Before last night’s premiere of the VH1 documentary Planet Rock: The Story of Hip-Hop and the Crack Generation, the film’s narrator and executive producer Ice-T was sitting in a room full of Emmys at the Paley Center for Media in New York City. “I was approached by VH1 because they knew I was familiar,” he told Rolling Stone. “They knew that I had access to all the rappers… and that they would all accept my phone call,” he said, laughing.
He wasn’t joking. The movie – which focuses on how several of the biggest names in hip-hop moved from the crack game to the rap game – features interviews with Snoop Dogg, Cypress Hill’s B-Real, and the Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA and Raekwon. The film is impossibly thorough for an 83-minute run-time, visceral and severe, going far beyond the places where drugs and music collide – including unblinking shots of corpses being dragged from homes; former prostitutes detailing the inner monologues that drove them to the streets, and Los Angeles drug kingpin “Freeway” Ricky Ross talking about discovering crack production like Grandmaster Flash talks about discovering crossfading. Most notably, Planet Rock provides a fantastic counterpoint to the sensationalistic media coverage that ran rampant under Nancy Reagan—the packed house exploded in belly-laughs over Pee-Wee Herman’s “Crack Is Wack” public service announcement.
After the screening, New Jack City screenwriter Barry Michael Cooper hosted a panel that included Ice-T, Melle Mel, Faison and hip-hop writer Nelson George. During the panel, one of the film’s producers, Martin Torgoff, revealed the genesis for the entire film. “The whole thing started from a single image,” he said. “We were talking about Jay-Z when he appeared in the ’09 World Series. And he came out and sang his anthem, ‘Empire State Of Mind.’ And we were struck by the fact that this is the great American stage – and yet he talking about Dominicanos and stash-houses and things like that. And we were like, ‘Do people even know what he’s talking about?'”
After Melle Mel got in a few choice rants about the decaying state of hip-hop from around 1983 onward, Ice-T detailed how his involvement with the film dovetailed with his own life goals. “I got a word I use in my life now, which is ‘important,'” he said. “And right now, at my age, I’m not doing anything that I don’t think is important. I’m not doing pop shit, I don’t like pop shit, I’m not trying to be popular. This film is important. That’s the kind of work I’m trying to do for the rest of the way out.”
Planet Rock: The Story of Hip Hop and the Crack Generation premieres on VH1 on Sunday, September 18th at 10 p.m.