Hustle & Flow
Label: Paramount Home Video
Author: Pedro 'DJ Complejo' Hernandez
Rarely does a movie come along that accurately portrays rap at its roots. Even rarer is the occasion that such a movie gets nationwide critical appraise and extensive national distribution. A good movie about rap is actually so rare that I'd call "Hustle & Flow" the first authentic and successful rap flick. Sure, there are scores of independent movies that do a decent job of capturing aspects of the rap game, but even with a cult following those movies can't be called true successes. Hit movies starring rappers tend to focus on something other than rap, such as "How High," and Pac and Will Smith's entire catalog. The main problem with producing a good rap film is usually in the execution. The producers of those movies tend to be completely out of touch with the rap game and the "stars" tend to be rappers with little to no acting skills or actors who base their character on the latest music video. "Hustle & Flow" avoids the pitfalls of most rap films by featuring a director with a true love for rap and a cast of talented actors.
Starring extremely underrated actor Terrence Howard, "Hustle & Flow" follows the journey of a local pimp, D'Jay, from struggling hustler to local star. Featuring a pimp as the lead would most likely lead to a film full of stereotypes in most cases, but Director Craig Brewer's understanding of Memphis' underworld brings honesty and reality to the role. D'Jay's job is far from glorious. Playing the role of chauffeur for his employees and hustling small amounts of weed on the side, D'Jay barely makes ends meet. His depressing position in life leads to a mid-life crisis of sorts inspired by the success of one-time local star, Skinny Black. With a new goal in mind, D'Jay sets out to record a demo and get it heard by Skinny Black himself. The plot is a simple one, but one which has been central to almost every rapper's career. From Eazy-E's transition from dopeman to rapper, Jay-z's brown paper bag full of money, and Memphis' own storied underground beginnings, the quest to record, be heard, and get money is the essence of the rap game.
Terrence Howard does an amazing job of humanizing D'Jay and getting the audience to feel for his character. The task of adding a human element to the role of a pimp/rapper is truly an astonishing one considering the preconceptions people hold for both. Rappers and pimps either get glorified into larger than life figures or despised as disgusting members of society. Terrence both brings the larger than life image down to earth, by portraying D'Jay as a regular guy, and breathes life into D'Jay's role by expressing the emotions and dreams that some people assume his character does not or can not have. The supporting cast also does an exemplary job in their respective roles. D.J. Qualls plays the unassuming but highly talented white boy that hangs with the click. Anthony Anderson is the educated and dedicated engineer who despite a stable middle class life still holds on to dreams of stardom first born during his youth in the inner city. Even Ludacris does a great job playing the asshole rapper who's caught up in his own hype. The women in the movie also do a great job shedding the limitations people try to place on their roles. As Anderson's wife, Elise Neal struggles with the idea of her husband spending his time in "a house full of hoes" and the fact that he's living the dream he's always yearned for. Taryn Manning serves as D'Jay's main source of income but also strives for more than a life of turning tricks. Through D'Jay's encouragement and her own independence she transforms throughout the film into a powerful role. Paula Jai Parker embodies the role of a bitter and frustrated woman mad at the world for being trapped in such a desolate situation. Taraji Henson shines in the difficult role of playing D'Jay's love interest and former employee.
The film itself would make the DVD a worthy purchase, but the DVD spares nothing in presentation and bonus features. The main menu comes with two entertaining mini-video's for D'Jay's songs from the film presented in an interesting kaleidoscope style. The bonus features include an in depth behind the scenes feature that interviews actors and gives insights on the motivation and excitement the film generated in its participants. Another segment details the struggle Brewer undertook to get funding and the sheer will exerted by all those involved to get the film made and get the right actors for the movie. The final bonus feature gives an insightful look at the music in Memphis that inspired the movie.
"Hustle & Flow" captures the soul of Memphis' modern day music. That in its self would make the film commendable, but in the process the film also captures the soul of any rapper with a dream. Its characters are not the most accessible for those who aren't used to the sometimes gritty rap game, but great acting and a great script make up for any reservations people may have. Even if you already peeped the movie in theaters, the DVD's bonus features and the idea of supporting John Singleton and Craig Brewer so they keep making quality films makes the purchase of this DVD a no brainer.
Content: 10 of 10
Layout: 10 of 10
TOTAL Vibes: 10 of 10
Originally posted: January 31, 2006