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CB4 (Special Edition)
As time passes, CB4 feels more and more dated in equally positive and negative measure. On one hand, it's an often hilarious time capsule that captures the fracturing in hip-hop that was taking place during the early 90s. This fracture is represented within the three distinct personalities that form the fictional gangster rap group CB4.
Gusto/Albert (Chris Rock) is the murderous gangster type who doesn't give a damn if you like him or not, with a soft suburban nerd hiding behind the media-hyped persona. Stab Master Arson/Otis (Deezer D) is the big butt and party-loving Sir Mix-a-lot and 2 Live Crew type who uses blatant misogyny to cover for his sexual inadequacies. Euripides/Dead Mike (Allan Payne) is the socially conscious rapper who's confused about how to communicate black power to a mainstream audience (His solo track "I'm Black Y'all", with all lyrics simply repeating the fact that he's black, is the funniest parody song in the movie).
The rise and fall of this band during a complex and absurdly comical time within the genre's period will of course invite Spinal Tap comparisons. The pointed satire from the screenwriters, Rock among them, is duly aware of the rap-related issues it skewers. Like Spinal Tap, the ribbing comes from a place of love for the music itself, and that's what makes CB4 so charming, at least when it comes to its overall energy and characters.
The plot is another matter. It would have been completely satisfactory to construct a comedy around a rap group who becomes big by pretending to be gangsters when they're actually from a safe suburb would have been enough. But the script is muddied with an unnecessary crime plot that has the real Gusto (Pre-Chapelle Show Charlie Murphy) escaping prison and trying to ruin Albert for stealing his identity. This convoluted plot takes up too much space within such an already short feature, causing the satirical elements to fall short of CB4's counterparts Spinal Tap and the terrific early 90s rap mockumentary, Fear of a Black Hat.
The negative way CB4 has dated consists of pop culture references that today's audience probably wouldn't understand. There are too many of them to ignore.
Kino's 1080p transfer is the cleanest and crispest possible home video of the film I've ever seen. Director Tamra Davis had helmed a bunch of rap music videos before CB4, so she showcases a deft handle of the various visual styles of each sub-genre of rap from the period. The video presentation captures these styles really well, from the grainy black-and-white look of the Straight Outta Compton parody Straight Outta Locash to the gaudy pop colors of Stab Master Arson's bootie video and the spot-on McHammer parody.
The rap-filled soundtrack, a mix of parody songs written for the movie, and some of the real tracks, the best that the period had to offer, deserved a spruced up 5.1 lossless track. Unfortunately, we just get a DTS-HD 2.0 presentation. The clarity of the music is still solid, and it's still the best you'll find on home video, but the lack of a dedicated bass track is definitely noticeable.
Interview with Tamra Davis: Davis talks about her experiences with directing music videos, and how this prepared her for CB4.
Interview with Nelson George: The film's co-writer talks about the links between CB4 and the Rodney King riots.
Commentary by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas and Josh Nelson: The film historians offer a fairly clinical but very informative lecture on the production and the rap scene of the time.
We also get a Trailer.
Almost 30 years after its release CB4 is a mixed bag. It had the potential of becoming rap's Spinal Tap but drops the ball because of a shoehorned crime/comedy plot. Still, the satire on the rap scene at the time is spot on. I just wish there was more of it.rn
Oktay Ege Kozak is a film critic and screenwriter based in Portland, Oregon. He also writes for The Playlist, The Oregon Herald, and Beyazperde.com