The Hughes Brothers: Reel to Reel

It’s widely proven that the Hip-Hop generation fills the seats in movie theaters. While we might talk during the film, or leave our cell phones on, we love cinema. Throughout the last decade, Hip-Hoppers of all sorts have supported two of our own, Allen and Albert Hughes. Since their early years as music video directors […]

It’s widely proven that the Hip-Hop generation fills

the seats in movie theaters. While we might talk during the film, or leave our

cell phones on, we love cinema. Throughout the last decade, Hip-Hoppers of all

sorts have supported two of our own, Allen and Albert Hughes.

Since their early years as music video directors for Digital

Underground, KRS-One, and Tupac on up to the big time, we’ve been watching.

From the jolting final scenes in "Menace to Society," through the

epic "Dead Presidents," and most recently "American Pimp,"

we’ve enjoyed them all – as conversation pieces, as portraits of

ill street life, and most certainly, as entertainment.

On the verge of releasing the outtakes and outstanding soundtrack of American

Pimp, and the Hughes Brothers joined to discuss showbiz, the Tupac

conflict, Jay-Z, and even a few inside words on pimpin’. Whether you like

Coppola or Cappadonna, this feature beckons your read. When I first watched "American Pimp,"

I was in mixed company. The girls ended up walking away. This movie offended

lots of people. Is it too late to show them this other side?

Albert: It’s the same thing as saying, can you change

a racist from being a racist? No. There’s nothing you can do to change

their mind – especially with women. My mother’s a Feminist, and she acted

pretty open-minded. Of course, she’s my mother. It’s also the climate

we live in America. Everything’s so politically correct. People are so

uptight that they can’t sit down and watch a documentary and hear a perspective

that may not be theirs. Women get offended with the word, ‘c*nt’.

Why is c*nt such an offensive word, but p*ssy’s not? It’s just language.

It’s the phonics of the word. People watch a documentary about serial

killers, mobsters, but when it comes to a documentary about a woman, a legal

adult, selling her body – people have morality issues. Strange times. Because you’re the voice of the Hip-Hop

generation, why’d you limit the pimping to Snoop? No Suga Free, no AMG?

Allen: We had Ice-T. Almost regretfully we have Bishop in the

documentary. He has a great a photo album. He documented his pimping years very

well. Snoop didn’t even know about Bishop before he was involved in the

documentary. A lot of people got hip. He came up very much off the documentary.

As far as any other Hip-Hop characters and stuff like that, we were only interested

in mainly Too $hort because since day one, he was about pimpin’. Then

Snoop, because he’s more of the pimp look than Too $hort. From one journalist to another, I gotta give

it up for putting Snoop on the spot if he indeed pimps. I liked that. We want

that answer.

Allen: Yeah, yeah. That’s a funny thing. Here’s

the bottom line – you ain’t pimpin’ if you rappin’.

You’re not sitting in a middle-class home going, ‘Oh, I’m

gonna go pimp instead of working at Wells Fargo.’ No. You’re an

under-class, you’re sub-culture, you’re in the hood. You’re

either a dope dealer, a stealer, a pimp, preacher. It’s out of necessity

that one pimps. It’s really fraudulent to hear a rapper, or anyone, say

that they pimp when they’re making money. You asked this to Snoop on the outtakes, I’ll

bounce it to you. When did pimping come to your attention in life?

Albert: It’s a pretty sensitive thing to say now, because

we actually got taken to court last year by our father. He tried to sue us for

claiming that he was a pimp. I’ll stay away from claiming he was one,

even though we won the slander case. He couldn’t prove that it was untrue.

That’s when it started though, because we saw all these characters around

my dad. We didn’t know what was goin’ on back then until our older

brother told us what was going on. Playing off the soundtrack, hypothetically, you

were a pimp. What’s your anthem?

Allen: ‘Ride or Die’ by Jay-Z. I look at it like,

‘I’m gonna ride, or I’m gonna die.’

Albert: [Laughs] It’d be either “Pursuit of the

Pimpmobile” [by Isaac Hayes] or [“Be Thankful For What You’ve

Got” by William Devaughn] or some Curtis Mayfield stuff. I’m a big

Curtis fan. Another soundtrack bit. While it’s not

quite "Wizard of Oz" and "Pink Floyd," Dead Presidents relates

strongly to Jay-Z’s Reasonable Doubt from subject matter, to

titles, to samples. You know anything behind that?

Allen: Right. It’s funny you say that. I was just driving

today listening to this Best of Jay-Z album. I been on Jay-Z’s team the

last two months. I always loved him. But lately, I keep peepin’ him and

s**t. I was listening to some of the tracks, some of the words, and it’s

real interesting, ‘cause he came out in ’96. "Dead Presidents"

came out in ’95. About three months ago, he wanted us to do two or three

of his videos on his new album. He was pretty adamant. We were tied up doing

some bulls**t at the time. He wanted to make it a short-form movie. When I listen

to it, it sounds like it, to me. That would just be the s**t to me if you’re

right. He’s one of the only artists today, I can just put his s**t in

and respect what he’s saying. There’s a lot of similarities. That’d

be an honor to me. Allen, your fight with Tupac on the set of "Menace

To Society" has been widely reported. The biographers seem to favor Tupac.

Can you recount that from your perspective?

Allen: Some of ‘em get it right, some of ‘em get

it wrong. It’s this simple. Tupac and us, we were good friends. We did

his first few music videos. He was going to play the Muslim character, Sharief

– everybody thinks it was O-Dog, it wasn’t O-Dog. I was with him

when he saw "Juice" for the first time. That affected him deeply –

to see himself play a thug. Because Tupac was actually a very sensitive person

behind closed doors, very docile. He was nothing like his public image, at all.

Quite the contrary. [He was] very soft and very soft-spoken – a sweet

guy. He saw this film, and he started changing. We hired him onto the movie.

In all reality, he was right. He was helping the movie get made. Because he

was blowing up at the time. He came to a few rehearsals and he was just acting

a god damned fool. He was disrupting everybody. He was being rude. He was being

obnoxious. I gave him a few warnings, I called him at home – he was being

an ass. I called his manager, ‘cause he told me he didn’t wanna

talk to me, he wanted me to talk to his manager. Long story short, I ended up

firing him, because I couldn’t even talk to the guy. He just had become

that crazy. Then what happened?

Allen: About six months later, he had gotten a bunch of Crips

liquored up on a set I was showing up to. And they were smokin’ and drinkin’

and s**t, and I got caught out there. Long story short, I walked away from the

situation ‘cause there were like fifteen of those dudes. Tupac blindsided

me. Before I knew it, I had Tupac on the hood of a car. Right when I slammed

him down, I got ready to take off on him, all those guys snatched me off him

and started beating my ass. That’s the way the story went [laughing].

Then, few months later, he apologized in Vibe magazine for what he did, ‘cause

he knew he was wrong. Did you ever reconcile?

Allen: No. I knew it was coming. He knew he was wrong. He’s

not a dumb guy, you know – from point A to point Z. Tupac had it coming though.

When he apologized, it was all good. I never made an attempt to see him in person

because as far as I’m concerned, he was a walking target. I knew a lot

of people that wanted at him. The apology was enough. That’s the truth. For some reason, I always look at Black filmmaking

and think of The Hollywood Shuffle [Robert Townsend’s classic film]. When you

branched away from ‘Black’ cinema to do "From Hell," was

there resistance in Hollywood?

Albert: No. There was none. It’s interesting, because

I know filmmakers that get labeled into categories. Ever since "Menace,"

when we were young, the studios have always offered us top projects, summer

blockbusters. They’ve been very respectful of us. The perception has been

that they haven’t been. What’s more happening, it’s the press

saying, ‘Black filmmakers – let’s see what they do.’ The studios

have never had any inkling of racism towards us or holding us back or questioning

us, none of that. Now, the press doesn’t even come at us like that anymore.

The funny thing is, and I’ve never told anybody, after we made "From

Hell," we were in post-production, and all these things started coming

into our office. Free clothes. Free Red Bull. We had to make a White movie to

get free s**t! Black movies don’t get s**t. Samuel L. Jackson chastised directors hiring

rappers. From Too $hort to Saafir to MC Eiht, we’ve seen rappers successfully

act in your movies. How does that debate sit with you?

Allen: First of all, I don’t think any actor should be

speaking on that. That’s their profession, so it’s all good. I happen

to agree. I don’t think you should hire a rapper on face value, because

it’s bulls**t. In the case of someone like MC Eiht, I look at it like

this – if somebody comes in and they have character, I don’t give

a f*** who you are. If you’re a poet, a painter, or a pimp. At the time,

New Line wanted us to hire someone to replace Tupac, and it was Too $hort. Tupac

at that time, was irreplaceable. MC Eiht had a lot of flavor. Saafir was a friend,

he had flavor too. Not a lot of actors can bring that. A pimp is a controversial figure because he dances

between independent hustler and social predator. Do you think your film is equally

showing both sides now with the outtakes?

Albert: We’re not journalists. We’re documentary

filmmakers. Michael Moore’s catching flack for the same thing we’re

catching flack for – manipulating. But [the critics] weren’t seeing

the questions, they were seeing the answers. Funny thing is, if people paid

attention, they’d see that it’s there. See, I asked the tough question,

‘Do you beat your women?’, and they say, ‘Yeah.’ Now,

[the critics] want me to go in with morality and say, ‘Now that’s

f***ed up that you beat your women. You’re an a**hole!’ Where exactly

does fit into a documentary? Everybody knows it’s f***ed up. People have

a hard time with truth. There’s a racial element there too. It infuriates

them to see that a Black man is doing this to White women. They’re not

going to voice their opinion on that, but they’ll say something else on


Albert and Allen Hughes are currently developing several projects