Keepin' it Reel '08: Exploring Hip Hop

"There is a huge love for Hip Hop," Diane Weathers told WAER Syracuse in a phone interview in early March 2005, "based on its early exuberance, diversity and creativity. We wanted to be clear we wouldn't allow this to be used by people who wanted to attack Hip Hop -- that wouldn't work with this group. We were just women bothered by what we saw who wanted to talk about it. And the response was global."

That January, "Essence" Magazine had launched its Take Back the Music campaign, aimed at gangsta rap that disparaged women and glorified pimps. Then editor-in-chief, Weathers had just been in Atlanta, where "Essence" joined with Spelman College in late February 2005 for an historic, overflow town meeting on the topic. The previous spring, Spelman's student government "disinvited" the performer Nellie from visiting campus when he refused to meet with them about "Tip Drill," the music video in which he "swiped" a credit card down the bare backside of a young thong-wearing woman.

Efforts to reclaim Hip Hop's giddy inventiveness and freedom also focused on women's positive participation. Gwendolyn Pough's "Check it While I Wreck It," published just before she moved to Syracuse in 2004, detailed a lineage of strong Black women's verbal eloquence. Martha Cooper, who'd photographed the Hip Hop scene from its earliest days in 1970s South Bronx, brought out a new book, "We B*Girlz" (2005), about the world-wide phenomenon of women dancers' crews and battles. Performers Jean Grae and Missy Elliot emerged. "Vibe" Magazine published "Hip Hop Divas."

The movies getting under way at that time tell a story wider yet. Byron Hurt includes the infamous "Tip Drill" clip in "Beyond Beats and Rhymes" (2006), which kicks off the Community Folk Art Center's annual film festival this Thursday. Besides cinematic critiques of thug misogyny and homophobia, the smartly-chosen program goes a long way toward busting narrow commercial stereotypes. There's African Hip Hop, the rise of graffiti, the world of women deejays, Hip Hop as youth mentoring tool, Christian Hip Hop. And a 16-year-old local filmmaker who goes by Ziggy debuts his short, "Hip Hop: My Generation," just before Hurt's film on Thursday.

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