Originally published at The Well Versed
The name Christopher Martin may not ring an immediate bell, but if you came of age during the 80s or 90s, you know his moniker and his work. As the latter half of hip hop duo Kid and Play, Martin was one of the first artists to help spearhead the crossover movement. A string of successful movies, a TV show and a comic book series brought the pair into the homes of millions. These days, Martin is a college professor. But as he prepares to relive his past on TV One‘s Life After series, Martin sits down with The Well Versed to discuss why Run-DMC’s box office flop made him uneasy about House Party, why he only wanted one hit single and why he gave it all up.
The Well Versed: Before we get to the past, what have you been up to lately?
Christopher Martin: I’m going into my umpteenth year as an educator. Up until last year, I had five years at North Carolina Central University. I’m into my second year at Florida A&M University teaching a class on the music business and hip hop culture.
TWV: Was that something you always wanted to do or just something that happened?
CM: No, that’s proof that there is a God with a sense of humor. My educational background is not good. I got kicked out of five high schools in New York. The opportunity speaks to the incredible track record we had on the positive side of things and the staying power of the culture.
TWV: I understand that you and Kid were members of rival crews before getting together. Was there something you saw in him or he saw in you early on?
CM: It’s the adage of, “Where you’re weak, I’m strong” and vice versa. One of the reasons I didn’t do well is because I didn’t see any worth in it. My heroes were the people you saw on the American Gangster series. Those were the people I wanted to be. I didn’t hear about school on their resumes. I felt I would never amount to anything in [school] so why not dismiss it under the swagger of trying to be cool?
When I met Kid and had a chance to hang out with him, whenever Jeopardy or any of those game shows would be on that you had to know history, this guy would answer the question like, “Who is Socrates?” I would think, “Who is this guy I’m hanging out with that knows this stuff?” It rubbed off on me. If I couldn’t learn it the traditional way, I learned it through him.
What he would confess in interviews about me is that my lifestyle and living on the edge was something that intrigued him. When we came together as a team it was a complete person.
TWV: How did that affect the music you all made? It was very positive and inspirational. For you, did you ever feel like you wanted to be more edgy?
CM: That comes up quite often. When people speak of the Kid and Play brand, the clean thing is hard for me to embrace. When you look at the House Party movies, count the curses and the subject matter. I don’t see the clean part. It may be the lesser of two evils, but I don’t see anything clean about it. When you look at our discography, we spoke, we reflected what people of our age were doing but there was nothing innocent or clean about it. You couldn’t curse on the radio, so we did what we had to do. But our subject matter was about girls and what we would do if we had money.
TWV: I think, contrasting today’s hip hop, where guys are trying to look as tough as they can, do you think part of the fondness people have for Kid and Play is that you guys weren’t trying hard to be tough and just did what you did?
CM: [Being tough] wasn’t going to get us very far, so why? If you find yourself in a place where you don’t have to, why would you? A lot of our peers were quick to talk about us going soft, but Kid and I were vindicated once we saw Method Man and Redman doing a Speed Stick commercial. It’s about earning a living. Why on earth…even mafia and gangsters, real gangsters. Their code was they never wanted any trouble. Trouble was bad for business. It was something they had to do. They didn’t want to come in wanting to kill or rob. In a warped way, they drew the line at drugs, they weren’t going to deal drugs. It’s a mindset. There was nothing innocent—especially on my end going on behind the scenes. Since I had limited my options because of school, I had to deal with what I thought was left for me. It was like wow, I don’t have to kill anybody. I can wear this hair, dance and get paid for it? Sounds good to me.
TWV: Were the roles in the movies extensions of who you all already were?
CM: Yeah. That’s what attracted the powers that be. It wasn’t a stretch. We did Class Act because that was something that really blew our minds. That was our actual lives. Here he was as this studious nerd who went to gifted schools and college; here I am at the fifth high school I failed in and barely getting my GED and running the streets.
TWV: Was there a point after that first House Party movie where you all realized you had something special?
CM: This may come as a surprise, but I was the one that didn’t want to do the films when they were brought to me. I was outvoted on that. It’s Kid and Play, but it was a whole lot of people that don’t get the shine. We had a rule where majority rules. I was outvoted. The reason I didn’t want to do it was because Run-DMC’s movie flopped, who were Kid and Play to think we could do what Run-DMC couldn’t? Krush Groove was a box office disappointment. I didn’t want that potential failure to cripple the recording career we had.
TWV: There was an all-star cast in the first House Party. Was there a sense that the majority of the cast would go on to do great things?
CM: It was something to do. Something to get paid, get some popularity and be attractive to the opposite sex. Where AJ Johnson and Tisha Campbell (Sharane and Sidney) were concerned, it was probably more than that for them. We tease them to this day. They’d come in and ask “What’s the motivation of this role?” We’d just say “Be quiet and act.”
It’s hard for me to fathom. I just wanted a 12 inch single. That was going to be the manipulative tool to get into Sarah or Grace’s pants. A hit record. I had no idea it’d turn into movies, or TV or comics. It was all about having a good time.
TWV: You didn’t leave the industry, but you gave your life to God, was there a catalyst behind that?
CM: A lot of disappointment. It was me thinking that the industry could be something that nothing could do but God. If I own this type of shoe, buy this car, or be with this woman… how many times have we said “once I get this, I’ll be set!” I meant that. It got to the point where I reached the pinnacle, getting married and into an adult conscious place, I realized this isn’t it. I just got tired. I had a few businesses and all of it was becoming a real burden. I dreaded my phone going off. It was all tiring me out.
TWV: Was it an easy transition since you felt so tired with the way things were going?
CM: It wasn’t hard for me. People ask how my friends took it and if I got questioned. Nah. I was always, to some degree, a loaner. When we all got money to get homes, most in our peer group bought homes in New Jersey— I bought a home in Long Island. When we all got money, I was the first to start a business, first to get married, first to get divorced. Maybe I’m just the first to go to Christ. I’m sure people had doubts and suspicions but that didn’t make any difference to me.
TWV: Was the end of Kid and Play more of a break up or a time to go do something else?
CM: I always tell people, “We never broke up, we grew up.” One of the things we got exposed to was LA. Kid loves LA. I don’t. Kid loved LA so much that he moved there. It was hard for us to maintain the relationship we had when we lived around the corner from each other. The accessibility isn’t there. I have things to deal with being an educator; he has different things to deal with. Because of the bond we have, every time we get together, it’s the same as it was back then. We can finish each others sentences.
TWV: Will we see any more Kid and Play projects? A lot of people have a desire to see the entertainers they grew up on doing things again.
CM: We’re not doing anything to discredit the bond we have with our friends. I don’t call them “fans,” I call them “friends.” It’s not about the money. It’s got to be right and make sense and speak to the relationship we have. Sometimes it’s good to leave on a good note. We’ve been looking at some scripts and discussing some things. If and when, is if and when.
Christopher Martin’s Life After special airs Oct 12 on TV One. Check your local listings for time and channel.