4 Harlem teens, Q, Bishop, Raheem and Steel, are out skipping school one day when they find out an old friend was killed in a shootout at a bar. After this, Bishop tells his friends that they have no respect, or juice. To get some, they rob a corner grocery store, but things take an unexpected turn. Only the four friends know what happened, but one of them is out for himself.
Four inner-city teenagers get caught up in the pursuit of power and happiness, which they refer to as "the juice".
- Bishop (Tupac Shakur), Q (Omar Epps), Raheem (Khalil Kain), and Steel (Jermaine 'Huggy' Hopkins) are four teenage African-American friends growing up together in Harlem. They regularly skip school, instead spending their days hanging out at Steel's apartment, at a neighborhood arcade, and also a record store where they steal LPs for Q's DJ interests. Generally, they are harassed daily by the police or a Puerto Rican street gang led by Radames (Vincent Laresca).
Fed up with all of the torment he and his friends have endured, Bishop decides that the group must go on to do bigger things in order to win respect. However, Q is unsure if he wants to become involved in a life of crime. One Saturday night, under Bishop's persistence, the friends decide to rob a local convenience store to teach the owner, Fernando Quiles, a lesson. At first Q hesitates to go through with the robbery, unsure whether it will be successful. He also fears it will affect his chances of participating in a DJ competition in which he has yearned to compete for years. After being pressured by his fellow crew members, he decides to join in. Q manages to sneak out of the nightclub where he is working as the DJ to join his friends. During the heist, Bishop accidentally shoots the owner in the head, killing him.
After fleeing the scene, the four young men gather in an abandoned building where they argue over the evening's events. Q, Raheem and Steel become angry at Bishop for killing Mr. Quiles, and Raheem demands that Bishop give the gun to him. Bishop resists, and a struggle ensues between the two, and Bishop shoots Raheem dead. Panicking, Bishop, Q and Steel flee to another abandoned building, where Bishop threatens to kill Q and Steel if they reveal to anybody that he murdered Raheem.
Over the next few days, Q and Steel realize that Bishop is beginning to break down and is becoming addicted to the thrill of killing. They agree to give Bishop as wide a berth as possible. However, while attending Raheem's funeral, the two are surprised to see Bishop there. Bishop goes as far as to hug Raheem's mother and promise to find his killer. Q and Steel are mostly generally able to avoid Bishop, but he finds them and confronts them one at a time, questioning their loyalty.
After a scuffle, Bishop kills Radames. In order to cover his tracks, he begins planning to frame Q for the murders of Quiles, Raheem and Radames. Fearful of Bishop, Q resorts to buying a gun for his own protection. Meanwhile, Bishop confronts Steel in an alley, accusing him of disloyalty, and shoots him. However, Steel survives the attack and is rushed to the hospital, where he informs Q's girlfriend Yolanda (Cindy Herron) that he has been framed by Bishop. Fed up with both the tension and troubles brought upon him, Q throws his gun into the East River and decides to confront Bishop unarmed. Q and Bishop meet up, where a scuffle and chase ensues.
Q is shot once in the arm during the chase, and he is subsequently chased into a building where a rap party is being held. Bishop begins firing into a group of party-goers in an attempt to hit Q, but Q escapes unharmed. Q disarms Bishop while he's distracted, and Bishop leaves the scene with Q following him. Q eventually finds Bishop on the roof of a high-rise building, and the two become engaged in a physical confrontation. Bishop eventually falls off the ledge, but is caught by Q. Bishop begs Q not to let go, but Q eventually loses his grip, and Bishop falls to his death.
As Q is leaving the rooftop, a crowd from the party gathers to see what happened. One of the people in the crowd turns to Q and says, "Yo, you got the juice now, man." Q turns to look at him, shakes his head in disgust, and walks away. The film ends with a flashback clip of the four friends together in happier times as Bishop yells, "Wrecking Crew!"