A dog’s life is turning out OK for Slick Naim
Co-star of ‘It’s Bruno!’ talks about his dogs, his music and reclaiming his ChapStick
“Everywhere I go, everyone wants a picture with him,” says Algerian-American rapper, actor and director Solvan “Slick” Naim. The creator of the new Netflix comedy series It’s Bruno! is still coming to terms with the meteoric ascendance of his precocious co-star. “It’s getting to the point that if I show up somewhere without him they are like, ‘Yo, where’s Bruno?!’ ” muses an incredulous Naim. But Bruno isn’t some narcissistic Hollywood hotshot intent on hogging the spotlight. He’s Naim’s real-life puggle (a pug beagle mix) who plays himself in the Brooklyn, New York-set series.
It’s Bruno!, which was filmed in Naim’s Brooklyn neighborhood, takes the man’s-best-friend trope to hilarious extremes. Naim stars as Malcolm, who loves his furry-legged friend more than the annoying humans on his block. He brushes Bruno’s teeth. They eat lunch together at the same table. When an older lady pats Bruno without permission, a heated Malcolm pats the woman’s granddaughter on the head and bristles, “Yeah … did you like that?” And there is an abundance of quirky characters, including a rival dog owner who takes delight in reminding Malcolm that he has a better-trained pet and a beautiful woman who only dates men to steal their canines.
Naim initially planned on conquering the hip-hop world under his emcee name Slick. “But I started directing my own music videos, and then from there I started to write my own scripts and stories with music as the backdrop to drive the narrative,” recalled Naim. After last year’s cinematic music clip “Aw Man,” he recently released an album entitled Proof of Concept. “I always try to keep my music as a brother to my film and TV projects that I do.”
And there’s more. With directing credits on Power, Animal Kingdom and Snowfall, and a hip-hop musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet in the pipeline for Netflix, Naim and his boy Bruno have no plans on slowing down.
On It’s Bruno! you present a heartfelt yet extreme view of dog ownership. What is the craziest thing that you have done for your dogs Bruno, Bella and Angie?
I’m very serious when it comes to making sure they have the proper fencing that is 6 feet high. I try to make sure there are no holes in the walls, because mice and rat piss can make dogs really sick. I’ve personally gone to extreme measures to make sure that my dogs stay safe.
How hard was it to get television executives to sign off on such a quirky television series?
Like everything, people are scared to do different things. We got a bunch of, ‘Hey, we love the idea for the show, but we don’t know how it’s going to resonate with audiences.’ But I think that’s what separates Netflix from the others. They’re not scared to try different things. You couldn’t sell a Stranger Things anywhere else but Netflix. They are willing to take shows that revolve around kids as the lead, or even a dog in the ‘hood like It’s Bruno!
You’ve directed episodes of The Get Down and Power. But you initially came in the game as a rapper. Was it hard making the jump from music to television and film?
Not at all. I started to write my first film Full Circle, which resolved around all my music. That did well on the festival circuit. And then I made another film called Stanhope, which did even better. That’s when the studios started knocking on my door.
Being a serious hip-hop head, was there any hesitation in having your music take a back seat to your writing and directing?
Well, I always try to incorporate my music into my film and television work. For instance, in some of the It’s Bruno! episodes that I have directed, my music is in them. And I dropped a full album the same day It’s Bruno! came out. So I have three songs from my album featured in the series.
There are some hilarious characters in It’s Bruno!, like the neighborhood kid who randomly dances and Harvey, a rival dog owner obsessed with having the best dog on the block. Did you base these characters on real-life people?
Yeah, pretty much. They are all extreme versions of those people. I knew a Dominican kid … whenever a song would come on he would just start dancing. That always cracked me up. I just thought that would be hilarious to make a character like that. And then I added the element of the kid stealing dogs to pay for his dance lessons. And with Harvey, I remember some guy came up next to me when I was walking my dog. And he told his dog to sit and kind of looked at me like my dog couldn’t do that. And I’m like, ‘My dog sits too, yo.’
You directed episodes of John Singleton’s ’80s cocaine drama Snowfall. And you’ve spoken about your close relationship with the director, who passed away in April. What was it like to have a game-changing visionary like Singleton as a mentor?
I mean, Boyz n the Hood is a classic. We now understand that it sparked a whole new wave of filmmakers. But John was so much more. John was one of the first people in Hollywood to really champion me. He would always tell me, ‘You know you got next. …’ I got the chance to work with him on Snowfall, which was amazing. John was just a good dude.
You mentioned your EP Proof of Concept. What was the first hip-hop record you remember hearing or buying?
My brother had Mase’s Harlem World album. I remember listening to that as a kid. Then I heard DMX’s It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot and 2Pac’s All Eyez on Me. And of course Biggie and Jay-Z albums. My older brother had a big collection. I would just get into his stuff and listen to it.
Who was your first favorite emcee?
Probably 2Pac. I remember listening to him and just being amazed. Just his alliteration and his rhyme schemes and lyrics. He really stood out. He was a huge influence on me.
What is the quintessential hip-hop song about Brooklyn?
It will probably be Mos Def’s “Brooklyn.” But he has a few that goes in on certain streets and neighborhoods in Brooklyn.
What’s your go-to bodega?
The one that’s closest to my crib (laughs).
What’s the most Brooklyn thing you have ever done?
The most Brooklyn thing that I have ever done happened in Mexico. I was in Guadalajara and I had a friend over there that took us to this soccer game. And when we got to the soccer game, there was crazy police and security that had machine guns because it can get nuts over there. And when we went through security, they made me take out everything in my pockets, including my ChapStick. And that was the only ChapStick I had.
OK, that’s pretty serious …
And they threw my ChapStick with the rest of the contraband with the glasses, knives and all that s—. And I’m like, ‘Yo, I need my f—ing ChapStick. …’ I got pushed through security. So then we get to our seats and I knew we had a week left in Mexico, so I went back to get my ChapStick.
I’m sure your friends thought you had lost your mind.
For real. And I ran back and went right past the police dogs and everything. I grabbed my ChapStick out of the bin and they all were pointing guns at me! They were like, ‘What are you doing? … What are you doing?’ So I opened up the ChapStick like, ‘Look, it’s just ChapStick … just ChapStick … all right?’
You were willing to risk it all for that ChapStick, huh?
Listen, man. I got that s— back and walked right back to my seat. I guess that’s Brooklyn.