Plenty of film students devise interesting concepts in school - but only a few have them purchased by a major studio. Such was the luck of John Singleton, a young writer-director whose undergrad idea, titled "Summer of '84," became the gritty hip-hop blockbuster Boyz N the Hood.
Singleton was very protective of his script - a gritty, unflinching portrayal of inner city life - insisting he be the one to bring it to life despite never having directed a feature before. "I wasn't going to have somebody from Idaho or Encino direct this movie," he told The Guardian. For the cast, inspired in part by Stand by Me, Singleton relied on some work connections: he'd met Laurence Fishburne while working on the set of Pee-wee's Playhouse and Ice Cube while working on the set of Arsenio Hall's talk show. (Another key cast member, a then-unknown Cuba Gooding Jr., was simply one of the first to show up to a casting call.)
With Cube in the cast (in his first film role), the recently-departed N.W.A. member was keen to contribute to the film's rap-heavy soundtrack - although Singleton later told Vice that "the studio didn't have a clue who NWA were." Nonetheless, his "How to Survive in South Central" was the accompanying soundtrack album's opener, with other key tracks by Tevin Campbell, 2 Live Crew, Tony! Toni! Toné! and Too $hort. (Jazz bassist Stanley Clarke also wrote the film's score.) The soundtrack topped Billboard's R&B charts and reached No. 12 on the overall album chart.
Boyz N the Hood established Gooding and Cube as versatile actors and also brought Fishburne greater success as an adult. It also established Singleton (who sadly passed away in 2019) as one of Hollywood's most notable Black directors, working on films like Poetic Justice and 2 Fast 2 Furious. Boyz N the Hood was later selected for preservation in the Library of Congress' National Film Registry and earned Singleton an Academy Award nomination for Best Director - the youngest person in history to do so.