Hustle & Flow is a movie about a lot of things: poverty, the American Dream, prostitution and the music industry. These are all familiar subjects in movies, but the cinematic newbie in this film is crunk.
Crunk, of course, is a subdivision of Southern hip-hop, originating in places like the movie's setting of Memphis, Tennessee, and heard as a soundtrack all across the South, from Atlanta to Charlotte.
"It's a very high-energy dance music, somewhat aggressive and in-your-face, and representative of the [street life]," stated Paul Stewart, the film's music supervisor.
In-your-face is the right description for "Whoop That Trick¨" a track featured in the movie. It encapsulates the lifestyles shown in the film — the violence, desperation and power struggles that play out on the Memphis streets.
"Lyrically, [the music] speaks to Southern culture and life," noted Stewart. "It's a real emergence of the culture. People in the South like to party — music has a unique flavor, coming from a unique musical history there."
In Memphis, there's more than enough history to pull from, and crunkster Al Kapone, who wrote "Whoop That Trick" as well as the movie's title track, grew up in the remnants of this culture. "We've got such a deep history of music out of this city, from Stax to Elvis, from rock & roll to the blues, but by the time my generation started growing up, it had crumbled," Kapone said. "We always had this energy wanting to bust out — we wanted to be heard and recognized."
Hustle & Flow, the result of a collaboration between producer John Singleton (Oscar-nominated writer-director of Boyz N the Hood) and writer-director Craig Brewer, is functionally a showcase for gritty, contemporary Southern music. With lengthy scenes between characters DJay (Terrence Howard), Key (Anthony Anderson) and Shelby (DJ Qualls) — in which they lay down tracks and create music before the audience's eyes — the film bends to the beat.
As the picture follows DJay from street hustler to aspiring rapper, we learn a little music history, too. "What was really exciting about the film was we were able to put this music — sometimes viewed as the lowest type of music — in context with Al Green, Willie Hutch and a score of players from Stax Records," stated Stewart. In fact, composer Scott Bomar brought in a group of classic Stax musicians to complete the score.
Some say the term "crunk" derives from "crank," as in "cranking up your car." If that's true, crunk is the right engine to drive this film. "It's already going, it's driving, it's revving, it's loud and repetitive," said Brewer. "You're chanting throughout the whole thing."
Brewer, who is white, said his race did not impede his ability to tell this story focusing largely on African-Americans. "I knew people were going to ask about this, but this story is not about black and white," he said. "I'm writing about a world I know well."
The idea for Hustle & Flow came from when Brewer was scouting locations for another film in Tennessee, and a hustler started working on him. "He was trying to sell me his woman, and his mumble, his spin, was unrelenting — he even tried to sell me his car." Brewer knew he had a good character, and the movie proceeded from there, taking cues from the rappers themselves. "The Memphis rappers," he noted, "are getting it made by any means, and sometimes the means will ultimately inspire the culture."