A popular choice in documentary films – and one that so often proves invigorating – is to focus on a current global phenomenon and travel back in time to investigate where it came from, how it grew, and how it became the cultural revelation that it is today. Hip-hop and rap music has grown to the point where it is one of the most prevalent and popular genres in the world. A variety of documentaries over the years have poked their noses into the gritty streets where so many of these rappers came from, but Mike Todd’s movie goes one further. Hustlers Convention doesn’t merely document the souls that made rap popular; it journeys back to the point where the genre was unheard of and sounded fresh and exciting, even to the black populace that it came to represent.
Todd’s film is named after the album that appears to have started hip-hop. Assembled by Jalal Nuriddin (under the pseudonym Lightnin’ Rod) in 1973, Hustlers Convention is unlike anything that ever came before, consisting of spoken street word that struts on top of some funky jazz rhythms. Nuriddin’s drawling storytelling might sound somewhat stale to the youths brought up in a world where countless slick-tongued rappers jostle for position on the radio waves but, as the movie makes so abundantly clear, without Nuriddin’s album, these gifted rap stars simply would not exist today.
Perhaps the film’s most shrewd move is in recruiting the mass of artists who are so often regarded as the pioneers of hip-hop (like Grandmaster Flash, Ice-T, Public Enemy, and Immortal Technique), then subsequently quizzing them about the origins of the genre. None of them is under any illusions about where his inspiration came from, with each artist naming Nuriddin’s Hustlers Convention as a major influence.
Todd has often cited the importance of telling the story of Hustlers Convention in interviews, stating that people deserve to know where rap really came from. However, the director takes a mature approach with his documentary and doesn’t use it as an opportunity to shove a finger in the face of young rap fans or deliver a sermon about the genre’s true origins. Instead, he shoots the now-elderly Nuriddin and his associates with an eye of admiration, travelling back to 1960s and 70s New York and celebrating the true beginnings of a cultural music sensation. Fans of hip-hop really ought to take a look.
Hustlers Convention is released nationwide on 26th June 2015.
Watch the trailer for Hustlers Convention here: