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Byron Hurt - Independent Lens: Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes (#8.16) (2006)

An Independent Television Service and God Bless the Child Prods. co-production in association with the National Black Programming Consortium. Produced by Byron Hurt, Sabrina Gordon. Executive producers, Stanley Nelson, Sally Jo Fifer. Directed, written by Byron Hurt.

Narrator: Byron Hurt.

Although he occasionally errs on the side of overstating the obvious, filmmaker Byron Hunt offers some provocative morsels of food for thought in "Beyond Beats and Rhymes: A Hip-Hop Head Weighs in on Manhood in Hip-Hop Culture." Free-form, first-person docu is an ambitious collage of revealing interviews and pop-culture overviews, employed to illustrate Hurt's meditation on the uglier aspects of hip-hop culture. Brief but cogent pic likely will get ample fest play before airing next year on PBS.
Hurt takes pains to express his fondness for rap and hip-hop. Even so, however, he repeatedly questions the seemingly ubiquitous expressions of misogyny, homophobia and exploitative ultra-violence in the lyrics (and music videos) of artists as diverse as Nelly, 50 Cent and Jadakiss. Academics, feminists and even a few hip-hoppers weigh in on the issues, most of them confirming Hurt's worst suspicions about attitudes and ambitions shaped and encouraged by hip-hop. One interviewee likens gangster-rapper stereotypes to demeaning depictions of African-Americans in D.W. Griffith's "The Birth of a Nation." Which may explain, Hurt suggests, that according to some experts, 70% of mainstream hip-hop is consumed by young white men.

Camera (color, DV), Bill Winters; editor, Sabrina Schmidt Gordon. Reviewed on DVD, Houston, Jan. 14, 2006. (In Sundance Film Festival -- Spectrum.) Running time: 56 MIN.

Review from a place I.m too lazy to remember>

Hurt's filmmaking techniques in the film are clearly indebted to Michael Moore; he utilizes video and movie clips to make his points, and he's not afraid to ask tough questions to people like rap mogul Russell Simmons. But unlike Moore, or moralists like C. Delores Tucker, Hurt doesn't attempt to exempt himself from the discussion, nor is he an uniformed outsider. On camera, he's upfront about his love of hip-hop, his evolution on issues of sexism and homophobia, and how he's saddened by the direction he feels his beloved music is taking.

Hurt interviews a number of prominent artists and activists, from Chuck D of Public Enemy to Talib Kweli, who decry the absence of "conscious hip hop" as a subgenre that major corporations don't believe will sell (many of the artists interviewed are concerned that more cartoonish, stereotypical images of black men make for a safer sales plan, especially to white audiences). And he deftly explores the use of sexist and homophobic language and how it contributes to a limited definition to what it means to be a man.

The film never feels simply like an accusatory diatribe; it's a sincere examination of the most important pop music of our time. "Beyond Beats and Rhymes" is rap food for thought.

Interview with director from RottenTomatoes


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