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We Settle the Debate: Who Won That 1990 ‘House Party’ Rap Battle?

Kid had the more-complex rhyme scheme, Play spit the top diss, and Martin Lawrence knew when to shut his mouth in the original movie.

HOUSE PARTY, Christopher Reid, Christopher Martin, aka Kid N' Play, 1990, (c)New Line Cinema/courtesy Everett Collection

“House Party”

©New Line Cinema/courtesy Everett / Everett Collection

Blow the dust off your wired microphone, there’s a new “House Party” movie in theaters.

The remake of the 1990 movie hails from LeBron James and Maverick Carter’s SpringHill Entertainment, as well as the O.G. film’s distributor New Line Cinema. (Warner Bros. put this one out theatrically; it was originally meant to be an HBO Max movie released last summer.) Considering the early reviews — IndieWire’s Jude Dry called it an “uneven” film, one “that skates by on celebrity cameos,” like those from James and his NBA pals — 2023’s “House Party” probably should have stayed on streaming.

Stephen Glover wrote this “House Party” with his “Atlanta” colleague Jamal Olori. The 2023 reboot, which is technically the sixth movie in the franchise, is directed by Charles “Calmatic” Kidd II, who is mostly known for doing music videos and TV commercials to this point.

The Friday the 13th release follows a pair of best friends and aspiring club promoters Damon (Tosin Cole) and Kevin (Jacob Latimore). Broke and fired from their dead-end house-cleaning gig, the pair decides to host the party of the year at LeBron’s mansion, which was the site of their last cleaning job.

“Though Latimore and Cole have enough charisma to skate by, the movie lacks the originality and scrappiness of its inspiration,” Dry wrote, referring to the Kid N’ Play days, and that this time there’s a feeling of “too many cooks in the kitchen.” Dry gave the new movie a C+ grade; read their full review here.

On the nostalgic subject of Christopher “Kid” Reid and Christopher “Play” Martin, IndieWire is here to settle an old debate that may or may not have ever taken place, let alone been settled: Who won the original 1990 film’s epic rap battle? (The real banger off the soundtrack is “Ain’t Gonna Hurt Nobody,” which you can check out here.)

HOUSE PARTY, From left: Christopher Martin, Christopher Reid, 1990. © New Line Cinema/Courtesy Everett Collection

HOUSE PARTY, From left: Christopher Martin, Christopher Reid, 1990. © New Line Cinema/Courtesy Everett Collection

©New Line Cinema/Courtesy Everett Collection

Play, the smoother of the two (both on the mic and with the ladies), kicked things off. He starts off with a classic introduction strategy in his very first line: “It’s the P-l-a-y, just here to say hi.” Martin goes on to repeat his name in the verse while elaborating on his hobbies, which are having sex with women and battling men, probably in that order. Play’s best line: “Two lines form, it makes you to step to him/Fellas at the backdoor, girls by the bedroom.”

Kid grabs the mic and employs a similar introduction strategy with his second line: “I think it’s time for the new Kid on the block.” That one doubles as a dig at boy band New Kids on the Block, which hit it big in 1989 while Reid was probably writing that line. Reid also shouts out “My Prerogative,” a hit song by Bobby Brown from 1988.

By the middle of Kid’s verse, it becomes apparent that Kid has the more complex rhyme schemes, at least in terms of syllabic rhyming (“Damn man, that Kid, he’s a grand man/’cause I bust a handstand on ‘American Bandstand.'”) That alone, of course, doesn’t make him the better writer — the context leaves a little to be desired — but it could help break a draw. Other examples of the multi-syllabic approach include Kid rhyming “starin’ a while” with “hair and a smile.”

Round 1 is perhaps too close to call.

Play gets off to a hot start on his second turn, opening with “It’s my party and I’ll rhyme if I want to,” a play on Leslie Gore’s 1963 song “It’s My Party” (“and I’ll cry if I want to,” her lyric continues — it’s also the title of the album, her debut). Martin soon gets to the single best diss line of the battle: “Microphone wizard, so come on, place your bet/Is it gonna be me or Eraserhead?”

The punchline is a shot at Reid’s extremely high flattop fade haircut, resembling the eraser on a pencil. It’s a great punch, but Martin didn’t exactly make up the insult: IndieWire fans will date it back to David Lynch’s 1977 film “Eraserhead” starring Jack Nance’s giant hair in the title role. The insulting nickname as it pertains to Reid, by then famous, predated the “House Party” script.

ERASERHEAD, Jack Nance, 1977

Jack Nance in 1977’s “Eraserhead”

Everett Collection / Everett Collection

Martin’s verse kind of flatlines from there. He does has a decent dig about Kid the character’s “Pop’s curfew,” but it’s again taken down a notch by a very basic rhyming scheme. Here we should point out that one-syllable rhyming was not uncommon for 1990; Kid was ahead of the curve, Play was along for the ride.

We’re reminded within Kid’s first few lines on his second verse of his advanced technique. And then he uses their names in every remaining punchy way possible, like: “Play, you know I don’t Kid around” and “‘Kid’ spelled backwards describes you best.” Then his mic-dropper: “You didn’t Play, you just got Played out.”

Yeah, he did. The winner, both of Round 2 and overall, is Kid — by a flattop.

Technically, Kid didn’t fully *drop* the microphone; he hung onto the cord and handed the instrument back to Bilal (Martin Lawrence), the D.J., who attempted to get in on the fun. The crowd quickly let him know that was a bad idea; it was the quickest we’ve ever seen Lawrence shut his mouth.

Watch the original “House Party” battle below.

 

For the initiated (or just young), Kid N’ Play were a legit hip-hop duo, releasing gold records in both 1988 and 1990. So yeah, they were hot at the time “House Party” dropped — and there was no streaming to mess up the release.

The first “House Party” made more than $26 million domestically, according to Box Office Mojo, on a minuscule budget; at the time, there was also VHS (and maybe DVD) sales to supplement that. So New Line rushed out 1991’s “House Party 2,” which made nearly $20 million domestically on a budget one-quarter that. The third release in the franchise, which waited until 1994, was fairly consistent with its predecessor sequel.

“House Party” (2023) hits theaters on Friday. The 1990 version is available for streaming on HBO Max.

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