Greg Braxton, Chicago Tribune, October 5, 2004
Ludacris is easily one of hip-hop’s raunchiest artists. He’s made millions with his rapid-fire raps about his favorite subject — sex — and earned a fair share of “Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics” stickers with such R-rated lyrics as, “I want a lady in the street but a freak in the bed.”
Not exactly the kind of artist you’d expect to see featured in the PG-rated “Shark Tale,” the new animated feature from DreamWorks that opened last Friday and features an A-list cast topped by Will Smith, Robert De Niro, Martin Scorsese and Renee Zellweger.
In addition to Ludacris, the soundtrack to “Shark Tale” features Eminem’s foul-mouthed proteges, D12. Although hip-hop has long gained crossover status, its high-profile use in a family film represents the biggest splash yet in the effort to channel rap’s coarser elements into the cultural mainstream.
Ludacris insists that cleaning up his act for “Shark Tale” is not watering down hip-hop’s edginess. The rapper said the opportunity to alter his racy style into child-friendly fare is actually in keeping with hip-hop’s creative spirit.
“It wasn’t really a challenge at all,” said Ludacris, who contributed “Gold Digger,” the theme song for a femme fatale fish, seductively voiced by Angelina Jolie. “I’m very multifaceted. All I had to do was make a song without cursing. And it’s still staying true to my audience because I’m branching out, reinventing myself. I don’t have to do the same thing all the time.”
“Shark Tale” floats its story about fish living and playing in a true sub-urban community — think New York City, underwater — and could be easily subtitled “Fishz N Da Sea.” Smith is the voice of Oscar, a little fish who works the less-than-pleasant tongue duty at the local Whale Wash. Zellweger is Angel, an angelfish with a huge crush on the clueless Oscar. De Niro spoofs his many gangster roles as Don Lino, a great white shark who rules the reef with his mob crew. Other voices include Jack Black and Michael Imperioli of “The Sopranos.”
The plot revolves around Oscar, who gets caught between a fin and a hard place when he tells a lie in an effort to gain respect from his fellow fishes. By the end of the film, he has learned a valuable lesson about honesty, life and love, while promoting unity among the fishes.
A validation of hip-hop
Several rap experts have already hailed “Shark Tale” both as a validation of hip-hop culture as well as a welcome shift from the celebration of more high-profile aspects of a universe that focuses on profanity, the mistreatment of women and material wealth.
“This is just further proof that, 25 years after ‘Rapper’s Delight’ by the Sugar Hill Gang, hip-hop culture has become American culture,” said Kevin Powell, a hip-hop historian who appears frequently on cable channel VH1. “What was once seen as just a trend has now become part of the American fabric.”
Casting “Shark Tale” in a hip-hop vein was a part of the film’s development from its inception three years ago.
“Hip-hop is now a part of our culture and our world and clothing and our music, and I felt it presented an amazing opportunity to show that,” said DreamWorks honcho and “Shark Tale” executive producer Jeffrey Katzenberg.
Crucial to establishing the film’s hip credibility was Smith, who has evolved from his beginnings as a rapper to become one of Hollywood’s biggest box-office stars.
Said Katzenberg: “He was also instrumental in convincing many of the artists that this would be a hip and a cool movie to do.”
Wanting to establish authenticity and credibility, the film’s music supervisors, Darren Higman and Laura Wasserman, said they contacted several harder-edged rap artists about contributing to the soundtrack.
D12, which usually raps about drugs and “ho’s,” was particularly pleased to be involved, Higman said. “They were really into it, saying, ‘Wow, we’ve never done anything like this before.’ A lot of these artists may be harder edged in their careers, but they are also pop artists.”
Thug life to hug life
Several hard-core rap performers who have laced their music with profanity and violent images are turning from the thug life to the hug life, embracing new projects that do not require a parental advisory warning.
Snoop Dogg, a rapper made infamous for his criminal past, brazen drug use and line of X-rated videos, is now a commercial pitchman for major products, a movie star (“Starsky and Hutch,” “Soul Plane”) and a talk-show favorite (“The View”).
Ice Cube, who is behind such violence-laden recordings as “AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted,” is the star and producer of the popular PG-rated “Barbershop” franchise.
Method Man & Redman of the hard-core group Wu-Tang Clan, and Eve and Missy Elliott have already starred in current or upcoming network prime-time comedy and unscripted shows.
L’il Romeo will start his second season as the star of Nickelodeon’s “Romeo!” which is the network’s most popular series among African-American children. His father, Master P, who created a gangsta rap empire with his independent No Limit label, co-stars and is an executive producer.
“Dance 360,” a new syndicated show from Paramount Domestic Television aimed at the after-school crowd, pits teens against each other in hip-hop dance battles. The show is co-hosted by Fredo Starr, formerly of the group Onyx, which developed a more punk-rock approach to rap.
Eminem scored as an actor in his semiautobiographical film “8 Mile,” which also earned him an Oscar for best song. And rapper 50 Cent was recently signed to an autobiographic film about his life in and out of prison. It will be scripted by Terence Winter, who just won an Emmy for outstanding drama writing for “The Sopranos.”
While “Shark Tale” may represent the most expensive and high-profile animated project to have a hip-hop setting, it is not the first.
“The PJs,” a TV series that aired from 1999 to 2001 and featured the voice of Eddie Murphy, was set in a housing project. And in 1992, Paramount Pictures released “Bebe’s Kids,” an animated comedy about rowdy children. The movie was written by Reginald Hudlin, who broke ground with the first hip-hop teen comedy, 1990’s “House Party.”
Toning it down
Despite the film’s urban bent, DreamWorks is not promoting that aspect heavily.
“I’m always nervous about shining a spotlight on the film,” said the studio’s head of marketing, Terry Press. “People can react negatively. We never focused on Antonio Banderas being a Latino character in ‘Shrek 2,’ but that audience knew he was in it. And Latino theaters were the highest-grossing theaters that opening weekend.”
Poet and activist Tonya Maria Matthews said she was proud that DreamWorks was embracing the hip-hop culture with “Shark Tale”: “The folks who helped form the culture should be really ecstatic that it has become universally accepted. Now it’s up to us to make sure that people use it right.”
Michelle Malkin, Michelle Malkin, October 5, 2004
In case you were unfamiliar with D12, here are the vile lyrics to one of its popular “songs” with Eminem. Please excuse their profanity. (Apparently, Dream Works has.)
BLOW MY BUZZ, by D12
This just one of them days when yo’ ass just wanna chill out
And motherfuckers be all in yo’ ear and shit, yknowhati’msayin?
Or that naggin bitch, that just like to hear herself talk
Blowin all yo’ high away
Now that’s some fucked up shit, heh
But it happens, yknowhati’msayin? yo
Yo yo yo yo
Schizophrenia, how many of ya got it?
How many motherfuckers can say they psychotic?
How many motherfuckers can say they brain dry-rotted from pot?
You got it like I got it or not?
If you did, you would know just what I’m talkin bout
When your tongue’s rottin out from cotton-mouth
When you end up becomin so dependent on weed
That you end up spendin a g in the vendin machine
You got the munchies, look at you, junk food junkie
Potato chips and lunch meat, up in the front seat
Sometimes you can get so paranoid from ganja
That’s it gotcha thinkin the whole world is watchin ya
Or maybe you don’t smoke, maybe you just roll
But whatever your drug’s yo, go for the gusto
Just don’t, come fuck with me when I’m doin my drugs
You see me in the club don’t come fuckin my high up and
Blow, my, buzz
You want to want to just don’t blow, my, buzz
(do what you want to) and I’m gon’ sit here and just roll, my, drugs
(smoke my weeeeed) and if you talk I’m gonna fuck, you, up
(I might just whoop yo’ ass) just don’t say shit and we’ll be cool
[ding dong] bitch let me in the house (avon? )
No, I just came to eat your mother out
It’s the big guy, doin a butterfly to the ground (go ‘head!)
[eminem] bizarre sit yo’ nasty ass down
I spot this fat bitch from across the room
Now suck my dick while your boyfriend’s in the bathroom (yea yea!)
My face is pink, lookin for a sink
And don’t worry bout what I put in your drink
It’s called a date-rape drug, ten minutes you’ll be fucked up
Open your nasty-ass legs up (yeah you whore)
Bitches I’m catchin, blunts I’m matchin
Don’t call me bizarre, I’m the reverand jesse jackson
Who the fuck is this guy, why the hell you in my presence?
It’d be cool if you was askin me some reasonable questions
But you on some bullshit nigga, this yo’ last beer (f’real)
Get the fuck off my dick and tell yo’ bitch to bring here ass here
I kick a hoe out without givin her cabfare
And leave her barefooted just for naggin in my damn ear
When I’m out eatin, you fags’ll interfere
They don’t go until I let ‘em know a mag’ is sittin here
I get drunk and I smoke weed, whatcho’ ass wanna hear?
I didn’t answer you clear, I met manson this year okay?
You want some yea? I’ll front yo’ ass a play
But other than that, get the hell out my face
Because you niggaz tryin to
[chorus w/ variations]
[kun] yo denaun you seem shook
[kon] I really am dawg look
This fat bitch keep chasin me tryin to give me the nook
[kun] aww man you probably lead her on
[kon] I just bought her a beer!
[kun] I saw her rubbin on your head while she was wipin your tears
[kon] I admit, I was high, but you ain’t seen me cryin
[kun] nigga you lyin, and you blowin my high, just stop denyin it
[kon] well at least somebody in this bar is, this big bitch did
The ultimate by sayin she wanted to have my kids
[kun] look man you grown, just leave me alone, I’m in the zone
Call it a night, get stoned, and take that fat slut home
Just drink the drink, hit the dank, do some drugs
Go kill yourself
[kon] fuck you!
[kun] well stop blowin my buzz!
I’m at the front of the bar by the lounge in the back
With a slut on my arm while I’m downin the ‘gnac
Got the pills in my system, floatin around
Everytime I start driftin, someone open they mouth
Yo my ear been spit licked and freestyled in
I think I’m goin def like old senile men
Only one good demo out of three thousand
(yo I ain’t wanna rap for you anyway, so keep talkin)
Next nigga that bump me, i’ma do the humpty
And elbow bitches, ‘til everybody jump me
(yo man whassup wit you man why you keep bumpin me and shit)
Whassup fool? fuck you punk!
(motherfucker, the fuck? it’s on fool it’s on! whassup then nigga? )
[chorus w/ variations]
We’ll be cool
We’ll be cool if you don’t talk while I’m just tryin to smoke my weed
Smoke my weed..
I’m tryin to drink with my niggaz; just shut the fuck up
While I’m just tryin to get blowed
Spittin to me some mo’.. (hehehe)
I’ll see you at eight, bitch
I think we will be renting Mary Poppins instead.