Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats & Rhymes (Film)

Artist: Documentary ReviewTitle: Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats & Rhymes (Film)Rating: 4 1/2 StarsReviewed by: Slav Kandyba

If politics has Michael Moore, then Hip-Hop-excuse me, commercial rap-has Byron Hurt. There’s hardly a doubt that the filmmaker and former college athlete had good intentions when he set out to make Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes, a documentary headed for PBS that tries to shed light into the shadowy attitudes in commercial Hip-Hop: misogyny, machismo and homophobia, as well as its obsession with material wealth.

It is clear right from the opening credits that Hurt, who played quarterback at Boston’s Northeastern University, had a specific game plan for the film. In the same manner that Moore stuck tough questions to the guts of politicians and company executives, Hurt hit up established and aspiring rappers, television and record label executives and even Russell Simmons. He also spoke to men and women on the street.

What results out of his confrontational approach is unexpected, funny, ironic and sometimes, hilarious. In one scene, Busta Rhymes dodges a question about his attitude towards gays by simply walking out of the studio–as the camera rolls. Ironically, Talib Kweli, in the same studio, stays and prepares an eloquent, well-thought-out answer.

Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats & Rhymes is filled with these juxtapositions. One minute, Hurt is in 9th Wonder’s home studio, soaking up every conscious word the producer utters. The next, he is in Daytona Beach for BET’s Spring Bling, his camera crew zooming in on scantily clad women and the men who admire them from afar and up close. He interviews these men and women, and, as expected, gets answers that range from carefree to ignorant.

Hurt does a thought-provoking job of documenting the different views within Hip-Hop culture throughout the film. It may not be the first time that someone examined Hip-Hop attitudes in such a way, but it is a commendable effort nevertheless. The film however doesn’t really explore the mainstream media’s role in pushing the misogynistic, braggadocio, hardcore brand of Hip-Hop to the masses.

Ironically, a panel after a screening of the film on Tuesday, January 30 in Los Angeles’ Pacific Design Center, did. In attendance at the panel were Keith Brown (BET VP of News & Public Affiars), M-1 of dead prez, Talib Kweli and Hurt. As a college professor moderated, the panel quickly evolved into a civil yet terse confrontation between M-1, Kweli and the audience on one side, and Brown on the other.

“Black Entertainment Television is not black,” M-1 spouted. “I’ve been a victim of BET all my life.”

When Brown wasn’t able to explain BET’s programming decisions-“It’s complicated,” was all he could muster-I thought to myself, “Now this would make for a good documentary.” Michael Moore would agree.

Watch Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats & Rhymes on PBS, Tuesday, FEB. 20, 2007 at 10:00 PM. Check your local listings.

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