Being that June is Black Music Month, we felt it was only right that we reach out to Byron Hurt, the man behind the controversial documentary that takes an in-depth look inside the world of hip hop and its thriving success. It is no secret that rap today is a far cry from nostalgic rhymes of old. As with anything else, the game of hip hop had to change in order to remain. We caught up with Byron Hurt to get his thoughts on changes in hip-hop.
Clutch: Your documentary, Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes has been the center of much conversation in the Hip-Hop community since its release. What made you decide to film this documentary, and did you expect it would be the focal point it has become?
Byron Hurt: I had been in conflict for years about my love for hip-hop and some of the content and imagery– just the direction that hip-hop was going in general. Then in 1993 I started learning about masculinity and sexism through a program in Boston called the Mentors in Violence Prevention Program. This made me listen to hip-hop differently. I now had the language and the context to better understand the macho images and misogyny in hip-hop. And then one day, I was at home watching BET’s Rap City and I was like, “Yo, I am going to make a film about hip-hop.” I decided to make this documentary because I felt like it was time to make such a film. I felt like somebody was going to make this film one day, so why not me?
Clutch: Although there have been films produced in the past about Hip Hop, your documentary approaches the subject from a perspective that previous films glossed over. While the most common discussion of today’s hip-hop has been the issue of violence, you touched on the seemingly misogynistic views of it. Was that your primary reason for this film? If so, why?
Byron Hurt: Well, I wanted to make a film that addressed masculinity in hip-hop, not just misogyny. So, I focused on hyperaggression, misogyny, homophobia and homoeroticism in hip-hop. But masculinity in hip-hop was the thread that held the film together. I felt like this kind of focus would make the film cutting edge.
Clutch: Did you find it particularly difficult to get feedback from the men you interviewed regarding the way women are portrayed in today’s hip-hop music and videos?
Byron Hurt: Not as much as people would believe. Even if some of the guys passed the buck, everyone had something to say. Most guys deflect, and I am not just talking about rap artists – I’m talking about men in general – when it comes to the way women are treated in society. So, the trick is to get guys to focus on our own attitudes and behavior, not on women’s behavior. So, I was pretty aggressive about not letting rappers off the hook. I think that comes across in the film.
Clutch: How significant of a role do you feel the label executives play in contributing to the way women are portrayed in lyrics and videos? Did you find it more difficult to get honest answers from the music producers/executives as opposed to the performers?
Byron Hurt: Well, I am not in the music industry, so I don’t know for sure. So, I don’t want to speak outside of my expertise, but like most fans who grew up listening to hip-hop, my opinion is that the label executives have a lot to do with it. They [the record execs] are the ones in charge, they are the ones who greenlight projects, and they are the gatekeepers. So, if the record label execs said, “You are a brilliant artist – a great rapper – but we do not support rappers who blatantly disrespect women on records – you can’t do that here,” I think that would send a powerful message to rappers. But sexism and misogyny, unfortunately are still way too socially accepted by society, and particularly us men.
Clutch: What changes would you like to see in the hip hop industry and what do you think it would take to affect such change?
Byron Hurt: More balance. I think that is what most rap fans want. At least that’s how I see it. I don’t want hip-hop to go away. I don’t want it to die. I don’t want to censor anyone. I just want to hear more music that has meaning and that inspires me to think, grow and change. I also want to be a part of an educational movement that changes the social climate that makes it okay – normal – for men to talk about killing each other, calling women bitches and hos and dissing gays.