Monday, November 20, 2006

Hip Hop on the Big Screen -- Reel Success Creates a New Genre of Film by Sharath Cherian

It started out simple enough. Film studios and movie makers started to pepper their soundtracks with hip hop or rap tunes here and there. Soon more and more songs began to appear on film soundtracks and trailers eventually leading to most of the films non instrumental score being dominated by hip hop music. As the music became more dynamic elements of the film, movies started featuring hip hop stars trying their acting chops. Once films like New Jack City (Ice T), Boyz n the Hood (Ice Cube) and Juice (Tupac Shakur) hit it big the floodgates were opened suddenly creating a new genre of films almost entirely created around hip hop and rap.
In as little as 10 years films featuring hip hop stars and music became top grossing movies creating a format that has now become commonplace in Hollywood. Take for example 2002's Exit Wounds starring DMX and Steven Sigal. That film grossed $52 million domestically. (The hip-hop economy: part 2 of a series - Industry Overview Black Enterprise, July, 2002 by Sakina P. Spruell).
Thank You Krush Groove
Flashback to 1985 and the low budget film Krush Groove and you'll see the early beginnings of how this genre of hip hop films began. At that time these films were in essence a new way to promote new artists -- for that film LL Cool J and Run DMC -- and to further popularize the burgeoning sound that would eventually become a billion dollar industry. After a series of less memorable films like Beat Street, Breakin and the Disorderlies, the 90's suddenly introduced moviegoers to the aforementioned films and directors who wanted to do more than put rappers and hip hop artists in movies. Movie makers like John Singleton, Spike Lee and the Hughes Brothers tapped into the raw and explosive talent some of these artists had outside the studio and suddenly a whole new crop of movie stars who would become as visible on the silver screen as they were audible on the radio and on their records.
The Silver Screen's Undiscovered Gold Mine
Thanks to the critically acclaimed and commercial success of movies like Boyz in the Hood Hollywood soon discovered untapped profitability this genre. Rather than just plunking some big named hip hop star or rapper into a plot there were opportunities to create entire stories about the life and culture that had already made the music so successful. On the one hand, it created opportunities for talented artists like Will Smith, Ice Cube and Tupac Shakur to show off their versatility. On the other hand it also this world and this culture to a whole new audience that had never had such a clear glimpse of this universe. While sometimes unpleasant and uncomfortable, the gritty nature and subject matter of some of these films like Menace to Society offered a truer perspective of the African American community that many movie goers thought to be glorified or exaggerated in the songs and posturing of some of the artists. Ultimately, this new brand of film and new generation of filmmakers found success not just in the black community but across all racial divides and found a new way to express their art in a bolder, bigger format.
Not just a genre but an award winning genre
The same year that saw DMX in a starring role, 8 Mile starring Eminem made $116,700,000 domestically and nabbed an Academy Award for best song (Lose Yourself). Bringing home the point even stronger at the 2006 Oscars, rapper Ludacris was part of the ensemble cast of the film Crash, which won best picture. Additionally, actor Terrence Howard was nominated for best actor in the hip hop film Hustle & Flow which also featured the oscar-winning song It's Hard out Here for a Pimp by Three 6 Mafia. The industry has spoken; hip hop and rap are now a viable film genre that is no longer just a vehicle to help artists sell records but have just as much value and meaning as any other film out there.

About the Author
HIPHOPDX - The premier spot for all things Hip Hop, Rap and R&B culture, what'chu know 'bout that?

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