'Fear of a Black Hat' Review: Rappin' Ain't Easy
Fear of a Black Hat is meant to be a parody of those rap groups and artists of the early 90s, such as the NWA. In it, a PhD student follows a group called NWH (Niggas With Hats) for a couple of years attempting to make a documentary about their lives. What’s next is a hilarious send-up of every single aspect of early 90s rap culture and everything and everyone surrounding it.
Fear of a Black Hat is hilarious, more so because no one comes away safe from parody. Managers, rivalries, the police, censors, religious figures, all are made fun of. In some ways, this could date the film a bit, but it remains extremely funny. The cast is comprised by Mark Christopher Lawrence, Larry B. Scott, and the film’s director himself, Rusty Cundieff. They have great chemistry together, and although they’ve continued their careers playing bit parts and some memorable smaller roles, it’s a shame that they don’t seem to have gotten bigger traction in comedies, because they’re so funny here. The supporting cast is fantastic as well. There isn’t a single poorly chosen actor. Everyone in this movie leaves an impression and leaves us with laughter.
Rusty Cundieff directs with great skill, perfectly mocking and copying the documentary aesthetic while maintaining it oddly believable. What’s best is that when he needs to justify a choice like multiple angles, these are hilariously explained. The movie never loses an opportunity for a joke. When the movie calls for a parody of Spike Lee/John Singleton types of movies, it steps out into the plate and succeeds in spades. And what about the parodies of music videos from the time? These are accurately and hilariously done. Cundieff, his cast and crew looked like they knew a lot about what they’re parodying, because everything feels real and they know perfectly where to exploit it for laughs.
What’s best is that the songs in the movie are hilarious as well. There are plenty of them, and best of all, they’re also catchy. Very little is at fault in this movie. What ultimately hurts it, though, is what happens often in the design of mockumentaries, in that, often there isn’t a main, tangible goal. The whole point is to get the laughs across as broadly as possible, so instead, we’re just thrown into comedic situations without much of a dramatic through line. A lot of great films have been made this way, but in this movie’s case, it makes the story too aimless for its own good, and even slow. But thankfully, the laughs and surprises just keep coming.
All in all, despite its pacing flaws, this movie is too good to pass up. I’m surprised I hadn’t heard of it before I was assigned to watch it for this review. This is a movie that deserves more popularity than it has gotten. Don’t make the same mistake I did of ignoring this movie, and go check it out now, you won’t regret it.