The Atlantic

Why John Singleton Wanted the ‘Z’ in Boyz n the Hood

The late filmmaker’s unconventional spelling was a stylistic choice that signified the forging of an anti-establishment identity in rap music.
Source: Fred Prouser / Reuters

John Singleton, who died Monday at 51, made his mark on Hollywood very early on, when his debut movie, Boyz n the Hood, became a massive hit in the summer of 1991. Singleton, who was 23 at the time, would become the youngest filmmaker ever to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Director and the first African American to compete in the category.

Singleton also wrote the Oscar-nominated screenplay, and his coming-of-age story set in South Central Los Angeles resonated with audiences at a time when gangsta rap was going mainstream, making the harsh realities of life in “the hood” part of the national conversation.

Singleton steeped his film in hip-hop culture, immediately evident from the title. Those in the as a nod to the debut single of Eazy-E, “The Boyz-N-The Hood,” recorded in 1987 as the first release put out by Ruthless Records. The song was also included on the compilation album, which introduced the gangsta-rap pioneers N.W.A. The writing credit for the song actually belonged to another member of N.W.A.: Ice Cube, who would launch his acting career in Singleton’s movie.

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