It is no secret that hip hop can be one of the most oppressive art forms in the black community. Simultaneously, we also know that hip hop a history (of being) and potential (to be) empowering. Yet in the state we find it now, it tends to be a contradicting gray area, instead of a clear cut good or bad entity. Byron Hurts gives a nuanced analysis of masculinity and Hip Hop in his documentary Hip Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes. The documentary begins by explaining the context of Hip Hip, how many believe that it “glorifies violence, misogyny, and homophobia” but also holds some type of realness [at one time] when it comes to telling the stories of black men. It is far too easy to label things with a right or wrong stamp. Hurt makes sure the viewer understands that this topic is not straightforward, in fact, it is actually complex, multi-layered, and defined by a dictating cultural influence.
Hurts ask a series of questions that guides the film through different avenues of Hip-Hop ranging from administration of Black Entertainment Television to men showing their homophobia when passing people who are transgender in a mall. He attempts to answer things like “How do limited perceptions of masculinity play into a culture of violence? What roles do misogyny and homophobia have in hip-hop culture—as well as in wider mainstream cultures? And are the media and music industries really to blame?” In the film Kevin Powell tires to answer one of the questions by breaking down the reasons young black men turn to violence to express themselves. Powell asserts “We live in a society where manhood is all about conquering and violence and what we don’t realize is that ultimately that kind of manhood kills you.” Michael Eric Dyson explains how this violence is not rooted in Hip Hop culture, but finds its source in the larger home of American Culture. “When you think about American society, the notion of violent masculinity is at the heart of American identity.“ Hurts agrees with Dyson and offers some analysis on the issue himself as he explains how America is a very “hyper masculine and hyper aggressive nation”. The point is that these themes bleed over into Hip Hop.
When Hurts began to discuss Black Masculinity specifically in the context of Hip Hop, he started by explaining the origins of the culture and how it came to be the objectifying and marginalizing centerpiece that it is today. Hurts claims that Hip Hop was born in poverty-stricken areas of the South Bronx. Hip Hop was a reflection of the internal and external problems of the city and residents that felt dismissed by the authorities in that city. Due to this dismissal Kevin Powell argues that a “forced environment” which included guns, gangs, and prison traditions was created. In the film an anti-violence educator, Jackson Katz explains that young people, particularly males, being raised in a culture like the one in the Bronx, can revolve around the connection of “manhood and power.” Katz explains how the only power that “lower class”– men of color had, was power over their bodies and presenting that body in a way that they demanded respect. Here one can find the connection being made between power, manhood, and the hyper masculine identities that exist in hip-hop. In the film Jelani Cobb, a history professor, explains that hyper masculinity can furthermore be a “defense mechanism” or a way to deny vulnerability.
Beyond the Beats and Rhymes filmmaker Byron Hurt offers a solution to the masculinity that many times becomes the foundation to sexism, misogyny, homophobia, marginalization. Hurts solution is to get passed the stereotypes of masculinity is to have “men to take a hard look at [them]selves” He goes onto explain that “We’re in this box,” a box that requires men to be strong, tough, have girls, get money, be a player, dominate other men, other people, and if you don’t do these things than you’re less than a man. Hurts says we need discussions about what masculinity means. I think we need to pass this film around and have conversations about this issues with black youth across the country. Hurt is right, we cannot deconstruct these histories unless we began to start a discourse about them.