In the year 2000, I was watching the rap music video countdown on BET’s Rap City — one of my favorite pastimes — when I noticed that nearly every video appeared to be the same. They all featured guys throwing money at the camera, dudes in fancy cars showing off their "iced-out" jewelry and, of course, lots of barely dressed, sexually available women as background props.
As I saw how formulaic rap music videos had become — with their limited and narrow representations of manhood — I began to wonder, how do black men feel about the representations of manhood in hip-hop culture? How do black women and men feel about the pervasive images of scantily clad and sexually objectified women in rap music and videos? How do black males truly feel about the way women and violence are talked about in rap music? What do today’s rap lyrics tell us about the collective consciousness of black men and women from the hip-hop generation? What does homoeroticism in hip-hop media look like? I decided to pick up the camera to make a film about the gender politics of the music and the culture that I grew up with and loved: hip-hop.
I have not always paid such close attention to gender politics. But after I graduated from Northeastern University in 1993, the university’s Center for the Study of Sport in Society hired me — a former Northeastern quarterback — to help create a program to educate young men about gender and sexual violence called the Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP) program. At that point, I knew next to nothing about these issues, so I read and learned as much as I could about rape, sexual assault, battery, and sexual harassment. I reflected on how these issues affected my own life and thought deeply about how, as a male, I had been socialized.
In 1993, I nervously addressed my first group of men, a college basketball team. With every workshop, I grew more confident and passionate about ending men’s violence against women. Looking back, my involvement with the MVP program for more than 10 years was a turning point in my life.
I wanted to share what I had learned about gender with other black males in my community, so in 1994, I produced and directed the documentary I Am A Man: Black Masculinity in America, a film that examined black masculine identity in American culture. But hip-hop had not yet become the pop culture success it is today, and I Am A Man did not address its impact on the masculine identity of young black and Latino men from the hip-hop generation.
Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes is my attempt to pick up where I Am A Man left off and start a discourse on hip-hop and its declarations on gender. In the past five years, I have gathered thoughtful, divergent voices discussing this topic, including celebrity rap artists, industry executives, rap fans and social critics from inside and outside the hip-hop generation. I look forward to continuing this dialogue and the future participation of audiences who watch this film.
— Byron Hurt