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  Fear of a Black Hat Hip-Hop Don't Stop
Year: 1994
Director: Rusty Cundieff
Stars: Mark Christopher Lawrence, Larry B. Scott, Rusty Cundieff, Kasi Lemmons, Howie Gold, Moon Jones, Faizon Love, Deezer D, Tim Hutchinson, Rose Jackson, Barry Heins, Eric Laneuville, Daryl Savid, Devin Kamin, Barry Shabaka Henley, Kurt Loder
Genre: Musical, ComedyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: This is a documentary by Nina Blackburn (Kasi Lemmons) on an important cultural force in the world today: rap music. To this end, she has decided to follow the group N.W.H., or Niggaz With Hats, as they tour and record new records. They're a trio comprising Ice Cold (Rusty Cundieff), Tasty Taste (Larry B. Scott) and Tone Def (Mark Christopher Lawrence) and they are nothing if not uncompromising - their last album, "Kill Whitey", proved too controversial to release. But how controversial are they? Could it be they are willfully misunderstood by the mainstream media? That's what Blackburn is going to find out.

In 1993, rap apparently seemed ripe for parody because a big Hollywood studio released the Chris Rock vehicle CB4. But unfortunately, while its heart was in the right place, it wasn't particularly funny - especially compared to the tiny-budgeted hip-hop spoof Fear of a Black Hat a year later, which took the heavy metal mockumentary This Is Spinal Tap as it template. And with quite some measure of success as well, as there were many laugh out loud lines to be enjoyed in this send up that managed to hit its targets with admirable accuracy, from the glorification of violence to the white hangers on trying and failing to sound cool in the presence of the African-Americans.

Of course, jokes about Kris Kross, PM Dawn and the like mean the film is more of a time capsule than the makers ever intended it to be, but if you wanted to see what was funny about rap music in the early nineties, then this is as good as any, and better than many. N.W.H. are obviously an N.W.A. reference, but Cundieff, who wrote as well as directed, spreads his net wide throughout the culture with digs at M.C. Hammer, Ice T. (Ice Cold stars in a New Jack City-style movie, incongruously playing a cop), Vanilla Ice (here Vanilla Sherbert, who aggravates the group so much they set upon him), and many more. You can see exactly where they're coming from in all these skits, because essentially the film is a series of sketches, and that factor of recognition carries a lot of the humour.

But there's more to it, as Cundieff and his cast display a fine sense of the ridiculous, where Tone Def shows off his scratching techniques with various body parts, yes, including that one, or Ice Cold stopped by a security guard while out driving, an echo of his hit, "Fuck tha Security Guards" (less ambitious than "Fuck tha Police", one has to admit). There are plenty of spot-on lampoons of rap videos that should strike a chord with fans of that era, and the music is surprisingly good, from De La Soul-alikes to LL Cool J stylings; even Public Enemy gets a taste of the ribbing. The group does go on a journey of sorts, from their managers being killed (a lot like the dead drummers in Spinal Tap) to an eventual break up, over a woman, naturally (like in... yeah). Yet if the emotional involvement with these characters is low, the quality of jokes is high as the filmmakers knew their territory all too well, demonstrating that rappers can be just as pretentious as any other musicians.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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