Jerome was playing no games; the majority of the Diggs family is packing up and moving on up to the East Side Ohio. That includes young boo’d up Shurrie (Zolee Griggs), and she’s big mad. Long-distance relationships hit different back in the day before cell phones and the Internet. This story is set about 3 years before phone card scams got hot in the streets, so Dennis’ only option is to give his girl a half-hearted “Have fun in Ohio.” He can’t even hug her and kiss her goodbye in front of the family, but he did slip a secret note in her favorite book. (You know how hard it used to be to get a hood dude to write a note?! He’s in love foreal.)
We admit it, we had Jerome (Bokeem Woodbine) all wrong. He’s holding down the patriarch role, packing up the truck, giving Linda (Erika Alexander) some lovin’, and doling out advice. In the flash-forward scene at the end of the episode, he’s tossing the football with Randy on a lush green lawn. This is the promised land Florida and James Evans dreamed of (and that Florida worked every episode to ensure they would never reach).
After putting everybody in the house to work on the move, including poor crippled Shot Gun (typical Black mama steez), Ms. Linda gives the “men” she’s leaving behind — Divine (Julian Elijah Martinez), Bobby (Ashton Sanders), Dennis (Siddiq Saunderson) and Shot Gun (Dave East) — an assignment: to make something of themselves.
For Divine, that involves getting a job as a condition of his parole. With a record, his best options are limited to general labor. Jerome, having been through this himself, gives Divine some tips, and it was surprising to see Divine genuinely listening. His close call with the cops and witnessing Haze get killed seems to have tempered his notions of getting back in the hustle. Even though it hurts his pride to be looked at as “another statistic,” he’s accepting that he can’t be a boss. Not right now, anyway.
Divine lands a gig with a janitorial crew at the World Trade Center, and while he’s out of his comfort zone, he’s not shirking his duties. (Well, he can’t, since his supervisor was clearly headed to one of the grown-and-sexy nights at NYC’s Shadow Lounge or Bentleys Nightclub to get his groove on.) At one point in his shift, he collapses behind a desk chair, perhaps more exhausted by his current reality than the work itself. As he looks out of the corner office view at the New Jersey skyline, we can see the boss Divine will become again, as the business arm of the Wu empire.
As the Diggs are loading the moving truck, cousin Gary, who’s now finally started going by “Genius,” is meeting with talent manager Andre D Andre (The Wire’s Jamie Hector), who also runs a furrier out of his office (that is some real old school NY entertainment ish, right there.) Dazzled at the site of Big Daddy Kane and Roxanne Shante, Genius is ready to hear whatever Andre has to say, and the manager tells him he’s impressed with what he heard on the demo, including Bobby. Gary gives Andre Bobby’s demo, which also features Shot Gun.
With his mom and younger siblings gone and Divine at the half-way house overnights, Bobby has the run of the house. When Andre reaches out and tells him he wants Bobby and Shot Gun to perform at a showcase for label executives, Bobby reverts back to the singular music focus he had at the beginning of the series. He ain’t even feeding the poor dog! Dennis is heated because, well, he’s Dennis and that’s basically his resting state. But also with Divine trying to keep his nose clean and Bobby’s attention elsewhere, that leaves Dennis holding down an operation that is technically Bobby’s family business. He’s also mad because “That chess playing nigga keep trying to get me to sit down” in the park. The old man might have given you some game about Shurrie, Dennis! Bobby promises his boy that when he gets on, he’ll bring Dennis with him.
Bobby and Shot Gun prepare for their big night by figuring out their official stage names. Bobby decides he’s going to go with Prince Rakeem, and Shot Gun is weighing a few options, including Johnny Blaze. They both kill their performances, and afterward, Andre introduces Bobby to Tommy Boy executive Monica Lynch (Jill Flint), and the president of Spring Records (home of Millie Jackson), Jules Rifkin (Mark Lotito), plus Jules’ young son, Steve. Yes, future founder of LOUD Records, the eventual home of the Wu-Tang Clan, Steve Rifkind (Jack Hoffman).
Later at the house, Divine expresses frustration with Bobby because he’s busting his ass to get back on his feet and he feels like Bobby isn’t taking real-world responsibilities seriously, leading Divine to question whether he coddled his younger brother too much. However, when Bobby updates him on the manager and the upcoming meeting at Tommy Boy, for the first time, Divine listens and bigs Bobby up instead of blowing his music off.
The night of the showcase was a come up for Bobby, but it may have been a set back for Shot Gun. While Bobby was meeting both of his future label executives, across the room Shot Gun was entertaining a slick label executive who asks him if his cane is a prop for a pimp persona, and tells him he could be as big as Father MC (who’s probably at home somewhere right now wondering why Rza pulled him into this narrative). When Shot Gun tells the suit he’s not down for “pretty boy rap,” the slickster retorts that it’s better than slingin’ on the corner. And Shot Gun – who hasn’t sold drugs, hasn’t done time and has seen too many opportunities taken from him, goes off.
Now, let’s talk about Shot Gun. Flashbacks throughout the episode show us young Shot Gun (Therell Spires) as a promising lacrosse player on Long Island goaded into fighting by his hatin’ ass cousin, thrown out by his aunt and sent back to his grandmother (who had already thrown him out at least once). We understand his grandmother’s reservations when his uncle – who we assume is in and out of both jail and sobriety – comes home. Black mamas can only take so much. Shot Gun watches his Uncle Anthony (Jason Kelly) work to get back on stable ground — not unlike Divine — only to have his pride hurt and return to using. A decision young Clifford ultimately pays a cost for, as he has to leave his championship lacrosse game to get his uncle off the field so he isn’t arrested. Uncle Anthony’s arrested anyway, and when cops threaten to call child services, his grandmother (Adriene Lenox) tells them Shot Gun lives with his mom in Staten Island. So Shot Gun grabs his lacrosse stick and his clothes and heads to Park Hill, where a young Haze defends him from getting clowned before he even makes it to his mom’s door.
Shot Gun recalls all of this as he mourns Haze’s death and the theft of “big opportunities.” Times that either fate or his self-defense has cost him something: shelter, a game, and possible scouting opportunity, and now, a deal. When Andre sees Shot Gun blow up at the executive, he decides he doesn’t want to represent him. And doesn’t want Bobby to bring him into his studio sessions — or, possibly, any of the other guys: “I’m not trying to have half of Staten Island in the sessions.” This is disheartening for Bobby, who’s already been thinking about a crew, asking the Tommy Boy team if they’ve ever put all of Mark the 45 King and Queen Latifah’s Flava Unit on one record. When Monica scoffs at trying to wrangle all that talent for one project, Bobby argues, “It’d be like the Avengers.” (Tommy Boy eventually did it.)
Andre pushes Bobby towards a commercially viable single to seal the deal with Tommy Boy. They dig through vinyl, with Andre suggesting James Brown samples and other typical early ‘90s fare. Bobby wants to go in a different direction and produce for himself, but Andre wants him to focus on being a rapper because “rappers don’t produce they own shit.” With an additional promise to Shot Gun that he’ll figure out a way to get him on, Bobby gets in the studio as Prince Rakeem and records his first Tommy Boy single; a little bop about how much the ladies love him. Later, Sha (why does he always look so menacing?) and Shot Gun are shocked to find the 12” vinyl with an illustrated, sambo-esque cover in the record store bin.
What This Episode Got Right: Dave East as Shot Gun is just…perfection. We forgot at times that we weren’t actually watching young Meth. And “We Love You Rakeem” was indeed Rza’s debut single from Tommy Boy.
What This Episode Got Wrong: So… Kane and Roxanne were just in the fur vault chillin’ the whole time Gary was meeting with Andre?
What We Could Have Done Without: Mama Linda’s goodbye speech was a little too preachy, but we didn’t mind that much.
What We Have Questions About: Where is Ason? He’s Bobby’s cousin. He should have at least been around to tell Linda, Shurrie and Randy goodbye.