I Want Some of Your Brown Sugar…oohooh

brown-sugar5When writing a review I rarely think of the basic plot; it’s usually very typical. I am usually looking for unique moments that get me emotionally invested. My favorite quote is, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel,” by Maya Angelou. This sums up Brown Sugar. There are many forgettable moments in the movie, but the way I felt about the music as a metaphor to falling in love… well, it was magical!

The movie opens with a split screen of a woman packing the evolution of hip hop, through images of mixed tapes (Biz Markie, Monie Love, Angie B.), pictures of Boogie Down Productions, pictures of break dancers with Kangol hats and boom boxes, and posters of Salt and Pepa and Gang Starr. The song Love of My Life by The Roots is playing in the background. The song sets the tone of the metaphors that will become the basis of the story. Throughout the movie the main characters use hip hop music as a metaphor to their experiences and relationship.

brown-sugar6It’s all very reminiscent of my childhood. My brother, Quinton, and my sister Tamisha “Mimi” loved hip hop. Quinton carried on my mama’s tradition of playing music in the house. Sometimes when I play hip hop in the car from “back in the day,” I can see the shock on my son’s face when I rap. The lyrics are embedded into my memory, just like my childhood experiences with my brothers and sisters.

The next image is of the main characters Sidney “Sid” (Sanaa Lathan), and Andre “Dre” (Taye Diggs) as 10-year-old children. Sidney is narrating about the interviews that she conducts as an editor-in-chief of a hip hop magazine. Her first question to her interviewee is, “So, when did you fall in love with hip hop?” The scene reminds me of When Harry Met Sally. In WHMS throughout the movie they ask couples how they met and fell in love. It’s the same faces in Brown Sugar when a slew of hip-hop artists are giving real accounts of when they first fell in love with hip hop. Their faces light up as they tell us the name or location of when and/or where they were when they heard the song that hooked them. Sidney says she remembers the first day she fell in love with hip hop. It was July 18, 1984. It’s the day she heard three MCs: Dana Dane, Slick Rick, and Doug E. Fresh. Of course, this is also the day she met Andre “Dre”.

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Brown Sugar (2002)

brown-sugar1Starring Taye Diggs, Sanaa Lathan, Mos Def, Nicole Ari Parker, Boris Kodjoe, Queen Latifah, Wendell Pierce, Erik Weiner, Reggi Wyns, Melissa Martinez

Directed by Rick Famuyiwa

Expectations: Moderate.

twohalfstar


“When did you fall in love with hip hop?”

This is the first question that respected hip hop journalist Sidney Shaw (Sanaa Lathan) asks the people who she interviews, and it also begins Brown Sugar. But instead of the question immediately launching us into the romantic movie proper, we’re given a series of documentary-style interviews with actual hip hop artists like Common and Questlove. It’s definitely an odd way to start a romantic comedy, but it’s very representative of the film that Brown Sugar is. It’s not just a romantic comedy or a romantic drama like the other films we’ve watched for the Black Love series, it’s all that AND it’s a love letter to hip hop.

This is both a good and bad thing. On one hand, the love of hip hop drives the two central characters in everything that they do in their careers. It’s something very near and dear to their hearts and without it their worlds would be a lot less full and vibrant. But it’s also hip hop that keeps them apart, causing the film to be more about their relationships with others than about the one relationship we really want to see and care about. Sidney and Dre (Taye Diggs) do share a lot of screen time, but it’s not the charming getting-to-know-you scenes that romantic films usually trade in. They are old friends who have already shared these moments.

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Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap (2012)

936full-something-from-nothing -the-art-of-rap-posterStarring Ice-T, Grandmaster Caz, Afrika Bambaataa, Big Daddy Kane, B-Real, Bun B, Chino XL, Chuck D, Common, Dana Dane, DJ Premier, DMC, Doug E. Fresh, Dr. Dre, Eminem, Ice Cube, Immortal Technique, Joe Budden, Kanye West, Kool Keith, Kool Moe Dee, KRS-One, Lord Finesse, Lord Jamar, Marley Marl, MC Lyte, Melle Mel, Nas, Q-Tip, Raekwon, Rakim, Ras Kass, Redman, Royce da 5’9″, Run, Salt, Snoop Dogg, Treach, WC, Xzibit, Yasiin (formerly known as Mos Def)

Directed by Ice-T (with Andy Baybutt)

Expectations: High.

fourstar


During Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap, the point is made that rap is not given the same respect as other American musical genres such as jazz and blues, one of the reasons being that people just aren’t listening to it the right way. This is a simple point, but it is a profound one. Something from Nothing isn’t about beats or bling, it’s strictly focused on the art of the rhyme. Rap is perhaps the most misunderstood of musical genres, but as time goes on, its effects and staying power will be undeniable. Like parents who told their children in the early part of the 20th century that jazz was the devil’s music, hip hop has been similarly derided. It’s an inherently more violent and vitriolic music, yes, but it’s a reflection of the streets that it originates from, and this power and honesty is what people respond to. Rap is a musical language like any other genre, and if you’re coming from a place where that type of music doesn’t immediately hit you viscerally, it requires a certain warm-up period to acclimate to it, just like jazz and blues before it.

And like rap itself, this film must also be approached from a specific vantage point. Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap doesn’t seek to chart the genre’s progress from street corners to Madison Square Garden, nor does it seek to illuminate newcomers on key tracks or albums they should pick up. Instead, the film focuses on what makes rap unique and intoxicating: the lyrics. And not just the lyrics, but the craft of writing those lyrics and the power they can possess. This is a movie seeking not only to paint rap as an art, but as a skill, and as such it’s going to play best to people inclined to write songs of their own.

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