Before Lil’ Kim told us about the keys to life, Q, Bishop, Steel and Raheem demonstrated that the “juice” was in high demand.
Released on January 17th, 1992, “Juice” was the next in line of movies depicting the anger and reality of urban youth and the streets they lived on. 1991 gave us “New Jack City” and “Boyz in the Hood” and to set things off in the following year, Director/Writer Ernest Dickerson gave us a look at the lives of four black teenagers from New York, not too far from CMB and The Carter.
After learning about a friend being killed in shootout, the teens conclude that the only way to get ahead was not through school but through street cred, taking them on a journey that encompassed almost every hood dilemma imaginable. Skipping school, teenage pregnancy, violence, music, robbery and more. All epidemics that continue to plague urban youths to this day.
But it wasn’t just a movie about some bad kids doing bad things. It showcased a reality that many didn’t want to admit to or see.
A more fitting description is probably “when keeping it real goes wrong”, as the desire to earn respect on the streets and succumbing to peer pressure caused our protagonists to skip school and head down the path towards demise. The teens are symbolic of many groups living in the city, where dominant personalities sway both the actions and reactions of those who get caught up in the mix, helping them to get swept away in the destructive wave of ensuing drama.
Juice introduced us to four friends whose adventures around Harlem would lead to life altering actions and fatal consequences. Raheem, the charismatic leader who wants to do better, but who can’t quite seem to leave the drama alone. Q, the aspiring “local” DJ who hasn’t quite figured out how to get serious about things yet so he goes with the flow. Bishop, the group hothead who shows no fear and intimidates others, but who’s also quick to get everyone around him in trouble due to his “hit first, ask questions latter” mentality; and finally Steel, the meek one of the group who wants to be down so badly that he’s willing to get taken advantage of in order to stay in the crew.
After watching it now, Juice could almost be considered as a PSA for every parent who warns their kids about the dangers of the streets and hanging out with those who will ultimately bring you down.
In the early ’90s, New York City’s gentrification hadn’t started as of yet, so inner city neighborhoods were still plagued by the vicious remnants of the crack years of the ’80s. Urban decay, unemployment and poor influences thrived in many neighborhoods, so “Juice” was a true reality experienced by many.
While some couldn’t avoid the drama, such as Bishop and Raheem, others like Q turned to music to give them a sense of direction, and during that time hip-hop was exploding so the outlet was there. EPMD, Naughty by Nature and Eric B. and Rakim dominated the Alpine and Pioneer car audio systems while the New Jack Swing sound was erupting from the Harlem streets where these four kids lived. Karl Kani and Timbs were must haves and FUBU was set to debut on LL Cool J and across the city streets. The culture was exercising its influential muscle, and no where was that more evident than on the silver screen, where movies like these were finally getting the distribution and promotion they deserved and demanded.
Juice illuminated us to the dilemmas and decisions impressionable inner city youths faced during a trying time. It gave us memorable lines, scenes and characters and another way to express the anger and angst of urban America. It gave us an amazing soundtrack and the big screen debuts of Brooklyn’s Omar Epps and Harlem’s Tupac Shakur. But Juice also gave us another hood classic that we could relate to and learn from, one that still resonates today.
It was proof of how something small can go so very wrong, so very quickly, and how you can end up on the wrong side of things if you don’t know the ledge.