South Carolina-born African American comedian Chris Rock grew up in Brooklyn and projected a marked aptitude for comedy early in life. Rock traveled the New York club circuit during his adolescence, so aggressively and persistently that he established himself as a seasoned veteran by his late teens. He happened to be performing at the New York Comedy Strip c. 1984, when his break arrived in the form of an audience visit by one Eddie Murphy. Deeply impressed with the then eighteen-year-old rising star, Murphy cast him in his forthcoming Beverly Hills Cop II (1987), as a parking valet. It hardly constituted a breakout performance, but the role and newfound connection with Eddie Murphy helped Rock land a couple of small supporting roles, and eventually a spot on NBC's hallowed Saturday Night Live, from 1990-93. During his SNL stint, Rock also periodically guest-starred in fellow comedian Keenan Ivory Wayans' African American sketch comedy series In Living Color.
In 1991, Rock broke from comedy in favor of a more dramatic role, and his performance as a surprisingly innocent crack addict-cum-informant in Mario Van Peebles' New Jack City attracted a substantial amount of favorable attention; Roger Ebert praised Rock as "effortlessly authentic and convincing."