Fresh off the success of Notorious, co-writer of that film, Cheo Hodari Coker is set to chronicle the rise of the most famous rap group of all-time, Run-DMC. He will write an adaptation of “Tougher Than Leather” which was an authorized biography of the legendary group, not to mention the title of their fourth album. The Hollywood Reporter tells us:
The “Notorious” screenwriter is attached to adapt Bill Adler’s “Tougher Than Leather: The Rise of Run-DMC — The Authorized Biography” for DJ Classicz, the urban arm of Davis Entertainment. DJ Classicz president Dallas Jackson optioned the book recently and will produce with production partner John Davis…
“It’s an extraordinary rags-to-riches journey that I’m eager to bring to the screen,” Jackson said. “And I’m hoping to have Run, DMC and Russell Simmons’ involvement. This will be a big movie about the 1980s hip-hop movement that took over the world.”
Okay, so this brings up a number of feelings for me, a noted hip-hop historian and fan myself (self-plug!). After catching an early screening of Notorious (click for review), I came away less than impressed with the film. That being said, I had a chance to hear Cheo (amongst others) talk about working on the project, his knowledge of the salin rapper Biggie, and I came away impressed and my interest was piqued. I respect Cheo and have followed his career and writing to some extent throughout the years, as he is one of the foremost hip-hop journalists around. I would have loved to have to chance to talk to him further on his experiences and what he has seen, and to me that would have been far more interesting than the Notorious film itself.
Now, with this news, I again have mixed feelings. It’s hard to say for sure what impact Cheo’s work had on the Biggie biopic. I know that he was a co-writer, but how much of the writing was his versus his partner’s (who has previous screenwriting credits) is unknown. I felt that the film depicted a noticeable slant towards East Coast bias and failed to take chances and capitalize on darker opportunities. With the Run-DMC biopic, I am wondering where the central drama is. Yes, we all know that Jam Master Jay (Jason Mizell, RIP) was slain in the studio for seemingly unwarranted reasons (well, how can a murder be warranted anyway), and it was a day I remember well. I played DMC and JMJ tracks in a tribute to a fallen icon who was by all accounts a good guy.
However, when he passed in 2002, DMC had long since really been out of the limelight and off the map. Their rise and the Tougher Than Leather story should clearly have more to do with their beginnings, how they got started in hip-hop and what sort of challenges they faced in helping to bring rap music to prominence. The group deserves and gets respect everywhere they go (from the media at least) but sometimes seemingly gets lost in the shuffle of the modern day swagger and fronting that goes on in the modern hip-hop world. I fear that there will be some dubious casting errors (Mackie as Tupac in Notorious) for the three icons as well as Rick Rubin, who really helped to bring the group along. Will they have someone trying to portray Aerosmith who was half responsible for their hit “Walk This Way?” So many questions, it will be interesting to see what happens.
Of course, all of this could mean little, as perhaps the project won’t ever see the light of day. I don’t know if it is as commercially desirable a film as Notorious and when you see that film open to $20mm and fall drastically in week 2, you wonder about the prospects for a DMC film, since they have been out of the scene for so long. It could be like the Doors film when Kilmer tried to eloquently capture Jim Morrison on film. Semi-revered but still it failed to recoup its $38mm budget here domestically. I wonder what will happen here.
I want to trust in Coker, I know he is knowledgable, but as both a Run-DMC aficianado (I remember copping their first self-titled tape and playing it for any who would listen, “Raising Hell” is one of my favorite songs they have ever done) and film fan/critic of sorts, I am skeptical of the treatment that the iconic group will get. If it goes wrong, “I’ll cut the head off the devil, and I’ll throw it at you.” It will definitely be “Hard Times” for me if it goes wrong. Any opinions on this possible film you care to share? Please do.