SUNDANCE: "Beyond Beats and Rhymes" Review

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Hip-Hop Documentary Questions the Future of Music at Sundance.

Sexism and violence do not disqualify popular music from being compelling, or even classic (see Jimmie Rodgers' "T for Texas," Robert Johnson's "32-20 Blues"). But filmmaker Byron Hurt's "Beyond Beats and Rhymes: A Hip-Hop Head Weighs in on Manhood in Hip-Hop Culture" asks rap fans to take a closer look at where hip-hop is headed.

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.

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