Film Response: CB4
This film represents the West Coast hip-hop culture with a comedic tone. Although many aspects of this film mocked the increasingly popular “gangsta rap”, it brought attention to the profanity, violence, and drug abuse that was valued by the subgenre.
The movie is about 3 middle class guys who become famous rappers after adopting a “gangster” image. This image includes publically drinking alcohol, carrying weapons, using vulgar language and degrading women. Despite how inappropriate and immoral this image is, the movie also shows how white kids from upper and middle class essentially worship the members of CB4. While CB4’s image is bad, the movie as a whole values things like friendship and family. The family of the main characters clearly looks down upon this “gangster” culture.
Most of the reason this image is looked down upon, is that the characters grew up in the middle class. Hip-hop originated from the South Bronx, and rose from poverty and oppression. The culture has evolved to the point where people that come from money and education are adopting and glorifying actions and mindsets that previously had only been seen in situations of poverty. It suddenly became “cool” to come from the street. This is also seen when very young white kids that come from a wealthy background begin to look up to groups like CB4.
Critics’ reviews of the film were overall negative, and many of them pointed out the altering themes and values as the scenes switched from CB4’s public image to their private lives. It was confusing for the audience to understand which virtues were moral lessons of the film and which were a representation of West Coast gangster rap culture. Viewers, “can’t decide whether it wants to ridicule CB4 or hold the group up as role models.” (ew.com).
The members of CB4 also show their love for their friends and family, just not on stage or in public of course. This may show that people of the gangster rap culture in general are not only hardcore and unemotional. It may, however, also be a comedic element of the movie to show CB4 as softies that aren’t true gangster rap artists. The movie ends with reconciliation of the group and of the main characters with their families.
Vulgarity, treating women like objects and violence are symbolic of West Coast gangster rap in the 90s. For example, the members of CB4 embrace the use of guns, even though they have no use for them, and judging by their backgrounds and their personalities behind the gangster image, they probably also can’t use. Also, one of CB4’s youngest fans was a young white kid from a prestigious family; his father was running for a political position and clearly opposed the gangster rap culture. The rebellion and “cool” image of gangster rap was very attractive to young teenagers like this kid, Ben, and this scenario shows how hip-hop transitioned towards both a less friendly image and cultural diversity. The film focused on comedy and therefore did not bring much attention to the political criticism that was actually a large part of gangster rap lyrics. However, the opposition of a political figure like Ben’s father may have been a symbol of this.
Similar to political issues, the film does not pay due attention to drugs, namely crack, that were a major element of West Coast hip-hop culture of the 90s. In several instances drug dealing and abuse have been a part of a side-plot or used as a comedic prop, but they were not a huge aspect of the main characters’ lives. It is unclear whether the lack of drugs was forgotten by the producers of the movie or was intentionally left out. It adds to the storyline that the main characters really don’t have any experience with gangster culture, but are nevertheless trying to imitate it.
CB4 was different from films like Beat Street and House Party for several reasons. Most prominently, it takes place of the West Coast, and introduces gangster rap. The other films, rather, embodies the more original factors of hip-hop, like DJing, breakdancing and graffiti. A major difference between early New York hip-hop and West Coast hip-hop, is the gangster image. Gangsta Rap is entirely about rapping, and it seems as if rappers are too cool to dance. California, where gangster rap emerged, was also at the heart of the crack epidemic in the 80s, and so violence and political issues were also much more important for gangsta rappers.
Furthermore, because of the difference in values, the comedic elements of the films are also very different. House Party was a slapstick comedy and was funny because of witty characters and extreme actions, like over packing a car or accidently crashing a prestigious party. Due to the elements of West Coast hip-hop, like violence, vulgarity and degrading women, these elements were also at the core of CB4’s comedy. The humor was controversial, and many critics did not consider drive-by shootings, public consumption of alcohol and oppressing women a joke. Rogerebert.com suggests that, “There are scenes in the film that seem to criticize rap music for its violence, racism and sexism. Yet other scenes seem to celebrate or exploit the same qualities.” The movie as a whole is confusing about the messages that it is trying to deliver. Even though the movie portrays a variety of values, some which are considered good and some not so good, it does highlight some of the major aspects of gangster rap in a comedic fashion, most importantly crudity, demeaning women and gun violence.