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.
Story is largely based on a real-life Detroit gang known as The Chambers Brothers. Writer Barry Michael Cooper got the idea for the film after visiting Detroit and learning about the gang's exploits.
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.
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.
Wesley Snipes originally wanted to play Scotty Appleton. However, Mario Van Peebles and Barry Michael Cooper insisted that he play Nino Brown, as the part was written especially for him.
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.
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.
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.
Controversial professional wrestler Jerome Young, aka New Jack, took his ring name after seeing this film.
This movie was the first theatrically released feature film that Mario Van Peebles had ever directed.
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.
Martin Lawrence auditioned for the role of Pookie. However, he opted out of the film following the death of his mentor Robin Harris.
Ice-T was paid $26,000 for his role in the film. This is per his 2017 interview on the Howard Stern Show.
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," is the opening line of the NWA song "Straight Outta Compton."
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.
The men singing the song "For the Love of Money" by Levert are the groups Troop and Levert. 2 of the members of Levert are the sons of the O'Jays' original member Eddie Levert (Gerald Levert and Sean Levert). Both sons are deceased, Gerald dying in 2006 and Sean in 2008.
Wesley Snipes and Christopher 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.
Leo O'Brien - who played one of the kids, loitering on the stairs, (who recognised that Ice-T, was a cop), actually starred alongside Mario van Peebles as his younger brother, in the movie Rappin' (1985)
Barry Michael Cooper chose Wesley Snipes for the lead role after seeing him in the music video for "Bad" by Michael Jackson.
Chris Rock's character was named "Pookie". Pookie has since become an alternative name or descriptive for opiate based drugs like heroin and perscription pills, sometimes referred to as "Pookies" or to get "Pookied".
In King of New York (1990), Wesley Snipes played one of two cops trying to take down a drug lord. In this film, he plays a drug lord and a pair of cops are trying to take him down.
Oran 'Juice' Jones was originally cast as Gee Money but he was replaced with Allen Payne.
Pookie tells Appleton that smoking crack is like beaming up to the starship Enterprise from Star Trek: The Original Series (1966). Cast member Bill Cobbs would later go on to portray the inventor of the transporter in Star Trek: Enterprise: Daedalus (2005).
This is the first of four movies that Mario Van Peebles and Ice-T would work on together. The others are Crazy Six (1997), Judgment Day (1999) and Guardian (2001). Also he works with Chris Rock again on Panther (1995).
On Judd Nelson's first day of work, the film's security guards, who were from the Nation of Islam, wouldn't let him on the set. Nelson had to find a pay phone and call the production office to be allowed in.