Film Unravels Rap's Hidden Reality

Unnamed photo
Carlton E. Forbes

Filmmaker Byron Hurt at the screening of his film “Beyond Beats and Rhymes: A Hip-Hop Head Weighs in on Manhood in Rap Music” at the Science Center last night.

Byron Hurt, the director of the documentary “Beyond Beats and Rhymes,” urged a capacity crowd in the Science Center’s Lecture Hall D last night to confront the sexism, homophobia and “hyperaggression” that he said features prominently in today’s commercial hip-hop music.

In the past year, Hurt’s film on hip-hop has made a tour of the film festival circuit and garnered national media attention.

“This film is about hip-hop, but also about manhood, the construction of masculinity, sexism, misogyny, homophobia, corporate media, crass materialism and how it affects all our lives,” said Hurt.

“Beyond Beats and Rhymes” features interviews with hip-hop celebrities, aspiring rappers, record executives, and academics. In the film, Hurt questions them about what he saw as the troubling issues with “commercial rap.”

A former Northeastern University football quarterback and self-described “hip-hop head,” Hurt said his work as a sexual violence prevention educator drew his attention to the violence and sexism in an art form he loves.

The film screening elicited strong reactions from last night’s audience. Many sections were greeted with applause; a clip of an aspiring rapper vowing to “get my rape on,” however, drew loud murmurs.

At the same time, Hurt linked the aggressive masculinity he finds in hip-hop music to what he sees as a broader phenomenon in American society.

“I started thinking about the larger culture of violence. If George Bush were in the rap game, he would probably outsell 50 Cent,” said Hurt. “His brand of hyperaggression, his inability to make any concessions, to acknowledge any mistakes, sends a message about masculinity that I find very troubling.”

A clip of California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger uttering the words “don’t be economic girlie-men” drew laughter.

Ralph L. Bouquet ’09, the historian of the Black Men’s Forum, moderated a question-and-answer session with Hurt after the screening.

“With a lot of the misconceptions and stereotypes that are in hip-hop, we want to give the campus an understanding of how the amoral business culture creates representations of black men that are not positive,” said Bouquet.

During the question-and-answer session, one audience member said the film had affected how he approached hip-hop music.

“I’ll change the way I think about things, and I’ll teach that to my kids,” he said.

—Staff writer David Jiang can be reached at djiang@fas.harvard.edu.