Campus Visitors: Hip-Hop Revelation

Filmmaker Byron Hurt brings a critical eye to the music form.
by Chelsea Theis '08

At 30 years old, after spending 15 years as a violence prevention educator, Byron Hurt moved back home. He wanted to become a filmmaker, and without an income he needed to depend on his parents’ largesse. Six years later the fruits of his labors became an official selection of the 2006 Sundance Festival. 

Hurt’s award-winning documentary, Hip Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes, was screened at Ithaca in September, followed by a discussion with Hurt himself. The film examines issues of masculinity, sexual aggression, and homophobia in hip-hop culture. 

A journalism graduate and former quarterback of Northeastern University, Hurt grew up in hip hop’s “golden age.” He was a founding member of the Mentors in Violence Prevention program, a college-based rape and domestic violence prevention initiative for athletes. He was then tagged by the U.S. Marine Corps as associate director of its first gender violence prevention program — which is when he started to question hip-hop lyrics. “I would have a conversation about sexism, then get into my car and listen to Red-man,” he says. “I felt it would be powerful to question the masculinity issues and images in the music.”

Hurt produced and directed the film as a loving critique from a self-proclaimed “hip-hop head.” The documentary includes music video clips and inter-views with aspiring and well-known rappers. Hurt often turns the camera on him-self, revealing his passion for the music and his changing views of the culture it has inspired. The film premiered in February on PBS and has since been in festivals worldwide. 

“I wanted to make the film that would change people’s lives,” says Hurt. “I wanted people to walk away hearing hip hop with a different ear.” He hopes the documentary will cause people to take a harder look at the lyrics, and therefore at themselves. “Hip hop is trapped in a box,” he says. “I long for a broader vision of manhood in the music I grew up with and love.”

Hurt has since moved out of his parents’ house and away from the family garage his dad (who died earlier this year) converted into an office for his son. Hurt’s wife, Kenya Crumel, says words cannot express how proud his family is of him: “We believe in all he does.” 

The success of the film has inspired Hurt to continue chasing his dream. “Sundance completely changed my life as a filmmaker,” he says. With a list of 13 films he wants to make, he hopes his productions can change someone else's life as well.