PARK CITY, Utah — Kanye West sparked a brief tempest last summer when, in an MTV News interview, he denounced the prevalence of homophobia in hip-hop. Now a documentary director has joined the battle at the Sundance Film Festival, throwing down a gauntlet before some of rap’s biggest names.
“Russell [Simmons] and Diddy should put together a three-day summit that deals with gender politics in rap music,” Byron Hurt told MTV News.
“I love hip-hop, man,” Hurt continued. “But I hear the hyper-masculinity, the sexism, the violence, the homophobia and the materialism and I say, ’Man, this ain’t cool. We gotta demand a lot more from hip-hop.’ ”
Hurt’s documentary, “Beyond Beats & Rhymes: A Hip-Hop Head Weighs in on Manhood in Hip-Hop Culture,” takes rap to task over its preoccupation with “gunplay, killin’ other men, bein’ tough and invulnerable, feminizing other men and puttin’ fear into other men’s hearts.”
The film pulls no punches, not only implicating artists like 50 Cent, DMX, Jadakiss, Biggie, Tupac, D12, Lloyd Banks, Busta Rhymes, Simmons and Diddy, but also record labels, hip-hop magazines and music video channels.
“I was home at the crib and I was watchin’ video after video of rappers posin’, posturin’, throwin’ money at the camera, mad women around them dancin’, and I was like, ’Yo, I need to do a film that breaks all this stuff down.’ ”
Hurt traveled to hip-hop events like BET’s Spring Bling in Daytona Beach, Florida, and Power 105.1’s Hip-Hop Power Summit in New York to speak with hip-hop hopefuls on gender politics.
“All these young guys are spittin’ all of these crazy rhymes, all of this sexist stuff, all this homophobic stuff. Then when I challenge them on it, they give me all of these positive rhymes on the black experience, about Africa, about their community. But when the camera is rolling, they were doing what they thought would get them on Sony or Bad Boy or Def Jam.”
While researching the film Hurt also spoke with academics like Penn State Abington English professor, Dr. James Peterson.
“There are two components for masculinity for people who live and breathe hip-hop culture,” Peterson said. “One of them is verbal ability. The other is the ability is to negotiate violence — to survive it like Pac and 50. [Those rappers] have cult status because they survived.”
Hurt called out 50’s beef with Ja Rule (see “50 Cent’s Massacre Continues: Jadakiss Targeted In XXL” ) as a prime example of hip-hop’s misogyny.
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“50 Cent called Ja Rule a ’bitch-ass n—a,’ right? The way that you go for the jugular, if you really wanna emasculate somebody, you call ’em a bitch, a f—-t or a girlie man.”
“You see the same kind of hyper-masculine violence in movie after movie after movie, in sports culture, video games, military culture,” Hurt said. “I mean, America is a hyper-aggressive nation. So it stands to reason that a rap artist like 50 Cent would be palatable to a nation that perpetuates cultural violence.”
Hurt says that the solution is simple.
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“The rappers have to say, ’No I’m not doing that. I’m not gonna rap about that anymore. I wanna rap about Hurricane Katrina. I wanna rap about George Bush spying on Americans.’ That’s what I want rappers to rap about. It’s not that I don’t want them to talk about the realities of their life — I think that’s important, too. But a balance has to be struck.”
Hurt called on the entire hip-hop community to rally around a solution.
“We gotta bring together the best minds in the country that can talk about these issues. And we gotta bring out the Fat Joes, the Jadas, the Paul Walls, put ’em all in the same room and have ’em talk about this stuff.”
“What I’m trying to do,” he said, “is to get us men to take a good hard look at ourselves.”
“Beats & Rhymes” is slated to air on PBS’ “Independent Lens” documentary series in the spring. But if Hurt has his way at the festival, the film will be coming soon to the theater near you.
“I want this film to be the talk of Sundance,” he said. “But what I really want is for somebody with a lot of money to fall in love with this film.”
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