by Garrett Caples
San Francisco Bay Guardian April 6, 2005
ANYONE OVER A certain age remembers the commercials: some dude in historical costume, walking through the forest with an open jar of peanut butter, bumps into another dude with an unsheathed chocolate bar, which, to their mutual consternation, is accidentally thrust into the jar. This chance insemination yields Reese's Peanut Butter Cups: two great tastes that taste great together.
Like any origin myth, the commercials were silent on several questions, like why the experiment, repeated at home, tasted terrible, and how the sandy substance at the center of a Reese's could really be called "peanut butter." One began to suspect that no small amount of artistry was concealed by the apparent simplicity of the concept.
So it goes with the adult hip-hop DVD. As a concept, it makes perfect sense. Ever since Too $hort blazed a trail in the mid-1980s with songs like "The Bitch Sucks Dick," graphic sex has been a routine part of rap's lyrical repertoire. Once MCs began exploring the direct-to-video market in the late '90s, more-risqué fare was perhaps inevitable. But viewed another way, the demand that your favorite rapper produce serviceable adult entertainment is as arbitrary as expecting the mailman to deliver a pizza. It's not really his line.
Thus the field of adult hip-hop DVDs is littered with failures. Even partisans of the boob-flashing-on-spring-break school of eroticism, for example, won't defend the dreary Girls Gone Wild: Doggystyle (2002), in which an overextended Snoop Dogg shuffles wearily through Mardi Gras. More recently, Lion's Gate nixed its planned theatrical release of Method Man's directorial debut, a pole-dancing documentary called The Strip Game, by quietly dropping it on DVD in early March. Despite increasing amounts of product, a real uncertainty remains as to what constitutes a winning formula for blending two distinct forms of entertainment.
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With two episodes in stores and a third in progress, Los Angeles-based Metro Entertainment's Sex and the Studio series (www.sexandthestudio.com) is among the more popular examples of the burgeoning genre; thus far 2003's episode one has sold 30,000 copies. The brainchild of Digital Underground members Cleetis Mack, who directs each episode, and Money B, who assembles the soundtrack and hosts various segments, Sex and the Studio quickly established a brand identity based on its unique format, consisting of short interviews with high-profile rappers, like Redman in episode one and Ludacris in episode two, interspersed with hardcore sex scenes performed not by the rappers but by seasoned professionals. Each episode also includes its own album-length CD, a compilation of tracks by the extended D.U. crew, with guest contributions by the likes of Bun B and Planet Asia (both episode two). Some of the music appears on the video, but there's no strict correlation between the artists on the CD and those on the DVD.
This diversified solution to the difficulties raised by a hybrid art form succeeds for at least two reasons. First, let's face it: as much as we want to live the dream and enjoy both at once, porn needs to maintain some degree of separation from hip-hop in order to achieve its traditional goals. Sometimes a "fashizzle" can ruin the mood. But the flexible structure of each Sex and the Studio lends itself to the modular capacities of the DVD, which offers a choice of the full-length feature or individual segments. Episode two's improved interactive menu even separates the scenes by type, allowing you to watch only the interviews – or, more crucially, only the porn – without interruption.
What's your fantasy?
This attention to small but important functional details betrays the hand of connoisseurs for whom porn is both a vocation and a passion. Digital Underground aren't known as the "freaks of the industry" for nothing. From the concept of their first album, Sex Packets (1990), named for a mythical drug whose consumption induced a virtual reality-style sexual experience, to their numerous condom- and lube-throwing shows at the Exotic Erotic Ball, D.U. have long cultivated a P-Funk-influenced, sci-fi image of amorous experimentation. But for Mack, more concrete connections to adult entertainment developed with the recording of Good Laaawd, That's a Lot of Drank (1999), his ultra-rare, label-less, Poli Pol-produced collaboration with Numskull of the Luniz. "We shot a porno-stylish video ['Knockdiesel'] for the Internet," Mack says. "My mind started racing about what we could really do together." Money B confirms, "Getting involved with porn stars, for us, it's a natural progression. We keep the same hours, hang out at the same clubs. So we know each other."
Such familiarity with the world of adult entertainment is more than evident in the quality of Sex and the Studio's sex scenes, which is the second key ingredient to the brand's success. The high level of filmmaking professionalism – in terms of clean, tight, well-lit shots and smooth, cinematic editing – was a self-conscious achievement.
"On a black porn set, if it's a black production, it's a lackadaisical kind of thing," Money B explains. "They expect the talent to show up late. Usually they're done in somebody's room, for the whole movie, or in a hotel room, whereas white porn, of course, has bigger budgets. They have features and elaborate stage sets. They take more time with the girls in makeup and whatnot. I think we took it to that next level."
Indeed, Mon's ambition is equally apparent on the hip-hop side of the Sex and the Studio equation, particularly in terms of the soundtrack CDs, which serve as outlets for various members of D.U.'s associated crew, such as Esinchill and Chop Black of the Whoridas. The duo plan to use the Sex and the Studio brand, under the acronym SATS, as the basis for a label and production company. Their first signee, Fifth, an 18-year-old wunderkind from San Diego, produced about two-thirds of episode two's soundtrack, and his already formidable skills are behind the most improbable chapter in the Sex and the Studio saga: a video hit, "Drank-A-Lot," featuring Money B, Numskull, and Eddie Projex, in late-night rotation on BET (see sidebar).
The very impressiveness of Sex and the Studio's separate presentations of hip-hop and porn nonetheless calls into question the premise on which the adult hip-hop DVD market is founded, namely that the two great tastes can produce a genuinely viable mix. Many of the interviews, in which the promised "interaction" between rappers and porn stars occur, fall flat. Most of the biggies like Luda and Xzibit grow strangely reticent when pressed on a subject they otherwise rap freely about. A notable exception is Redman, whose candor concerning his love of fat women and feet steals the show in episode one. If every MC queried were as unashamedly forthcoming, we'd have a document on the order of such late-19th-century compendia as Krafft-Ebing's Psychopathia Sexualis (1886), which shed the first lurid light on modern sexual practices. As it stands, both episodes are bizarrely compelling if sometimes disconcerting (episode one wins on interviews, but two gets the nod for better overall sex scenes).Ultimately, I'm not entirely convinced of the merits of the adult hip-hop DVD genre as a whole. The same music might have distinct appeals to different audiences, but if a particular pornographic image doesn't excite a viewer, all the technical craftsmanship in the world is immaterial. If you're an admirer of well-shot hardcore close-up penetration and superhuman deep throating, I can, in all seriousness, recommend it, though I have to confess such porn leaves me cold. Yet, at the risk of sounding like the guy who claims he reads Playboy for the articles, I admit I'll probably check out the upcoming episode three of Sex and the Studio. For the music, of course.