SINCE THE '70S HIP HOP PHENOMENON BREAK OUT WITH DEVASTATING POWER. THE SCREAM COMING FROM BLACK SUBURBS - PLACES WITHOUT HOPE AND PACKED OF CRIMINALITY AND DESPAIR, STREET GANGS AND DRUGS - EXPLODED THROUGH A MUSICAL MOVEMENT THAT IN NO TIME CROSSED NATIONAL BORDERS. FOR THE FIRST TIME, THE GHETTO MAKE HIS VOICE KNOWN, TAINTING SOCIETY WITH HIS LANGUAGE, CULTURE, STYLE AND MOVES.
Film industry absorbed the characteristic of the rapper lives, appropriating the rap’s and hip hop productions for unforgettable soundtracks, but without limiting to the musical component. In the 1980s appeared the first films that directly or indirectly recounted life in ghettos, sometimes focusing on the same advocates of hip hop revolution.
The hip hop cradle is the Bronx. In 1983, director Tony Silver followed a group of young Writers and Breakdancers through New York City filming StyleWars, the first documentary about hip hop culture. In the same year, to catch the audience’s attention, came Wild Style, a movie that looks at the cinéma vérite style, in which the real duo of writers Lee Quinones and Lady Pink relies on Fab 5 Freddy to enter Manhattan Art Galleries network. The features breakdance, graffiti, MC’s rhythm, record players and Block Party, street parties featuring African Americans and Latinos.
On the same track, Beat Street (1984) focuses on breakdance, telling the story of a group of friends from South Bronx, the New York City Breakers. The following year, Krush Groove dramatized the story of Def Jam Recordings, a hip-hop label founded by Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin who launched LL Cool J, Beastie Boys and Public Enemy’s career.
Instead the comedy Wildcats, who sees Goldie Hawn as an improbable coach of a football team, has almost nothing to do with hip hop, but the film marks Wesley Snipes, Woody Harrelson and LL Cool J’s upcoming debut, which will also give the hit Football Rap, also leading the way to various rappers in the film industry for the likes of Ludacris, Ice Cube, Ice T and Will Smith.
The burden and the honor of giving back the cinematographic identity – and with it the dignity – to African Americans was assumed by Spike Lee. Controversial and refractory to white culture, after a series of corrosive films, Lee gift us his masterpiece: Do the Right Thing is a loud and colorful movie that tells the explosion of racial tension in Brooklyn in a hot summer day. Not a movie about hip hop, but a hip-hop movie for rhythm and content, from the wild headlines on the notes of Fight the Power by Public Enemy.
From New York we skip to California with Boyz’n the Hood by John Singleton – that thanks to this film became the youngest debutante to be rookie nominated to the Oscars for Best Director, as well as the first African American ever – depicting violence in the black ghetto of Los Angeles, the infamous South Central.
Juice, by Ernest R. Dickerson, known as Spike Lee’s director of photography. Of the film, is remembered for the extreme and realistic performance of rapper Tupac Shakur.
On the other hand, Dangerous Minds raise a lot of fuss, though not a being a proper gangsta rap movie, especially for the famous soundtrack Gangsta Paradise (awarded by Grammy) by Coolio.
After violent deaths of Tupac Shakur, struck by a burst of bullets shot by a racing car while he was in Las Vegas, and Notorius BIG, who died a few months later in similar circumstances in L. A., hip hop closed the millennium on a sore note. The years 2000 brought a new spin of energy that comes from least expected: Eminem, discovered and launched by Dr. Dre, came to the big screen. 8 Mile, inspired by the singer’s life and directed by Curtis Hanson, became a huge hit. The film features some rap battles and worth an Oscar for Best Song to Eminem with Lose Yourself.
In 2005, white and European film director Michel Gondry, realized the docufilm Dave Chappelle’s Block Party, focusing on one of the typical hip hop street parties with David Chapelle. Among others appears Kanye West and the whole group of the Fugees.
An Academy Award nomination for best actor also came for Terrence Howard for Hustle & Flow (2005). In a sore but energetic movie, director Craig Brewer and producer John Singleton show how difficult can be to break through the rap scene, especially if it comes from a life in crime.
From realistic fiction, we returns to biopics with Notorious. Twelve years after the violent death of Notorius B.I.G., a tribute comes to the memory of one of the most famous rappers. Produced by Violetta Wallace, the singer’s mother, is inevitably sugar-coated and overlook criminal activities, crack usage and the artist misogyny.
Straight Outta Compton, film of extraordinary success both in America and overseas, is the latest biopic that brings the ghetto on the big screen. The film tells the rise and fall of the N.W.A. (Niggaz Wit Attitudes), a group of Californian gangsta rappers – from Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, MC Ren and DJ Yella. Five guys who decide to translate their life experiences into honest and brutal music, revolting against the abuse of authority, giving voice to an entire generation that remained silent.