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Yes, Yes, Yes, Yestorious - A White Man's Guide to Hip-Hop Films

By Owen Nicholls

Posted on 16 Feb 09

 
 

Hit HBO show 'The Wire' has a lot to answer for. Firstly it's taken up more space in my writing about film over the past 12 months than anything actually film related. It has single-handedly ruined almost anything that involves police, drugs or the institutional failings of inner-city America (granted there isn't much of the latter anywhere on screen except from in 'The Wire'). Finally, it has turned me into a wigga.





Where before I was happy to sit alone listening to Radiohead and Joni Mitchell for hours on end complaining about my white, middle class needs, now I'm rapping along with Michael Franti and listening to Ogun featuring Phathead, 'waving my hands in the air like I just do not care'.

Which may go someway to answer why I enjoyed 'Notorious' so much. As formulaic as 'Ray' and 'Walk The Line', the latest bigscreen biopic is chock full of the the kind of Hippity Hoppity that would have Snoopy Snoopy Dog Dog and Ice Tray falling over their bling bling.

Here are the five best films that either feature hip-hop on the soundtrack, contain hip-hop actors or discuss similar themes to those young men with attitude.

'Wild Style' (1983)
'Wild Style' is a great introduction to what hip-hop should be all about - ie rapping, graffiti and breakdancing, not guns, bitches and bling. The plot is certainly not the key to the film but rather the emergence of a brand new culture that would grow and grow until some white boy from Norfolk would be writing about it 26 years later.

'Boyz n The Hood' (1991)
Starring Cuba Gooding Jr (when he was good) and Ice Cube (when he wasn't making 'Are We There Yet?'), 'Boyz' tells the story of three friends growing up in the ganglands of LA. Understanding that a hip-hop movie just can't contain black folks and guns to be good, John Singleton's film has lessons coming out of every angle courtesy of Larry Fishburne's Furious. The most important lesson (good enough to be repeated in 'Swingers') is don't wave a gun around unless you want it coming back on one of your friends.

'Do The Right Thing' (1989)
If you're looking for social themes in your hip-hop movies, and you bloody well should be, then Spike Lee is your man. Set in New York on the hottest day of the summer, tensions are reaching boiling point. Samuel L Jackson's DJ, Mister Senor Love Daddy, may play songs from every genre (bar country), but the fact that 'Fight the Power' by Public Enemy, is played over 14 times throughout the film means 'Do the Right Thing' is pure hip-hop. And that's the double truth, Ruth.
Note: It was also the choice for Barack and Michelle's first date. Awwww, bless.

'Biggie and Tupac' (2002)
With 'Notorious' showing the Biggie side of things it may be worth checking out Nick Broomfield's documentary that questioned the police findings so much that the case was re-opened. Twice as controversial as his earlier effort 'Kurt and Courtney', Broomsfield gets the bit between his teeth that the LAPD and Suge Knight were behind both deaths and won't let go. As any good documentary maker will tell you, it's all in the implication.

'8 Mile' (2002)
Look, whitey can rap too! The thing is he bloody well can. When 'L.A Confidential''s Curtis Hanson told the press his next film would be a biopic of Eminem the entire world pissed its communal pants. The joke turned out to be very much on us, as both director and star turned in one of the finest films on the realisation of a dream since 'Rocky'. Whatever your personal views on Marshall Mathers and his music you can't fault the guy's borderline genius word play. "You wanna know my motto?: Fuck Lotto! I'll get the seven digits from your mother for a dollar tomorrow". Eloquent.

As I'm new on this scene I'll take any suggestions for what I've left out and any criticisms of films left in. But before you step to me, answer me this: 'What you know about Baltimore?'

 
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