Sunday, June 25, 2006

Beyond Beats and Rhymes

Upon the recommendation of a friend, this past weekend Smartness and I checked out Byron Hurt's hip-hop-umentary Beyond Beats and Rhymes: A Hip-Hop Head Weighs in On Manhood in Hip-Hop Culture. The winner of San Francisco's Black Film Festival, Hurt's documentary is his analysis of the misogynistic and homophobic rhetoric and posturing that pervades Hip-Hop music. More generally, "Beyond Beats and Rhymes: A Hip-Hop Head Weighs in On Manhood in Hip-Hop Culture examines representations of gender roles in Hip-Hop and Rap music through the lens of filmmaker Byron Hurt, a former college quarterback turned activist. Conceived as a loving critique from a self-proclaimed 'Hip-Hop Head', Hurt tackles issues of masculinity, sexism, violence and homophobia in today's hip-hop culture. The film provides thoughtful dialogue from intelligent, divergent voices of rap artists, industry executives, rap fans and social critics from inside and outside the hip-hop generation."

A video collage filled with insightful bits from the likes of Michael Eric Dyson, Chuck D., Jadakiss, Fat Joe, Russell Simmons, Talib Kweli, Mos Def, Busta Rhymes, concerned student activists, and unassuming hip-hop fans like myself, I found that the documentary pulled together many pieces of the hip-hop critique that I have encountered frequently in the last few years in the course of my leisure reading and conference/symposium attendance.

Perhaps the documentary's most valuable offering is first-hand commentary from many of Hip-Hop's leading artists and executives, all who seemed to lack a comprehensible rationale for the prevalence of the ignorant and backwards mentalities that define so much of the contemporary culture. The lack of articulation and the visible lack of comfort displayed by Busta Rhymes, Russell Simmons, BET Executive Stephen Hill, The Clipse, Fat Joe and Jadakiss when they were asked to weigh in on the retarted social landscape of hip-hop culture spoke volumes about just how little they deeply considered the material for which they are such great proponents. When an individual lacks an adequate rationale for participating and advocating something, he/she needs to take a step back and examine his/her thoughts on the matter(s) at hand. There is little more embarrassing than discovering that your priorities are out of whack in the process of defending them, which is exactly what Hurt's documentary makes most visible.

Next year Hurt's documentary will be featured to a national audience on PBS and I'm hopeful that its message will reach a broader crowd than the Fort Greene, "conscious", LRG track jacket and dread wearing cultural critics who I sat in the theater with. If this documentary made any single point clear it is that the change we would like to see in hip-hop is change we must forcefully make happen at a grassroots level. Patiently waiting for the next conscious album or verse from Kanye, Talib, Mos, Little Brother, or Lupe isn't going to take us to that higher place of cultural enlightenment. Simply put, the solutions begin and end with us.

Dead Prez was right when they told us to "turn off the radio, turn off that bullshit" and the credits from Hurt's documenary aptly roll alongside this poignant track.

The Hip-Hop revolution will definitely not be televised -- especially when Clear Channel owns the most visble media outlets.


Brother Smartness said...


Are you of the opinion that the hip-hop artists must change in order for change to occur within the community?

Brother Lightness said...

No. I believe just the opposite. Did my posting imply such?

Brother Smartness said...

That was one of the issues I took with the movie. It just seemed as though it implied that rappers should be more cognizant of their impact on the culture. I'm not sure that this is the right approach.