July 12 in Hip-Hop History: Bow Wow Grows Up, Ice Cube Hits the Big Screen + More
Our look at July 12th's hip-hop history calendar includes the birth of a songwriter and MC turned comedian, a genre-redefining '90s film about life for young black men in urban Los Angeles, a young artist's evolution into adulthood and much more.
July 12, 1959: Funnyman (and Rap Lyricist) Charles Murphy Is Born
Best known as an actor, screenwriter, comedian and, perhaps, as Eddie Murphy's older brother, the late Charlie Murphy was born on this day in 1959. He catapulted to fame with regular appearances on The Dave Chappelle Show, where some of his classic skits included tales of his brushes with music greats Prince and Rick James. But the fiercely family-oriented Murphy wasn't just a bystander in the music industry; he contributed to the music of the duo K-9 Posse, which featured his half-brother Vernon Lynch Jr. along with Wardell Mahone. Murphy managed the group in their early days, and was credited as the executive producer of their 1998 self-titled debut. He also wrote the tracks "Somebody's Brother" and "Say Who Say What," and appeared as a drill sergeant in the music video for the duo's first single, "This Beat Is Military," echoing his real-life military experience.
Murphy had done a stint in the Navy, and a bid in jail before that. By the age of 28, he considered himself too old to break into the hip-hop world. But in 2012 he told Vlad TV (according to heavy.com) “How the fuck are you an old man at 28?” and advised viewers to not “let [people] tell you what you can’t do.”
July 12, 1991: Boyz N the Hood Hits Theaters
Released on this day in 1991, Boyz in the Hood followed the lives of three young black men in the Los Angles, Calif., district of South Central, and focused on issues of race, violence and relationships. The film boasted an all-star cast of Cuba Gooding Jr., Morris Chestnut, Laurence Fishburne, Nia Long, Regina King and Angela Bassett, as well as the the acting debut of Ice Cube. It began as a film school application idea for screenwriter and director John Singleton, who was writing about his own experiences growing up in L.A. Singleton, who that year became the youngest person and first African American to be nominated for a Best Director Oscar (he also got a nod for Best Original Screenplay), wrote the part of Doughboy specifically for Cube, after meeting him while working as an intern on the Arsenio Hall Show. But while Ice Cube was a member of one the best-selling hip-hop groups of the time, N.W.A., his status was lost on the studio executives.
"The studio didn't have a clue who N.W.A. were. If anything, it was the success of Do the Right Thing two years previous that helped more. Robert Townsend's Hollywood Shuffle had also come out Those were small measures of success – new black voices coming through," Singleton told Vice in 2016. "So the studio thought they had to make their own star. So I was sort of made as a filmmaker as a counterpoint to what Spike Lee was doing."
The film has had continuing cultural significance, and has been referenced in music by Lupe Fiasco, Game and Ice Cube himself. For his part, Cube has said, "I felt like a fish out of water, but I caught on. It's different than making records, of course. Making records, I'm like the quarterback. I guess now I'm just like the running back or a tight end, cause I'm waiting for the director to tell me which way to go."
July 12, 1994: Above the Law Releases Uncle Sam's Curse
Three years later, Above the Law issued their third and final album on Ruthless Records, Uncle Sam's Curse. It reached No. 15 on the Top R&B/Hip Hop Albums chart and No. 113 on the Billboard 200, selling more than 250,000.
Kokane, who had also co-written songs for N.W.A. before putting out his own debut, heavily contributed to the album, receiving writing and vocal credits on at least half of the albums dozen tracks. "Everything we were going through was a reflection, a mirror, of that moment,” he told L.A. Weekly in 2016. “Selling dope, then going to the studio — our whole lifestyle was inspired by injustices and the riots. We were just tired of that. We picked up a pen and said, ‘We’re gonna come up with something deep.'"
July 12, 2005: Hustle & Flow Soundtrack Hits Stores
Exactly 14 years after John Singleton's Boyz N the Hood was released, the soundtrack for the Singleton-produced Hustle & Flow, a film starring Terrence Howard as a pimp and drug dealer who aspires to break into the rap world, made its debut. The record featured southern rap from artists like P$C, T.I. and Lil Scrappy, Mike Jones, Nicole Wray and more — including Howard and Taraji P. Henson, who played a pregnant prostitute. But it was Three 6 Mafia who won the Best Original Song Oscar that year for "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp," with their performance of the song at the Academy Awards marking the first by a hip-hop artist.
"Hip-hop is here to stay," Three 6 Mafia's Jordan "Juicy J" Houston correctly asserted in an interview with Billboard in 2005. "It's in clothes, perfumes, rims, cars. Everything is hip-hop now. ... This is big for hip-hop, but we're also representing for the black community, letting kids know you can do something positive and make it bigger than life."
July 12, 2005: Bow Wow Grows Up With Wanted
That same day, Bow Wow had something to bark about when his fourth album, Wanted, debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard 200, selling 120,000 copies in its first week and giving him his third platinum certification. Unlike his studio So So Def's last young rappers, Kris Kross, Bow Wow songs such "Fresh Azimiz" and "Like You," which featured his then-girlfriend Ciara, helped transition the star from a kid rapper to a young adult artist.
"I’ve matured. My lyrical content has changed, the topics of the songs and the things that I’m now able to talk about and discuss are totally different from the past," Bow Wow told Rolling Stone in 2005. "'Let Me Hold You' and 'Like You' are sultrier tracks, while 'Big Dreams' tells the story of a 16-year-old friend who was fatally shot during a gang dispute."