Griselda Goes To The Movies
Let’s talk about Michael Rapaport. All through the ’90s, Rapaport was an omnipresent character actor, a guy who reliably brought goofy energy to indie films, to studio B-movies, and to studio B-movies that tried to front like they were indie films. His resume is dotted with minor classics: Poetic Justice, True Romance, Higher Learning, Beautiful Girls, Cop Land, Deep Blue Sea. In the year 2000 alone, Rapaport was in eight different motion pictures, almost all of which were box-office flops. (There is very little need for anyone to watch Woody Allen’s Small Time Crooks in 2021, but I can assure you that Rapaport is really funny in it.)
In the 21st century, though, Rapaport hasn’t been acting in quite so many movies; he’s mostly done TV series and podcasts where he cusses exuberantly about sports. (He also directed a really great 2011 documentary about A Tribe Called Quest.) Until a couple of weeks ago, Rapaport hadn’t acted in a feature film since 2016’s Chuck, the biopic about the boxer who inspired the Rocky movies. (Liev Schreiber stars as Chuck Wepner; Rapaport plays his brother Don.) But in 2021, Rapaport has made his triumphant return to the silver screen in Conflicted — a movie produced by the Buffalo rap label Griselda Records, which has Rapaport onscreen for a grand total of maybe two minutes.
I’m not sure what narrative function Rapaport serves in Conflicted. The protagonist of Conflicted is a guy named Hunter, a world-weary ex-convict who’s determined to leave crime behind until it sucks him back in. Deuce King, the screenwriter of Conflicted, plays Hunter, and he brings a nicely lived-in heaviness to the role. Rapaport plays … a guy in the back of an Italian restaurant? Someone who’s friends with a mobster? It’s not quite clear. Rapaport seems to improvise his entire brief role. When he meets Hunter, for instance, he asks him what he’s hunting: “Goose? Geese? Deers?” (If I had seen Conflicted with friends, instead of alone on my laptop, then I would’ve absolutely tried to make a running joke out of “Goose? Geese? Deers?”) After that one scene, nobody mentions Rapaport’s character again. Rapaport still has his face and his name on the Conflicted poster.
Sometimes, when I’m watching a straight-to-DVD movie, I’ll notice that one of the most famous actors in the cast only ever appears in a single room — a clear indicator that the film only had the actor for a day. I don’t think Conflicted even had Rapaport for a day. I think it’s more likely that Rapaport happened to be in Buffalo and that he stopped by the set for a few minutes, as a favor. I love it. Getting Rapaport into Conflicted, in any capacity, took hustle. A movie like Conflicted couldn’t possibly exist without hustle.
In the past few years, Griselda have built a fanbase and a reputation by cranking out ugly, gritty, ’90s-style neck-snap rap music. Conflicted, then, is fully on-brand — a throwback to the late-’90s/early-’00s moment when virtually every major rap crew had its own movie. Most of these movies were murky, amateurish, and weirdly compelling. The rappers would act in the movies, and they’d bring in friends and peers to fill out the casts. They’d tell raw, violent, frequently incoherent stories about criminal exploits. These films would be muddy and sloppy and raw, and they’d almost always go straight-to-video. I miss them.
As far as I know, Master P was the first to do it. When I was 17 and working at a summer camp, one of my co-workers put on I’m Bout It, the movie that P released direct-to-video in 1997. I’d never heard of P, and I couldn’t believe how shitty this thing was, but I kept watching. My co-workers loved it. Master P is the star of I’m Bout It, and he’s also the co-writer and co-director. The artists on No Limit Records make up most of the cast. I’m Bout It was a wildly successful video release, and it’s what led directly to the No Limit takeover of the next couple of years.
Naturally, imitators followed. Master P made more movies, and a couple of them, 1998’s I Got The Hook Up and 1999’s Foolish, even got theatrical releases. Cash Money made Baller Blockin. Three 6 Mafia made Choices: The Movie and Choices II: The Set-Up. Insane Clown Posse made Big Money Hustlas and Big Money Rustlas. 2002’s Paid In Full is an outlier here; Roc-A-Fella made it, but it’s an actual movie. That same year, though, Roc-A-Fella also made State Property, and that one is very much a part of this lineage. Most of these movies were simply vanity exercises, and they existed mostly as excuses for soundtrack albums. (The Choices II soundtrack album, for instance, featured the DVD of the movie as an extra.)
In 2005, when I was working at the Village Voice, I covered the federal trial of Murder Inc. founder Irv Gotti and his brother Chris. Prosecutors tried to make the case that Murder Inc.’s 2003 film Crime Partners was the Gotti brothers’ attempt to lander money for Queens drug kingpin Kenneth “Supreme” McGriff. The two brothers were found not guilty, but I could imagine at least a few of these rap-crew movies serving similar functions — questionably legal street-money investments. More likely, though, they’re like the films that Rudy Ray Moore made in the ’70s: low-budget efforts put together entirely outside of the Hollywood system, for very specific audiences. They were niche entertainments, and they’ve died out with the DVD market. I can’t think of any rap-crew movies since the Diplomats made Killa Season in 2006.
There have been hood movies in the years since Killa Season, and there have also been culty YouTube things like the web series Money & Violence, which eventually moved to Tidal. But as far as the rap-crew crime movie goes, Conflicted is a true throwback. It’s also a better movie than most of the films in that tradition, though I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a good movie, exactly. I like the sincerity of it: a focused, small-stakes crime story with a compelling protagonist and a classic, well-worn narrative about a guy who can’t quite escape the underworld life. If you’re the type of people who enjoys watching movies where people say things like “it’s time to lay the murder game down,” then it’s perfectly watchable.
As the lead, Deuce King is clearly not a trained actor, but he’s got a presence to him. He seems natural, like he’s comfortable in his own skin. Benny The Butcher, the only Griselda member who gets much screen time, does pretty well for himself, as well. (Westside Gunn shows up at the end as a kind of deus ex machina. Conway The Machine is entirely absent, both from the movie and the accompanying solid-but-unspectacular soundtrack album, which seems a little weird.) Conflicted runs more than two hours, which is much longer than it needs to be. Its pacing is leaden, and it sets things up for a sequel when it should give us an actual ending. But I like the way it shows off Buffalo — the way it renders the reality already depicted on so many Griselda records.
There’s nothing glamorous about Conflicted. The plot is driven by grief and old grudges and wounded pride, and the action unfolds in call centers, beauty shops, and rowhouses. Most of the characters seem to be in their thirties or forties, which is rare for a movie like this. It’s not entirely clear whether the movie takes place in our world, where Griselda Records exists as an entity. Benny The Butcher and Westside Gunn wear their own jewelry in all their scenes, even when it doesn’t make sense for those characters to have their jewelry on. A lot of people wear Griselda-branded clothes. I’m pretty sure Westside Gunn’s character is introduced reading a magazine article about Westside Gunn. For me, all those weird little touches add to the homespun appeal.
For now, at least, Conflicted isn’t on DVD, and it isn’t available for rent. The movie has an IMDB page, but it’s not even a tiny bit complete or accurate, and Michael Rapaport is the only person in the cast who has a headshot. Right now, the only way to watch Conflicted is to pay $25 for the digital copy here. I’m not going to sit here and tell you that Conflicted is worth your $25; I probably had more fun thinking about the movie than I did watching it. It’s fun to think about, though. And if the rap-crew movie returns, that’ll be fun, too.
1. Chris Crack – “False Evidence Appearing Real”
Chicago’s Chris Crack has been a strong presence for years, but over the drumless psych-guitar haze of this track, he jumps up about five levels. We could be looking at a Boldy James situation here: An underground fixture seizing his moment and going on a run.
2. Duke Deuce – “Soldiers Steppin”
The utterly ridiculous video helps, but the return of simplistic circa-2000 military-chant crunk music is the real reason to go crazy here. This is the type of song that makes me want to chokeslam the next person I see in CVS with no mask on.
3. Sauce Walka – “RIP Buddy”
“I’m spillin’ for it/ In that same city where they killin’ and they stealin’ for it/ Where a police can kill a baby and get a ribbon for it/ It’s in your eyes, how can you ignore it?/ You too busy watching a movie with Kevin Hart and Chuck Norris.” Sauce Walka has unlocked some new rap level — a place where you can be unsettling and sad and funny at the same time. (I’m pretty sure Kevin Hart and Chuck Norris have never been in a movie together, but I’ll allow it.)
4. YBN Nahmir – “Oppa Stoppa Remix” (Feat. 21 Savage)
Nahmir released “Oppa Stoppa” nearly two years ago, but it was only 73 seconds long, and it was absolutely screaming for a 21 Savage verse. It’s complete now.
5. ZaeHD & CEO – “Scooby”
Arkansas duo ZaeHD & CEO were viral dancers before they were rappers, so no surprise that they will do just about whatever to keep your attention. A lyric I like: “I’m getting money, I like to get groovy.”