but I’m about to run up into the office because I think he’s fighting in the room. All I hear is, “Yo motherfucker…you gotta die for this shit!” So as I’m coming to the door Pac is walking out and I’m like, “Yo, what’s good?” And Pac goes, “Nah, I was just reading for them.” I just looked at him and said, “Yo, I know you got that role.”
Ernest Dickerson: That character was tough because a lot of people just came in and played him angry. But Bishop had to be more [than] that. There’s a vulnerability to Bishop that had to be sound. Truth of the matter is a lot of actors had a hard time figuring out who Bishop really was.
Gerard Brown: The only rapper that could act was Tupac. This is the truth, Pac was in the hallway trying to rap to some women. And when Ernest came out he just asked Pac to read because he was there. They gave him Omar Epps’ part to read at first. And he was good, but Jaki the casting agent said, “Give him Bishop.” He came back in and nailed it. He was the perfect Bishop.
Khalil Kain: At the audition, Pac very much was about separating the men from the boys. The man was hysterical. He was the first black man that I ever met in my life that told me to my face, “This time next year I’m going to be a millionaire.” He’s talking shit, just running his fucking mouth like, “Yeah, you motherfuckers don’t know… I’m about to drop my album… I’m about to blow up!” We are all looking at Pac and laughing, “Nigga, shut the fuck up…you are not going to do shit!” But man, did he.
Omar Epps: I remember when I first met Pac they were filming different groups of actors together. So they were like, “Alright, let’s try these four. They were trying to get that feel I guess. But me and Pac ended up hitting it off. At the same time we were both trying to get it in. It was like, “Whatever…let’s go!” It was just dope how it came together. Pac was just a powerful spirit, man. I never really spent time with Kanye West, but when I see him I see the same honesty Pac had. A lot of people wouldn’t think that about ‘Ye, but his honesty is gangsta. And that’s how Pac was. He was that way from day one when I met him. That’s a magnetic quality. Me, I’m more of a laid-back, quiet person…I’m more of a listener. So Pac and I had a good contrast. I would be soaking everything up and he would be talking all the time. I’ve been doing this for 23 years and there is that X factor. People have it. And Pac was one of those guys that had it. When he walked into a room he made you want to say, “Who is that guy?” There’s a energy going on, and Pac knew his truth. He foresaw everything that would happen to him.
Khalil Khan: I do remember on the last day of auditioning they had all of us read different parts like, “Here, you read Bishop, you read Q, and you read Raheem.” They were moving the ball around and after we were finished they would say, “Thank you…you can go.” About the third time they asked me to leave the room. So everybody is looking around like, “Oh, shit. Khalil got cut?” Because I was kind of doing my thing. So they took me out in the hallway and Gerard Brown was talking to me in the hall. Gerard says to me, “You did a really nice job. Everybody was feeling what you were doing. Just want to let you know that it came down to you and Omar for the role of Q. Sorry.” I just looked at him like, Wow. But just when I was ready to leave he goes, “Congratulations, we decided we are going to let you be Raheem.” I was like, “Oh, shit!” But I was told that when I went back into the room I couldn’t say a thing about it. At this point I was the only one who knew I had a role.
Jermaine "Huggy" Hopkins: When it was pretty much getting down to the wire, they took us all out. They wanted to see how we would click together. They wanted to see which four guys would group up together naturally. And naturally me, Omar, Pac and Khalil basically became the clique.
BREAKTHROUGHS AND BEATDOWNS
Omar Epps: I remember the first day of shooting somebody got shot right outside the location…there was a dead body with a blanket over it. I knew the experience of filming Juice was incredible, but I also knew there were real life things happening around me every day.
Jermaine "Huggy" Hopkins: We were teenagers, man. We are doing a movie in Harlem! We got the streets blocked off. We got trailers and people catering to us. That right there was mind-blowing. We didn’t give a damn about making something that was legendary. No one was thinking about that. We were all thinking, “What time are we going to get off the set so we can go out and play?” And Manhattan was our playground.
Ernest Dickerson: We had to believe that Jermaine, Omar, Khalil and Tupac had grown up together. We had to believe that they trusted each other; that they had each other’s back. Once we found out it was these four guys, they started doing things together before we started shooting in Harlem. They really developed an interesting bond. I think that’s why they were successful.
Khalil Kain: I remember that scene where we were all walking down the street after Steel cuts school. There was a PA who was black and Swedish and about six feet tall. And I remember it was like the first warm day. She had on jeans and a white tank top—smoking! She was beautiful. And she knew she was pretty, but she wan’t fucking with us. So we are all walking down the street, and it was the first day she had taken off her hoodie and jacket. So now we are walking down the street and because it’s a walking shot they kept a boom mic over us. Cut! We back to the top of the hill and walk down again and now we are talking shit about her. [Laughs.] Like, “Ooh, look at that ass, titties…” And Ernest is like, “Whoa! We can hear you!” And we are all like, “Damn!” [Laughs.] We didn’t know the mic was on. Ernest was rolling like, “Ya’ll need to chill…You know ya’ll are on mic, right?”
Jermaine "Huggy" Hopkins: I was always the youngest, so I got treated like the little brother. One night when we were out, Pac got mad at me because I went to the bar and tried to order Olde English 800 beer at a club in Manhattan. But I didn’t know any better! [Laughs.] I’m 17 years old…I’m not supposed to be ordering nothing!
Khalil Kain: We are around 300 to 400 extras in the club. It was always pandemonium. Pac would say, “Anybody else want to get some pussy better get in line behind me.” [Laughs.] ’m looking at him like, “Are you crazy? Omar was looking at him the same way. Between me, Pac and Omar, we all had game with the girls. We all were just having fun.
Omar Epps: Khalil and Pac would always be getting into it because Khalil was a little older. Pac would tell him, “Yo, you not my pops!” And Pac was making fun of Jermaine, but at the same time he had an affinity for him.
Ernest Dickerson: Jermaine brought a lot of little things to the film like when he was pouring the 40 ounce into his eggs during the scene at his house. He captured that whole thing of cooking and hanging out with your friends when you are playing hooky.
Jermaine "Huggy" Hopkins: I never would have eaten those eggs, but at that time that’s what those characters would have been doing. Steel would have done something like that.
What’s crazy though is that scene actually started a craze, man. People started putting beer in their eggs!
Khalil Kain: Pac and Treach would hang out all the time. I remember them being at lunch and they would just write in their rhyme books. They would sit and exchange books and then critique each other’s shit like, “Man, this is some bullshit…this is wack!” [Laughs.]
Treach: There was a real unity in hip-hop back then. No matter who you were we would always say, “Where are you going? Come on…we are all going out together.” No matter if you were gangsta rap, was the black fist thing or if you were on the whole Native Tongues/Tribe vibe. You could have been Young MC to Skee-Lo…everybody was mobbing together. Nobody was beefing to the point where there was no unity. There were really no major beefs until the beefs that happened later in the ‘90s.
Khalil Kain: Special Ed being in the movie was the kind of thing we didn’t know about. You show up and there’s EPMD. They were my shit! We had Samuel Jackson in our movie! Ernest wasn’t telling us who was going to be on set. You see Fab 5 Freddy there and then Queen Latifah. After they filmed their parts they would just hang out.
Ernest Dickerson: We were fortunate to get Queen Latifah because in the original script her character was actually Afrika Bambaataa. But he didn’t want to do the movie. And I had just met Latifah because I had just worked with her on Jungle Fever. She was a homegirl from my hometown of Newark, New Jersey. It was one of her first jobs in a movie.
Fab 5 Freddy:Yo! MTV Raps was in full swing at that time when Juice was being made. Ernest was like a friend and having been in Spike’s movies and seeing each other around, they were like, “Well, why don’t we see about getting Yo! MTV Raps involved?” I would do an episode behind the making of the film and then I would also do a cameo. And what was unique about the idea was we would do a Yo! MTV Raps on the film set where we would talk to Pac and the other actors.
Omar Epps: Hip-hop wasn’t some multi-billion dollar business yet, so everything was right at the precipice of popping off.
Jermaine "Huggy" Hopkins: You give me that same job today it’s a job…it’s work. But back then we were having fun.
Omar Epps: I’m watching Cindy [Herron] and En Vogue on the Arsenio Hall Show. Two months later, me and her are kissing.
Jermaine "Huggy" Hopkins: We didn’t like the fact that Omar had love scenes with Cindy. But we were happy that Omar was our boy so he told us everything. [Laughs.] We had to be professional in front of everybody because we wanted to respect her and the set. But when we got in our own corners at the end of the day we are still teenagers from the inner city. So we are going to have that same conversation of, “Yo, how was it? When you kissed her, was her lips soft?” Especially me because I’m the youngest! I was in love with Cindy! [Laughs.]
Khalil Kain: Fuck Omar. [Laughs.] I was so jealous. I was like, “This nigga is doing scenes with Cindy from En Vogue???!” At the time, she was super shy. En Vogue was the hottest girl group ever. [Cindy] was so fine that she gave you a headache.
Omar Epps: That was one of those things where it was strange. I took all the jokes from Khalil and them in jest. But she wasn’t hard on the eyes.
Jermaine "Huggy" Hopkins: The scene where right after we shot Quiles at the store and we broke into that abandoned building and how Pac wiped my tears? None of that shit was in the script. When I saw that I just said, “Wow.” Pac made me look like an actor.”
Khalil Kain: The day we filmed the part where Bishop shoots Raheem I could tell Pac was shying away from it. Shooting me didn’t feel right with him. And the first take we did was some bullshit. It was flat. The next take, I slammed Pac in the garbage cans. Pac got up and said, “Alright…alright motherfucker! I can’t wait to bust you now!” It was on after that. We shot an amazing scene.
Ernest Dickerson: So I’m setting up the scene after Raheem’s funeral at his mother’s home. And I see that producers David, Peter, Neal and Preston Holmes, who was our line producer, they are all over in a huddle. I’m thinking, “Oh shit…something is up.” And Preston says, “You don’t want to know…just go back to work.”
Omar Epps: There were fights happening all around.
Khalil Kain: Pac tried to keep it real. His trailer door was always open. He would smoke a little something, drink a little something. He didn’t want to separate himself from the kids in the neighborhood. But you can’t do that with everybody. They caught a kid and some of his partners that had robbed some of the jewelry out of Pac’s trailer. I wasn’t even working that day. I was just kind of showing off for some girl who I was taking up to the set. As we were walking up to the set, shit jumped off. Tupac and another dude were stomping this kid out. The girl I was with thought they were filming for the movie. And I was like, “Nah, that’s not a movie.”
Ernest Dickerson: The only reason the guy got away was because there was a car speeding up in the street and the guy broke away and jumped on the back of the car! [Laughs.] But while he’s stomping the guy all these people are screaming out of the window like, “You leave that boy alone!” So now I’m worried because this guy got beat up in the street in public. And a lot of times when something like that happens, somebody will want to get some payback. I’m just worried about somebody doing a drive-by on the film set. But it never happened.
Jermaine "Huggy" Hopkins: The film crew hired Muslim security on set. They were armed legally and people were really trying to blow it up as if our safety was in danger. But as I told the producers, you know what you were coming into before you got here.
Gerard Brown: I was not happy with the way Juice ended. It was our first film, so we had to acquiesce to a lot of crap. Originally, the way the script was written, at the end of the fight scene between Bishop and Q, I had Bishop and Q falling through the roof, but the producers said that’s too much money. So I had Bishop hanging over the ledge with Q pulling him up. But Bishop hears the police sirens and says to Q, “I’m not going to jail, man!” So in the script he breaks Q’s grip and he falls to his death.
Ernest Dickerson: The preview audience did not like that Bishop, who was the “bad guy” of the movie, decided how he was going to die; that Bishop was a serious force that needed to be dealt with. Bishop’s father was traumatized in prison. He may have been raped. Bishop wasn’t going to let what happened to his father happen to him. [But Paramount] told us, “If you don’t change this ending we probably won’t support this movie in the way you would like us to.” We ended up re-cutting it. Now it’s as if Bishop is hanging on the edge of the roof and he just slips out of Q’s hands and fall to his death almost accidentally.
Omar Epps: When you look back at the movie, the empathy that you have for Bishop is, “He was just one step behind. He got out of control, but there was still hope for him.” Whereas if you shot an ending that said there was no hope for Bishop then that whole journey meant nothing.
Omar Epps: Being East Coast, Brooklyn-born and raised, Juice just spoke to me with the whole DJ thing; the whole hip-hop thing; and growing up in the ‘hood and trying to get ahead.
Ernest Dickerson: I loved Public Enemy. I first met them in person when I shot the music video for “Fight The Power.” So when I was figuring out what I wanted the movie to sound like, I wanted the mastermind behind the sound of Public Enemy. And that man was Hank Shocklee.
Peter Frankfurt: We had Kathy Nelson involved early on because we knew music was going to be a huge part of Juice. She was a very successful and influential music supervisor based at Universal. And we said to her, “Kathy…we want Public Enemy to do the music to the movie. We kind of expected her to laugh. But then she said, “Oh, I love Hank Shocklee. I love the Bomb Squad. I will introduce you guys.” It was kind of amazing. Public Enemy was the shit. Hank was putting a label together at Universal and Chris Blackwell was one of the financiers. There was just a lot of good ju ju around the movie. When we took Juice to Paramount there was already this great asset attached to it, which was the soundtrack.
Khalil Kain: Hank doesn’t get enough credit for the success of Juice. He just gave the film such a heartbeat. It was a sound that at the time was cutting edge. We had had both East Coast and West Coast on that album used in the film in the way that made the music another character. It kept people in the theater hype.
Hank Shocklee: I told the producers and Ernest, “Look, if I’m going to do it, I want to be involved with everything. One of the things I really wanted to get across with the score is I wanted to make sure there was tension. I wanted to keep the moments in the film intense and let silence be the release. Juice needed suspense, impact and tension.
Ernest Dickerson: We had some DJs that were working with Omar. [Hank] was able to hook up Omar with a lot of stuff. A lot of the DJ scenes were pre-recorded. Omar just did his homework.
Hank Shocklee: It had to be authentic. Otherwise, it wasn’t going to believable to the audience. So every aspect of the DJing in Juice had to be on point. The big battle scene in Juice was huge. There was a friend of mine, at the time, I knew named Cam-Ron. He was a good DJ that could also instruct. I put Omar in a room for a week with Cam. I said, “Yo, man…just give him the basics.”
Omar Epps: It was hard. I had never really DJ’ed like that. It's not like Serato. [Laughs.] This was old school. You had to put your mark on the record where the scratch was going to be. Actually, DJ Scratch also taught me how to DJ. He gave him pointers and I had a turntable set in downtown Brooklyn. I had the tables set up in my room and I would just get it in every day. I'm talking about from when I woke up to when I came home.
Peter Frankfurt: We went on some location scouts. We went to some clubs in Harlem and the Bronx and we really stuck out. [Laughs]. But everybody was very nice and kind of curious. We would see these DJs go at each other and battle. It was kind of wholesome.
Hank Shocklee: I wanted to make sure [we] mimicked what I saw at the New Music Seminar DJ battle. I directed everybody to work in that framework.
Ernest Dickerson: I would go to Hank’s studio and we would listen to stuff. We’d figure out who would be best for the film. It was a constant searching for the right sound for the right dramatic movement in the film. There was a lot of music that was rejected. A lot of good and interesting stuff, but not right for the movie in terms of the mood and atmosphere.
Hank Shocklee: Doing a soundtrack should be like a candy jar. It should have the best of what you think will work for the movie while at the same time the best of what’s out there. So why not a Rakim? Why not a Big Daddy Kane? They are the best out there. And [Big Daddy] Kane has been my favorite MC for a long time.
Big Daddy Kane: He kept calling me about “Nuff Respect Due,” but there was other stuff going on at the time. All I know is when I came to my crib, Hank Shocklee was sitting in my driveway sleep in his car. [Laughs.] We went to his studio at night, he brought the track up and I wrote some shit to it. I was getting ready to write the third verse and he was like, “Nah, this is enough right here. This is all we need…trust me.”
Hank Shocklee: And for me to get a chance to work with Rakim? Are you kidding me?
Peter Frankfurt: Rakim was supposed to be in the bar scene with EPMD. Even Tupac, who gave shit to everybody, was like, “Really? Rakim is coming to the set? Wow!” He wasn’t there. So we went to look for him. I think it was David and me, and we went to his apartment. We knock on the door and this girl answers and we were like, “Hey, we’re here for Rakim. He’s supposed to be in the movie with us today.” And she says, “Oh, you looking for Rakim, too? If you see that motherfucker, tell him that I’m pissed off!” [Laughs.]
Big Daddy Kane: Me and Rakim were always clear that we were rivals. Eric B. is a personal friend of mine and that’s probably the only reason why me and Ra never really battled. But Rakim is a great lyricist. To me it was always beautiful to be compared to him.
Peter Frankfurt: Rakim came to see a cut of the movie at Paramount. We are up in the executive screening room. He didn’t say much, but he was listening to everything Ernest and the producers were saying. Rakim basically said five words” “I’m gonna do something dope.” And he sent us the track ("Juice (Know the Ledge)”) and we were like, “Oh, my God!”
Omar Epps: We have to go back to Hank Shocklee with that. His production and placing of the songs in Juice was brilliant.
Hank Shocklee: Treach and Naughty By Nature brought the heat!
Treach: Remember, I had already read the Juice script. I knew the characters and the whole story of the movie. So what we did was two freestyle verses and the last verse was summing up the whole movie: “I'll cut your ass like class, then blast you by the trash.” I’m talking about Tupac when he shoots Raheem by the trash cans. So when we handed in the song Hank [Shocklee] was like, “Oh my goodness!” This was a real soundtrack single.
Khalil Kain: I heard Naughty By Nature’s demo in my dressing room. I was like, “Yo, you guys are about to blow…” Treach didn’t believe me. [Laughs.] He’s like, “For real?” I just knew that when their album dropped…Oh my God! That summer Naughty’s album dropped and it was crazy.
Peter Frankfurt: The guy who had brought the movie at Paramount loved EPMD’s version of Bob Marley’s “I Shot The Sheriff” (“Strictly Business”, which sampled Eric Clapton’s take on the classic Bob Marley song). He was like, “I love that song in the end!” For a long time, that scene at the house party was [“Strictly Business”]. And the guy Barry London, who was at Paramount, he recognized the Bob Marley sample. He was so proud of himself that he could relate to a song in the movie. [Laughs.] But Paramount’s legal people were worried that they couldn’t clear the sample to be in the movie because the Marley estate was really litigious. So they dropped the song and tried to find a new song right away.
Hank Shocklee: I knew it had to be bigger than the East Coast. We had to have a West Coast influence [on the soundtrack]. So I added Cypress Hill’s “Kill A Man” in the scene where Q was walking through the house party where you know there’s some thugs running it in the game.
DJ Muggs: We were getting a buzz on the streets and in New York. Video Music Box was playing us every day. Stretch and Bobbito was killing our songs in New York. But Juice definitely propelled Cypress Hill to the next level. We came all the way from the top 200 to the top 10 on the charts because of Juice.
Hank Shocklee: At that time nobody knew who Cypress Hill was. They were on Columbia Records. I had to get all the labels to give me their blessings, but Columbia wouldn’t give me their blessings. They didn’t even believe in Cypress. They were getting ready to drop them! They told me, “We signed this group, but their record is not selling.” But I told them, “Yo, don’t drop them. I want to put their song in the movie. Just give me the clearance.” So they came back to me and said, “Hank, we can give you the clearance for the movie, but we can’t clear “Kill A Man” for the soundtrack. That was good enough for me. So that’s why that song is in Juice, but not on the album. But I really wanted Cypress Hill to get across. That song was a big key in the movie. That glued it all together.
DJ Muggs: We went back in the studio and recorded “Shoot ‘Em Up.” It was brand new and exclusive for the soundtrack.
Hank Shocklee: Tupac had been talking to me going back to Digital Underground about making a record. And at the time I knew who he was and I knew he was going to be in the movie and everything, but Omar Epps also wanted to make a record. But at that time there was the thing about actors always wanting to make rap records. It was like, “Yeah, I know you love it and I know you want to make it, but are you really good at it?” So Tupac was trying to get on the soundtrack. I told him, “Yo, send me something and let me check it out.” And he never sent it. I still don’t know to this day whether or not he wanted me to produce it or not. We were both moving so fast that we didn’t get many opportunities to really sit in front of each other. Tupac was one of the ones I regretted. I wish he could have had a record on the Juice soundtrack.
Khalil Kain: We were doing publicity before the film came out and we were in a limo. They handed us all copies of the soundtrack. We put it in and that’s when it became real. We were in the limo gassed! [Laughs.] It was just out of control. The soundtrack to this day, you put it on, and it’s still hot.
NOW YOU GOT THE JUICE
Ernest Dickerson: I was really bummed out that they made us take that gun out of our Juice poster. Because the gun wasn’t in the poster for any frivolous reason. That gun is a pivotal part of the movie. The gun is a character; it’s the source of all their problems.
Peter Frankfurt: I’m like, “Come on guys. We got Albert fucking Watson to shoot the poster! This is like a piece of art. Why are you freaking out?”
Ernest Dickerson: Now around the same time the movie Stop Or My Mom Will Shoot showed this little old lady Estelle Getty aiming her gun out at the audience. She’s on the poster aiming her gun out at you. Tupac was holding a gun close to his chest. He wasn’t even aiming out at anybody. But there are some people who get ideas on how such an image [was] going to impact the black community.
Peter Frankfurt: There were some issues at some theaters with the opening weekend of Boyz n the Hood. So the mainstream culture really didn’t know what to do about hip-hop culture. Theater owners were freaking out: “There’s going to be riots; there’s going to be shootings!”
Omar Epps: So my thing was if you see a group of white and black young men walking down the street with baseball bats, which ones you are going to think is a baseball team first? They didn’t like me saying that to the press. I remember Paramount wasn’t happy. But I just thought that we had to address it.
Peter Frankfurt: It was a rush seeing Juice for the first time. The movie worked. There are just scenes in the movie that I still remember arguing about. Dude we need to re-shoot that scene. We had test screenings and all that stuff. Ernest was like, “Do you really want to shoot the scene where the guys are walking down the street and the camera is behind them and there’s a white guy coming towards them and Tupac goes ‘Boo!’ And the white guy jumps out of his skin a little bit?” [Laughs.] Ernest was like, “That’s corny.” And I’m like, “Ernest, that is not corny. People are going to love that.” I remember seeing a screening on opening weekend at the Chinese in Hollywood and the audience just went crazy. They loved that part of the movie. I squeezed Ernest’s arm and said, “You see.”
Ernest Dickerson: One of the things that I was really gratified by was the fact that a lot of people did see the lessons in the film in terms of the peer pressure. There was a shooting at a high school in Brooklyn where two guys, who had known each other for years, got into a gun fight. And so NBC News went to speak to the students of the school and I remember getting this phone call and NBC says to me, “We went to these students and asked them, “How does something like this happens?” And the kids basically told them, “Go see that movie Juice.”
Gerard Brown: When Juice was released our reviews were not that great. But it became a cult classic. I’ve never seen the kind of [crowd participation] that Juice inspired except for Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Peter Frankfurt: I remember when the movie opened it made $10 million bucks the first week, which was a lot of money back then. And the guys from Island called me at 6 in the morning on a Saturday and said, “Congratulations. Last night we made triple the budget of the movie.” I just thought, “Man, I’m a fucking colossus!”
Ernest Dickerson: When Juice came out, I was in Egypt shooting parts of Malcolm X. I was getting some of the numbers sent to me. It opened up that weekend at no. 2. And it just gradually had legs. It ended up making more than $20 million on a $3 million investment. I know that it was considered the third or fourth most profitable film that year.
Khalil Kain: School had let out and it’s about 3:30, so I’m on the train and some girls literally bumrushed me. I had to fight them off. They were ripping my clothes. I’m like, “Chill the fuck out…back the fuck up!” Hands was really up because people was wilding out. I was really scared. I wasn’t prepared. That’s when I realized that Juice was a hit.
Omar Epps: I have my own reasons why I think Juice is a classic. I think it was the rebirth of the films like Wild Style and Beat Street. Juice really dealt with the youth of the time. We wasn’t 20-somethings playing kids. This is who we really were. And honestly, there’s Pac going on to become not only who he was, but how he was. Juice was the launching pad for all of us. When I look back at the scope of black films in that era with New Jack City, Juice, Boyz n the Hood—those are like landmarks of a certain time. But I think for hip-hop culture, Juice was it.
Jermaine "Huggy" Hopkins: As far as with everything that happened with Pac, I was taken aback because it’s almost like when a soldier goes to war. Pac was trying to get that wider audience, but tragically he was killed. I seen Pac in Vegas and it seemed like he was in a trance. He was sitting in the parking lot with a couple of guys in the car. He has a crowd around the car with people just taking pictures and he just seems like he in a trance. I’m talking to him and he might have looked at me once to acknowledge me. Hell, the rest of the conversation after that I was starting to feel like I was a groupie and shit. I had to step on off.
Gerard Brown: The legacy of Juice is that the streets will destroy you if you let it. If you buy into the bullshit of what it takes to be respected and what it takes to be a man, this is what can happen. I’m proud of Juice. I’ve had many lectures about it. I’ve talked about Juice at Duke University, NYU, Long Island University, Rutgers, North Carolina State, Howard…I’ve been everywhere. Schools are still inviting me to talk about this film 20 years later. I’m talking to college kids and most of them weren’t even born when Juice was released.
Jermaine "Huggy" Hopkins: I never had a clue that 20 something odd years [later] Juice would still be relevant. I went to a concert to see 50 Cent. I end up onstage and I walked up to him and just tapped him on the shoulder like, What’s good. 50 turned around and stopped in the middle of the show like, “Yo, it’s an honor to meet you! I watched Juice every day!” That to me is crazy.
Ernest Dickerson: My daughter told me that Juice is a classic. She tells me that a lot of her friends have Juice parties where they sit there and watch the movie and know all of the words. I couldn’t believe that. It’s kind of hard for me to look at it that way. It was my first movie. It’s the sort of film you do for the first time and think, “Nah, I’ll never do that again.” It’s still a surprise to me.
Check out more photos from the set of Juice here.