Saturdays were the greatest day of the week growing up as a kid because my mother and I would always see a movie or “Going to the show” as we used to say back in the day. I asked my mother if we could see a movie called Juice and her facial expression spoke confusion because the choice was different from my usual typical childhood horror or action flick taste. I had my first adolescent choice for entertainment based on the film starring 4 unknown actors one of being a young soon to be legend Tupac Shukar who was at the time only a rookie MC rapper. In middle school my friend Adonis and I would rap out loud “Brenda’s Got A Baby” over a dozen times daily so the chance to see Pac on the big screen was a huge deal. We pulled up to the infamous Detroit area hood theatre “Americana” and instantly could see that the whole block came out to see the film also. Inside the audience was filled with dressed in all-black attire type gentlemen, some with high-top fade or 360 wave haircuts while the ladies dressed in tight fitted guess jeans wearing their hair up with 20plus silver-tone pins inside a bun. I wondered if we would get a chance to actually watch the movie as words like “A nigga get off my shoes” and “Oh, I know this bitch ain’t looking at MY MAN?!!” gave signs that any minute a real-life film would be made in front of us. The only thing thicker than the tension in the room was the weed smoke in the air that was heavy enough to make all who were present fail a drug test. Suddenly, the lights turned off making the theatre completely dark and the sounds of a bass like instrument played out of the speakers followed by a familiar voice that spoke with a parental-like authority that said, “Sip the juice, I got enough to go around…” There was an immediate silence as the God MC Rakim’s rhymes had commanded the once restless now calm crowd to move their heads side to side in rhythm and follow the leader to watch the screen. Within 45secs Juice had become more than just a movie but a visual voice of the culture.
From the start, all four characters in the film gained my full attention. There was the lovable overweight Steel (Jermaine Hopkins) who beatboxed in the mirror while getting dressed in stonewashed jean overhauls, hit on every girl who walked passed him all while fearing a military-style father who’s yelling overpowered any early morning alarm clock. Pretty boy Raheem (Khalil Kain) the group’s leader whose vanity got him easily tricked by his sister to use the bathroom and apparently also an irresponsible teenage father. Bishop(2Pac) the renegade hood overachiever who craved boss like respect from all, cheered for the bad guy in movies and visibly showed a deep sadness in the presence of his something-is-not-quite-right father. I instantly connected with Q(Omar Epps) the group’s DJ who dated an older attractive woman(Cindy Herron of EnVogue) and love for music gave him big dreams of making it, opposite his mother’s preaching’s of working for good money at a job fixing car stereos. Whether it was skipping school or dodging gang members the self-proclaim Wrecking Crew daily activities looked fairly innocence until the group makes a decision to graduate from everyday nickel and diming to attempting to rob the neighborhood corner store. The robbery goes bad because Bishop (not sure why they gave him the gun to hold in first place) shoots and kills the store owner. The audience in unison reacts with an “Old Shit!!!” when moments later Bishop kills Raheem with the same gun in a fight causing my Mother’s eyes to get watery. Tupac’s acting was second to none playing a sociopath rapidly heading toward a mental decline. Bishop’s moves were becoming unpredictable as the audience sucked their teeth to see him at the funeral hug the mother of the friend he himself murdered while killing off a bully gang leader. “This nigga crazy.” I heard someone say behind me. We cheered for Q, the rising hero and waited on the edge of our seats when he ran inside the elevator bleeding from the gunshot wound from his best friend now turned nemesis. The stare Bishop gives Q for the few seconds felt like an eternity. “Fuck you gonna do? Shoot me in the elevator?!!” Q says with a reluctant confidence because there were witnesses around, and then BAM, Bishop pulls the trigger. When Bishop later meets his rooftop demise the crowd was so quiet that one could hear a mouse piss on cotton. In the end, Bishop was dead, Raheem was dead, Steel in the hospital, and Q the pyrrhic victor could only shake his head in disgust when a stranger tells him “You got the juice now.” As Naughty by Nature’s “Uptown Anthem” played at the closing credits, the lesson was cold and harsh; there is no Juice in death.
Unlike other classic “hood” movies that usually had one innocent character surrounded by a jungle of misfits, Juice featured four everyday kids from Harlem, NY. Not one of the four was a polished drug kingpin like Nino Brown, or a certified street gangster like Doughboy (although one couldn’t tell the difference from the Juice scene where the adult white male was so frightened of the sight of four young black teenagers that he skipped the sidewalk to walk on the grass) these childhood friends where innocent inner-city knucklehead teenagers. Out of the four in the group, Q and Bishop had the most in common. Both had dreams of living better than their surroundings and both were considered underdogs in their goal pursuit. Unfortunately, every hood community has a Bishop, someone who was constantly dismissed as “crazy” because of lack of concern and knowledge of mental health. The warnings of Bishop’s behavior were clear from the start from the moment the audience witnessed the awkward interaction with his silent father. As a viewer, each scene was a journey onto Bishop’s mental breakdown and the damage to all those around him. O-Dog moves were considered gangsta while Bishop’s actions were disturbing and a clear cry for help. When Bishop states “Yea, you right. I am crazy” he’s accepting his destiny based upon his unchecked mental condition and surrounding harsh environment around him. Now free, Bishop has fully embraced the laws of the jungle and now sees Q, once a friend as a threat. Every hood in America has a BIshop, a young black male whose goals are to be the most respected of their four-corner neighborhood by any means necessary. Same to be said for a Q, a young abstract who has dreams that expand their everyday life. Juice showcased that when two different ideologies from the same systematic oppressed social condition clash the outcome is tragic.
I was never the same after I left that theatre. Long before Luke Cage TV show I had adopted wearing the hoodie look from Q while always being known as the kid who wore headphones around his neck. Pretty sure that if my mother back then could afford DJ equipment, life would’ve been slightly different. Juice added to the growing Hip Hop culture that is still appreciated today. The following Monday at school my friend Adonis and I talked about the film scenes literally all-day borderline spoiling/promoting it for others. Afterward, Tupac became a legit acting star added by his music and infamous Bishop like actions with the law. The other three actors have gone to do other work but forever will be tied to the classic film that added greatness to the Hip Hop culture. Even as an adult, I freeze whenever Juice is on my TV screen or a song from the soundtrack is playing in the background. Juice will forever be my number film choice because of its relatable characters that were identical to my friends coming up and how we all were just one mistake away from a tragic life. I am thankful for its impact on the culture and lesson to always keep the Bishops out my circle.