The movie Scareface has been a huge staple in the hip hop community. Even rapper Jay-Z has dedicated countless rap lyrics and interludes to the film. The release of Scarface coincided with the rise of hip hop music.
The hip-hop community has single-handedly made the movie a cult classic. Even though the story of Tony Montana, a poor Cuban immigrant who quickly ascends through the ranks to become a drug kingpin, is actually a remake of a 1932 film of the same name.
Perhaps no movie has had as conspicuous an impact on hip-hop, and more specifically the genre’s gangsta variation, as “Scarface,” Brian De Palma’s 1983 crime saga about the rise-and-fall of a Cuban refugee who becomes a powerful Miami drug lord. Since its release, “Scarface” has lent its dialogue, music, fashion and imagery to countless rap artists and their songs, such as Notorious B.I.G’s “10 Crack Commandments” and Mobb Deep’s “It’s Mine.”
The 20th Anniversary Special Edition DVD of “Scarface,” released in 2003, also includes a short documentary on how the film has influenced hip-hop culture and music, consisting mainly of interviews with many prominent hip-hop personalities and delving into the impact “Scarface” has had on their lives and careers.
Even from the most basic observations, one can easily see why a film like “Scarface” has seized the imagination of pop-culture in general and hip-hop culture in particular. On the surface, there is the celebration of indulgent wealth and conspicuous consumption that characterizes much of gangsta rap, as exemplified by Tony Montana’s garish chest medallions, designer outfits and Porsche coupe.
In some ways, this description can also be applied to gangsta rappers, who, as part of their craft, create public personas that can also range from “brilliant” to “unforgivably flamboyant” (artists such as Tupac Shakur and 50 Cent come to mind).
In framing Tony Montana’s origins around the 1980 Mariel Boatlift, the film also manages to slip in a political dimension to the issue of violent crime, by thematizing Tony’s status as an impoverished refugee. This shares with hip-hop the desire to address disfranchisement and disempowerment as a social problem, as many rappers with origins in ghettos can relate to Tony’s status as a social and economic outsider.
Further evidence of Brian De Palma’s “Scarface” being internalized by hip-hop culture can be seen in the frequent references to the film made in music videos. One prominent example is the video for Mariah Carey’s song “Heartbreaker,” which features a rap interlude by Jay-Z. In one version of the video, Jay-Z raps his verse while seated in a circular bathtub in the middle of a lavish bedroom, cigar in hand, as a blonde-wigged Mariah Carey lingers irritably at a mirror in the background. This is clearly a tribute to the infamous bathtub sequence in “Scarface,” where Tony Montana sits in a bubble bath in a near-identical bedroom, puffing on a cigar, wallowing in his self-satisfaction while talking down to his irritated wife, played by Michelle Pfeiffer.
In the spring of 1980, the port at Mariel Harbor was opened, and thousands set sail for the United States. They came in search of the American Dream. One of them found it on the sun-washed avenues of Miami... wealth, power and passion beyond his wildest dreams. He was Tony Montana. The world will remember him by another name... Scarface. Starring Al Pacino as Tony Montana along with Michelle Pfeiffer, Steven Bauer, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio and Robert Loggia, Scarface has become a cultural phenomenon brilliantly directed by Brian De Palma and written by Oliver Stone.