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What Can Hip Hop Teach Filmmakers Of The New Black Film Movement On The Horizon?

What Can Hip Hop Teach Filmmakers Of The New Black Film Movement On The Horizon?

I have to admit, I’ve been in a time warp when it comes to music lately (I’ll take Sade and Public Enemy easily over Lil Wayne). However, when the Watch The Throne album by Jay-Z and Kanye West dropped recently, I had to stop and take notice.

While the opinions of the album ran the gamut (Ava DuVernay calls it a “Black Nationalist Masterpiece for the New Millenium” HERE), I was more impressed that this genre of music can still generate so much frenzied anticipation and is still relevant thirty plus years later since its inception. That got me thinking…What can the new, emerging black film movement learn from the hip hop scene? Yes, I know hip hop has its share of ugliness but what positive pointers can we take away and apply?

Here’s my list:

Collaborations. Rap musicians are famous for coming together on projects. I’ve been surprised at how I don’t see this as much on the filmmaking front, so I was ecstatic when I heard that director Dennis Dortch offered to direct the latest episode of webseries creator Issae Rae‘s Misadventures Of Awkward Black Girl. Hopefully, he won’t be the last and maybe some of the known actors/actresses that like the series can join as well.

Boldness. It would be nice to see more productions that are brazen in content and style, not necessarily provocative…just unapologetically bold. Hip hop built its foundation on this principle.

Black is always in vogue. There have been a number of debates and discussions on this blog about whether the term “black” is a negative or positive when attached to a film. Rap music has never shunned this issue. Blackness is embraced wholeheartedly. In fact, it’s the one, consistently positive attribute in the hip hop world.

What’s old is new again. Let’s face it, there aren’t really “new” stories when it comes to filmmaking. Practically every subject you can think of has been explored. How you stand out from the crowd today is in the way you package and tell a story which is a big premise of rap music.

Create a clique or crew. This is a time-honored tradition in the hip hop world. Having a crew means you not only share interest and endeavors, you also have an inherent support system.

Pay it forward. This concept not only helps your future karma, it can be financially lucrative as well. When rap moguls pluck unknowns and take them under their wing, the rewards usually return like a boomerang.

Stay hungry. Artist in this category usually excel because they base success on achieving greatness in their work…not money.

Those are just a few of my observations. What do you think? Below is the “Otis” video from two of the best.

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It’s curious to see a number of posts pointing out technology and the hurdles it presents. Technology can be mastered through time and access. While the costs in filmmaking can sometimes be prohibitive, why does that stop a storyteller from telling a good story? Tell a good story in ways that are creative, unusual, engaging, honest and complex with the means you have.


What i meant previously was, are THEY]jay-z/kanye west] willing fund an assortment of black disinfranchisements??? HBCU’s or the colosal ‘unemployed’ youth for starters?.


Now that they[WTT] got our attention, are THEY so inclined to droppin &!!!’s like bird seeds, just a cursery look at the abysmal state of Licorice{black} Amerika, should be the canon fodder for social change not these rap charlatans whose ‘subliminally’ appropiating Black Power Nexus with visually stimulating Das Kapital excess, fu#k Jay-Z/ Kanye West post-mod rants, because the PROOF is almost always in the dame puddin!- check ras baraka- micheal franti & fred hampton jr.


Cynthia I’m loving the parallel. Food for thought. Words for head-nods and beats. LOL But I love this. I can look at each of your points and think of an example, but the purpose is to encourage current/future (black) filmmakers on utilizing this model. I love it.

The last point you mention is to stay hungry. Again I can think of some examples of once-upon-a-time-hungry-filmmakers…we all can. But that is really the drive above all else. That which a person can/will/do commit their lives to making their screen-dreams come true. Awesome parallel! Hip hop repackages beats creates new ones; remake the same stories or create new ones. Filmmakers can be equally inspired telling twice-told tales in a new way. Nothing new under the sun, but there’s different levels of atmosphere from there (sun) to here (ground). So there’s always a way to slant/skew the view to display something new.


Vanessa Martinez

I wanted to add…I haven’t heard the album, just a couple of the songs. I’m sure there are some songs in there I’ll like, these guys are clever with the word play. However, although we can all learn about the ambition, collaboration and hard work put in to be successful, this video doesn’t scream “black power” or embracing “blackness” to me.

We see two black men rapping about swag, money, cars with butterfly doors and non-black supermodels in the back. Otis song had nothing to do with that. Otis had natural soul and swag and sang about love, with real emotion and inspiration, not about the acquisition of all things material and superficial. There’s definitely a disconnect with the song message of our iconic music greats and the music by rap moguls today.


@Carey Tambay didn’t write this post. Though Tambay definitely agrees with its sentiments and the spirit in which it was written. Tambay just thought he’d let you know. Tambay is leaving now. But if Tambay were asked, he’d say that he wasn’t watching this particular throne. Carry on… :)


Work with me. When I saw the title to this post and Tambay’s opening, I instantly had an answer. I didn’t have to read Ava’s opinions b/c it’s my opinion that Tambay only included it as a lead-in illustration of what others may have received from Hip Hop. He wasn’t using her as an example of what’s “right”. He told us that in the line preceding her name and the rest of the paragraph.

“While the opinions of the album ran the gamut (Ava DuVernay calls it a “Black Nationalist Masterpiece for the New Millenium” HERE), I was more impressed that this genre of music can still generate so much frenzied anticipation and is still relevant thirty plus years later since its inception. That got me thinking…What can the new, emerging black film movement learn from the hip hop scene?”

So, since I had formed my own opinion based solely on the question “What can the new, emerging black film movement learn from the hip hop scene”, NOT what I felt about Kanye, Jay-Z, their album or Ava DuVernay’s opinion, I was ready to go. Then I clicked on the comment link, and read the comments.

Well, without sounding too harsh, I immediately learned that “focus” may be something we can learn from the Hip Hop world. Let me cut to the chase b/c I am obviously lacking in the world of political correctness, okay. It’s not my forte. Many of the comments focused on something other than Tambay’s question. I don’t believe he ask what one thought of Jay-Z and Kanye West’s new “album“, nor one’s opinion of Ave. But then I thought… maybe it’s me, maybe I missed something. However, before I started to put my thoughts down, I peaked up at the rest of Tambay’s words (you know how we sometimes don’t even read the entire post) low and behold, Tambay had stolen my thoughts. Well, of course they are his words, but he had beat me to the punch. He had answered his own question.

Seriously folks, I am not saying this as a way of brown nosing (b/c although Tambay and I have had our differences, I don’t do the brown nose, I’ve oftened wondered what people get from that). The first thing I thought about (what we can learn) was “collaboration”. I’m not going to go into detail b/c as usual, my post is getting long, but that word speaks so loudly and Tambay (again) covered it all, imo. Shiiit, in essence, Tambay killed this post before the first comment landed. If I can add anything, filmmakers can learn how to stay focused, regardless of the opinions of others (Hip Hop was vilified by the “majority”) and they forged ahead and did not rely on Hollywood to set the course.

Lastly, in short, in essence, I believe filmmakers can learn from the mistakes of the Hip Hop world and how they’ve adjusted over the last 30 years to keep their products “new”, alive, relevant, exciting and poppin’.

other song


its a fake Ghostface blog.


I know we’ve decided this is off-topic, but Ghostface Killah wrote a hilarious review of “Watch the Throne” that you can read here:

That is all.


I’m a big fan of Kanye, BUT I haven’t cared for this collabo.

These are overly rich, egotistical men that live in their own world, full of luxuries and disconnected from the lives of struggling people out there trying to make it in this economy.

So I think from what I’ve heard so far in the album, nothing, they can teach filmmakers nothing.

I also love Otis Redding and don’t appreciate what they turned his song into and this video.

Yes, exactly, no black women in the back seat. That right there is really lame.

Call me a “hater”. Don’t get me wrong I like the beats and production on these songs, but I am really unimpressed by the empty lyrics and all the HYPE.


***sneaking in the back door hoping that Sergio doesn’t notice me***

Let me say another thing. I have no problems with hoodrats making those hoodrat movies. Not because the films are good (I might use them as coasters or door stops) nor I like the idea of hood rats creating any moving images.

I look at them as part of continuum of Blacks trying to create their own images. We are at the beginning in this digital film technology era. And at the beginning there will be film sludge. Think about it in the terms of theory of evolution.

***now sneaking out the back door***


@ other song

I agree with you that the cost of making music is different than the cost of filmmaking.

But back in the day in the late 70’s, before the advent of digital technology, before, everyone had a studio in their bedrooms, recordings were reel to reel. You had to pay to rent a studio and hire an engineers. And it was a pretty penny.

To record and press an album could easily run you into the 6-digits. That’s why your average pop musician (rock, pop, r&b, country) waited for record deals. That’s one of the reasons why hip hop artist and dance music artist put out 12″ records. Recording an album was cost prohibiting.

Hip hop artists did not wait. They got their recordings out by hook or by crook.

It cost more to make an recording in the late 70’s/early 80’s than it does to put a film in the “can” today.

That is not to say their are not any obstacles. It is not to say that it will be easy to overcome. We need to look at obstacles as challenges to met and conquered.

other song


Why would you think I hadn’t heard the album?

I heard it. It was ultra wack. If anything, it demonstrates how much hip hop has really fallen off. Slipshod production, weak rhymes.

and Ava says, “The past two decades have been a shame in this regard.” Check the article.

Looking at it again, I kinda see what she’s saying. There’s no doubt that hip hop got less “conscious”, even in the 90s. It really became more about being smooth with the tongue, being hood and ‘real’ (with the steel and the girls) as opposed to being intellectual. brazen and political. She’s right.

With that said, I think 90s rappers were very conscious in the similar vein but mixed with other stuff. Maybe they made consciousness more digestible. Look at how Tribe’s music has aged to opposed to PE. Heavy respects to both, but Tribe’s message of consciousness and unity goes down easier on the ear.

All the great 90s rappers Tribe, Pac, Nas, Outkast, Wu, Gangstarr, Big, Jay, Pun, Mobb etc said powerful stuff. I certainly wouldn’t say it was a “shame.”


@Vanessa, I’ll just agree with you and leave it at that. :)


@ XI, “I’m a little weary to co-sign only because for some people that means being fluffy and producing what sells. So I’ll adjust that to being flexible while maintaining your message”

That’s an excellent point, which leads me to something Sergio said and how it relates to “what we can learn from the Hip Hop world”. Sergio said he wasn’t a big fan/supporter of screenwriting schools. He went on to qualify his opinion but for me, and how it relates to this topic, is the leading Hip Hop performer didn’t have a Hip Hop school/formal college that may have impeded, twisted, or broke the spirit of an inspiring rapper by telling them they wasn’t doing “it” right or by the book. Rappers had a vision – grabbed the mic as someone mentioned – and did their thang. They didn’t have the “establishment”… white owned and run establishment – like many films school – to encroach upon their artistic expression, or writing style. I don’t know how often I’ve heard the words… “the first thing “we” learned in screenwriting school”. Ii hope they learned the basic elements of telling a damn good story that spoke to their – hopefully – black audience.

So I am suggesting that the black new filmmakers and screenwriters could follow their lead and keep a keen eye on what-why-how they are getting their “education” and question is it really working for the vast majority in black cinema?

In short, if I can add a bit of levity, there’s a song…. “it’s yo thang do what you want to do, I can’t (shouldn’t) nobody tell you how to do yo do”

So yeah Xi, I agree, keeping an eye on the prize (their prize) whatever that may be, and staying away from the fluff (translation: money being the prize) is a good message. Success is spelled different ways for different people.

Gigi Young

@Carey….you are not alone. I’m scratching my head over the comments because the post has nothing to do with the merits of today’s hip-hop vs 90s hip-hop, Kanye or Jay-Z, or WTT in particular. But oh well, I’m just going to focus on Cynthia’s Op-Ed.


That’s a manifesto right there!!! Good observation.


I might not call it a masterpiece but Mrs Duvernay has some points. Y’all both sound like you aint heard the whole joint. You can’t judge WTT off the single and if y’all as true to hip hop as you say you wouldn’t try to post on something you ain’t heard. I respect these rappers for mixing some consciousness with the glitter. There’s black subliminals and riddles in that joint heavy. That’s what she’s saying and I know a grip of real heads who agree. I read the article by Mrs Duvernay two times and I don’t see nowhere where she says 90 era rap was a waste. Cynthia you have good points too. I like the website and hell yea black is was and always will be the bomb. Even when the whole world tries make us believe it’s not. We are. Peace.

other song

great points Laura.

I think it’s important to realize that making a film and making music are fundamentally different because of the amount of capital required.

While cost of filming is going down every year, you simply can’t compete with music when it comes to economics.

Music is CHEAP to produce. That’s why just about anyone can play, if they’re good enough.

But any great film that’s technologically ahead of the curve is gonna require massive capital.


@other song: I agree 100%.

A) Anybody who thinks 90s hiphop was a waste (hello! Tupac! Tribe Called Quest! The Roots! etc.) loses all credibility in my opnion.

B) I agree with the items on the list.

C) Otis is about the lamest video and song I’ve heard in a long time (and those two should be ashamed for ruining Otis Redding’s classic). I sure hope our black filmmakers don’t stoop to such a level of generic bullshit.

D) Black Nationalist album of the 21st century – be damned. “The “we’re the Black elite while most of y’all Black people are dying in this recession” feel good stuff? and we like the White girls in the back of our car (video)?” Couldn’t have said it better myself, other song. If this is black nationalist, then I guess we are really in trouble, huh.

E) The clique/crew element to me is probably the most important – all the great filmmakers and/or really successful filmmakers seem to understand this.

other song

really? The “we’re the Black elite while most of y’all Black people are dying in this recession” feel good stuff? and we like the White girls in the back of our car (video)?

WTT is a terrible album, IMO. and that’s coming from a hip hop fan. I’m always weary of music reviews that don’t really talk about the music itself, but get all political/make statements that are totally intellectual. Music is about feeling. yes there’s intellect involved but its way more about melody and emotion than raw intellectual speech. Hip hop is about beats and rhymes mixed together with a culture. Ava never talked about that. With that said, she said she’s not a music critic. so I can’t call her out on it.

Hip hop wise, if she thinks that 90s hip hop was a waste…then I really can’t consider her opinion on hip hop valid. No offense.

I agree that projects should be bolder. and the rest of the items on this list.


@Laura, HUSTLE is a good one! While many of us sit back and complain about Hollywood depictions, resting easy in intellectual critique, we could be out “grabbing the mic”.

@Carey Carey, I also agree with your comments about being flexible to remain relevant. I’m a little weary to co-sign only because for some people that means being fluffy and producing what sells. So I’ll adjust that to being flexible while maintaining your message.

Great article Cynthia. While hip hop may have its flaws, there’s much inspiration to be taken away from the movement.


“@Carey Tambay didn’t write this post”

Opps… okay, if you happen to see Tambay or hear from him, tell him to disregard all my sentences that included his name. And then, while you’re at it, strike out the part about me not sucking up to Tambay and insert “i’m brown nosing to get Cynthia’s approval”. Hey, ain’t no shame in my game and I need love… however and where ever I can get it. And I loved Laura’s comment. In my opinion it was so on point.

Carry on :-).


I am an old school hip hop head.

One of the things that hip hop did that no other genre of pop music did was hustle. They hustled their music by playing any where that there was space –in the park, school cafeteria, block parties.

Their were almost evangelical zeal to hip hop as compared to other contemporaneous pop musicians. The other popular music artist were always waiting to get signed by major record labels. Hip hop artist “grabbed the mic” and did not wait to be signed by the majors.

They were independent long before the whole indie record movement of the 90’s in which technology made indie recording a realizable dream.

The other thing is that hip hop artists ignored the naysayers.

I remember reading on this blog that industry business professionals state that Black films are less economically viable because it can not sell oversees. I find that bogus to the nth degree.

Hip hop was once considered a fad, “anti-music” so to say with no redeeming music or cultural qualities. That was in the late 70’s, early 80’s. Pop music critics always announced it’s death every year.

Now who has the last laugh.
Hip hop music and culture influenced all world music -from the Western Art tradition (classical) to “folk music” . It also influenced fashion, language, how we consume sports –everything. If hip hop heads listened and believed the naysayers the genre would have died in the late 70’s.

Hip hop musicians (at least the earlier artist) respected their audience in the way that the musicians sensibilities reflected their audience sensibilities. There was less pandering or talking down to their audience. They were able to connect to the audience easily, thus develop strong and loyal followings.

I think those of the things the I believe that Black filmmakers can take from hip hop.

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