‘Colors’ Impact Stands The Test Of Time 30 Years Later

On April 15, 1988, America would be introduced to the gang culture running rampant in Los Angeles, California through rap acts like Ice-T and NWA, who chronicled the lifestyle in song and in music videos. Many may credit gangsta rap with ushering Bloods and Crips into the mainstream and movies for playing a part, particularly the film Colors.

Classics like New Jack City, Boyz N The Hood, and Menace II Society may be the first to come to mind when listing the pivotal films that spoke to the gangster aesthetic, but Colors played a pivotal role in shedding light on the ills of the inner-city and the strained relationship between law enforcement and urban communities. Directed by Dennis Hopper and starring Sean Penn and Robert Duvall, Colors became a box-office success, with a cast that included Don Cheadle, Damon Wayans, Leon Robinson and Mario Lopez, all of whom would go on to become future stars and major players in Hollywood.

VIBE spoke to five West Coast rappers about the impact Colors had on taking gang culture worldwide and why the film still stands the test of time thirty years later.

Problem
What were your impressions of the movie Colors?
I knew it just looked real familiar to me, just from the look of it. I always thought though, for some reason, it definitely was told from a cop’s point of view – it was a cop’s vision of what gangs looked like. But then movies like Boyz N The Hood and Menace II Society come out and it’s more in the form of the eye of the street’s point of view. It was the first to ever really show gang culture.

Favorite character from the film?
My favorite character probably had to be the one that Damon Wayans played, the sherm head that was dancing with the fu**ing teddy bear in the mall saying “I’m fu**ing your girl, Roccet, I’m fu**ing your girl.” He had that little strange voice [laughs]. But when you look at that film, it had a lot of soon-to-be A-list actors in it. Don Cheadle fu**ing played Rocket for Christ sake. You had Damon Wayans, Leon, he was in it. You had a lot of people [in it] who became larger than life.

Favorite scene from the film?
The first drive-by scene where Rocket pulls up slow motion on the Blood with the door open and he says, “What up Blood?” and then it shoots straight then shows his mama crying the next day. I always thought that shit was crazy. The other scene when Rocket and the black dude from the Mexican gang, when they end up shooting each other at the end. I think he had a jheri curl, the black Mexican dude. That shit was crazy, too, when the Crips and the Spanish had their shootout.

How accurate do you feel Colors was in depicting gang-culture in Los Angeles and California as a whole?
Again, for it being the first of its kind and then me being very young for me to analyze it, I wasn’t outside to give you the play-by-play if they did it, but just from the guys I know, they had it real authentic. The crazy shit was the opening scene, like when they in the jail with the Bloods and the Crips, that shit was crazy. I was like how in the fu** did they shoot this? Right now, there’s a lot of intermingling with the gangs in the hood, which is cool, you know what I’m saying? I’m not here to promote separation, but if that was really accurate, I wanna know how did they get these two [gangs] to get together like this for this? Like I said, it’s the first time, so you can’t – you’re not gonna get it [completely] right. I would like to see what Colors would look like today in the modern form. That movie was crazy.

What are your memories of hearing the Colors theme song by Ice-T?
I was like, “Damn, this shit is hard as hell.” Ice-T was crazy. I remember the video and at the end him saying, “I don’t want you to die…peace.” He goes crazy and all hard the whole song and all this tough shit for five minutes and then he goes “please stop, I wan’t y’all to live,” that was so funny to me for some reason [laughs]. It was hard and had some menacing a** sample. I don’t know what the fu** that sound is. I just know when I heard that beat, I used to be scared cause I was little, you know what I’m saying? This song means gangs, I’m scared of this shit, you know what I’m saying? This song means murder. It feels like this song was played all over the city. The funny thing is we were just watching this video the day before yesterday and tripping out like, “Damn, this video was damn near six minutes long and this ni**a was just bussin’.” It damn near show the whole movie if you watch the video.

Do you feel Colors is a classic film and if so, why?
I mean, it’s a classic cause it’s the first time to put gangs on the big screen. It’s a classic for that reason and that’s the only reason you need. That’s the first movie about Bloods and Crips and gangs in Los Angeles. Thirty years later, to see it started off as that and see what it is now, that’s crazy to see. ‘Cause now, on some deeper sh**, that was the first time somebody monetized off of this type of situation. Now it’s used as a marketing tool to explode today’s big artists and a few sports people and different things. Like it’s damn near cool, which is crazy, but at that time, that was damn near like a horror film. That was scary, like “what the fu** is going on.”

Mistah Fab
When was the first time you saw the film Colors and how were you introduced to it?
I was a kid, I can’t even remember at what age I was when I saw Colors, but the West Coast is kinda split – California is three states almost. You’ve got Northern California, Central California and Southern California. Colors was very relevant in the culture of southern California, so outside of the world, everybody thought that California was all Bloods and Crips and where I’m from, Oakland, Bloods and Crips never existed. There’s never been Bloods and Crips in the city of Oakland, so for us, it just painted L.A. as “wow bro, I ain’t ever going to L.A., you can’t wear anything. They be tripping over colors.” Where we from, we say Blood and Cuz in the same sentence so it kinda gave us this whole stigma as kids, like “Man L.A., boy, that gang culture, they tripping. It’s maini’ out there, it’s too crazy.” The reflection of what L.A. was, we just thought it was all just gangs, kill you if you wear red, kill you if you wear blue, so that’s what my perception of L.A. was as a kid growing up. Just being a young kid, not knowing until I went down there and saw the culture for itself.

Favorite character from the film?
Don Cheadle, man, Rocket. Rocket was a boss. Rocket don’t smoke, Rocket don’t drink, Rocket was a boss to me, man. Of course, T-Bone was hella funny, but I just think I liked Rocket. He was just the laid back lucid gangster. He was serious about his business.

Favorite scene from the film?
The high-speed, man, the high-speed was crazy. When High-Top was on the high-speed riding through the projects, but when he told, that kinda discouraged me. [The other scene from] Colors was the language and the conversation that Pac-Man had with the other cop and he told him, “Man, one day it was two bulls on the top of the hill, it was the old bull and the young bull” and he said, “dad, let’s run down there and fu** one of those bulls up” and he responded to him and he said, “Let’s walk down and fu** em all” and that stood out to me as I got older because it taught you a sign of patience. It taught you a sign of learning how to be mindful and be strategic in your attack. The element of surprise and how you’re able to get more people when you’re just slowly approaching. That always stood out to me, the commentary in that. The script was dope. It was worded very elegantly if you’re able to depict those things in between and the decoding of that conversation. I always remember that part. That stood out a lot.

What are your memories of hearing the Colors theme song by Ice-T?
That was hard, I thought Ice-T was the hardest dude on earth. Like he was just hard! Like if you just listen to that, that was hard. That beat was aggressive, bro. You could hear the struggle, it was serious. It was serious man, just listening to it and listening to how dope it was.

Do you feel Colors is a classic film and if so, why?
You gotta think, at the time, I was a kid. I was only five years old when that came out so when I was able to watch it and know what it was, I was at an age where I could watch it with reasonable understanding of it. Where I was able to decipher what it was and what it really meant and then coming back to it and watching it as an adult, you even see more things to it. That was a hell of a movie, man, and I think the exploitation of the gang culture at that time, for one, the depiction of Southern L.A. gang culture, but [it showed] what it did to people. It made people wanna be involved with that culture so it was a good thing and it was a bad thing. It turned a lot of people out as well. Hollywood was used as a mechanism to get the gang culture to a higher level. If you look at a political view of it, the growth of what it did, it put it on a whole ‘nother level and it traveled. It made the gang culture travel from just being a L.A. thing to all around the country and all around the world. I been in other countries where there was gang members and I was like, “Whoa, that’s crazy” and Colors was the spawning of that. So Hollywood was able to use that tool as a traveling device to spread that cultural perspective to the rest of the world. And to anybody that’s ever lost family and friends to the horrific details of gang-banging, it’s different, man, it’s crazy. It’s always a good and it’s always a bad, you always gotta take the perception of how you look at things.

Murs
When was the first time you saw the film Colors and how were you introduced to it?
My mother wouldn’t let me see it. I was living in Lynwood, CA. At the time and was already “cuzzing” her and idolizing the older Crips in our neighborhood. She said she wasn’t going allow us to see anything glorifying the violence we were witnessing daily.

How accurate do you feel Colors was in depicting gang-culture in Los Angeles and California as a whole?
I didn’t get to see it ’til 2000. And to me it was unremarkable, I didn’t finish it.

Do you feel Colors is a classic film and if so, why?
Colors, at best, was another classic ploy by the American government to further the chaos, violence and division in the black community. At worst, it’s a “well-intentioned” dagger jabbed in the back of the black community by yet another clueless white male fascinated with our plight and culture.

KXNG Crooked
When was the first time you saw the film Colors and how were you introduced to it?
I was a kid. I reluctantly went with my older brother who used to get into fights everywhere. He went because he was a very active gang member. Just like I thought, we got into a brawl after the movie. All I remember is pepper spraying two huge dudes. Yes, I fought dirty. I was a hundred pound scared young kid. I lost one of my shell toe Adidas during the scrap. [shakes his head]

Favorite character from the film and why?
My favorite character was Rocket who was portrayed by Don Cheadle. He reminded me of my male influences at the time. A super Crip. I grew up in the “hood” where people who make it out through means of an education rarely come back and provide the youth with positive role models so most of us looked up to the older guys on the block. Rocket was just like my older brother and all of his friends. He was very relatable.

Favorite scene from the film?
I have a few favorite scenes. I like the scene where Robert Duvall’s character tells Sean Penn’s character Pac-Man the story about the bull walking down the hill instead of running to hook up with all the cows. It’s a great lesson in wisdom and patience. I also like the scene where Damon Wayans’ character T-Bone is describing the state police found the character Killer-Bee in. His description was hilarious.

How authentic do you feel Colors was in depicting gang culture in L.A. and California as a whole?
I think they did a pretty good job. I imagine they had a few real police officers and street guys consulting the directors and writers. They also shot in real gang infested neighborhoods so it felt authentic.

What are your memories of first hearing the theme song by Ice-T?
Gangster. Pure gangster. The beat is sinister. The storyline is a perfect depiction of gang life. From drug addiction to friends being shot, he covered all angles. The good, the bad and the ugly. That’s so necessary especially since some rappers glorify street life and never offer the negative side of being in gangs.

Do you feel Colors is a classic film?
The fact that we’re discussing the film thirty years later tells us it should be considered a classic. The cast is stellar. In my opinion, the relationship between African-Americans and Mexican-Americans on a street gang level still hasn’t been put on film in a better way than Colors did it.

Del Tha Funky Homosapien
When was the first time you saw the film Colors and how were you introduced to it?
Wow, the answer for [that] may be lost forever…had to be in like junior or early high school around then. Yeah, ’cause I believe NWA and all that really hadn’t dropped yet and unless you been in L.A. South Central, you didn’t have any idea that sh** was that bad out there. My whole family damn near is out in South Central L.A. I think I actually lightweight avoided seeing the movie at first. I was against that type of sh** back then, although I grew to understand it much more later and I don’t feel the same way about it now. But Ice-T, that’s the G.O.A.T., so on the strength of him being involved, that spiked my interest.

Favorite character from the film?
I don’t remember much from the movie. It’s been so long, but I do remember homeboy trying to do it to the stuffed bunny off of sherm/PCP. Disturbing, those types of things I seem to remember.

Favorite scene from the film?
Same answer really. That’s the main thing that stuck in my mind after all these years. Don’t smoke wet, hahahaha…

How authentic do you feel Colors was in depicting gang culture in L.A. and California as a whole?
It was the first wave, you know what I mean? Kinda was still Hollywood, but you know, it’s gonna be that, or you not coming out with no movie. I remember feeling like it was kinda lighter than it really was popping, didn’t seem as menacing as say, Menace II Society. By the time that came out, ok now I can barely watch that movie cause it’s too real. Sh** really be like that though. To think you could get used to that sh** is disturbing. Guess that’s where the fry comes in.

What are your memories of first hearing the theme song by Ice-T?
“Aw sh**, Ice done did it again!” That song got so popular. It actually had kids around me attempting to emulate that kinda sh**. Same with NWA. But see, them cats were more responsible than a lot of people may realize. When you really around the sh**, you tend to not glorify it. Ice-T definitely didn’t, he gave you the raw footage always in his raps, pure game. I always could appreciate that from Ice, ’cause not only was he dope as a rapper, but he also gave you something you could use out here that you won’t get in say a classroom.

Do you feel Colors is a classic film?
Of course, and you know why: it began to expose the craziness that had been hidden in South Central from the rest of the world. I remember New York cats used to clown us, like we all blonde chicks and surfers out here. Colors came out and it started to show you. You don’t even know half of what really be going on out here, the sh** is straight up war zone. How it could be hidden for as long as it was, or not believed to be really happening…is crazy.

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