There's an endless philosophical showdown in the rap community. Some have fallen in the struggle. Others have just wasted countless hours bullshitting on stoops and in barbershops, debating whether hip-hop is for dancing, or for revolution.
Obviously the truth lies somewhere in the middle. But while Furious Force of Rhymes director Joshua Atesh Litle acknowledges boom bap's park jam roots, his focus leans decidedly toward the genre's more rebellious side.
Litle doesn't pander to diehards – or to know-nothing rap voyeurs. Rather Furious presents global hip-hop culture in an interesting light that should appeal to both purists and newcomers. In short: it's a testament to how Beat Street broke down the Berlin Wall, and how Wild Style calmed the Gaza Strip .
Furious isn't even close to the first film – documentary or otherwise – to examine hip-hop's multicultural impact. Recently, the African b-boy adventure Bouncing Cats with Crazy Legs, and the Euro-graf gem Whole Train served comparable worldly ends.
This film, however, uniquely rides on rhymes – notably defiant, progressive rhymes. From the Bronx, to Paris, to Berlin, Dakar, and Palestine, Litle highlights lyricists who rep the plight of disenfranchised peoples, and in the process makes a subtle point: hip-hop is, first and foremost, a tool for social change.
The flows, names, and topics flip from New York to Senegal, France to Germany. But homelands aside, Litle demonstrates that MCs abound have more in common than not, from superficial markings like tattoos, blunts, and Che Guevara tees, to ideologies rooted in justice, unity, and hating cops.
Beyond the powerful commentary, Furious showcases a fiery mix of truly badass rappers, from East Berlin non-Nazi skinhead thug Joe Rilla, to the sometimes Massachusetts-based Senegalese troupe Gokh-Bi System, to System Ali – a half-Arab, half-Jew Gaza crew that rehearses in a bomb shelter.
The beats bang too; Palestine seems to have an especially talented crop of producers melting Middle Eastern melodies with emotions wrought from tanks rolling down their streets. Litle's camera shows why every line is ride or die; their prison camps make Queensbridge look like Green Acres.
Furious masterfully weaves these rap scenes together, showing throughout the doc – and in a worldwide posse cut for the ages at the end – that hip-hop everywhere thrives on a common counter-cultural angst.
It would have been helpful if Litle put these artists in better perspective; do enlightened cats elsewhere operate in the shadows of materialistic shitbags, as they do here in the states? My guess is they do, but that doesn't mean a small victory like this film can't go a long way.
Check The Furious Force of Rhymes at the Roxbury International Film Festival
Two Shows This Saturday (7/30)