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New Jack City Is Turning 25

Twenty five years ago this month, New Jack City opened to the public. The film, starring Wesley Snipes, Allen Payne, Ice-T, and Chris Rock, was Hollywood’s first and arguably its most enduring cinematic glimpse at the crack cocaine epidemic. At a time when Operation Desert Storm dominated the news cycle, mainstream America was blindly stepping over the junkies, and reading past the inner-city murders in the obituaries.

One man who observed it unfold before his eyes (and notebook) was journalist, author, and screenwriter Barry Michael Cooper. “B.M.C.” grew up in Harlem at a time when drug dealers were prominent community members—part role-models, and part poison peddlers. A student of his surroundings, Cooper would eventually pen the definitive writings on crack’s vice grip on its smokers, and the trade behind it—first in print, and then in the script to New Jack City.

Cooper–who later wrote Above The Rim and Sugar Hill spoke with Ambrosia For Heads. More than just the screenwriter, the music journalist had a heavy hand in the soundtrack, and the seasoned Harlem native gave valuable direction to Snipes’ portrayal of “Nino Brown” and Payne’s “G-Money.” As the conversation reveals, these are characters Cooper knew—with stories he is still telling. This interview explores the true history behind New Jack City. The film began attached to one of cinema’s most celebrated franchises, featuring a superstar lead before becoming what it is. Great actors and comedians were considered for the film, while others proved their greatness within it. Although he never sold drugs or led cartels, Barry Michael Cooper brilliantly sprinkled his bookish, street-smart youth into a film that defined Uptown in the 1980s—Good versus Evil, and all the illusive smoke between.

Read the full article on Ambrosia for Heads.

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