First Look: 'Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes'

Here’s a PBS documentary that’s worth setting your DVRs for on Feb. 20: Hip Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes. It’s part of the Independent Lens series that Terrence Howard is hosting. In Beats, Byron Hurt, a former college football star who used to listen to LL Cool J to get pumped up for a game, explores manhood in hip-hop culture — a culture that he always found himself defending. It wasn’t until after graduation when Hurt got a job lecturing about violence against women that he became very conflicted about the music he loved. Eventually, he bought a camera, hired a sound crew and mustered up the courage to question the hip-hop community about violence, misogyny and homophobia. He interviewed people across the spectrum, from young unknown rappers to industry heavyweights such as Russell Simmons, Chuck D, Fat Joe, Busta Rhymes, Mos Def, De La Soul, Talib Kweli and Jadakiss. Here’s a primer on what he found:

BET SpringBling, a three-day affair in Daytona, Fla.
“The women were being sexually harassed and groped on the street,” he recently recalled in an interview with PopWatch. “I knew that stuff like that happened, but the level of the degradation that was going on down there was surprising, shocking and also very sad. Very sad.”

Homophobia
You realize it’s a touchy subject when Hurst asks Busta Rhymes about it and the rapper walks out of the room saying, “I can’t even talk to you about that. With all due respect, I ain’t trying to offend nobody… what I represent culturally doesn’t condone it whatsoever.” Hurt believes this kind of thinking is deep-seeded in black history. “Black people who are close-minded about sexual orientation, it’s hard for them to make that connection because there’s this emotional attachment to like the civil rights movement, to slavery, to being oppressed,” he says. “There’s also something about gay people being seen as less-than and devalued. You don’t want to be put in that same category with gay people. And then you have to factor in the impact that religious institutions have had on the minds of black people when it comes to homosexuality. Also, if you’re sympathetic towards gay people it makes you seem less hard. And that’s something I had to consider. Just by me including homophobia and homoeroticism in my film, I knew that there were going to be people who were going to question whether I was straight or gay.”

Did he just say homoeroticism?
Yep. Ironic, dontcha think? He makes a good point here: Ladies aren’t the only ones looking at the oiled-up muscular rappers featured on the covers of hip-hop magazines.

Some women aren’t helping the problem.
In Daytona, some women are asked about whether they are offended by being called bitches in some rap lyrics, but they say that’s the guy’s own personal problem and they‘re not really talk about them, per se. Hurt is flabbergasted, and adds in the doc that “It’s funny when I hear women say, ‘When these rappers are calling women bitches and hos, they’re not talking about me.’ It’s like, ‘Yo, they are talking about you. If George Bush was to get on national TV and make a speech and he started calling black people n—-rs, would you be like, ‘I don’t know who George Bush is talking about, but he isn’t talking about me’?”

Young people are sick of being pigeonholed.
But they feel like they have no choice. Young rappers feel that the industry doesn’t want to hear them rapping about righteousness, that the only thing that sells are raps about bulletproof vests and the number of women at their beck and call. But Hurt thinks there’s hope. “I think a lot more young people are questioning and challenging what they’re receiving than most people think,” he says. “I’ve been going around the country showing this film, and I think you would be surprised by how many young people are tired of what they’re seeing.”

We want to hear from you, PopWatchers
Are you tired of seeing the same old images and stereotypes being presented in lyrics and music videos? Do you think a well-known rapper could come out of the closet and still be successful? Do you think rappers are conflicted: on the one hand they’re rapping about the rough upbringing they might have had, which historically has been the way people vent about their lives, and then on the other are trying to be good citizens? (Nelly, for instance, is known for his misogynistic lyrics but at the same time he gives back to the community through various philanthropic efforts.) Why do hip-hop artists have to act like they’re hard?

Comments (24 total) Add your comment
Page: 1 2
  • brandonk

    Vanessa, get thee an editor!
    I don’t really like hip-hop or rap, but this sounds very interesting.

  • travisb

    i am v ery excited to see this. i hav e been fascinated by the hip-hop community since i was 12 or 13. how can something so artistic and entertaining be so homophobic and mysoginistic at the same time? how can afro-americans cann each other niggers and still expect respect? i hope this documentary answers some of my questions. and yes, i am sick of all the same crap—i wish there was more de-la soul and tribe called quest and less twista and lil’ jon.

  • Derek

    Very interesting. I’ll definitely DVR it. Thanks for the heads up, but I do agree with brandonk. A quick glance could have cleared up a few things. Some of the sentences don’t even make sense!

  • N’Jeri Eaton

    I’ve seen this film several times now and it’s incredible. I was lucky to catch an early screening of it. The doc is short but powerful. I got a copy to show to my high school students. These are young black youth who are affected by the issues brought up in the doc. We had a very lively discussion afterwards. They gave me hope that maybe hip hop can change its direction. I think this doc is an amazing educational tool. I encourage you to tell everyone you know about this doc, rap fan or not.

  • N’Jeri Eaton

    I’ve seen this film several times now and it’s incredible. I was lucky to catch an early screening of it. The doc is short but powerful. I got a copy to show to my high school students. These are young black youth who are affected by the issues brought up in the doc. We had a very lively discussion afterwards. They gave me hope that maybe hip hop can change its direction. I think this doc is an amazing educational tool. I encourage you to tell everyone you know about this doc, rap fan or not.

  • Fatima

    hmmm. after watching half of the first season of The Boondocks in one day yesterday, this couldn’t come at a better time for me.

  • Jason

    This sentence doesn’t make sense:
    “You realize it’s a touchy subject when Hurst asks Busta Rhymes about the rapper walks out of the room saying,”

  • Ed

    Heyyy Fatima!
    …anyway, I think that black females clad in bikinies and shaking they thang is a world apart from the black women that I work with on a professional level.
    Being black has so many levels in America. The black teachers I work with also have to deal with the black community who say they’ve sold out because they have degrees, careers, and houses. It’s complex life on so many levels.
    I’m not sure how much impact this will doc will have, the rap industry thrives on image, without it (as Samantha told Smith Jared right before he went on MTV) “if the kids don’t see you wearing something they can’t afford, how will they know to idolize you?”

  • t3hdow

    Yes, this article needs a grammar check, but I’ll overlook it just for informing me of this documentary.
    Being a black male in America, I can attest to Ed’s statement. And to Fatima, the Boondocks isn’t always derrogatory to blacks. They often play on the bad stereotypes as satire to hopefully make the viewers think twice on what they’re supporting (the MLK based episode is a good example).
    Since I don’t have anything to watch tomorrow because House is AWOL for three weeks, this doc sounds like an interesting alternative (no pun intended). I really want to hear about the homophobia behind rap, since it’s an often ignored topic in the genre and the black community in general (who are incredibly homophobic from my observations). The comment about women ignorant about mysogynistic comments against them surprised me though.
    It’s also very ironic this is out the same day BET’s showcasing a special called ’25 Events that Misshaped Black America’. Yes…from BET.

  • Derek

    At one point, didn’t Kanye give an interview stating he didn’t like the homophobia in rap and wanted to do something about it? I’m not positive, but I think he did. I didn’t hear anything else from him about it after that though.

  • Nancy Walker

    The industry could care less. Rapping about degrading things such as killing cops, women being seen as just sex objects and being called insulting and degrading names, hurting homosexuals and the list goes on and on, has become rappers bread and butter. And the women who think they are not the ones being abused verbally are really stupid! I don’t understand how any woman purchases this so-called music which devalues them as people.

  • Anna

    I remember Kanye saying that speaking out against homophobia in rap because his cousin was gay. He called for an end to it but I don’t think he actually planned to do anything about it.

  • Anna

    Of course the industry doesn’t care. What’s of issue is that listeners don’t seem to care. Even my younger sister subscribes to a lot of the misogyny and homophobia she grew up listening to. If I try to talk to her about it she just thinks I’m being naive. I even once heard Mo’nique say that it’s now okay to call a woman a b*tch, which made me like her even less.

  • Nancy Walker

    Anna, I hope you will be able to get through to your sister. It is most unfortunate that so many young women have fallen victim to such negative messages.

  • Tyre

    One thing I fear is that people will see hip hop and the videos and think that’s what black people are all about. I’d really like a full spectrum represented of all the different facets of black culture.

Page: 1 2
Add your comment
The rules: Keep it clean, and stay on the subject - or we may delete your comment. If you see inappropriate language, e-mail us. An asterisk (*) indicates a required field.

When you click on the "Post Comment" button above to submit your comments, you are indicating your acceptance of and are agreeing to the Terms of Service. You can also read our Privacy Policy.

Latest Videos

Advertisement

From Our Partners

TV Recaps

Powered by WordPress.com VIP