Paid in Full (2002)

Rated R

Starring: Wood Harris, Mekhi Phifer, Cam’ron and Regina Hall

Rated R Action/Crime/Drama

Paid in Full is the story of three friends, Ace, Mitch and Rico, and their exploits as drug dealers in the Harlem community of New York City during the late 1980s.

The film begins with Ace (Wood Harris), a bright young man who works at the neighborhood dry cleaners owned by Pip (Chi McBride).  Reared in a single-parent, working class family, he has no significant plans for his future.  His best friend, Mitch (Mekhi Phifer), is a drug dealer who shows off his success, whether it’s the latest designer apparel he wears to the lavish diamond and gold-encrusted pieces of jewelry.

One day at work, Ace discovers a small amount of cocaine left in the pocket of a pair of pants that a customer, Lulu (Esai Morales), owns.  He returns the dope to Lulu, who, in rewarding Ace’s honesty, allows Ace to keep it.  Shortly after, Calvin (Kevin Carroll), the boyfriend of his sister, is arrested for selling drugs.  When one of Calvin’s customers is looking for him to make a purchase, Ace sells him the cocaine that Lulu let him keep.  Impressed at how easy, quick and profitable the transaction was, Ace visits Lulu and agrees to sell his high-quality cocaine for him.

As Ace begins to ascend in the drug game, Mitch is arrested and jailed for murdering a man who robbed one of his workers.  While in jail, a fight ensues between Mitch and an inmate; Mitch is aided by Rico (Cam’ron), who is also from Harlem and the two quickly become close friends.  Mitch beats the murder case and upon being released, he introduces Rico to Ace and all three begin successfully running the drug trade throughout the City’s boroughs and surrounding areas. 

The trio, though different in personality, are supportive of each other.  Ace is “The Dreamer”, who is reserved and plans for the future, especially since he and his girlfriend, Keisha (Regina Hall), are expecting their first child.  Mitch is “The Baller”, who is flashy and loves the hustle of street life, even though he has more than enough wealth to begin a different life. Rico is “The Soldier”, the obnoxious and brutal enforcer whose antics are completely over the top.

However, as The Notorious B.I.G. famously rapped, “Mo’ money, mo’ problems”.  Can this crew of friends remain intact and unscathed while living this fast-paced, destructive lifestyle?  Or will life catch up to them as they attempt to do whatever is necessary in order to be “paid in full”?

Directed by Charles Stone III, the film gets its title from both the song, “Paid in Full”, and album, Paid in Full by legendary New York hip-hop duo, Eric B & Rakim.  Paid in Full is based upon the real lives of three friends, Rich Porter, Azie “AZ” Faison and Alpo Martinez and their life of crime during the late 1980s in the Harlem community of New York City.   In the film, they are represented as such: Rich – “Mitch”, AZ – “Ace” and Alpo – “Rico”.  Each of the lives of these three have been discussed in hip-hop interview series such as Vlad TV; urban documentaries, including by ForbezDVD; and magazines, such as Don Diva Magazine and F.E.D.S. (Finally, Every Dimension of the Streets).  Faison also authored an autobiography, Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler.  

While the film had a limited release as an independent film from the Roc-A-Fella label, it did well.  Critics held mixed reviews on the movie but Paid in Full has become a cult classic film in the African-American community as well as among hip-hop supporters.  Themes of the film, ranging from its plot to hyper-materialism, has been stylized by many artists.  These artists range from Harlem emcee, Cashflow Harlem, in his “Harlem State of Mind” song and video to Philly rapper, Meek Mill, in his video for “Monster”.

In November 2002, Roc-A-Fella Records and Def Jam recordings released a 2-disc soundtrack, Paid in Full, to accompany the film.  The first disc contained classic hip-hop and R&B tracks and featured artists such as Eric B. & Rakim; Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick; Special Ed; Meli’sa Morgan; Boogie Down Productions; Phil Collins; Frankie Beverly and Maze; and Guy.  The second disc was comprised of new tracks inspired by the film.  It was recorded by the Roc-A-Fella label and included artists Jay-Z, Cam’ron, Twista, Beanie Siegel, Memphis Bleek, Young Chris, The Diplomats and M.O.P.

The Paid in Full soundtrack peaked at #2 of “Top Soundtracks”; #10 on “Top R&B/Hip-Hop” albums; and #53 on “Billboard 200”, all of Billboard’s charts.

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