Hustle and Flow
Don’t be surprised to learn that most record companies try to find the next “big sound” by looking into black culture. Guys like Elvis Presley and even the Rolling Stones took a lot of appearance and music motifs from seeing how African-American performers were doing it. The reason behind this is that back when segregation laws were in place, a lot of elements from black culture were considered “forbidden, yet exciting”. Elvis took “Hound Dog”, used more of the rhythm and blues sound that Chuck Berry plays with, added a new style of dancing that looked provocative (at least back then) , and presto; he had a big gold record. The people will remember Elvis, yet they’ll never think about the origins of that song.
Diving in deeper, a lot of these rhythm and blues songs came from the once heavily segregated southeast. But what’s ironic about it is that much of the music culture comes from white and black cultures influence. Blacks would take inspiration from classic American folk. Whites would use the edgier country to make rock and roll. Blacks would then take rock elements to create funkier patterns in the use of soul music. The influence chart could go on for a while, as it eventually leads down to hip-hop. Hustle and Flow shows how much of American Southern culture has had on the musical genre.
Memphis pimp Djay (played by Terrence Howard) is not the kind of pimp one would see in a BTV music video where their wearing a fur coat and are surrounded by the most beautiful women. Djay is actually poor and has only two prostitutes that are not even beautiful. He is simply doing this to pay the rent and has even believed that this is the only thing he can do. It’s not until he runs into a friend that he starts to have a midlife crisis.
His old middle school friend Key (played by Anthony Anderson) has now become a sound technician for church and opera music. Inspired from siting through a recording session, Djay decides to try his hand at hip-hop singing. Though he has trouble for creating lyrics that are too explicit for radio play, Djay is eventually able to produce some good “flow” songs. Several tracks like “Whoop that Trick” and “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” become Djay’s flagship songs and is now ready to take it to radio stations. Knowing that local artist Skinny Black (played by Ludacris) is coming home, Djay takes this chance to give him a demo.
So if you haven’t guessed yet, this is one of those inspirational drama stories. Not that I’m against them, it’s just hard to do anything new with them (not to mention that another story like this, Rudy, is one of my favorite movies). I may be sounding harsh, but I see Hustle and Flow for being very formulaic. The first hour and a half offers pretty much the same as most inspirational stories; the objecting society, the dreaming main character, the friends that help, you know what I’m talking about.
I sure it seemed more original back in 2005, but as a full story, it’s nothing special. What does work is the very committed performance of Terrence Howard. Given his character is a drug dealer, pimp, and needs to be sympathetic, I found myself surprised that I wanted to see his hip hop dreams come alive.
Hustle and Flow clearly wanted to have an older look, and based on the much grittier cinematography and darker lighting, this is a modern day Blaxploitation film. I just wished that it’s story could have allowed itself to have a little more fun. My issue is that while I understand it’s trying to be gritty and dramatic as possible, it becomes very unpleasant when Djay ends up kicking a woman with a baby out of her house. We never hear from her again. Moving on.
I’ll give this four cheap soundproofing egg cartons out of five. Hustle and Flow is an interesting look into hip-hop culture in the American South. I just don’t know is this is going to hold up as well as 8 Mile does.