These days, if you're a rapper, it's likely you're also an actor. The crossover pioneered by Ice-T has become a rite of passage for rappers big and small, from local rhymer Lil' Troy in H-Town MOB to superstars Nas and DMX in Belly. Films do great things for rappers' careers (after all, they have sound tracks). And hit songs get people to the theaters. Local director Greg Carter, whose first two movies have sound tracks that ended up outselling the films, makes good use of this synergy.
The mastermind behind such projects as Fifth Ward and Thug Life, Carter recently teamed up with Derek "D-Wreck" Dixon, CEO of Wreckshop Records, to produce The Dirty Third Part II: Home Sweet Home, the sequel to 1999's underground hit The Dirty Third. D-Wreck, the head of Houston's largest independent label, and Carter, the king of local "hood movies," have high hopes for their partnership.
"It's bound to be successful," says Carter about this latest venture. "Most of my projects so far have had major rap stars starring in them, or had themes that were based on rap, gangsta rap in particular." The Dirty Third Part II "fits perfectly into the equation."
The plots of both Dirty Third movies center around a drug dealer named Street, played by D-Wreck, who's trying to get out of the game. Street fakes his death in the first movie, but returns, against his will, to street life in the sequel. Carter has packed Part II with cameos by rappers Scarface, E-40, Bun B and Big Moe, as well as comedian Reynaldo Rey. For good measure, almost every 97.9 The Box personality you can think of, including J-Mack from the morning show, also makes an appearance in the film.
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What make the Dirty Third series so special are the slice-of-life scenes that take the edge off all the violence and add a little depth to the characters. "We wanted you to really feel these characters," says D-Wreck. "We wanted the audience to be like, 'No, don't do that,' you know what I'm saying?"
But producers say the first Dirty Third movie was made only to generate extra interest in the music. (The sound track includes such mix-tape hits as "Do You Love the Southside" by Lil' Keke and then-Wreckshop darling ESG, and "Brother, Brother" by crooner Ronnie Spencer.) Of course, with the success of the music, the film took on a life of its own. The Dirty Third was distributed by Southwest Wholesale, and D-Wreck has just inked a nationwide distribution deal with Artisan Entertainment that will release both Dirty Third movies to Blockbuster video stores across the country.
Straight-to-video is the norm for many local independent labels. Big Tyme Records' successful Banned series is one example. S-E-S Entertainment's upcoming action film and Scarface's first movie, set to start shooting early next year, will also skip the theaters.
"What we did was set a standard for other labels to follow," says D-Wreck. "We're trying to raise the level of the game in rap in Houston. You can't just put out a record and expect people to love it on the strength of that; you've got to come with something new, something that's going to get their attention and have them constantly waiting for your next project."