When Master P’s “Bout It, Bout It” dropped 20 years ago, most people in America had no idea what “pussy popping” was. Images of New Orleans street life weren’t that easy to come by, and Master P, the millionaire rapper and record-company mogul, was still at least a year out from fully cracking the MTV audience.
(And for those who don't know, it's a kind of dance.)
In 1997, up to that point, it was mostly kids' movies, skin flicks and bottom-of-the-barrel action movies that skipped the movie-theater supply chain and went straight to store shelves. Master P, with the help of a major label (Priority), put out a visual album —- and this was before Beyoncé.
And it made a killing.
The videocassette of the movie (this was just before DVDs became the norm) was selling for close to $20 in now-nonexistent record stores.
The film, I’m Bout It, wasn’t trying to be the best movie, with the best video cameras or the best actors. It was an effort to tell a story about street life in New Orleans, and make money. The entire enterprise was building off early record-sales successes by Master P, who was still tweaking the pitch on UUUUGGGH, his trademark holler.
And the movie, just like a lot of things P touched, became groundbreaking. His filmmaking and distribution deal became the blueprint for low-budget and straight-to-video hood flicks for years.
But what was so special about I'm Bout It?
The raw crappiness of the visuals had that found-video aspect, way before Blair Witch Project or any of those Paranormal Activity flicks. This was a non-glossy view of the murder capital of the U.S. at the time. It was pure genius, and at the same time, it’s nearly unwatchable today. It’s a bunch of confrontational scenes strung together.
A shot of crack addicts sucking down smoke, and a lot of extras from the projects whose lives were later cut short, but IRL. In a lot of ways, I’m Bout it was Master P’s student film that made millions. It helped him cut his teeth in the film world before he made theatrically released features like I Got the Hook Up and Foolish.
I’m Bout It is far from a “classic” film in the “good movie” sense. Other movies that look at inner-city life are actually shot well and tell good stories; this one has cringeworthy moments aplenty. One of the most obvious cases is the drug deal with the Colombians, and Master P even mentions he’s ripping off the Brian De Palma movie Scarface. In the scene, you find P’s Perry McKnight character and his muscle get the tables turned on them by the drug dealers. The acting is so blatantly bad that you’re just waiting for a porn actress to walk out so it all makes sense, because nothing's worse than porno acting (so I'm told).
But that doesn’t happen, P gets shot, he gets saved and is dragged out of the stash house, whimpering about and then kicking a dead drug dealer while merengue music plays until the end of the scene.
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To this day, the movie remains a pure expression of entrepreneurship. Not a great work of art.
Whether Master P knew that making a low-budget movie with terrible acting and a hackneyed plot would catapult him even further into stardom is anyone’s guess. Having owned his own record shop in California, before he became a brand, he knew how product got to consumers. And in the process he changed Hollywood and the movie-distribution pipeline.
I’m Bout It had so many culture-watchers puzzled when it cracked the music and home-video markets wide open that CNN even produced a (tad condescending) ten-minute news package that talked about the intersection of Master P, the violent environment he grew up in and a friend who appeared in I’m Bout It but died shortly after it was released.