Hip Hop on Film: Performance Culture, Urban Space, and Genre Transformation in the 1980s

By McCargo, Renette Smith | The Journal of Hip Hop Studies, Summer 2015 | Go to article overview

Hip Hop on Film: Performance Culture, Urban Space, and Genre Transformation in the 1980s


McCargo, Renette Smith, The Journal of Hip Hop Studies


Hip Hop on Film: Performance Culture, Urban Space, and Genre Transformation in the 1980s. By Kimberly Monteyne. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2013. Pp. x, 256. $54; Kindle $37.19.

I have loved watching movies for as long as I can remember. As a small child, I sat in front of the television watching classic black and white film. Many of my teen years were spent at the movie theater or plastered in front of a television watching HBO and Cinemax. Present day, the same can be said for Netflix, Youtube.com and me. Musicals, independent, foreign, thrillers, avant-garde, and documentaries, are the genres I look for first when making a selection. I was delighted, to say the least, to read Hip Hop on Film, Performance, Culture, Urban Space and Genre Transformation in the 1980s. The book introduced me to classic movies that I was able to find and watch while reminding me of other movies I watched years ago. Enthralled in Hip Hop on Film, I was inspired to multitask - reading and taking notes while watching Hip Hop musicals.

Beginning with pre-Hip Hop musical influencers, author Kimberly Monteyne describes African American roles in films that date back to the early 20th century. Monteyne points out how in the initial days of film, strategically placed Black performers in musicals could be edited out to suit Southern movie theater owners and their patrons. The essence of the book explores a lesser-known category of Hip Hop musicals as a genre that has its role in film history.

As Monteyne explains in the introduction, Hip Hop culture has made a mark in society, academia, and the movie industry. Underground messages of societal woes from Latino and African American performers were performed in movie theaters. Higher education took note of the culture and its effects. Accordingly, film producers featured Latino and African American street performers alongside performers who were considered a part of a more disciplined art form. Some Hip Hop films of the genre included rappers with political messages.

Hip Hop music and Hip Hop musicals were not widely viewed among mainstream audiences thirty-five years ago. Through rapping, DJing, graffiti writing, and break dancing, these musicals helped to spread the message of disenfranchised urban youth to people all over the world.

Monteyne proves early on in the book that Hip Hop movies have elements consistent with the musical genre. In chapter one, Monteyne lists several Hip Hop themed features that contain elements of musicals. Reminded of the names of such musicals, Wild Style and Flashdance are two Hip Hop musicals available for view on Netflix. Free viewing of Rappin', Breakin', and Body Rock are available on Youtube.com. Other Hip Hop movies mentioned in the book are available at a cost on Youtube.com.

Although earlier films that included African American actors were explored, Hip Hop on Film delves into a side to musicals that mainstream moviegoer were not accustomed to in the 1980s. Hip Hop musicals in Hip Hop on Film shows a side of life unfamiliar to many who neither lived in nor visited an urban community.

Dilapidated buildings, poor living conditions, graffiti spray-painted on walls and trains, and people breakdancing on the street make some Hip Hop musicals different from musicals audiences were accustomed to seeing. While watching some of these films years ago, musical was not the category I would have placed Hip Hop movies. Armed with a different perspective, watching these Hip Hop movies again took on a new meaning. Hip Hop musicals tell a part of the story through rapping, breaking, graffiti writing and DJing.

Musicals (as we know it) tell a part of the story through songs, dance, and orchestra. Consequently, Monteyne notes Hip Hop movies also included the conflict, the love story, and the music and dance aspects that classical musicals use. …

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