Today (July 22) marks the 10 year anniversary of "Hustle & Flow," the 2005 drama about a struggling up-and-coming hip hop artist doing everything he can to make ends meet, and to actualize his vision for something greater. No, it's not an "Empire" prequel, as a lot of people joked before "Empire" hit last year — but it IS something of a spiritual predecessor in that it features the show's two stars, Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson, in circumstances you could imagine for Lucious and Cookie Lyon before they became media moguls.
It's also just a straight-up fantastic movie, for reasons far beyond the Oscar-worthy performances and music. (Howard was up for Best Actor, while Three 6 Mafia won Best Original Song for "It's Hard out Here for a Pimp.") "Hustle & Flow" features hilarious one-liners, emotional character beats, emotional character beatdowns, and, most importantly, seemingly infinite words of wisdom. Here are ten of them:
"Man ain't like a dog."Paramount Pictures / MTV Films
The movie opens with a speech from Terrence Howard's DJay, a small-time pimp with big-time aspirations to put his music out into the world. He explains that as individuals, man and dog actually have a lot in common — they both "piss on things" and get "territorial" — but dogs don't know about birthdays, religion, history… constructs that man knows all too well. It's an eye-opening difference between man's primal best friend, and man's primal self, an insightful look into why we are who we are and why we value what we value. Understanding the difference is a crucial step toward understanding who you are, what you want, and — most importantly — why.
"It's not the size of the dog in the fight…"Paramount Pictures / MTV Films
"…it's the size of the fight in the dog." Another canine callout, and a classic adage that "Hustle & Flow" isn't exactly inventing the wheel on, but it never hurts to remind yourself that the seemingly insurmountable odds the world is stacking against you are nothing in comparison to the insurmountable power inside of you, the power you have the potential of unleashing on the world.
"Sometimes, my head needs to be messed with…"Paramount Pictures / MTV Films
"…but right now, just don't." So speaks Nola, one of DJay's prostitutes, played by "Orange is the New Black" actress Taryn Manning about eight years before Pennsatucky ever entered the picture. She's frustrated with her own life, and especially frustrated with DJay's attempts to sugarcoat their reality; she's smart enough to know when he's trying to soften a blow, and when he's speaking truth. Even if her exact circumstances are unique, so much of her situation is universal. We tell ourselves lies, and allow ourselves to lie to each other, to spare ourselves from harsh realities — and while there's a time and place for all that, there's also a time to stand up and realize your head's at a place where it can no longer be messed with.
"DJay keeps the air on…"Paramount Pictures / MTV Films
"…but it doesn't do nothing but blow more hot air in my face." More tough talk from Nola, more truth bombs for DJay to weather. One of the great running bits in "Hustle & Flow" is how much Nola craves air conditioning ("She's like a bloodhound," DJay jokes at one point), and while working and living with DJay provides it, it's really just a whole lot of hot air. It's a little thing, but it speaks to the idea of thinking you're making progress, when you're actually doing little more than spinning around in circles. Refer back to Exhibit 3 for ways to move forward.
"We got our hands on the wheel."Paramount Pictures / MTV Films
"We're in charge." DJay dropping some truth bombs of his own on Nola, delivering what I think is the very best line of the whole movie. The two of them sit in a car, both of them frustrated and beaten down by the life they're living, wanting so much more, and only DJay seeing a way forward — and that way involves not letting their life drive them around like an automated chauffeur, but by grabbing their lives by the wheel and steering the thing forward. DJay places Nola's hands on the wheel of the car and shows her this way forward, in one of the most powerful moments in both "Hustle & Flow" and in Howard and Manning's careers. It's valuable advice that anyone and everyone should apply to their own lives as they try to drive forward.
"It ain't over for me, no, it ain't over for me…"
It's the key refrain throughout the title track, and it's more than just a catchy rhythm. It's a mantra, an affirmation of self, a commitment to the idea that who you are, what you've done, and where you've been can surrender to who you're going to be, what you're going to do, and where you're going — just as long as you have that wheel.
"Push that sh— out!"Paramount Pictures / MTV Films
DJay gets forceful with Shug, the pregnant prostitute played by Taraji P. Henson, when she steps up to the microphone to belt out the chorus for "It's Hard out Here for a Pimp." It's not because he's being mean. It's because he sees something inside her, something way beyond potential — something that is practically clawing at her from the inside, waiting to burst out. And no, not just the baby, though that applies! He sees talent and energy and beauty, and he wants her to know it's there, and that it can't come softly. It's a brusk, jarring moment, but it's effective, allowing Shug to rise to the occasion, belting out with a booming voice that most people would not expect to hear from her normally mild manner.
"Just because you got the bacon, lettuce, and tomato…"Paramount Pictures / MTV Films
"…doesn't mean I'm gonna give you my toast." If you stop for a minute and chew on the proverbial sandwich Key (Anthony Anderson) is trying to feed you, it actually tastes like a whole lot of truth. Yes, you need to have your hands on the wheel, you have to stop blowing hot air, you have to stop messing with your head, you have to unleash the fight in the dog, you have to recognize your personal weaknesses — but all the self-awareness and ability in the world won't matter at all unless you can convince the world to mold to you.
Speaking of Key, here's some more wisdom from DJay's childhood friend…
"There are two types of people…"Paramount Pictures / MTV Films
"…those that talk the talk and those that walk the walk. People who walk the walk sometimes talk the talk, but most times they don't talk at all, because they're walking. Now, people who talk the talk? When it comes time for them to walk the walk, you know what they do? They talk people like me into walking for them!" True enough.
"Everybody's gotta have a dream."Paramount Pictures / MTV Films
The closing line of "Hustle & Flow," and the closing line here. It speaks for itself. Go grab the wheel and go get yours. You're in charge.