Monday, July 25, 2005

Hustle & Flow: Respect The South

Hip hop purists have been critical of Southern rap…its emphasis on party and bullshit, its caricature images on young black men, lounging, hot, slangin’ and chillin. Typical party-till-dawn club scenes are replaced by chopped and screwed drug induced hazes, which according to my boy Ray, are real as the blazing Texas heat. Ray also says that in the South the people have an understanding that makes sex and drugs a necessary element in a hazy lifestyle. Sure, it’s hip hop, but as a Northerner, I never believed that the lifestyle portrayed was accurate…do our people really act like that?

Going the independent route, John Singleton released Hustle & Flow last Friday, a movie starring the ultra-alluring Terrence Howard as Djay, a man whose had his mouth taped shut as a pimp his whole life, who sees his only voice in hip hop. Hustle & Flow is the Krush Groove of the South; it portrays what many southern rappers have to do in order to get where they are. However, this story is not a nice story with breakers and deejays and a climate of culture conducive to art. This is a film based in Memphis, Tennessee, where the heat of the days mixed with the hopelessness of the people lead to music like “Whup That Trick,” Djay’s first song recorded.

When the hook of Djay’s song talks about how hard it is for a pimp, shit, it’s no lie. Djay is no glittery, talking shit, eatin’ spit pimp. He has three unhappy hoes (a pregnant hoe, a white hoe and a baby-mama, stripping hoe) whose morales are wavering, and life without living has been eating him alive.

As unsympathetic as you should feel toward Djay, his need for expression trumps his actions, ignorance and inability to change. I think this movie speaks not only to Southern rap, but to black men in general who are forced to portray these images of bravado and are shunned when feeling bad.
When Mike Jones talks about “back then they didn’t want me/ now I'm hot they all want me,” I don’t doubt him. Due to the socio-economic conditions, the women were probably looking toward men to provide for them. When he seemed to make a come-up, women were attracted to that, and now Mike Jones is overcompensating for feeling bad as a kid.

Djay is the ultimate portrait of machismo; a man who can convince women to do anything, even sell their bodies to live in slum conditions. I never think he feels bad for being a pimp. In a weird way, I think the relationship between him and his hoes is so interdependent, that they actually need each other. I think Djay feels bad after seeing other men who seem to have some type of voice for their lives.

The need is so strong that everyone relates, even a high school friend and local church music guy, and a skinny white kid that fills vending machines. The need is so strong that when Djay is rejected by up and coming rapper Skinny Black (played wonderfully by Ludacris) he turns violent. The same way when black men are disrespect by police, their women, and society as a whole. When the gatekeepers don’t give you a way in, they break down the doors.

And that is what I think Hustle & Flow is all about. It is about how Southern rap lives and what inspires the situations depicted in the songs. In no way do I condone a pimp’s treatment of women, a grown-ass man with a violent streak or a song talking about how hard it is to be a pimp. I probably would never buy it either. But I do now respect it. It’s different, and I think a lot of heads will have a hard time believing that this is the way things are, but I do. Of course, every Southern rapper isn’t a pimp. But the majority of them come from situations of disparity that is way different from what goes on above the Mason-Dixie.

Unlike other forms of music that can be explained down to the notes and melody, the definition of hip hop is ever expanding and changing. It includes more variety than any other type of music in the world. And for heads who want to keep hip hop straight up New York, I think movies like this, that demand respect, are essential to keeping the culture moving.


At 10:10 AM, Anonymous dawn1demarco said...

Hmm.. i cant believe a story about complexity in southern rap!
it is gonna b interesting 2 c a story that relates the words and life of southern artists, because the only 1 i understand really is houston's own scarface. i understand his grind, & his hustle. i am really looking 4ward 2c something that takes southern music out of the club element & into a retrospective, dare i say REASONABLE DOUBT esque story???

At 1:10 PM, Blogger Midlife Crisis said...

I think that was an excellent treatise on the theme of the movie and on poor, dis-enfranchised, southern black life in general.
Pretty scary when you think about it. We all like to think of 'The Black Experience' in this country has having some sort of uniformity, but testaments like this continue to open my eyes on the varieties of experiences of Black life and Black consciousness.

I was always one to suscribe to the idea that we, as blacks in this country, all share a common identity. Recently, I have been less apt to jump to such conclusions. Maybe this is the point where we ALL need, in general, to stop using race as determination of what type of human we choose to be.

Call Midlife Crisis an elitist, but there are many black people who are not my sisters and brothers.

I think on the whole, it couldn't hurt to bring up the question every now and again-- 'What does it mean to be Black?' and see what answers we come up with.


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