Christopher “Play” Martin talks House Party in advance of a 25th anniversary screening and headlining performance with Christopher “Kid” Reid at Portland’s “Everything Is” festival
2015 marks the 25th anniversary of the 1990 cult hit House Party, a film that made stars Christopher “Kid” Reid and Christopher “Play” Martin household names.
Kid ‘n Play are appearing at a special anniversary screening of the film as part of the Everything Is festival on May 30, at 7pm in Portland, OR. They’ll follow the screening with a live performance backed by Mix Master Mike.
I talked with Martin about his initial reluctance to do House Party, his experiences making the film, how he wants to bring Hip-Hop to college, and the return of the Hi-top fade.
I was wondering going all the way back, when you first signed on to do House Party, did you have any fears that it would hurt your credibility as musicians?
Funny you should mention that, that’s something that I very much share. I was outvoted on doing the movie, and of course today I’m glad that I was, but Kid and our producer and manager at that time Hurby Luv Bug of Salt-n-Pepa and Kwamé and Dana Dane, well, they out voted me on it.
I always was wanting to be, or trying to be, the business minded one or the voice of reason when it came to business. It gave me the opportunity, once things looked real, to look at the history, or think about the history of Hip-Hop in cinema at that time. And the “cult classics,” business-wise, they pretty much were disappointing, you know, box office disappointments. Beat Street, Wild Style, and of course the Kings of Rock Run–D.M.C. with Tougher than Leather. So In my mind, who was Kid ‘n Play to come in here and be the game-changers?
Plus at that time we were doing things we had never done before: we’re traveling, having hits with our music, on tour, and making more money than we had ever seen. So, we always had this thing, prior to this opportunity [to do House Party] that majority rules and I was outvoted. And the rest is pretty much history.
So did they really have to talk you into it, and explain why they thought it was a good idea? Or was it just enough that they were all into it?
Well, no, I mean it wasn’t even a credibility thing, you know it was really more about business: could this be the kiss of death in regards to us. Like, we were at a substantially lower pay cut from what we were getting on the road. And just concerned about the momentum that was being built…but we all grew up together, so it didn’t take a lot, you know, we knew the rules. There wasn’t no sense in arguing about it, otherwise you get a beat-down and it’s like: that’s it! [laughs] You know what I’m saying? Keep it moving — you know? Plus a free trip to Hollywood, so why not?
Did you have any sense while you were making it that the movie would be such a hit?
No, not at all. I mean, for me it was all about girls, girls, girls; women, women, women. And when I say “girls, girls, girls” none of that underage stuff! But the thing was is that, you know, it’s like, we’re here, we’re having fun, it’s almost like making a long, drawn out music video so to speak.
It was work. That was one of the, for lack of a better word, disappointing things about it. Because of the fact that you had this beeper, like a doctor, you were on call 24–7. Long nights, a lot of hurry-up and wait…so it was a lot of rude awakenings, a lot of “welcome to reality” type situations in the process. A lot of great friendships being made, of course. Not a culture shock, but a change in culture, you know, New York and West Coast: their different demeanor, ways, swagger, all of that.
Plus, us kinda being like the first to be doing this: other films, somewhat alike, weren’t done in LA, or done in LA that way. So we were very much part of communities and in the neighborhood, where other films at that point were done in New York. So here you have this buzz that something’s going on, something new, something different and that kind of anticipation filled the air.
Writer/director Reginald Hudlin went on to helm BET and produced The Boondocks, Black Dynamite, Django Unchained. But you were working with him just as he was establishing himself. Did you have a sense that he’d go so far?
Well, the thing I love about Reggie and Warrington [Hudlin, who developed the film’s script and was credited as producer of House Party] is like I was telling someone else: if you saw the script and compared it to the movie you might think it’s two different movies. Because he was wise enough, and humble, to go: you know, this is what we want to get across — do it the way you would do it. Say it the way you would say it. You know, he did give us that liberty and flexibility. Which was very wise.
I mean, we’re all first time up until that point; he had his credentials with some other stuff he’d done. We are coming with the success and momentum that’s coming along with Kid ‘n Play. We’re all like really on the same level. But I know for me personally I didn’t give a lot of thought to it. You know? I just know: he’s the director, do what the director asks…I’m very proud of what he went on to do. My favorite from him would be Boomerang. But everybody went on to do some good things. Our talent, and directors and producers alike.
I was thinking about the party scenes, and party scenes in film in general which often come off really inauthentic: it’s like you can tell everyone’s dancing to silence so that sound can be recorded. But in House Party they were really authentic and I wondered if you’d talk a little bit about how you achieved that feeling?
Well I mean, again, Reggie and our consultants, they knew what we would need in order for it to be authentic, so we did have music. When it came time for the dancing, when there was no particular dialogue being said there was music. But when it came time for something to be said it would go to the metronome, the click thing. So that was the brilliance of that.
But, a lot of do-overs. It can be at first fun, but it’s not like it was the best air-conditioned situation. Everything that comes along with being ‘pioneerish’ and then some. But the fact that everybody was what we call ‘so hungry,’ we could overlook a lot. You’re dealing with kids, we’re all kids: kids don’t ask for much. She’s got her eye on him, he’s got his eye on her; all those kind of ‘agendas’ going on which the powers that be are able to benefit from. If it’s adults, it might be a different situation. But you’ve got kids that are hungry, first time they’re doing it. You had that Soul Train element and energy there too as well, and it was just — it had it’s fun but it was work too. We definitely earned our pay.
I have to ask about the rap battle scene. When you guys were performing that, did you think about the fact that this would be the first time that the mainstream at large was seeing this phenomenon?
Mainstream didn’t really enter the mind, I mean, I know for me I thought if anything this was for our culture. And that’s something everybody is aware of, is the battles and stuff, I had no idea it would be exposed to a wider audience. My thinking of it is just making sure it’s authentic and we’re giving it to the people that know this and appreciate it and do this.
So that people in New York are going to go: “Yeah, that’s right.”
You did a tour back in 2010 for the 20th anniversary of House Party with Montell Jordan, Lisa Lisa and Big Daddy Kane. And now you’re performing with Mix Master Mike following this screening: has this reignited your interest in music and performing any further?
Well we’ve never stopped; as far as going in the studio and doing new stuff, no. Kid does some stuff behind the scenes. He’s working with CL Smooth right now. As for me, I’m very much into the visual aspects of entertainment — I work a lot with news and documentaries.
One of the things that’s going to be featured at the festival is Can Hip-Hop Go to School? I’ve been an educator for well over 15 years now, teaching Hip-Hop culture and history and I did realize over that period of time that a lot of stuff was being documented. Being able to speak with very well-known people in the industry and scholars about the possibility of Hip-Hop being an accredited course in schools.
But in regards to Kid and I, we’re still performing. We still do a lot of casinos, we’re in Vegas quite a bit, we just did a big show in New York at the Aqueduct Resorts and Casinos with Doug E. Fresh and Mr. Cheeks and Audio Two and Biz Markie. We do that stuff frequently, you know, Salt-n-Pepa and all of that. It’s a lot of fun. There’s still a huge audience out there, arenas are filled, huge! When people get a chance to find a babysitter for their babies [laughs] and their children.
But as far as any new material, not right now. We’re approached all the time in regards to more cinematic things, or, of course, reality shows have been approaching us and all that kind of stuff. We think of the relationship we have with audiences as something very valuable. We’re not interested in doing anything just for the money, especially when we don’t have to. So we wouldn’t want to betray that trust with any garbage, you know? We try and think it through thoroughly.
That’s that business-minded thing coming back again.
Well, kinda-sorta. But I mean I’ve come to the point where I have more genuine love and appreciation for what we have, and I’d hate to ruin it. You see it happen too often with others, where you’re like: oh man, why don’t you just leave it where it was left? You know, if you can.
It’s interesting, the 90’s are back big time in everything from fashion on through music. Does it ever feel strange to walk around and see teenagers wearing the same style that were brand-new and fresh in House Party?
It puts a smile on my face. Especially in the NBA you see the return of the Hi-top fade. We do a lot of half-time things and it’s funny when we do those NBA half-time shows seeing some of the players are bringing that back. And also too like you said with the fashions and the retro thing, it brings a smile to your face. You know, you just gotta live long enough and you’ll see it come back again.