Hip-Hop On the Couch

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Don’t miss Beyond Beats and Rhymes, a documentary on violence, sexism and homophobia in hip-hop, airing tonight on PBS. Including interviews with some big timers — Mos Def, Fat Joe, Jadakiss, Russell Simmons — as well as a slew of hip-hop insiders and rap fans, the filmmaker goes there, and some balk (like Simmons and the head of BET).

Byron Hurt, a novice documentarian but veteran hip-hop head, calls out his fellow black men asking how the bravado that encourages guns, violence, sexual violence and homophobia is also the pride of the community. Rap artist Jadakiss asks in response, “Do you watch movies? What kind of movies do you watch?” pointing out that what sells in hip hop is no different than what sells in Hollywood: sex and violence. In one scene Hurt asks some unknowns to rhyme for him and all they spit are lines about sex, drugs, killing. He calls them on it and one of them starts rhyming about poverty, and drugs in the community, then stops and says, “no one wants to hear that.” And more to the point, no one can get a record deal rapping thusly.

Sexism? Just look at politics — there’s a clip of Schwarzenegger’s “girly man” comment illustrating that hip hop is not misogyny’s first, or only, rodeo. Homophobia, says Hurt and others, comes in part from the macho over-the-top display of physical dominance in hip-hop that means power, where powerful white men, like say Donald Trump, can hide behind the desk (and hair) and still have power.

Other scenes are set in Daytona Beach at BET’s annual Spring Bling and show firsthand the sexism at play, and the disconnect between the music and message. Hurt talks with one white kid from suburbia whose blasting rap from his dad’s truck. The guy says he’s loved hip hop “since forever, the beginning,” identifies with it, then in the next breath refers to Byron and black folks as “colored people.” (Hurt calls him on it.)

Hurt is knee deep in this one, expressing his conflicted feelings about making the documentary, feeling such allegiance to the medium, hip-hop being part of him, but also wanting to ask the questions no one seems to be asking.

Indeed, there are lots of questions, for every level of the industry, really provocative stuff. And if you are a teacher, or an educator, or a provider of some kind who has an audience for the film Independent Lens is putting together an educational program to match. Find out more here.

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