First big show of the year for all my LA people. Live and direct this is the place to be for Valentine’s Day. Pretty excited for this Friday.
Been lagging it on watching all these movies finishing up my debut album but had some free time and put my 18th film in which was the late 90s classic Belly. Wow always blows my mind. Can’t believe I saw this movie in 98’ its always been on my mind. One of the movies that helped shape my level of artistry very noir at its core. Belly touches on themes none of the hip hopesque movies that were to follow in the early 2000s such as the Streets Are Watching or Paid In Full were able to come close to. The abject commercialism and branding that symbolizes that time period I never noticed then but watching the movie more than a decade now I’m oh so aware of. Lennox the Jamaican drug kingpin in his Scarface influenced Mexican standoff while wearing a Enyce tracksuit. Wu-Wear references by Knowledge while Nas wears Ecko.
On the surface level its just another street movie about black on black crime which is very understandable to get lost in because the plot isn’t the greatest. But I recognize what Nas and Hype who wrote the screenplay together were getting at it was suppose to be more of an indictment in a very satirical sense of the mafioso hardcore crime oriented New York hip hop scene that they in many ways helped become the norm at that time in the culture. They created a monster and this was their way of getting rid of the Frankenstein Nas dropping the mafioso Escobar moniker he adopted right after It Was Written dropped and become a more conscious street philosopher. There is no glorification of the street life if anything the betrayal and self-destruction that it ultimately leads participants into is constantly made aware of to the viewers of this movie I think the later scene where Nas character Sincere is talking to Shorty, a 12 year old crack dealer in the projects who is just a carbon copy of the generation above him telling about committing a murder on the roof just earlier makes that very clear.
The opening scene with DMX and Nas with Soul II Soul playing Back to Life in the background is one of my favorite cinematic moments. Just them walking slow motion into the club with glow in the dark vibe that Hype borrowed from his music video Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can See that he did for Busta Rhymes is just so powerful. The cinematography in this movie is on a whole different level. Hype Williams operating on that Wes Anderson vibe with this one I mean damn the colors used in this flick is crazy vivid on the level of Royal Tennebaums it really brings a lot of emotion to the scenes. When DMX is being reprimanded by the Minister the Government hires him to kill at the end which is juxtaposed by his girlfriend getting beaten by Method Man the colors pop to the point that you can’t help but sit in wonder. Very minimalist approach to the score all star cast a real who’s who’s in the hip hop world at the time Def Jam artists represented the most of course.
DMX really had a future in movies he works beautifully under the camera drugs ruined his potential just like they did Tom Sizemore. I always thought that DMX would strike out in Hollywood even when I would see him later in that one flick with homeboy from Scream the Arquette brother who was with the lady from Friends. His Afro-futuristic manor that he lives in makes me ponder the potential at the beginning of the new millienium there was a whole aesthetic in that sense reshaping black expression in America. A foreshadowing of the style and afro-minimalism that people like Kesh now are doing that was expected to come with the turn of the century? Hype true to figure being the man behind the What’s It Gonna Be video by Busta Rhymes. That’s a crazy what if to think about. The Jamaican element would of fit very well if they had devoted more time to it this is a good movie but if they had dedicated 3 hours to like all those italian mafia movies that obviously influenced Belly it would of been a great movie.
I mean the movie is a prime example of the influence crime movies made by Italian directors such as Brian De Palma and Martin Scorsese has had on black street culture specifically exemplified by the New York scene that Nas Escobar and Dark Man X come out of. It felt parallel to if not a easy rival of such American ethnic movies like Goodfellas and Carlito’s Way as well as Scarface. The struggle to find identity in this country. Nas playing the criminal disappointed with his lifestyle and the choices he’s made while DMX being the cultural nihilist with no future. Their narratives displaying the inward introspection that comes with being a monster. Sincere being the prodigal son with his character eventually going to Africa i.e returning home as is the case of all those lost in the Black Diaspora. The Redemption of Tommy’s character after all of the evil that he spent the whole movie committing symbolizing the potential of us all to rise above the human condition that is constantly working against us reaching a honest level of self-actuality. Even if we don’t believe it.
I saw Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man in this movie. I saw Richard Wright’sNative Son in this movie. I recognized Claude Brown’s Manchild in the Promised Land. More importantly I saw pieces of myself and the struggles I have. With maintaining life in a society that simultaneously praises my artistic efforts and frowns and discourages the darkness that it stems from. The accessibility of drug culture hand in hand with the ignorance that we hold on the crime culture that feeds it to us. A true American story shot by rappers and a dude who does music videos. Couldn’t of asked for more.