The Empire effect has spread to film.
Carlito Rodriguez and Malcolm Spellman, writers on the hit Fox series, have been tapped to tell another music story, this one centered on the late Sugar Hill Records co-founder Sylvia Robinson, an influential rap pioneer and producer known as the “Mother of Hip-Hop.”
Warner Bros. bought the untitled project mere weeks after the rap drama Straight Outta Compton,which the studio famously had declined to make, scored big for Universal at the summer box office.
The Robinson film, pitched as more American Hustle than music biopic, will focus on the race to release the first rap record. Robinson burst onto the scene in the late 1970s with Sugarhill Gang’s hit song, “Rapper’s Delight,” which was widely credited as the first hit to push hip-hop into the mainstream. A strong female in a largely male world, she was also a driving force behind other breakthrough hits including “The Message,” by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five.
Paula Wagner, who worked closely with the Robinson estate to secure the rights, former Fox Music chief Robert Kraft and Stephanie Allain (Hustle & Flow, Black Snake Moan, Beyond the Lights) are producing. Niija Kuykendall and Jon Gonda are overseeing the project for Warner Bros.
Both writers bring plenty of music experience to the project: Rodriguez was once editor-in-chief of hip-hop bible The Source, and Spellman co-owns a small record label and manages singer Fantastic Negrito on the side. Though this will be their first true collaboration, it was Spellman who recommended Rodriguez for the Empire job ahead of the series’ second season; Rodriguez had been writing on HBO’s The Leftovers when the Lee Daniels-Danny Strong Fox juggernaut launched.
Rodriguez is repped by UTA, Intellectual Property Group and Del Shaw; Spellman is repped by CAA, Industry Entertainment and Del Shaw.