Fear of a Black Hat (1993) / Comedy-Musical
MPAA Rated: R for pervasive strong language, and for sexuality
Running Time: 88 min.
Cast: Rusty Cundieff, Larry B. Scott, Mark Christopher Lawrence, Kasi Lemmons
Director: Rusty Cundieff
Screenplay: Rusty Cundieff
Review published April 3, 2000
Hip hop's version of THIS IS SPINAL TAP may not be as memorable as its heavy metal counterpart, but it's still just as funny. Writer/director/star Rusty Cundieff must have been taking notes when he worked in Robert Townsend's HOLLYWOOD SHUFFLE, as he delivers a similarly energetic vignette style with the same knowing insights into his target. FEAR OF A BLACK HAT might be a little dated by today's standards, spoofing a style of hip hop that may not be known by many not in the scene at the time. Regardless, even if some of the satire may not be understood, the irreverent charm and goofy gags will probably win you over anyway.
In a mock-umentary style, Cundieff and co. send up the more popular forms of rap during the early 90s. Gangsta rap is the hottest music in the biz, and the members of N.W.H. (Niggas wit' Hats) are part of the underground scene that's starting to get hot. Nina Blackburn is a journalist sent to cover the new phenomenon, and capture some of the days in the life of N.W.H. as they try to perform at shows and create music videos.
Sending up such hip hop groups as Public Enemy, N.W.A., 2 Live Crew, Ice-T, Vanilla Ice, and PM Dawn, the satire is right-on and the characters are portrayed well. Much of the humor comes from the fact that many so-called gangsta rappers are merely stating their over-the-top braggadocio of the life is merely documenting what they see everyday, and their attempts to come off as hardcore is grossly overstated. Also, whenever questioned about "explicit lyrics" the rappers drape themselves with political and social mumbo jumbo, so that even the most filthy of lyrics can get played, suggesting a deeper meaning and showcasing of culture.
However, as clever as the satire is, it's for the hilarious songs that most will find FEAR OF A BLACK HAT an amusing experience. "Come and Pet the P.U.S.S.Y.", "F*ck the Security Guards", "Grab Yo Stuff", and "Booty Juice" are not only hysterical songs, but ironically not far off from some of the actual rap made during the day.
FEAR OF A BLACK HAT is not a film for everyone, as it does assume a familiarity with the music and groups spoofed, and considering it's now several years old, quite a bit of the humor has lost its satirical bite as hip hop of today is a vastly different scene. If you're old enough and hip enough to remember the times, Cundieff's creation still provides plenty of belly laughs and is about as accurate a representation of hip hop of the day as there has been on celluloid.
©2000 Vince Leo