According to Jermaine "Huggy" Hopkins, Tupac Shakur often walked off the set during filming. As a prank, Hopkins told Shakur that he was being fired from the film. When Shakur found out that it was not true, he started a physical altercation with Hopkins.
In the original ending, Bishop lets go of Q's hand, deciding that he would rather fall to his death than go to jail. This was supposed to be a reference to an earlier scene in which Bishop watches the ending of White Heat (1949) and declares that he wants to die in the same way. Test audiences did not like this ending, and Paramount Pictures executives demanded it to be changed.
Daryl Mitchell, Donald Faison, Anthony "Treach" Criss, and Money-B were amongst the people who auditioned for the role of Bishop. Tupac Shakur had accompanied Treach to the audition and asked to read. Shakur nailed the role when he threw a chair during his audition. Shakur helped Criss get a cameo as a member of Radames' gang.
In between takes, Tupac Shakur would sit quietly and write song lyrics in notebooks. Shakur would become one of the more popular singers of the 1990s until his death in 1996. Omar Epps did view part of the notebook that Tupac was writing song lyrics where the one that Epps read became "Brenda's Got A Baby", at the same time the film was in production. Tupac was about to record his debut album "2Pacalypse Now", which came out at the same time the film was released.
At one point, the script was optioned by The Donnors' Company. They wanted to change the tone completely; at one point they suggested turning it into a comedy. Co-Writers Ernest Dickerson and Gerard Brown wanted to keep it a "noir" film, and took back the rights to the script.
The film was shot on-location in Harlem during the Winter months of early 1991 into the Springtime which is why you notice the differences in continuity weather wise throughout the film with the actors cold breath appearing in a few scenes, as well as rain soaked streets, barren trees, and differences in their clothing attire (heavy winter coats to regular spring jackets and finally, to wool winter coat worn by Steel in a few scenes).
The original poster to the film actually featured Tupac Shakur holding a gun pressed to his chest and then was airbrushed out by Paramount Pictures because someone protested about the message it was sending to the African-American youths. At the time, there were many films featuring someone pointing a gun such as The Last Boy Scout (1991), which had been in theaters at the time, or Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot (1992), which was also being released the same day as this film, that featured a similar theme to their posters which also possibly lead to the change. A few of the original posters were in circulation before the change and quickly replaced. Those posters are quite valuable now.
Tupac Shakur auditioned twice for the film. The first time, he had auditioned for Quincy (Q), the role in which Omar Epps would be cast, and Director Ernest Dickerson was so impressed by his performance that he personally asked him to stay around and audition for another part, which was the role of Bishop, which he had been having a lot of trouble casting. Shakur happily agreed. After his second audition and as he left, Dickerson immediately knew that they found Bishop.
The scene in which Q and Bishop are being chased by the cops on the rooftops are based on personal experiences by Ernest R. Dickerson, growing up in Newark, New Jersey, where he would jump from rooftop to rooftop.
The film is based on interviews that Director Ernest R. Dickerson conducted with a group of his cousin's friends who had lived around that area where the film was based. Dickerson ended up using everything he had heard and became the basis of the film itself, as well as authenticity.
This is Ernest R. Dickerson's directorial debut. Dickerson had been Spike Lee's personal cinematographer on his earliest films which include She's Gotta Have It (1986), School Daze (1988), Do the Right Thing (1989), Mo' Better Blues (1990), Jungle Fever (1991), and finally culminating with Malcolm X (1992), which had finished production just before this film began to shoot in the Winter of 1991.
The film was originally written as a speculative script by Ernest R. Dickerson and Gerard Brown while they were in film school. Producer David Heyman go ahold of the script from his friend and co-Producer Peter Frankfurt, who read it and immediately loved it. They met with Dickerson to discuss making it into a movie soon thereafter.
Editor Sam Pollard was Writer and Director Spike Lee's personal film editor, along with Barry Alexander Brown throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, which includes films such as Mo' Better Blues (1990), Jungle Fever (1991), Clockers (1995), and Girl 6 (1996), amongst others. Ernest R. Dickerson was the cinematographer on most of Lee's films and hired Pollard to edit this film with the blessing of Lee. Pollard also edited Dickerson's next directorial film, Surviving the Game (1994).
The dedication at the end of the film "For Janet and Tamu" is a personal dedication by Director Ernest R. Dickerson to two people who were killed. Janet was Dickerson's fiancée. Tamu was a Production Assistant involved with the production, who was murdered in Brooklyn after the film was in post-production.
Amongst the principal cast, Jermaine "Huggy" Hopkins had the most experience in film and television after being featured in Lean On Me (1989), and on the Dick Wolf produced drama H.E.L.P. (1990), in which Director Ernest R. Dickerson was involved and featured Wesley Snipes, who Dickerson worked with on Mo' Better Blues (1990) and Jungle Fever (1991).
Omar Epps' mother wasn't thrilled with her son pursuing an acting career, even with his casting in this film. But when they were at the premiere, he said that she realized his success when they were sitting a seat away from Diana Ross.
During the scene in which Bishop kills Raheem, Tupac Shakur actually did start to burst into tears due to the emotion of the scene, which impressed and earned the respect of Omar Epps and Jermaine "Huggy" Hopkins.
The DJ announcement at the end of the movie during the end credits came about during test screenings. The audience wanted to know what happend to Q after the final confrontation with Bishop on the rooftop. Q did not go to jail after everything that happened, had his mix tape played on KISS-FM 98.7 in New York City, and is on his way to achieving his dream of becoming a professional DJ.
The films' original ending featured on the 25th Anniversary Blu-ray had Q hanging on to Bishop just like in the theatrical cut. The major difference was that just as Bishop was about to climb up, he hears police sirens closing in closer and closer and utters the words "I'm not going to jail" and Q responds with "Come on B, don't punk out on me now" and lets go into a silent abyss in the alley. The studio then forced Ernest R. Dickerson to change the ending and stated that if he didn't change it, "the studio would not give him nor the movie the support he was expecting." Reluctantly, Dickerson changed the ending and had to make the ending look as if Bishop slipped out of Q's hand instead of Bishop choosing to die. During the ADR session to re-loop everything, Tupac Shakur stated that "It was B.S." and Dickerson completely agreed with him also stating "Yeah, it is. It is B.S." Then Shakur stated to Dickerson, "Well...I gotta scream?" Dickerson replied "Yeah" Shakur then said "Can it be a half-assed scream?" and Dickerson agreed stating "Yeah. Yeah, give me a half-ass scream man because maybe one day I'll be able to put it back the way it was." This was their own personal way of protesting the change, because they both felt that the original ending gave Bishop more power than what the studio wanted. Dickerson regrets it to this day.
One of the records that Bishop, Steel, and Raheem steal for Q at the record store early in the film is by the rap group EpMD. They are featured in the scene in which Blizzard holds up the bar with Q as a witness, soon after they leave the record store. Q steals the cassette tape of their album during the scene after distracting the female clerk by asking her out.
One of three films in which the late Tupac Shakur's character dies in a film. This film being the first, followed by Above the Rim (1994) and his final film, Gang Related (1997), as he had already been killed in real-life.
Q, Bishop, Steel, and Raheem are watching the film, White Heat (1949), which Bishop gets completely excited about when James Cagney utters the line "Top Of The World Ma, Top Of The World!" foreshadows his own personal destiny at the end of the film during his final fight between him and Q.
The scene where Q walks into the bar to get cigarettes for Raheem and runs into Blizzard who is about the rob everyone inside foreshadows the Bodega robbery with Mr. Quiles in which Q was also a witness too.