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FEAR OF A BLACK HAT

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Rusty Cundieff, Larry B. Scott, Mark Christopher Lawrence, Kasi Lemmons
Director: Rusty Cundieff
Audio: Dolby Surround
Video: Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Columbia Tri Star
Features: See Review
Length: 88 Minutes
Release Date: July 8, 2003

“We anti-violent. Anyone says different, I'll bust a cap in their ass!”

Film ***

Hip-hop music is as big today as it has ever been. Like all genres of music, most people, like myself, have embraced it, while others simply can't stand it. Since the birth of hip-hop, many of the music most popular artists, and pioneers for that matter, have come under fire through because of the racy material that lies within the music. Fear of a Black Hat, made nearly ten years ago, is a dead-on mockumentary spoof of such heavy-controversial rap acts as N.W.A. and 2 Live Crew. In other words, it does for rap music what This is Spinal Tap did for, or to, heavy metal music of the early 80s.

The film is a behind the scenes look at a controversial rap act that, like many actual rap artists, manages to unintentionally stir controversy and sell millions of records simultaneously. The rap group is known as N.W.H. (N****z With Hats), an act made up of three hardcore rappers, Ice Cold (Rusty Cundieff), Tasty Taste (Larry B. Scott), and Tone-Def (Mark Christopher Lawrence). N.W.H. is the subject of a documentary, narrated by producer/interviewer Nina Blackburn (Kasi Lemmons).

To give you an idea of their level of heated controversy, the group's latest album, titled “Fear of a Black Hat”, contains a track called “Kill Whitey”; a much-debated song that Ice Cold feels was completely misunderstood and unfairly labeled as a “racist” song, when in actuality, the song was nothing less than a harmless artistic statement.  Even though N.W.H. find themselves making the same statement song after song, it just seems awkward that the group regards their material as social commentary, while at the same time naming a good deal of their songs after parts of the female anatomy. The group also makes it clear that most important aspect of N.W.H. are the hats they wear. Cundieff, who wrote and directed the film, makes a hilarious argument that the purpose of the hats is to signify that in the days of slavery, field hands were not allowed to wear hats, making the ability to don a hat a sign of revolution for blacks everywhere.

You have to give writer/director Cundieff credit for not leaving anyone associated with rap, or the entire music industry for that matter, off the hook. All areas of the business are lampooned, from the white managers, to the head of the record labels, and all the way down to the uptight venue manager, who is targeted in one hilarious scene where N.W.H., labeled as “Guest Stars” on a marquee at a concert, can't seem to convince the owner that they are scheduled to perform.  White rappers aren't safe from lampooning, as N.W.H. seem to run into a rival caucasian rapper named Vanilla Sherbet more than they would like to. The biggest laugh is unquestionably the running joke about the group's manager getting shot.

Fear of a Black Hat is as sharp and brutally funny as any spoof of hip-hop music could hope to be. The satirical touch of the film holds true even after ten years, as rap music, as big and explosive as ever, continues to entertain and raise eyes brows simultaneously.

Video **

To the best of my knowledge, Columbia Tri Star was never known for releasing a non-anamorphic transfer, but in that case, Fear of a Black Hat is a first. This isn't really a big complaint at all, but the plain fact is the image quality isn't too superb. For starters, there are several noticeable spots of grain that seem to appear on and off, and the overall picture detail is somewhat lacking in radiant quality. True, the movie is ten years old, but movies from the 90s turn out terrific, most of the time. Not a horrific job, but so much could've been improved.

Audio **1/2

The movie does contain many music cues, and those scenes are without a doubt that high point of this audio presentation. The 2.0 mix does the musical aspect well, but other than that, I couldn't detect much level of extended dynamic range, which is rather difficult if the mix isn't that of a 5.1 presentation. Dialogue is well heard, but for the most part the sound power seems to be igniting from the front area.

Features ***

Quite an ill package, if you'll excuse my phrasing. There is a very funny commentary track by writer/director Rusty Cundieff, whose narration is endlessly humorous. In addition, there are 14 deleted scenes with optional commentary, 12 music videos (which are actually cut from the film), 4 interview segments with cast members, and two trailers, as well as bonus trailers for Bad Boys II, Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle, and Laurel Canyon.

Summary:

Fear of a Black Hat is the hip-hop answer to Spinal Tap in every sense. Those wishing to see the rap music genre being poked at will absolutely get what they looked for.