When I did my NATURAL BORN KILLERS retrospective a little while back there was one last piece I meant to write, which was about this short film directed by Dr. Dre. I could swear I read a long time ago that Oliver Stone wanted to play the short before NBK but the studio wouldn’t let him. I don’t know, I might’ve imagined it, because it’s not mentioned in the Killer Instinct book and all I can find on Google is references to Stone giving the short “props.”
MURDER WAS THE CASE comes form a song on Snoop’s first album Doggystyle, but it also spawned a hit soundtrack, and it’s on a DVD padded with other videos and various interview and performance clips, all poorly non-anamorphically transferred, but that seems to fit the material.
Yeah, it’s 18 minutes but really it’s just a video with opening credits and a long intro. The credits are over a long tracking shot, like a tribute to GOODFELLAS maybe. We see the long-haired white dude that’s supposed to be the Devil (Gregory Scott Cummins, who apparently is in STONE COLD and CLIFFHANGER), then Charlie Murphy – real young and looking alot like Eddie – strutting into a building where a huge party is going on, people dancing, smoking joints, a hallway blowjob about to go down, Charlie talks to some friends and goes upstairs…
Shot #2 is his big-breasted girlfriend (Miya McGhee – N’Bushe Wright’s stand-in in BLADE!) getting out of the shower, WBLS playing from her radio.
Meanwhile Snoop is somewhere else hanging out with his own homies. Charlie’s girl calls over there. The brick-sized cordless phone is tossed to Snoop in slow motion with a whooshy sound effect. The significance is this phone call is gonna get him killed.
Charlie secretly picks up the phone in the other room (yeah, this was when everyone had land lines) and hears his girl talking to Snoop. He confronts her, his two friends laughing and enjoying it until he pulls out a gun. In my opinion those homies are not his homies at all.
Then again, friendship in this world is unusual. The next scene has a guy named Sam Sneed driving around while fucking a girl on his lap. And his homey in the passenger seat, smiling and enjoying the show as he dumps her out the door for looking out the window and asking, “Hey, isn’t that Snoop Dogg?” (This is loosely based on interlude 4 from Doggystyle. How many hip hop skits have been adapted in movies?)
By the way, I looked it up and it can be homie or it can be homey. Both spellings are correct.
This is an even more heightened version of the world depicted on the The Chronic and Doggystyle albums: South Central L.A., weed, hoes, vintage Chevy convertibles on hydraulics, liquor stores, flannel shirts, men with curlers in their hair, hanging out in parking lots drinking from plastic cups. Charlie finds Snoop, pulls out a gun… and Director Dre gets to try his hand at making a ridiculous action movie.
Suddenly pistols and uzis come out, everybody nearby gets involved. Is this what gun people are talking about every time there’s a mass shooting, and they say it never would’ve happened if everybody always carried guns at all times? In this case, in my opinion, it doesn’t help.
A guy at the gas station returns fire, gets shot, unfortunately doesn’t blow up. A convenience store clerk (stunt coordinator Bob Minor) comes out with a gun, gets blasted wire-fu style through the front window. Charlie and friends shoot Snoop and escape… but when Snoop is being taken to the hospital they pull up in front of the ambulance and shoot the driver in the forehead, causing the ambulance to crash, flip through the air and explode. By the way, because this is a film by Dr. Dre the paramedics were sharing a joint. And one of them has a gun in his hand and returns fire. Obviously this is the best scene in the movie.
There’s a scene where reporters talk to a shooting witness, and during the intro the guy is inappropriately excited to be on TV, smiling and posing and throwing peace signs. It’s weird because it’s exactly like a bit that always makes me laugh in MONEY TALKS (1997). Did Chris Tucker get it from this? He must’ve seen it. In fact, I’m surprised he’s not in it.
And then it just goes into the “Murder Was the Case” video. The song is a storytelling deal where Snoop makes a deal with the devil, so that’s what the video’s about too. It’s got cheesy video effects like a crow morphing into the Devil, lots of quick cuts to demonic eyes, the Devil turning into a skeleton and then Jesus for a few frames. Snoop is in the hospital (they must’ve sent another ambulance) when he’s visited by this long-fingernailed cheeseball.
If I understand correctly though he’s a pretty positive Devil, because his deal is to stop Snoop from “set tripping.” When he breaks the pact by smoking weed the Devil sends him back in time and changes it so instead of getting shot Snoop gets arrested and goes to Chino. (I believe murder was the case that they gave him.) Here he must face more dangers, etc.
On the DVD I have called “Murder Was the Case: The Movie” the short is slapped in the middle of a mish mash of interviews and behind the scenes footage and shit. So the video just ends and then Snoop is on the set refusing to lay down in front of the exploding ambulance, then he’s being interviewed by a journalist, then it says “In Beloved Memory, Calvin Broadus, 1972-1994” before going into the end credits.
“Death Row Security” is thanked on the credits. I’m pretty sure that would be the off duty police officers who were on Suge Knight’s bankroll and who some believe were involved in the murder of Tupac.
“Murder Was the Case” is a good song, and it’s fun to see Dre’s sloppy attempt at turning it into a movie. He doesn’t seem very focused on tone, so it slides between FRIDAY type comedy, cartoonish action movie violence, cheesy horror and cheap looking MTV video. It’s stupid. I kinda like it.
But the best thing about this is the song “Natural Born Killaz,” the first thing Dre and Ice Cube did together post-NWA. They were supposed to do an album together called Heltah Skeltah (you see, like the Beatles song, but because Charles Manson liked it, but with no Rs) but it was never finished so they used the song throughout the short whenever “Murder Was the Case” isn’t playing. It’s one of my favorite Dre-produced instrumentals and it even has an F. Gary Gray directed video that is also trying to be like a big violent action movie. This one looks much slicker and more expensive and plays after the credits on this DVD. It has a cameo by Tupac as a sniper, which is weird since he wasn’t on Death Row Records until later.
DIE HARD 2 vets John Amos and Art Evans play police detectives trying to capture Dre and Cube after “a string of 187s” on what appear to be rich white people, but their faces are pixelated. A little research reveals that the uncensored version had them responsible for real life murders that were in the headlines at the time like Nicole Brown Simpson and the Menendezes. Not too classy. But holy shit, Cube and Dre were only 25 and 28 at the time.
The cops are hot on their trail when they jump out of their convertible and crash it off a dock. There’s police helicopters, police boats and a SWAT team looking for them, but nobody seems to realize they’re inside a burning warehouse, rapping and astrally projecting from a double-sided stone throne perched atop a hill of skulls, chains and rubble. Beat that shit, Mickey and Mallory.
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Recently a young man in the comments revealed to me that some of today’s generation of hip hop fans don’t like Snoop. They think he’s a corny sellout. They (okay, I’m talking about one specific guy, he knows who he is) don’t even like The Chronic or Doggystyle, arguing that they are sexist and lacking in substance.
This is true, but I want to try to explain why they’re classics. Before he went so-called solo with The Chronic, Dre made history with N.W.A.’s Straight Outta Compton. That’s an even more important album I think (although it’s mainly the first three songs – “Straight Outta Compton,” “Fuck Tha Police” and “Gangsta Gangsta” – that I listen to over and over). It’s all swagger about guns and bitches and 8-Ball, bragging about how they never shoulda been let out the penitentiary. Alot of people gave it credit for being “all about reality” because it was a window into a world that most of white America didn’t know about back then. It was a right-left-right-left that left other music of the time toothless, saying “God damn they ruthless.” It was an anger about poverty and racism and police brutality that hadn’t been put into music too many times, and never that well, or especially on an album that was heard by so many people. It was new, it was great, it was relevant.
The Chronic seems less so, despite “The Day the Niggaz Took Over,” a song about the riots. Obviously the title and cover are about weed smoking, and many songs are preoccupied with dissing Eazy E, NWA manager Jerry Heller, and Tim Dog (a guy who did a song called “Fuck Compton”). “Fuck Wit Dre Day (And Everybody’s Celebratin’)” was one of the hit singles from the album but I don’t think Dre even performs it anymore since it’s all about the late Eazy E. And not in a good way.
Snoop’s first solo album Doggystyle, produced by Dre, spends very little time on those feuds, so it’s the even better version of The Chronic. It starts with Snoop in a bath tub getting a back rub from his girl while listening to Curtis Mayfield, but the doorbell rings and he has to play host to a bunch of friends. He tells a guy that he’s thinking of “gettin out this game,” but his friend tells him his pound of weed a day, big screen TV lifestyle is “the American dream.”So that’s kinda what the album is about.
That slides right into the “G Funk Intro,” where Death Row Records resident female rapper Lady of Rage and none other than George Clinton introduce Snoop to us.
This is the best guest appearance George has done on a hip hop artist’s album – he’s not just rehashing one of his classics (like on, say, Ice Cube’s “Bop Gun”), but punning and rapping over new sounds derived from the keyboard bassline to Funkadelic’s “(Not Just) Knee Deep.” He’s talking about dogs, a reference to Snoop’s nickname but also to his classic “Atomic Dog,” one of the main influences on the G-Funk style (and basis for track number 8, “Who Am I (What’s My Name)?”).
I love the way Snoop lets these two kick off the album, only popping in briefly for his little sing-songy back-ups: “Hey yo Rage would you PLEASE drop some gangsta sheeit?”
With the sound of somebody pissing signals the beginning of one of the albums hit singles, “Gin and Juice.” This song sums up the appeal of the album pretty good with its chorus: “Rollin down the street smokin endo, sippin on gin and juice / laid back / with my mind on my money and my money on my mind.” It’s stupid (please don’t drink and drive) and the music sounds kinda ominous, but he really is just trying to be “laid back,” and he doesn’t end up pulling his gun out or anything. He just goes to some parties.
I always fondly remember seeing him at the Up In Smoke Tour. Just as he said the line “Dr. Dre came through with a gang of Tanqueray” the doors flipped open on the stage’s liquor store set and sure enough Dre walked out holding two big bottles. So if you ever wondered how much “a gang” was, there’s your answer.
Even in the menacing-sounding “Tha Shiznit,” Snoop only blasts with his microphone. “Serial Killa” is not a peaceful theme for a song, and the last song is called “Pump Pump.” But both of these are talking about his music as violence, they’re not “Six in the Morning” type crime tales. Snoop’s main interest is in making people “wave your motherfuckin hands in the air,” telling people not to bite his style, having “a moment of silence for this small chronic break.” His American dream is “a Doggy Dogg World,” not a dog eat dog one.
See, after NWA it was kinda refreshing to have this young kid from that world but he’s more interested in having fun than fucking tha police. In the opening of the “Express Yourself” video, scenes of a rebellious slave cut to Dre tearing through a poster that says “I HAVE A DREAM”:
In “Nothin But a G Thang” (from The Chronic) he picks up Snoop at his mom’s house and brings him to a barbecue and an all night house party where the worst thing that happens is a hot girl gets sprayed with beer. By this point the good doctor has rescinded his “I don’t smoke weed or cess” policy from the other song.
I relate more to the first one, but the second one was kind of a relief. Sometimes it’s nice to not have to throw a rock at a guy with a whip, just drive around and eat food and dance.
This is the cartoonish world we saw in MURDER WAS THE CASE. It’s where everybody listens to DJs Salty Nuts and EZ Dick on “the station that slaps you across your fat ass with a fat dick,” 187.4 FM WBLS (if you’re lickin, that’s W-Balls). It’s a station that plays really nice sounding, totally misogynistic Nate Dogg R&B porn.
Yes, it’s an album that’s lacking in substance. But outside of hip hop aren’t you allowed to have albums that are just about good feelings and nostalgia and pretty girls and shit? Yeah, I’m pretty sure you are. I think too much of hip hop is empty-headed and frivolous, but that in itself is not a dealbreaker. If I can enjoy STONE COLD why can’t I enjoy the musical equivalent?
None of this would be that much of a recommendation if it wasn’t for the artistry of the Snoop and Dre team. Even after going-on-2-decades of imitators, Snoop’s laid back, musical flow sounds completely unique and effortless, so it’s the perfect voice for evoking that particular time and place. Dre’s production meanwhile is at one of its many peaks, weaving funky basslines and soulful vocals by The Dramatics over hard beats and cinematic soundscapes, creating a seamless, non-stop musical portrait of Snoop’s American dream, the G-Funk Era.
Holy shit – they knew it was an era, and they named it themselves! That’s thinking ahead.
To me there are a limited number of hip hop albums where years after the fact I often listen to them from beginning to end and they seem at least as good as they did at the time. Doggystyle is in that number and in my book that makes it a classic.
The same cannot be said for MURDER WAS THE CASE: THE MOVIE. This is a pretty crappy DVD. It’s no MOONWALKER and the extended video is definitely no “Thriller” or “Bad.” But shit, I can’t deny it. I like digging this out every once in a while. It’s a time capsule to a musical culture made of equal parts stupidity and excellence. I’ll probly never lose my fascination with this stuff, and I bet the world won’t either. Some day costume departments will be using this DVD as research for a slew of G-Funk Era costume dramas.