Beyond Beats and Rhymes: Taboos

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For years, former Northeastern University quarterback Byron Hurt has been speaking to students and athletes about gender violence prevention. But as a filmmaker, this longtime hip-hop head has taken his activism a step further with a Sundance-approved documentary, Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes. Hyper-masculinity, misogyny, and homophobia in the music are all up for discussion, with everyone from Spelman College students to MCs like Fat Joe and Jadakiss weighing in. XLR8R caught up with Hurt to discuss how his film has sparked a new discourse.

XLR8R: In the film, you mention that watching music videos inspired the project.

Byron Hurt: Well, I had been thinking about making a film about hip-hop for years. I actually first came up with the idea in 1997 and I didn't really have the confidence or courage to pursue it then. I had several conversations with one of my colleagues, Jackson Katz. He had been encouraging me to make the film. Then one Saturday afternoon I had been sitting at home watching music videos, and I decided, "This is the time for me to do it."

What about those videos struck a nerve in you?

Just the fact that they were so formulaic and that they all had the same reoccurring themes and images. It was almost like watching the same music video over and over again.

As a hip-hop head and former athlete, how did you overcome your insecurities about confronting these issues of hyper-masculinity and misogyny in hip-hop?

I just decided that if I didn't do it, somebody was gonna do it. You have to muster up the courage, and most of the people who I look up to and respect, they stand up in face of hostility or potential resistance. And to be quite honest with you, I haven't really seen any of the resistance that I thought that I may face.

Sarah Jones and Jadakiss were very forthcoming in speaking to you. But Russell Simmons dodged the questions. Did you expect resistance?

I knew that everybody didn't want to have a conversation about misogyny and homophobia in hip-hop. I mean, people are more willing to talk about the violence and the hyper-aggression than they are the misogyny and the homophobia. In those two areas, people tend to be either defensive or don't really want to talk about it all, which I think is very interesting.

Has the film sparked a dialogue within the community, encouraging people to open up about these things?

I think the film is one tool to get that discussion going and it has gotten going. And I think Nas' Hip-Hop Is Dead also got people to talk about where hip-hop is right now. The actions that were taken by the Spelman women [not allowing Nelly to visit their campus if he wouldn't discuss their issues with his music] also contributed to forcing the discussion. I just think people are at a point where they're starting to reject a lot of what they're seeing and what they're hearing. The film landed at the right time.