“So Am I a Geek or a Menace?”

“Dope”, a moderately successful 2015 hip-hip movie, was the first major movie to tell the world about Bitcoin. 

If you would’ve bought $1,000 of Bitcoin the day this film was released (January 24, 2015, BTC-USD $223.89), then you would have almost $300,000 today (November 13, 2021, BTC-USD $64,378.95).

A BTCUSD chart from 2015-2021.
Bitcoin has increased in value by 287.5x since “Dope” came out in 2015.

Damn… right? 

Oh did I mention that Dope was also the first movie ever to accept Bitcoin payments to purchase tickets?

“I’m Not Wasting My Time With This”

Honestly, the first time I watched Dope I’m reluctant to admit that I shut it off a few minutes in. I saw the high school setting and I thought it was going to be a basic, immature and predictable coming-of-age film targeted to teens. I mean, Superbad was tight when I was fourteen and all, but that’s not really my steez these days.

In defense of my extremely inaccurate initial assessment, I was preoccupied making a drink at the time and did miss the first line of the film, coming from the lead character “Malcolm” (played by actor and rapper Shameik Moore, more recently seen killin’ it on the mic as Raekwon in the 2019- gritty and raw Wu-Tang: An American Saga series): 

“I just read that money as we know it is dead. Soon the world is only gunna buy and sell products using Bitcoins. It’s like a complicated math equation.”

But let’s come back to BTC in a bit.

So What Genre is Dope?

Rappers A$AP Rocky and Vince Staples in "Dope".
Rappers A$AP Rocky (center) and Vince Staples1 (right) in Dope.

A few nights later I decided to give Dope another shot.

There’s a scene early on where A$AP Rocky (playing “Dom”, a friendly mid-level drug dealer) and Tyga (playing Dom’s associate) are loungin’ in the cut with guns and drugs while debating the ethicality of combat drones. I was quickly realizing that this wasn’t your typical high school film. So what then, crime drama?

The rapper Tyga acting in the movie Dope.
Rapper Tyga in “Dope”.

It’s funny though… 

Reading the plot on paper you’d think this film would be dark, but the interesting thing is that throughout it all Dope keeps the mood lithe and fun (honestly, this is a feel-good movie), even while some pretty substantial shit goes down.

The screenplay feels real and chill, full of intelligent conversations glistening with slang. The characters crack jokes and clown on each other, and it all sounds natural and comfortable. Dom teaches his dumb homie (played by rapper Vince Staples1) an idiom at one point (“slippery slope”), and later on in the movie his homie proudly and excitedly uses that idiom in the perfect situation; the inner English teacher in me loved that.

The blissful yet energetic soundtrack leaves you feeling happy and motivated while Forest Whitaker’s soothing and pleasant voice narrating will have you feelin’ as laid-back as the first time you heard David Attenborough talkin’ bout some whales. Forest Whitaker’s narration also helps the scenes to transition and flow effortlessly throughout the film.

So, is it a coming-of-age movie? Comedy? Crime drama? Musical? Hood film? Really, Dope elegantly flirts through all of them while creating something fresh in the process.

1If you’re not sure who Vince Staples is, then check out this video of a woman absolutely losing her shit after she heard Vince Staples’ most popular song “Norf Norf” on the radio. Naturally, some genius put the song’s beat underneath.

When Worlds Collide.. It’s Dope

Dope is a beautiful chameleon. A mosaic, shattering schemas and melodically blending together unlikely ingredients to create a cocktail where concepts previously thought to be unrelated smash together to create something new and unique. 

Bitcoin, online entrepreneurship, digital marketing and FindMyiPhone dance with classic South Central LA drug dealing and decades-old street gangs.

In the movie Dope, a gangster with a gun and a tablet enters a bus using the "Find My iPhone" app.

A geeky kid becomes a confident, badass dude by the end through a combination of cunning, courage and innovation, while still keeping true to who he was in the beginning.

An influential member in the world of academia and a dangerous kingpin are shown to be not so different from one another.

In South Central LA, we see the notorious Darby-Dixon public housing blocks (“the Bottoms”), an Inglewood high school, a dope-dealer-filled night club in the hood, a dimly-lit black-market garment workshop, a fast-food restaurant and a donut shop (lookin’ like it came straight outta GTA San Andreas) intertwine seamlessly with a private recording studio in a bright, contemporary mansion in Ladera Heights, a Harvard alum’s foliage-covered, glass-walled office of business and a preppy, loose college party.

Dope Is Saturated with Music

Naughty by Nature in the 90's.
Naughty by Nature is one of a least a dozen different old-school hip-hop groups with tracks in Dope.

Dope is influenced heavily by music. Tunes drippin’ heavy beats and punchy flows from modern rappers blend harmoniously with classic nostalgic tracks to create the right balance of fervent energy and chill vibes flowing back and forth like tides throughout the scenes. Rappers A$AP Rocky, Casey Veggies and Kap G have songs and roles in Dope while the soundtrack oozes with classics from hip-hop legends A Tribe Called Quest, Naughty By Nature, Eric B & Rakim, Public Enemy, Digital Underground and Nas just to name a few.

The main characters have a fictional band “Awreeoh” (music created specifically for this movie by Dope’s producer Pharrell Williams) with an addictive sound that’s like a well-adjusted lovechild of punk rock and hip-hop who just discovered Nexus 3.

Malcolm and his two friends stand with music equipment near the side of a street in Inglewood.
There are 4 songs by the fictional band “Awreeoh” in Dope. In reality, these songs are produced by Pharrell Williams.

Lennie Kravitz’s (remember “American Women”) daughter Zoë Kravitz has Malcolm’s attention, and P. Diddy’s adopted son and singer Quincy Brown plays a naive and dumb yet lovable* rich kid tryna be a gangster rapper.

A bit of R&B, soul and indie applied strategically throughout round out the mood nicely.

However, the most genius use of music in this film is about halfway through. Just when Malcolm is about to get with his first girl ever, and while his friends are at a fast-food restaurant picking up chili cheese fries, some super gnarly shit goes down to both of them and metal-band Korn’s track “Freak on A Leash” drops so damn hard at the ultimate moment. It’s unexpected after hearing hip-hop all movie, but dominates this scene immaculately. Yet another example of one of Dope’s many bold, masterful contrasts.

The metal band Korn.
Metal band Korn has a track in Dope that comes in with perfect timing.

The Come Down?

A few minutes after that manic scene, the action seemed to be winding down. Some things had been resolved and the main character was dozing off to a drowsy soul song. I had already been thoroughly entertained and it felt like the movie was almost finished. I checked and was both shocked and stoked to realize that I was only halfway through at this point.

In my mind, this film had gone from a lame and unoriginal high school show for teens, to an interesting and engaging gangster flick with a few laughs and sick tracks, to just an all-around badass movie with snug, engaging dialogue and a diverse, rowdy plot. But I was about to realize that Dope is also so much more than that…

Dope is Provocatively Smart… In a Countercultural Way

Like Malcolm, Dope is highly intelligent with a street mentality. 

Malcolm’s original Harvard application essay was titled “A Research Thesis To Discover Ice Cube’s Good Day”. According to Malcolm, “it’s well-reasoned, supported with historical data… it shows creativity, critical thinking.” Awesome.

An essay title "A Research Thesis to Discover Ice Cube's Good Day" in the movie "Dope".

In the second half of the movie, we see Malcolm utilizing social media, digital marketing, his personal network, his school’s physical resources, his reputation as an innocent geek and yes, Bitcoin to rapidly develop and grow a business.

“It’s an Untraceable Internet Currency…”

Malcolm cracks a smile when his first .02 BTC appears in his online wallet. At the time he was probably more excited to see that his first transaction went through than he was about receiving $4.48. But if this were today he probably would’ve been quite a bit more hyped to see that .02 BTC ($1299.61) roll in.

Blake Anderson in "Dope"
Blake Anderson right after eating a handful of pills in Dope.

We meet “William Ian Sherwood III” (“musician, scholar, rake, entrepreneur, conspiracy theorist”, hacker and crypto expert) played by Blake Anderson (also seen in Game Over). This character is funny, innovative, hedonistic, idiotically genius and just a straight-up good friend. Through William and Malcolm, audience members were told various facts about the potential and uses of Bitcoin. For millions of viewers, this was the first time they had heard anything like this.

“Link your Bitcoin account to a bank account, and there’s this infinitesimally small chance that it could be traced… Basically, I would just have to make a stupid-ass mistake for them to trace it… If you want zero trace… you got to put the Bitcoins on a drive and make a hand-to-hand exchange.”

Although today a hand-to-hand Bitcoin exchange would most likely look like meeting some well-dressed Mark-Zuckerberg-in-his-20’s-lookin-like dude in a bright cafe while sipping on a Mochiatto, in 2015 Dope it felt like a sketchy high-quantity drug deal. Unrelated incidents involving violence happen within minutes of each other, and we see Bitcoin portrayed as something shady and dangerous with massive risk, yet massive reward.

Kap G sitting at a computer in Dope
Rapper Kap G making a Bitcoin transaction in Dope.

The Perception of Bitcoin Has Changed Since Dope

When Dope came out in 2015, Bitcoin was thought of as something dark(web) and dirty that only drug dealers and criminals use; Dope does contribute to this image.

Now, it is becoming more mainstream by the day. BTC advertisements are cropping up on streets and subway tunnels. More and more businesses and websites are accepting payment in Bitcoin. Investment banks (the same ones that have been bashing Bitcoin since 2015) are now offering Bitcoin funds to wealthy clients. I guess those stubborn CEOs had to finally accept that if you can’t beat em, join em.

Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan stands with his arms crossed stubbornly while a large Bitcoin looms in the background.
After years of stubbornly bashing Bitcoin (because Bitcoin will eventually make him redundant), JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon was forced to have his bank (quietly) unveil 6 different crypto funds in August 2021, due to popular demand from his customers.

Regulations and KYC (“Know Your Customer”) are diminishing the independence and autonomy of Bitcoin, but increasing the safety and stability. 

In Dope’s time, Bitcoin was more defiant and dangerous, but people had a lot more to gain from it. Those who bought BTC in 2015 are looking at over 25,000% profit today. It’s unlikely (but not impossible) for that to happen to people buying now. 

Buying and selling Bitcoin today has less risk and less reward since Dope; for better or for worse.

A Bitcoin advertisement on a billboard.
2021

Just like how bitcoin is slowly shattering money as we know it…

…Dope Shatters Perceptions and Stereotypes Like It Just Caught Seven Years of Bad Luck

Although I would’ve loved to have heard his original essay about Ice Cube, Malcolm later rewrites his Harvard application. The result is a confident, heavy-hitting, inspiring, thought-provoking, invigorating and genuine statement. He explains his own personal paradoxes against the backgrop of societal issues related to the education system’s disparity in the accessibility of opportunities for advancement based on race, neighborhood location and lifestyle. 

During the film’s climactic speech, Malcolm touches on the fundamental themes of this film…

Society likes to categorize people into boxes and stereotypes: Someone who lives and breathes hip-hop and speaks with street vocabulary can’t ever be a successful academic. Someone who’s sold drugs can never contribute to society in a meaningful way.

But something truly powerful, strong and significant can come into existence when stereotypes and perceptions are disregarded and different elements are mixed.

Again, we see Dope shattering perceptions and blending the shards together to create beautiful, diverse and fresh mosaics. 

Drugs. Comedy. Punk rock. Gangs. Academia. Social media. Metal. Civil rights. Coming of age. Digital marketing. Hip-hop. Bitcoin. All whipped up to create something… Dope.

“For most of my life, I’ve been caught

in between who I really am…

and how I’m perceived,

in-between categories and definitions.

I don’t fit in.

And I used to think that

that was a curse, but…

now I’m slowly starting to see…

maybe it’s a blessing.

See, when you don’t fit in,

you’re forced to see the world from many

different angles and points of view.

You gain knowledge, life lessons

from disparate people and places.

And those lessons, for better

or worse, have shaped me.”

Malcolm Adekanbi

Dope

Malcolm (Shameik Moore) on the street giving a speech to a camera while putting a hood over his head during the ending scene of "Dope".
Malcolm Adekanbi (Shameik Moore), Dope

Was Dope the best hip-hop film of the 2010s? To me, it’s up there with All Eyez On Me and Straight Outta Compton. Get at me in the comments and let me know what you think.

James

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