Beyond Beats: A Hip-Hop Head Weighs In On Manhood In Hip-Hop Culture (USA, 2006, Director: Byron Hurt, 62 minutes): Byron Hurt is a former college quarterback and a huge hip-hop fan. But after he begins a job as a college counselor conducting programs for men about violence against women, he begins to look at his beloved music in a new light. This film is a record of his attempt to understand why hip-hop is so obsessed with images of violence, misogyny and homophobia. Hurt uses the metaphor of a box to describe the narrow image of masculinity in which black men are trapped, and he backs this up with numerous interviews with academics, hip-hop artists, and fans. Also interesting (and actually hilarious) are his deconstructions of rap videos, which are filled with the same ridiculous cliches repeated again and again.
I applaud him for trying to take on so many controversial issues in rap music, but it was discouraging to see so many people unwilling or unable to engage him on these subjects. When he brings up the issue of homophobia with Busta Rhymes, for instance, the rapper gets up and leaves. An executive from BET refuses to answer his questions, and hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons gives him only evasive answers. All in all, it’s clear that most people don’t see these issues as problems, especially when rap music is making them all so much money.
The only flaw in this film is that it was too short. I’d love to see a longer version, or even better, a longer series about these issues where the filmmaker could pursue some answers over an extended period. Gadflies like Byron Hurt will need to be patient if they want to see anything change, and I hope that he can document the process even more comprehensively. It’s definitely worth watching.