On Inside the Actors Studio (1994), Chris Rock claimed that for several years following his acclaimed performance as a crack addict, drug dealers would approach him and put crack and cocaine in his pocket; joking that "they thought it was a documentary." He stated that, although he knew people who used crack at the time, he never did and, in his 1997 memoir "Rock This" had only smoked marijuana twice.
Mario Van Peebles had formed a friendship with Clint Eastwood when the pair made Heartbreak Ridge (1986). When Van Peebles took the "New Jack City" screenplay to Warner Bros., the studio was interested in the material, but weren't keen on having an unknown as the director/lead actor. Eastwood personally vouched for Van Peebles and told Warner Brothers to "give the kid a shot". The success of the film launched Van Peebles's directing career.
The chase between Scotty and Pookie was improvised. The original idea was for the chase to be a car chase, but the movie had gone over budget and was in danger of being shut down. Chris Rock, instead, hopped on a bicycle, and Ice-T chased him on foot.
Ice-T almost refused the role as Scottie because he felt that if the film was a failure it would negatively affect his rap career. During an interview with MTV's Kurt Loder back in 1990, Ice T stated to Loder that he hated the police due to his past connection with the Crips. However, not only was the film a hit, but it also proved to give him his huge break as an actor.
Tupac Shakur auditioned for the role of Gee Money but was turned down due to the fact that he looked younger than Wesley Snipes. Shakur would later portray Bishop in Juice (1992), a character similar to that of Nino Brown.
Ice-T recounted in his autobiography that he was cast in the film by being in the right place at the right time. That place was a nightclub, and Mario Van Peebles was also there that night. "Mario said he overheard me talking sh*t in the bathroom," Ice T wrote. "I don't remember this exactly, but apparently I was telling someone: 'The problem is, if they could put me under a microscope and find one molecule of me that gave a f*ck, then they'd have a chance.'" Van Peebles liked what he heard and told someone that "whoever said that is going to be the star of my next movie." He found Ice T in the club, gave him his number, and convinced the rapper to contact him the next day.
The story of Nino Brown was based on the Chambers Brothers story. These four brothers sold crack in Detroit. Like Nino had his apartment building called "The Carter," the Chambers Brothers also had an apartment called the Broadmoor. They moved into the 4 story, 52 unit building, selling different types of drugs on each floor. They often sold drugs alongside families who already lived in the building, forcing them to leave or deal with their illegal and dangerous activity. Officials have often claimed that the brothers ran their drug operation like a large, very organized corporation. The foursome became nationally known when they were caught on tape counting laundry baskets of money and flaunting their wealth.
Wesley Snipes and Chris Williams just so happened to go to school together, at SUNY. While Snipes was doing a one-man show on campus, Williams decided to help with the lighting and the backstage stuff. Wesley remembered him and after he got the role of Nino Brown, he got in touch with the casting director so Williams could audition.
Barry Michael Cooper recently revealed that the name Nino Brown was a reference to his own sartorial experiences growing up in Harlem in the 1970s. Cooper refers to a group of "scramblin' guys" (the idols of neighbourhood) who would shop at expensive boutiques in Manhattan. After window shopping at one store, Cooper inquired about the price of a pair of loafers and was told that they were $105. "I had a Neighborhood Youth Core job after school, and I saved up six of my $45-dollar-a-week checks to buy those shoes, before I went to my first-and last year-at North Carolina Central University in Durham, North Carolina," Cooper said. "The icing on the cake was the Nino Gabriele store shopping bag. It looked like this ultra-fly plastic valise, in shades of brown and tan, with the name 'Nino Gabriele' written in an art-deco style."
The bag earned Cooper respect, and the memory inspired him to name the film's lead character.
The first words heard in the film, when the studio logo appears on the screen, "You are about to witness the strength of street knowledge," which is the opening line of the NWA song "Straight Outta Compton." This is odd because that's a West Coast song and this film is set in New York City.
This film and Boyz n the Hood (1991), another film that dealt with drugs, violence, and black communities, were released within six months of one another. Five days before it hit theaters, Rodney King was brutally beaten by LAPD officers and the footage was broadcast to the world. It was cited as the cause for various disturbances and acts of violence in cities like New York and Los Angeles, which led to it being pulled from some theaters.