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Hip Hop in American Cinema

Melvin Donalson

Hip Hop in American Cinema examines the manner in which American feature films have served as the primary medium for mainstreaming hip hop culture into American society. With their glamorizing portrayals of graffiti writing, break dancing, rap music, clothing, and language, Hollywood movies have established hip hop as a desirable youth movement. This book demonstrates how Hollywood studios and producers have exploited the profitable connection among rappers, soundtracks, and mass audiences. Hip Hop in American Cinema offers valuable information for courses in film studies, popular culture, and American studies.
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At 50 plus years, I am an unlikely interpreter of the hip-hop youth movement. However, my personal and professional experiences have brought me in close contact with those who have lived with hip hop as an integral part of their lives.

I first became interested in hip hop through my brother, Brian. Fifteen years my junior, Brian was a member of a break dancing crew, called The Young Generation, in the early 1980s. They performed in and around Boston and our hometown area of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, including a gig as an opening act for the emerging pop group, The New Edition. By the late 1980s, Brian joined me in southern California, pursuing a solo career as a rapper, calling himself Sweets-the-MC. Eventually, I became one of his managers which was unfortunate for him. My minimal skills as a manager were never close to his talents and creativity as an MC. In 1988, with his single “What’s Up?” we did a mini-tour playing clubs in Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, Boston, Cape Cod, and Chicago. Since the mid-1990s, Brian has been working the other side of the microphone as a music producer, though he still has a captivating flow as a rapper.

From those years with Brian, and other hip-hop performers, I was witness to the liberating effects of hip hop—from anger and frustrations—and the inspiring aspects of hip hop—for dreams and imagination. On stage and in the studio, as Brian rapped...

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