‘Dope:’ An Ambitious Geek in a Hip-Hop World

By Elijah Harris

Dope | R  |  103 min  | Comedy, Crime, Drama | June 19, 2015

With Dope, another coming-of-age movie revolving around a post-90’s hip-hop generation, director Rick Famuyiwa has delivered another urban, “hip-hop” cult classic film, as he did in the past with movies such The Wood and Brown Sugar. The cast is a young and talented roster with the likes of Shameik Moore, Tony Revolori and Kiersey Clemons. Upon reading those probably unfamiliar names, most people will scratch their heads. For most of the cast, this is their first time starring in a major character role. 

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The film is set in present-day Inglewood, Calif.; more specifically, in a rough neighborhood referred to as “The Bottoms.” a neighborhood known for gangs, violence and drug dealing. The idea of Dope  might give off a tough vibe, but actually the film is both a drama and a comedy — a theme that is very similar in Famuyiwa’s 1999 movie The Wood.

The story follows the life and times of Malcolm (Shameik Moore) and his two friends, Jib (Tony Revolori) and Diggy (Kiersey Clemons). Malcolm and friends would be considered geeks or nerds by their peers. They go through a teenager’s dream of living a life of underground partying and other shenanigans teenagers love. Malcolm is just trying to get into Harvard, but it seems that the lifestyle in “The Bottoms” might be consume him instead.

Malcolm and his friends enter this unwanted life after he is invited by a local drug dealer named Dom (played by rapper A$AP Rocky) to a birthday party for himself at a local club. The night ends abruptly when the club erupts with gunfire during a drug deal gone bad. While Malcolm and his friends barely escape, they don’t necessarily escape from the situation and its consequences. 

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Malcolm discovers this the next day at school and realizes he’s on what Dom would refer to as a “slippery slope”. Malcolm opens his backpack finds a couple “bricks” of unwanted drama (drugs; MDMA more specifically). The film then follows Malcolm and his friends as they try to sell the situation away from them, and in the process ultimately become popular in the eyes of many teenagers as well as the LAPD. Malcolm and his friends literally go from being the geeks to being the dopest group any teenager would want to associate with. So while Malcolm is just trying to get to Harvard, his neighborhood is telling him,  “Hold up, Malcolm! Not so fast!”

The movie poster says it concisely: “It’s hard out here for a geek.” The actors nail the story, from the geeky and somewhat naive roles portrayed by Shameik Moore, Tony Revolori and Kiersey Clemons to the gritty, street-tough roles played by A$AP Rocky and other hip-hop artists such as Tyga and Kap-G, who have important cameos Shameik Moore could very well be the next African-American actor to star in sub subsequent major films.

In the case of rapper A$AP Rocky, his supporting role in the film could be the perfect opportunity needed to become the next rapper-turned-actor, following predecessors such as LL Cool J and Ice-T — that is,  if Rocky decides he wants to venture more into Hollywood.

The hip-hop culture pervades the movie. Malcolm and his friends are not only “geeks”, but also they are really into the 90’s “golden age of hip-hop,” as Malcolm refers to it. Hip hop also forms the background music and soundtrack. One of the executive producers of the film is the highly regarded Pharrell Williams, whose credentials include working with hip-hop stars such as Kanye West and Snoop Dogg as well as pop stars such as Justin Timberlake and Madonna.

Sean Combs, the figurehead of Bad Boy Records and a man known for helping launch the career of the late Notorious B.I.G., also helped producing the film. Overall, Dope covered many bases of hip-hop culture from that “golden era,” that Combs helped to cultivate, to hip-hop’s crossovers with genres such as alternative, in which Pharrell and his group N.E.R.D were popular. The film also demonstrates how hip-hop culture has branched out into other genres of music such as punk rock, partly through Malcolm, Jib and Diggy’s band, Awreeoh, as well. 

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Dope is more than a movie for city kids or “hip-hop heads.” It also has general appeal for millennials, and for those born later in the 90’s, for whom hip-hop music has become a cultural staple. Consider how hip-hop music or specific performers have made it past barriers and pushed into Top 40 radio.

Much as Famuyiwa’s The Wood went down as an urban cult classic in its time, Dope could very well do the same among millennials. 

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