Wednesday, February 21, 2024

“Compton” Cash Irony: History Repeats Itself as Warner Bros. Blows It On Rap/Hip Hop A Second Time


All that “Straight Outta Compton” money could have gone to Warner Bros. That studio had the screenplay and the project through their New Line division. But someone bungled it, and Universal wound up with the big hit of the summer about the history of Dr.Dre, Ice Cube and rap music. Warners, say the trades, may get around $5 million for its trouble. But the “Compton” riches go to Universal.

The irony is that this is the second time Warners has bungled the so-called Compton situation. In fact, Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine– now zillionaires thanks to Apple and Beats– were at Warner Music Group (when it was still part of Time Warner) twenty years ago.

If you’ve seen the “Compton” movie you know the story: when Easy E had his “divorce” from Dr. Dre and Ice Cube, the latter two hooked up with Jimmy Iovine. He had his Interscope Records as a label at Warner Music. Death Row Records, along with Snoop Dogg, was all under his umbrella.

What you don’t see in the movie is that Time Warner didn’t want rap music or any of these people using that umbrella. “Gangsta” violence was at its peak, and there was immense pressure at the corporate level for Time Warner to force Warner Music to get rid of all of them.

And so they did. Interscope was sold to MCA, which was renamed Universal Music Group. Iovine and all the rappers seen in the movie left Warner Music Group for Universal. The rest is history. UMG became a huge force thanks to hip hop, from Snoop Dogg and Death Row to Eminem and just about everyone. Warner Music Group was gutted, and finally sold to Edgar Bronfman Jr., who squandered the little that was left of it.

The other irony is that Universal Pictures, like Universal Music before them, wound up with the “Compton” riches. It should be a business school study how Time Warner and Warner Music managed to lose not only so much money, but so much talent. Iovine and Dr. Dre went on to create Beats and sell it Apple for a billion dollars. And before that they made Universal millions and millions on hip hop and rap.

A smaller irony: it was Doug Morris, now the head of Sony Music, who was at Warner Music in the 90s. He was the cheerleader of Iovine and Interscope. When they were forced out, and WMG was sold, Morris took over Universal Music and let Iovine, Dr. Dre, et al flourish.

Meantime, I finally got to see “Straight Outta Compton” last night. It’s just terrific. I know it’s easy to say now that it’s made $115 million. But F. Gary Gray and the screenwriters have fashioned what I thought was a very moving and totally entertaining saga. The arc of Easy E’s life turns out to be the backbone of the film. Jason Mitchell is superb. But so are O’Shea Jackson Jr. (Ice Cube’s actor son) and Corey Hawkins, and Paul Giamatti as the nefarious Jerry Heller.

I loved R. Marcos Taylor as Suge Knight, and Marcc Rose as Tupac. Carl Franklin should cast them in his “Tupac” movie, which starts shooting in January.

Eventually we’re going to have a Biggie Smalls movie, as well as Tupac’s, and maybe something from Public Enemy. The history of hip hop is very cinematic because of all the violence. I just hope everyone can pull it off as well as this team did. Bravo! I can’t wait to see it again.


Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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