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Hustle and Flow’ a hip-hop masterpiece

Chris McGrady | Wednesday, February 8, 2006

Pimpin’ ain’t easy. Neither is good acting. But in the film “Hustle and Flow,” front-man Terrence Howard, who plays the lead character DJay, proves that both have a place in modern cinema.

“Hustle and Flow” is written and directed by Craig Brewer and is a new look at the world of underground rap. The film is similar to Eminem’s breakout movie “8 Mile” – except in place of Eminem, it has a real actor, and in place of a bad movie, it has a good one. Other than that, the idea is the same: meet the poor man from the streets and watch him try to make it as a rapper.

Howard, who was nominated for an Academy Award for “Best Actor” for his role, plays an embattled street-hustler pimp named DJay who is constantly fighting a battle to make enough money to pay the rent. In between dealing marijuana and soliciting prostitutes, DJay is trying to find a way to keep his sanity in a world permeated by sex, drugs and violence. After a late-night rendezvous at a strip club, DJay is confronted by a homeless man who sells him an electronic Casio keyboard for a dime-bag of drugs. Little did DJay know that the keyboard would change his life.

Soon thereafter, DJay meets up with an old high-school friend Key (played by Anthony Anderson), who owns a recording company. With some testy lyrics (including the catchy line “whoop that trick”) and some surprisingly cleanly-cut music tracks (Dr. Dre who?), DJay begans to produce his own brand of Memphis-southern rap out of the back room of his dilapidated home. His only shot at fame, however, is to push his demo tape to Skinny Black (played by Ludacris), a home-grown Memphis rapper who has all but completely forgotten his roots.

This movie is powerful for several reasons, and overall, it was nominated for 15 different awards.

Howard’s role is key, and he plays it masterfully. DJay is meant to be the type of character who is both loved and hated, and Howard’s control over this part is the reason this movie shines. On some levels, the viewer feels sorry for DJay – his plight is all but hopeless, as he lives a life of crime. On other levels, the audience has to feel a disdain for DJay – he solicits women for his own needs. But realistically, DJay is caught in a web of sin that he cannot escape without help, and this help is from his music. His lyrics speak of the pain of his position, the struggles of living on the streets as a hustler and of trying to find a purpose in his corrupt life. Eventually, through his trials, DJay realizes the women he prostitutes have dreams just as much as he does and seeks to provide for them as well.

The music in the movie is surprisingly decent, especially considering all of DJay’s tracks are performed by Howard himself. The tracks have hints of Nelly’s St. Louis style, as well as rapper DMX, and it’s easy to begin swaying to the music. The supporting roles are as important as Howard’s and played well by Anderson, as well as Nola (Taryn Manning), one of DJay’s prostitutues.

The movie seems to give a true feel to the underground world of rap in the poorest neighborhoods in the country and helps the audience to identify with the personal struggles of DJay and his clan.

The movie is as much a “hood-flick” as it is a film about spiritual and personal growth. Howard’s character visibly changes throughout the movie and grows increasingly on the viewer. By the end of the movie, it is hard not to root for DJay and his cause, which ends up being about much more than music. It is about hopes and dreams and the message that even those in the most down-trodden of states possess them.