Hustle & Flow

reviewed by Steve Sailer

The American Conservative, August 29, 2005


Hip hop first hit the Top 40 way back in 1979 with the amusing "Rapper's Delight" by the Sugarhill Gang. At the time I thought, "What a cute novelty record -- I bet that style will be around for a year, maybe even two!" Little did I anticipate that decades of stylistic innovation by African-Americans were coming to an end, and that rap would turn out to be the black hole that entrapped black talent for, apparently, all eternity.

Hip-hop kept its goofy aura through the mid-80s (when the biggest selling rap record was "The Super Bowl Shuffle" by the Chicago Bears NFL team).

Then, gangsta rap emerged from Los Angeles and New York. By promoting the drug dealer's code of what a boy had to do to be a man, it helped spread the crack wars across the country. By 1993-94, the murder rate had quadrupled among black 14-17 year-old-youths born in the late 70s (which was after Roe v. Wade, as economist Steven D. Levitt conveniently forgot to mention while pushing his abortion-cut-crime theory in the bestseller Freakonomics).

Fortunately, the generation born in the 80s started to grasp that they could listen to gangsta rap without living it, but the damage had been done. In New York City today, there are 36 percent more black women than black men alive.

It says much about contemporary values that the Audience Award at the Sundance film festival was won by the indie crowd-pleaser "Hustle & Flow," the purportedly uplifting story -- "Everybody gotta have a dream" -- of a pimp striving to find redemption by becoming a gangsta rapper.

Perhaps we will next be treated to a heartwarming movie about a Gestapo agent aspiring to qualify for the Death's Head SS. If, as the hype claims, "Hustle & Flow" is the new "Rocky," well, then "Jeff Gannon" should be pitching Hollywood on his rise, such as it was, from militaristic manwhore to Bush Administration shill.

A certain moral distinction is being overlooked by the critics. Sure, Rocky starts out as hired muscle for a loan shark, but after he goes 15 rounds with Apollo Creed, he doesn't boast that his resilience is due to all the exercise he got breaking deadbeats' thumbs. In contrast, the breakout songs by this new film's protagonist, "Whoop that Trick" and "You Know It's Hard Out There for a Pimp," glamorize whoremongering with the conventional hip-hop blend of chest-pounding machismo and self-pity.

Nor is it courageously "subversive" to make a pimp the star. The mack daddy as folk hero has deep roots in African American culture. Indeed, the Big Man who lives off the toil of his wives is the envy of Africa. There, indigenous feminists agitate not that women should have the right to work (since they already contribute 80 percent of the labor, according to one African feminist organization), but that their men should have the duty to work, too.

In America, the man who pockets the income of women was both disreputable and rare until the 1960s, when higher welfare allowed single mothers to support boyfriends. Liberated from the need to hold a steady job to keep a woman, numerous men could finally afford the excitements of a life of crime.

Hip-hop's celebration of pimping runs all the way from "Rapper's Delight" to "P.I.M.P." by the currently reigning rap king 50 Cent, who has been shot nine times. And the pimp-as-icon is now more popular than ever on MTV, as in its hit car customization show "Pimp My Ride."

Terrence Howard, who played the black television director intimidated by Matt Dillon's white cop in "Crash," is an impressive actor, but he's so soft-looking than any real pimp wouldn't hesitate to steal his prostitutes. Howard, who has a degree in chemical engineering, is reminiscent of the bourgeois black youth in Tom Wolfe's A Man in Full, who dresses like a thug, but who lacks "those hard muscles and thong-like tendons and that wary look through the eyes of the ghetto boy."

In contrast, Howard's eyes moisten up constantly in "Hustle & Flow." Certainly, Howard's sodden acting fits this sentimentalized movie, making him a good bet for an Oscar nomination. Yet, the comic "happy" ending, in which the imprisoned panderer's record goes straight to the top and hopeful jail guards slip him their demo tapes, suggests that "Hustle & Flow" could have instead been a truly subversive satire on America's infatuation with pimps.

Rated R for language, violence, and nudity.


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