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Murder Was the Case: The Movie

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.

* * *

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.


VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Friday, September 28th, 2012 at 2:42 pm and is filed under Music, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

24 Responses to “Murder Was the Case: The Movie”

  1. For the record, I think the early Death Row stuff is all classic. I’m down with Dre like AC is down with OJ.

    When I say Snoop sold out, all I really mean is that he hasn’t grown a lot or been as interesting to follow over time, like say Jay Z or Eminem (who may have sold out in other ways), who I feel like have still come with some very hard rhymes and creative songs even in the last few years. Like, I think D.O.A. is different and really good, and I think Eminem’s verse on No Love is pretty epic. With Snoop, I just think he lost focus. Also, I think Snoop gets a pass as kind of a lovable pitchman, etc. when I think most people in that position would be pretty seriously maligned. Like if Ben Stiller or Charles Barkley or Obama or the lead singer of Coldplay or your next door neighbor went around talking about getting stoned with their kids or being a pimp or capping people, would the general public be cool with that and think it’s cute and endearing, or would they be taking those peoples’ kids into foster care? I don’t begrudge the guy for real talk about the streets and stuff, but I just don’t like the idea of having it both ways–being a beloved mascot in mainstream pop culture and espousing the kind of values he does.

  2. Charlie Murphy! what did the five fingers say to the face? SLAP!

  3. Well, he did get kicked off The Muppets for that reason. I was looking for a clip of him talking about it, but instead here’s Snoop making mashed potatoes with Martha Stewart.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Ocre0kXgvg

    It’s a Doggy Dogg World.

  4. Okay, well, I guess there is some justice in this world. Having to make potatoes with Martha seems like punishment enough for his transgressions.

  5. wow, Snoop made mashed potatoes with Martha Stewart? I’m afraid his gangsta cred is officially dead

  6. I’m afraid that being 23 years old it’s hard for me to think of Snoop Dog as being anything other than a sell out, more interested in hawking some product than anything else

  7. Yeah, well, he’s got his momma, and his daddy, and his homies in his corner. So, he’s okay without us.

  8. I don’t think it’s possible for Snoop to sell out. His entire ethos has always been, “Get cash, fuck bitches.” As it happens, I was gifted a very nice pair of Gucci knockoff sunglasses from his brand, “Serious Pimp.” Their slogan you ask, “Fuck you, pay me.”

    If the guy started off by bragging about what a good salesman he was, for women, drugs, ect. it only makes sense that he would continue to grow in that salesmanship.

    As for the rest of this review, I will have to wait for a later, more sober time.

  9. that may be true, but does that make him cool?

    in my opinion, no, but hey, points for honesty I guess

  10. For the record, I’d like to state with absolute clarity that “Doggystyle,” “Chronic 2001,” and “The Chronic” all belong in a list of the top 7 or 8 rap albums of all time, and I’ll fight anyone who says otherwise.

    This opinion is not controversial. This is the standard, and it is objectively correct & accurate. Just have to establish this here in official black & white in case some know-nothing or comically young NPR intern dickhead wanders onto these talkbacks and has doubts about these things.

    Stoners & college kids & street rats & musicational connoisseurs of any coast can all agree on this; these albums are beloved for a reason. They’re catchy, fun, hardcore, rhymey, smooth, brutal, fresh, flowing, clever, and stupid-awesome; the beats & lyrics are timeless & beautiful. Sometimes the masses get it right.

    In conclusion, as long as we’re on a Tarantino kick/tangent, has Vern checked out the double-episode of CSI that QT directed? It’s a good one. Scary stuff, very suspenseful. I recommend, mainly for QT completists but probably anyone would enjoy it. It’s called “Grave Danger,” available on disc 7 of season 5; previous episodes are irrelevant, so you’ll understand it as an independent movie. Very fun, creepy 90 minutes, and an example of transcending the limitations of network television in the pursuit of fulfilling our ethos: Striving for Excellence.

    It’s October o’clock, motherfucker. Watch “Grave Danger.”

  11. Tawdry, that’s a fair point about Snoop just being a consistent pimp or being consistent about a pimpish mentality–including pimpin himself. I just think it makes him a pretty disappointing human being, especially given all the success and opportunity he’s had. An amusing Jackie Brown-esque character, but not a human being we should be cozying up to. And I do think his material has showed very little growth and has been tremendously uneven over the years.

    Vern, what’s your take on reggae Snoop? I actually kind of dig his reggae song but have no context to say whether it’s actually good reggae.

  12. Mouth – “For the record, I’d like to state with absolute clarity that “Doggystyle,” “Chronic 2001,” and “The Chronic” all belong in a list of the top 7 or 8 rap albums of all time, and I’ll fight anyone who says otherwise.”

    Well. Ding ding. They’re all worthy of a spot in the top 50 though.

    Skani – I’ve been ambivalent towards that myself. I don’t think Snoop is incapable of making good music. I thought THE BLUE CARPET TREATMENT from a few years ago was actually pretty good and his first listenable joint since THA LAST MEAL. But reggae from the guy? I don’t know. I’ve got my reservations though considering his admiration of rude boy culture it should fit him like a glove. At least on paper.

  13. Someone get a pooper-scooper: Griff is talkin’ shit.

    Just kidding, buddy. I actually would have preferred to have seen Snoop and his outsized persona evolve over the years to inhabit a professional place in hip hop not unlike Tom Waits and his peculiar variety of fantasia in rock music, but the portal closed on the possibility of that reality happening a long time ago.

  14. Vern – I was sure you were aware of Snoop selling (or announcing it at once point he was going to) his own hot dog brand: “Snoop’s Dogs.”

  15. Broddie, I thought the Imagine song off Blue Carpet Treatment was pretty good. At the same time, I kind of have trouble when Dre gets deep and reflective (like on I Need a Doctor or that new 50 Cent New Day song), because I know Dre didn’t actually write it. So much of Dre’s greatest songs are just a kind of persona. Dre from the Chronic albums seems to be largely a fictional character (again, like Prodigy of Mobb Deep). So, you have this fictional gangsta character that Andre Young plays, and these verses he spits written by others. So, when Dre actually tries to do some self-aware type stuff (again, still written by someone else), I don’t really know what to make of it in terms of having any authenticity. Like, does Dre really sit around reflecting about his past or his vision for the future and what kind of man he wants to be and what his legacy is, etc. Or does he just like playing with beats and selling those headphones. With Nas or Eminem or 2pac, you feel like you get a sense of the man–even if there’s also still some braggadocious or goofy stuff. With Dre, I have no idea who this guy really is or what drives him.

  16. Vern, since you went to the Up In Smoke tour, I’m sure you saw Da Chronic Spot, which is pretty much the best short film I’ve ever seen and sounds an awful lot like Murder Was the Case in tone. It was probably directed by Dre or Gray. For those of you who haven’t seen it, Snoop and Dre thwart a liquor store robbery and it is AWESOME

    http://youtu.be/nYbrbHY3XXo

    Also, I know Dre and Gray are working on an NWA bio pic, and while I know it’s going to most likely be a pretty serious movie I really, really hope it ends up being something like this. They could just base it on “Gangsta Gangsta”. I want to see Cube takin people out with a flurry of buck shots.

  17. Why is it that whenever gunshots are fired at a music awards show, it’s always rap-affiliated or BET? I mean for once I would like to read that and not just assume one of those, and instead be like the Country Music Awards or something like that.

    ~Gospel Music Awards would be even better.

  18. Skani – To my understanding Dre dictates his feeling to the ghost writer and the writer puts it down on the pad. Sure those aren’t his lyrics but it’s his message. That’s why when you hear a song like The Message about his brother or What’s The Difference where he’s making ammends with people it comes across as genuine.

    The thing with gangsta rappers and a lot of rappers in general is that it’s like the WWF. The larger than life persona on the records no different than larger than life personas in a wrestling ring. But there is an element of the truth within those characters. Ghostface Killah has spit shit that comes straight from the heart of Dennis Coles, There is a lot of stuff that Ice Cube spit that relates directly to actual experiences & observations of O’Shea Jackson etc.

    These guys have said a lot of stuff on record that would pretty much have them convicted of felonies all across the board. Obviously it’s just their way of flexing their imagination and expressing themselves through creative art. But that doesn’t mean that they don’t find times to keep it real and break through their own characters as well. After all part of it being self expression is that you gotta keep it genuine at points.

    RRA – Because alot of muthafuckas in the rap game are straight up ig’nant.

  19. That video of Snoop making mash potatoes with Martha Stewart is just sad. As Paul Monney would say, that’s the definition of cooning. What stereotype doesn’t he do in that video which ends with him saying he wants some chicken wings? Really? What the hell happened with that dude. Once upon a time he was a credible rapper but now he’s just a human cartoon.

  20. Broddie, yeah, I’ve heard that Dr. Dre exercises ultimate creative control in shaping his ghost writers. Except some songs, like anytime he collaborates with Eminem or that Topless track that Eminem wrote for him, where it’s just all rhymes and no substance.

    My sense is that Dre would just totally break away from the gangsta thing if he could. That’s what he tried to do on Been There, Done That, but nobody bought it, and I think that took the air out of his delusion that he could leave gangsta rap behind but still take an audience with him. You also see that on the Watcher (“family mode”) and Message to God (“realizin’ I’m no gangsta”) and Forgot about Dre (“gonna turn me back to the old me”) and Hello (“just ’cause I put away the sawed off”), where he’s basically testing the waters on admitting he’s not a gangsta anymore and maybe never was.

    http://www.zimbio.com/pictures/3kXzR_UtnQh/Dr+Dre+Wife+Shopping+Malibu/JWLyeZoPtii

    I think he likes gangsta music but feels like he’s mostly outgrown it, but knows he’s been typecast. i think that may be a big reason for the Detox delay. The ambivalence, b/c he just knows he’s not an effing gangsta and that it’s kind of ridiculous for him to pose as one at this age, but he knows that he has to put out a gangsta album, or at least he hasn’t found the magic hat trick way to put out something different and still sell records.

  21. Surprised to make it through this review and the comments without seeing anybody reference the fact that Snoop Dogg is no longer Snoop Doog.

    He changed his name to Snoop Lion, embraced the Rasta ways, swears he’s done with rap, and said and I quote “Fuck Snoop Dogg. Don’t think about none of the shit he rapped about…hustling and making money and drug dealin’ and shootin’. All that shit be outta here.”

    There’s a interesting looking documentary coming out about his experiences in Jamaica and his transition to Snoop Lion.

    http://youtu.be/MTqyV5Kw9Ss

  22. I view this as a huge, sad publicity stunt. He’s still performing his old stuff and just filmed a generic Snoop Dogg cypher for the 2012 BET awards. Check the Murder Was the Case thread for more.

    Having said this, I kind of dig the La La La song. I didn’t say Snoop was all garbage, just that he never lived up to his initial promise. In 1991-1993 he was a bona fide revelation. He’s had longevity, but his later stuff has been uneven and mostly forgettable.

  23. Oh, wait, this is that thread. :-) I had attempted to elicit a reaction from Vern a number of comments up, but no dice.

  24. Snoop’s currently part of a celebrity WORDS WITH FRIENDS (online scrabble) tournament on Facebook. He better not try pulling any of that shizzle crap.

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