Hip-hop documentary busts clichés of masculinity

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      We’ve all seen it: videos featuring rappers with gold teeth tossing money at women in skimpy outfits.

      Byron Hurt has seen a lot of it. The college quarterback turned activist/documentary filmmaker was watching Black Entertainment Television one day and realized that all the music videos were essentially the same.

      “I noticed as a cultural critic, that they [the videos] were very monolithic,” Hurt says in a phone interview from his home in Plainfield, New Jersey. “They all had the same elements, [and] that even though they were different rappers, there was a template that was being used.”

      Furthermore, he realized that the genre’s misogyny had obliterated hip-hop’s power to unify urban youth and make positive change, seriously damaging America’s representation of black manhood and the music’s reputation as an art form in the process.

      “It said a lot about how men think about manhood, how we see ourselves as men in the world, how we see each other as men and also in relation to women,” Hurt says.

      This inspired him to make HIP-HOP: Beyond Beats and Rhymes, a 2006 documentary about the misogyny within hip-hop and the effect it has had on gender relations, youth, and pop culture in America. Featuring interviews with such rap artists as Public Enemy’s Chuck D, Mos Def, and Busta Rhymes, the film explores how urban culture has boiled down to whatever the business interests are; how hip-hop has become a narrow definition of black urban America, sold primarily to white suburbia; and how artists were forced to adapt to a higher demand for exploitative, violent, and sexually oppressive content.

      Hurt directed the film as a hip-hop fan who wants to challenge the genre’s perceptions of masculinity.

      The film will have a public screening at the Vancity Theatre (1181 Seymour Street) on Friday (November 21), followed by a panel discussion that will include Hurt, Chuck D, and a score of local hip-hop artists and activists.

      “[This event is] not to hate on hip-hop at all, but rather to look at”¦how the commerce end of it has forced artists to create music and videos that only a small representation [and] only one narrow definition gets filtered through. That’s something we want to talk about and challenge a little bit,” Angela MacDougall from the Battered Women’s Support Society, which is hosting the event, says by phone.

      “We’re doing this because we believe that in Vancouver, right now, there is a desire to emerge as a city and to embrace cultural expressions that are hopeful, that are passionate, that care about us, that are really tapped into the creativity and embrace our diversity,” MacDougall says. (Tickets, $25, are available at the BWSS retail location, MSC 1092 [1092 Seymour Street].)

      Hurt says that there’s still a lack of substance to mainstream hip-hop, but since he completed the film in 2006, there’s been a noticeable shift away from the golden era of G-Unit.

      “I don’t really hear as much over-the-top machismo and the exploitation of women’s bodies and the homophobia as I have in the last five or 10 years,” he says. “It’s mainly party music now, club music—music that’s going to get people up to dance.”