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10 Hardcore Facts About New Jack City

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The late 1980s and early 1990s were tough years for some parts of America. Drugs, police brutality, and poverty combined to form a recipe for disaster, and it was in that environment that New Jack City hit theaters on March 8, 1991. A reflection of the times but also a cautionary tale for poor people in urban communities, the film is regarded as one of the most gritty and real films about drugs and violence ever made. For better or worse, characters like Nino Brown have become iconic symbols of pop culture. On the occasion of New Jack City’s 25th anniversary, here are 10 facts about the influential film.

1. IT WAS MARIO VAN PEEBLES’S DIRECTORIAL DEBUT. 

Mario Van Peebles—an actor and the son of filmmaker Melvin Van Peebles—has admitted that making his debut as a feature director with New Jack City was tough. He had directed episodes of shows like 21 Jump Street and Wiseguy, but the film was a different beast, especially in terms of the tone. “It's tricky,” he told The Morning Call. “New Jack is a dangerous movie to make, I didn't want to do a direct glorification of the Tone-Loc lifestyle. I had to be careful about that. I thought about the old Scarface movie, which was probably meant as a deterrent to crime because it depicts all the violence of that kind of lifestyle. But for kids who don't have any way out, 'Live Fast and Die Young' is like a motto. For people with no opportunities, gangsters become role models."

2. IT WAS A FINANCIAL AND CRITICAL SUCCESS. 

Many critics—and audiences—gave the film favorable reviews and praised the actors for their realistic portrayals. The budget for New Jack City was $8 million, but the film went on to make just over $47.6 million domestically. The soundtrack was also a big success, reaching number one on Billboard’s Top R&B Albums chart and number two on the Billboard Top 200, thanks to songs by Color Me Badd, Keith Sweat, Johnny Gill, and one of the lead actors, Ice T.

3. WESLEY SNIPES HAS MICHAEL JACKSON’S "BAD" VIDEO TO THANK FOR LANDING THE ROLE OF NINO BROWN.

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Snipes auditioned for Martin Scorsese and Quincy Jones to play the tough guy in the short film for Michael Jackson’s 1987 song, "Bad." New Jack City co-writer Barry Michael Cooper told Ebony magazine that he wrote the Nino Brown role specifically for Snipes after seeing his performance in that video. “Wesley’s finger-in-the-face questioning of Michael Jackson’s bravery was so realistic that I thought Scorsese had hired a homeboy off the streets,” said Cooper.

4. ICE T WAS OFFERED THE ROLE OF SCOTTY BECAUSE OF A NIGHTCLUB CONVERSATION.


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Though today Ice T is widely known for the 16 years he has spent on Law and Order: SVU, he used to have a very different career. Prior to 1991, Ice T had established himself as a rapper and was building a body of work that is now regarded as an essential part of the framework for gangster rap. In his autobiography, Ice: A Memoir of Gangster Life and Redemption—From South Central to Hollywood, Ice T recounted how he got the gig by being in the right place at the right time.

That place was a nightclub, and director Mario Van Peebles was also there that night. “Mario said he overheard me talking sh*t in the bathroom,” Ice T wrote. “I don’t remember this exactly, but apparently I was telling someone: ‘The problem is, if they could put me under a microscope and find one molecule of me that gave a f*ck, then they’d have a chance.’” Van Peebles liked what he heard and told someone that “whoever said that is going to be the star of my next movie.” He found Ice T in the club, gave him his number, and convinced the rapper to contact him the next day.

5. ICE T WAS LUKEWARM ON THE IDEA OF PLAYING AN UNDERCOVER NEW YORK CITY COP.

After he was given the script and realized that his character, Scotty Appleton, was a cop, Ice T was hesitant. His lifestyle and his music represented the exact opposite of what he would have to play on screen. "I started to survey all the people around me, people whose opinions I trusted the most," Ice T wrote in Ice.  "'Yo, I got offered this movie role,' I said over and over. 'But here's the thing: they want me to be the man. I thought my old crime partners might start laughing. Or snap my head off. But they all had the same response. They got these puppy faces, turned real quiet for for a moment, then asked me, 'Word? Ice, could I be in the movie?'"

6. MARTIN LAWRENCE WAS THE ORIGINAL POOKIE.

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Chris Rock’s portrayal of the drug addict Pookie earned him praise from Roger Ebert and other reviewers, but he was not the first choice for the role. In a recent interview about the legacy of New Jack City, screenwriter Barry Michael Cooper revealed that comedian Martin Lawrence had the better audition and had secured the part. “He’ll admit it himself, his audition wasn’t great, at all,” Cooper said of Chris Rock. “Martin Lawrence, he came in and killed that audition. The person taping had to shut the camera off; everybody was on the floor [laughing].”

But shortly before production began, Lawrence’s mentor and fellow comedian Robin Harris passed away. “He didn’t take it well,” Cooper said. “He stepped out of the movie, and that’s when they gave the role to Chris Rock.” Lawrence later referenced the film in an episode of his sitcom, Martin, dressing like and quoting Snipes’ Nino Brown character while dragging around a stuffed dog.

7. THERE WAS SOME CONTROVERSY SURROUNDING THE RELEASE.

New Jack City and John Singleton's Boyz N the Hood, another film that dealt with drugs, violence, and black communities, were released within six months of one another. Five days before New Jack City hit theaters, Rodney King was brutally beaten by LAPD officers and the footage was broadcast to the world. New Jack City was cited as the cause for various disturbances and acts of violence in cities like New York and Los Angeles, which led to it being pulled from some theaters.

“Mann’s Theater sold out tickets for the film’s opening night and a mob of pissed-off kids, frustrated that they couldn’t get inside, started smashing store windows and vandalizing cars,” Ice T wrote in his memoir. He called the notion that the film’s content was to blame “total bullsh*t” and said that anyone who shoots someone at a movie theater came there with that idea.

8. THE NAME "NINO BROWN" CAME FROM A SHOPPING BAG.

Barry Michael Cooper recently revealed that the name Nino Brown was a reference to his own sartorial experiences growing up in Harlem in the 1970s. Cooper refers to a group of “scramblin’ guys” (the idols of neighborhood) who would shop at expensive boutiques in Manhattan. After window shopping at one store, Cooper inquired about the price of a pair of loafers and was told that they were $105. “I had a Neighborhood Youth Core job after school, and I saved up six of my $45-dollar-a-week checks to buy those shoes, before I went to my first—and last year—at North Carolina Central University in Durham, North Carolina,” Cooper said. “The icing on the cake was the Nino Gabriele store shopping bag. It looked like this ultra-fly plastic valise, in shades of brown and tan, with the name ‘Nino Gabriele’ written in an art-deco style.”

The bag earned Cooper respect, and the memory inspired him to name the film's lead character.

9. CHRIS ROCK SAID IT WAS "EASY" TO BE POOKIE.

In an episode of Inside the Actors Studio, Chris Rock spoke about how “easy” it was to be Pookie in the early ‘90s because he had real-life experience with people who did and sold crack cocaine. “Crack and the VCR, and the portable recorder came out at the same time,” Rock told James Lipton. “Worst combination ever ... Unlike heroin and opium and all the other great drug plagues of the century, crack, you could see it ... I wasn’t on crack, but we all were kind of on crack at the time.”

For years after making the film, Rock said that something bizarre would happen to him: drug dealers would say hello to him on the street, give him a hug, and slip crack or cocaine into his pockets.

10. THERE IS A PREQUEL AND A SEQUEL.

In his interview with Ambrosia For Heads, Barry Michael Cooper said that he has written and is writing a precursor to the New Jack City story, as well as a follow-up to the 25-year-old story called Am I My Brother’s Keeper, after one of the most iconic lines from the film. “This goes into Nino’s childhood, man—Nicholas,” Cooper said. “That’s his name: Nicholas Brown.” Cooper said that the prequel focuses on Brown’s upbringing in Harlem and what led his life down the path that it takes in the film.

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8 Arresting Facts About Scotland Yard
Jack Taylor, Getty Images
Jack Taylor, Getty Images

Depicted in fiction for well over a century as the world's premier police force, Scotland Yard might be the most famous banner for law enforcement in history. Though the name itself is officially a term for the location of the London Metropolitan Police headquarters, it’s taken on a colloquial use to describe the collective brain trust of that station’s patrolmen and detectives. Here’s what we’ve deduced about the past, present, and future of this historic—and sometimes controversial—institution.

1. IT GOT ITS NAME FROM A TRICKY BIT OF GEOGRAPHY.

London didn’t have a formal police force until 1829, when Home Secretary Sir Robert Peel arranged for a squad to replace the fractured system of watchmen, street patrols, and the River Police. Colonel Charles Rowan and Richard Mayne were tasked with organizing the force: Mayne’s house at 4 Whitehall Place opened to an adjacent courtyard that had once been a medieval palace that hosted Scottish royalty while they were in London. This “Great Scotland Yard,” which was also reportedly the name of the street behind the building, became synonymous with Rowan and Mayne’s efforts to create a new era in law enforcement.

2. CHARLES DICKENS TAGGED ALONG ON PATROLS.

Author Charles Dickens poses for a photo
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The renowned author of Great Expectations and other literary classics wasn’t a policeman, but he did perform the 19th-century equivalent of a ride-along. Dickens was friends with Charles Frederick Field, a Scotland Yard inspector, and their relationship led to Dickens occasionally accompanying patrolmen on their nightly rounds. He even based a character in his novel Bleak House on Fields.

3. THERE WERE DIRTY COPS AMONG THE RANKS IN THOSE EARLY DAYS.

For all of the public acceptance of Scotland Yard—Londoners were initially wary of the plainclothes cops walking among them—the squad suffered a sensational blow to its image in 1877. Known as the “Turf Fraud Scandal” or the “Trial of the Detectives,” the controversy erupted after a Parisian socialite named Madame de Goncourt was conned by two men named Harry Benson and William Kurr. Scotland Yard inspector Nathaniel Druscovich was dispatched to Amsterdam to capture a fleeing Benson while others pursued Kurr. The men proved surprisingly elusive, which prompted suspicion among Scotland Yard officials. When the two con men were finally arrested, they explained that an inspector named John Meiklejohn was taking bribes in exchange for tipping off Kurr to police activity. Two other policemen were implicated; the three each received two years in prison. The high-profile breach led to a reorganization, with the Yard inserting detectives into a new Criminal Investigation Department (CID) to help minimize misconduct.

4. THEY HELPED PIONEER FINGERPRINTING.

A Scotland Yard employee examines fingerprints
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At one time, the science of fingerprinting was more of a theory than anything that could be put into practice. Most police forces instead relied on anthropometry, a system created by French police officer Alphonse Bertillon, which used 11 body measurements taken by calipers to provide a unique physical identity for an individual. While fingerprinting was beginning to take off in India in the late 1800s, the English-speaking world didn’t adopt the forensic technique of lifting and matching prints until 1901, when Sir Edward Henry, then the assistant commissioner of Scotland Yard, instituted the Metropolitan Police Fingerprint Bureau. In 1902, a billiard ball thief was convicted based on a fingerprint he left on a windowsill. In 1904, a Yard detective demonstrated the efficacy of fingerprinting at the St. Louis World’s Fair, helping spread the new science to American law enforcement officials.

5. THEIR PATROL OFFICERS DIDN’T CARRY GUNS UNTIL 1994.

The uniformed police officers who wander London’s streets with an eye on keeping the peace were unarmed for most of the 20th century. It wasn’t until 1994 that select patrol officers were permitted to carry guns, a policy shift that stemmed from increased assaults on police. The addition of firearms was limited to armed response cars intended to be dispatched to high-risk calls; previously, officers were instructed to keep their weapons in a lockbox inside their vehicles. Today, 90 percent of Metropolitan police officers go on duty without a gun, a policy largely maintained in response to a relatively low number of guns carried by civilians. Less than four in 100 British citizens own a firearm.

6. THEY HAVE A SQUAD OF “SUPER RECOGNIZERS.”

A surveillance camera is posted in London
Leon Neal, AFP/Getty Images

With surveillance cameras dotting London, facial recognition for identifying criminal suspects is in high demand. But no software can outperform Scotland Yard’s team of “super recognizers,” who are recruited for their ability to match a face to a name based on their own memory. These officers are hired by administering a facial recognition test first implemented by Harvard in 2009. Those in the top percentile have an uncanny ability to retain facial feature details and are often dispatched to cull out known criminals like pickpockets at public gatherings. One such specialist, Constable Gary Collins, identified 180 people out of 4000 while examining footage of the 2011 London riots. Software was able to identify exactly one.

7. THEY KEEP A SECRET CRIME MUSEUM HIDDEN FROM THE PUBLIC.

Housed across two floors at the headquarters of the Metropolitan Police in London is the Black Museum, a macabre cavalcade of evidence from nearly 150 years of investigative work. Established in 1875, the collection houses body parts (gallstones that failed to dissolve in acid along with the rest of a murder victim) and seemingly innocuous items that take on sinister connotations: A set of pots and pans that once belonged to Scottish serial killer Dennis Nilsen and were used to boil human flesh. It’s closed to the public, though visiting law enforcement and sometimes celebrities can secure an invite: Laurel and Hardy and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle have toured its inventory. A sample of the collection went on display at the Museum of London in 2015.  

8. YOU COULD LIVE THERE ONE DAY.

The former New Scotland Yard building at 10 Broadway
Jack Taylor, AFP/Getty Images

The Metropolitan Police have changed locations several times over the years. It was situated at its original location of 4 Whitehall Place from 1829 to 1890, then housed in a large Victorian building on the Victoria Embankment from 1890 until 1967. That’s when the operation was moved to a 600,000 square-foot building at 10 Broadway in Westminster: a famous revolving sign announced a New Scotland Yard was taking up residence. In 2014, the building was sold to investors from Abu Dhabi for $580 million: London cited operating expenses and budget cuts as the reasons for the sale. The buyers plan to mount a residential housing project in the spot. Scotland Yard staff moved to a trimmed-down facility at the Curtis Green Building in Westminster and within walking distance of the Houses of Parliament.   

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Why an Ex-FBI Agent Recommends Wrapping Your Keys in Tinfoil Whenever You Leave Your Car
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A car thief doesn't need to get their hands on your keys to break into your vehicle. If you use a wireless, keyless system, or fob, to unlock your car, all they need to do is steal the signal it emits. Luckily there's a tool you can use to protect your fob from hackers that you may already have in your kitchen at home: tinfoil.

Speaking with USA Today, retired FBI agent Holly Hubert said that wrapping car fobs in a layer of foil is the cheapest way to block their sensitive information from anyone who may be trying to access it. Hackers can easily infiltrate your car by using a device to amplify the fob signal or by copying the code it uses. And they don't even need to be in the same room as you to do it: They can hack the fob inside your pocket from the street outside your house or office.

Electronic car theft is a growing problem for automobile manufacturers. Ideally fobs made in the future will come with cyber protection built-in, but until then the best way to keep your car safe is to carry your fob in an electromagnetic field-blocking shield when you go out. Bags made specifically to protect your key fob work better than foil, but they can cost more than $50. If tinfoil is all you can afford, it's better than nothing.

At home, make sure to store your keys in a spot where they will continue to get protection. Dropping them in a metal coffee can is a lot smarter than leaving them out in the open on your kitchen counter.

[h/t USA Today]

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