TV Preview

A Hip-Hop Fan Hunts the Reason Behind the Rhyme

Filmmaker Byron Hurt asks some tough questions in
Filmmaker Byron Hurt asks some tough questions in "Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes," but doesn't always get an answer. (By Shawn Escoffery -- Itvs)
By Chris Richards
Special to the Washington Post
Tuesday, February 20, 2007

It's almost impossible to imagine Busta Rhymes at a loss for words.

The verbose rap veteran, famous for his mile-a-minute delivery, has been spitting rapid-fire hits for almost two decades.

But when filmmaker Byron Hurt asks Busta about homophobia in hip-hop, the rapper goes quiet.

"I can't partake in that conversation," he demurs. "With all due respect, I ain't trying to offend nobody. . . . What I represent culturally doesn't condone [homosexuality] whatsoever." When asked if a gay rapper could ever be accepted in hip-hop culture, Busta walks out of the room.

It's one of the most telling scenes in Hurt's first documentary for PBS, "Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes," airing tonight on "Independent Lens." The film aims to spark a dialogue about masculinity in a hip-hop culture that often embraces misogyny, homophobia and violence. From the looks of the film, it may not be a dialogue that the industry is ready to have.

Here's music mogul Russell Simmons on sexism in hip-hop: "I can't address every issue because I don't have the equipment."

Or BET executive Stephen Hill, on the hyper-masculinity in the music videos his channel airs:

"You should look at the people who actually make the videos."

And phenom rap duo Clipse on whether their lyrics reinforce violent stereotypes: (blank stare).

Despite the tough questions, Hurt isn't out to vilify the music he grew up with. The documentary begins with the 37-year-old director looking into his own camera to profess: "I love hip-hop." From New York, where he's based, Hurt elaborates, "I wanted to be clear with my audience about who I was. . . . I didn't want to be put in the same category as a Bill O'Reilly and the critics outside of hip-hop culture who don't have any emotional connections to the music."

For Hurt, those connections run deep. He remembers practicing his dance steps to a Fat Boys tune before going to his first party. During his days quarterbacking at Northeastern University in Boston, LL Cool J's "Mama Said Knock You Out" was the song that got him pumped up before game time.

After graduation, Hurt took a job working with young people in a program to prevent violence against women. It was then that he started to have mixed feelings about the music he loved. An afternoon spent watching stereotypical rap videos made the aspiring filmmaker realize, "It was a now or never sort of thing."

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2007 The Washington Post Company