It’s rare, but sometimes less is more in hip-hop. That’s always been the case for Redman, who appears literally covered in dirt on his second and third album covers, and who has spun a career out of rhymes about “grimy shit” and dressing “bummy for low profile.”
All of which made him the least likely subject imaginable when Cribs premiered on MTV in 2000. Next to the shameless bourgeois excess of his rap contemporaries like Jermaine Dupri and Master P, both of whom made appearances on the show, Red’s duplex in the farthest reaches of Staten Island -- “De La Casa,” as he calls it -- was a momentous outlier. Though the clip (check out the best parts from it at the bottom of this article, in the MTV update -- he now has a "larger" TV and a door on his closet!!) first aired in 2001, it remains burned into the collective pop culture consciousness, along with its images of his gold plaques covered in soiled laundry.
Yet there's been speculation over the years that the whole thing was faked. So we decided to settle matters once and for all, and called everyone involved. The verdict: it was real. And as the show’s creators, and Red himself, and his cousin, explain below, it took hip-hop’s proudest “stankin’ ass” to show everybody that a sense of humor trumps a platinum bidet any day, and that even in the land of gilded ballers, there’s still room for a funny dude who keeps his cash inside a shoebox to be king.
Nina L. Diaz, vice president of MTV News and Documentaries; Cribs creator and executive producer: Cribs was a new show. We started with a very informal in-house talk about, "Hey, let’s try to do this," and at the time everyone thought it would be impossible because no one was going to let people peek into their lives that way.
Erika Clarke, producer: Initially it was hard asking if you could go into someone’s house. Rappers and athletes were way more into doing it because of the culture of, "Look at what we have."
Diaz: Cribs was very grassroots... This is a little bit before VH1 exploded with all of the celeb reality shows. A lot of what we were doing was more in the bucket of MTV News, where you cover a celebrity and do a sit-down interview about their album. You didn’t really get into the reality of their life.
Clarke: A lot of times we would make these wish lists of people and reach out. I don’t know how Redman came about, but the image was sort of like we go to these homes, these big homes of athletes and this palatial stuff, and with the Redman one we were like, “How is this going to pan out?” It wasn’t the prototype of what we were thinking.
Redman, rapper, actor, blunt-roller: It was just a phone call... It didn’t take a publicist, it didn’t take anybody to twist my arm to do it. I have a good relationship with MTV through the years.
Diaz: Redman had the chops, the originality to want to really show how he lived. Other people would wait until they got this ballerific place to let us in because they had watched all these other ones like Master P, who was living in a gold Louisiana mansion. People saw that and they would say, “I’m not ready... You have to give me another year. I have to make some more bank.”
Redman: While everybody was trying to show a lavish house, the lavish life of living, that’s not always the case. Not every entertainer’s living lavish. They may have a more lavish set on the street, but it’s still real for a lot of cats out here in the entertainment game. We’re okay, but we’re not rich, and that’s what I wanted to display to my fans... I always try and think about what the 'hood would say when I do things.
Diaz: What was so genius about Redman was that he was like, “Let them come.” He wanted to show us where he lives. He wasn’t afraid of it.
Redman: It was supposed to be my first real-estate project. I bought the place for real cheap, and I was going to fix it up and rehab it and put it back on the market. But I ended up keeping it because I just loved the space, and I loved the seclusion of it.
Diaz: We didn’t know exactly what we were getting into. We knew we were going out to Staten Island, which was kind of like uncharted territory other than going there for something for Wu-Tang. So we drove, and honestly he lives very far, it’s like the boondocks. I was like, “Where are we going? Where does this man live?” And then we were like, “This is it? We must have the wrong place.” Then it was like, “Holy shit, this is where he lives.”
Dawn Reinholtz, unit manager and camera operator: It was definitely different. Usually we’ll set up in a garage or something, because you have all the audio equipment as well. I think we set up in the kitchen, though, because I don’t believe he had a garage. And you couldn’t even ring the doorbell.
Diaz: It was clearly cold, too, because I remember how hard it was to rub the wires together to get the doorbell to ring.
Redman: They show up fucking early. I wanted to at least clean up a bit, since I ain’t have any real furniture in there and shit, and I thought I had a little bit of time and I didn’t. When they knocked on the door I was still sleepy-eyed and they were like, “You know what, this is good, let’s just roll with it. You just get back into bed and we’ll make it like we just disturbed you,” and we played it right on out from there. Not too much setup, not too much dialogue to go over. We just winged it.
Reinholtz: It was rather early in the morning, so for him it was waking up.
Mr. Cream, Redman’s cousin, formerly known as Sugar Bear: I remember going to the studio the night before, and I fell asleep and shit... I don’t know if someone gave him the word or not, but he’s not that type of person anyway who would redecorate [for MTV] -- he’s just like, "I am what I am." He’s always been like that.
Clarke: They did not clean this place; they did not care.
Redman: It was still in the process of being rehabbed.
Diaz: You never knew what you were getting into. We didn’t case the joint. Each time people opened the door, and that was how they received us. It was a surprise, and [Redman] showed us around -- there were dishes in the sink, pizza boxes everywhere, a piggy bank, his bedroom is a mess. He was quite proud of it, and it was so refreshing because everyone in hip-hop is so style-conscious.
Redman: They wanted to display the inside of an artist’s home, his household. That’s a sacred space -- your home.
Reinholtz: Cribs always had two cameras. One is Steadicam that the talent would actually talk to. And then you’d have a second handheld camera, which gets all of the B-roll. It was tight because of the nature of the staircase and trying to get those cameras in.
Redman: You have to understand, my space is small. My space don’t even have a back door -- there’s one way in, and there’s one way out. Seeing everyone from MTV in my little-ass condo was crazy... When they were recording I was like, "This shit is really going down."
Diaz: He wanted to go into detail about everything like his flatscreen TV and the videos, the method to his madness. His took just as long as Master P's mansion.
Toni Ann Carabello, editor: He played into the whole thing, like taking his shoebox of money down from the top of the refrigerator.
Reinholtz: It’s a lot of dodging with someone who is as animated as he is. You have to jump behind couches and walls and doors, because if they turn around fast you want that spontaneity, but you don’t want to ruin the shot.
Redman: When they were in there filming, I did have a moment of thinking, “I don’t want to show that my city can’t live the good and lavish life too.” But then I was like, “Fuck it, this isn’t about nobody else but me. I invited these guys to my house and now I got to go with it.” This is just something that we do. Everything you see was real. It’s just everyday life for us.
Diaz: His cousin was sleeping on the floor with a comforter wrapped around him, and everyone was walking around him while we were setting up the lights. It was hilarious; he had no shame in his game.
Mr. Cream: I actually was sleeping, and I remember waking up and it was just cameras and shit in my face and they were like, “Sign this for me.” It was some kind of release, and I was like, “Oh, there’s some shit going on?” I was out, but I woke up to sign the release paper.
Redman: That’s my first cousin. He was still in Jersey, and traveling back and forth can be a pain in the ass, so he was just crashing at my crib. He had a chance to sleep on the damn sofa, but he just chose the goddamn floor.
Mr. Cream: The reason I was on the floor was because the couch -- you know how it is when you’re sleeping on a leather couch and it gets all hot? When it’s too hot to sleep on the couch, I just go right to the floor. It’s a cooler situation.
Clarke: I remember when we got this footage back, being like, “What the fuck are we going to do with this?” He was himself, and put no airs about him. When we were watching, we were just like, “This guy doesn’t care.” Toni Ann really wanted to up the music and the humor aspect, as opposed to just showing you stuff.
Carabello: I knew that it was going to be funny. The first shot I remember seeing was the doorbell with wires sticking out.
Clarke: I was like, “This is funny, this is kind of hilarious.” But I remember saying to Toni Ann, “Is anyone going to want to watch this? Are we going to get in trouble?”
Carabello: I can’t remember if prior to Redman there were any not-so-nice houses; it was all these beautiful houses, so it worked so nicely because you had all this space. So we had all these speed-up effects, because you had so much space to get through. You almost had to show a whole three-sixty of a room, and if you let it play out it would be boring. We knew this was not going to be a normal Cribs episode -- you’re not going to have those shots.
Clarke: It’s really about personality. I think people liked it because it looked a little more how they possibly could live, or how their friends could live. It’s probably funnier that way too, because you might as well tell that story about the hole in the wall or the money box like Redman. It was an example of you not needing wealth for people to care about your home. People just want to be nosy regardless of how you live.
Redman: Once you do things and keep things 100% with yourself, you can never lose. And that’s just what happened. That’s why we won -- we kept it 100, and we kept it truthful all the way.
Clarke: After ones like Redman happened it was easier to get people to agree to be on the show, and for them to realize they could do whatever they wanted to.
Diaz: This is one of the most infamous, most cited Cribs. All of the opulence and lavishness we saw -- Babyface’s house, which is just sprawling -- still, people always ask about Redman.
Reinholtz: He was definitely one of the funnier ones. He invited me to come back anytime I needed to hide from any boyfriends.
Clarke: I’m going to be 90 years old and they’ll still be asking about it.
Redman: They say it’s definitely the best one ever. People coming up to me about this just encourages me to make solid decisions all the way down. They said it was the highest-rated. To me, it means it worked for me. It taught me a lesson to stick to my guns, and to be true to myself. Don’t be somebody you’re not; don’t do things that’s not you.
Mr. Cream: When we go out on the road and do shows, and I rock on stage, my cousin will be like, “Yo, who remembers my episode of MTV Cribs? You remember that guy who was asleep on the floor?” And then I come out, and the crowd goes crazy because they know who I am from that. It’s wonderful for me, and it wasn’t even something that was supposed to happen.
Chris Faraone is the news + features editor of DigBoston. He is the author of four books, and has written liner notes for Ghostface Killah, Pete Rock & CL Smooth, Cypress Hill, Non Phixion, GZA, and most recently, Nas. Follow him: @fara1.