Fear Of A Black Hat

Fear Of A Black Hat


Reviewed by: Steve Harwood

Fear Of A Black Hat might well be described as This Is Spinal Tap for hip-hop, and that wouldn't be an unfair comparison when you consider the parallels between the two films. As part of her sociology course, grad student Nina Blackburn (Kasi Lemmons) decides to film a documentary following the fortunes of gangsta rap group N.W.H. (Niggaz Wit Hats) over the course of a year in the music business. Rising from relative obscurity, N.W.H. find success with the release of their controversial album, Fear Of A Black Hat.

N.W.H. consists of frontman Ice Coldrapper Tasty-Taste, and DJ Tone Def. Those names themselves should tell you that this is a spoof of early Nineties rap and, while there are clear references to the likes of Public Enemy, N.W.A and Run DMC (and even MC Hammer), it's the rap culture as a whole that is ruthlessly lampooned by first-time director Rusty Cundieff. And it works very well, thanks in no small part to the subject matter itself, which was surely ripe for parody.

Straight out of an unnamed "dangerous neighborhood", the group has amongst its past releases such titles as Kill Whitey, P.U.S.S. Why? and their Christmas album, Ho Ho Hos. Despite the stereotypical rap ingredients of sex and violence, Ice Cold laughably defends the group's songs by maintaining they contain an underlying political message: "P, Political. U, Unrest. S, Stabilise. Another S, Society. Y, Yeah".

Censorship of the music industry was a controversial issue at the time of the film's release, and still is today to some extent, so it's no surprise to see it satirised here as well. Just before going onstage, the local police threaten to arrest the group if they sing the original lyrics to Grab Yo Dick, and record label pressure also sees them drop the subtitle to their latest album, Don't Shoot 'Til You See The Whites.

Very few facets of the rap world escape Cundieff's sights, as issues such as racism (both against the band and by them), gun crime and even black filmmakers are ridiculed to good effect. At one gig, the billboard reads "Negroes with Hats", and talking about their song Kill Whitey, Tone Def assures Blackburn that "We were talking about one specific whitey - Whitey Deluca, our ex-manager".

The performances of the lead actors are all spot-on. Ice Cold is played energetically by Cundieff himself, Larry B. Scott is gloriously over-the-top as the ultra-violent Tasty-Taste ("We're anti-violent. Anyone says different, I'll bust a cap in their ass!"), and Mark Christopher Lawrence, as Tone Def, delivers some brilliant lines. The best moments of the film are the group's music videos, many of which are clear parodies of real tunes, and half the fun is spotting the many references.

Unfortunately, Fear Of A Black Hat does falter a little in its final act and at times pulls its punches on the more weighty issues, but despite this, it's a great satire on rap culture and one thing's for sure, you'll definitely laugh your ass off.

Reviewed on: 15 Jul 2006
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Director: Rusty Cundieff

Writer: Rusty Cundieff

Starring: Mark Christopher Lawrence, Larry B. Scott, Rusty Cundieff, Kasi Lemmons, Howie Gold, Devin Kamin

Year: 1994

Runtime: 88 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: USA


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