Fear of a Black Hat (1993): Rusty Cundieff’ Mockumentary about Rap

Sundance Film Fest, Jan. 30, 1993–The audience’s reaction to a late night screening at Sundance Film Festival of Rusty Cundieff’ Fear of a Black Hat, a mock documentary about rap, confirmed its instant status as a midnight movie. But wild, irreverent humor and exuberant music may also help this spoof find a larger, hip public in urban centers, where such fare has a special appeal.

Inspired by This Is Spinal Tap, the new parody exposes the trials of a hardcore rap band called N.W.H (Niggas with Hats), from a “tough neighborhood, USA” (i.e. LA’s South Central). What little structure the film has is given by interviewer Nina Blackburn (Kasi Lemmons), a doctoral sociology student writing a thesis about rap, who follows the group across the country on their “Itchy Dick” tour.

Former stand-up comic Cundieff is cast as Ice Cold, the band’s lead rapper and existential philosopher who always argues and fights with his mates, Tasty Taste (Larry B. Scott), a weapons freak, and Tone Def (Mark Christopher Lawrence), the group’s more spiritual voice.

Given the chance, the eccentric trio expresses their views about any issue or social ill, be it misogyny, racism, or violence. For most of the movie, the band members deliver an endless barrage of profane tirades against cops, managers, audiences, women–and each other.

Though revolving around one joke–which gets numerous mutations–pic’s gags are witty and timely. Working now with a sixth manager, the rappers recall how each of their previous five was killed in “an accident.” There is fun in encountering an ambitious and pompous filmmaker named Jike Singelton (a cross between Spike Lee and John Singleton), and in observing a shoot out in which just about everyone pulls a gun on everybody else. There are also hilarious one-liners, such as the rappers’ distinction between a whore and a bitch.

Good musical numbers (“Kill Whitey,” “F–K the Security Guards,” “Come Pet the P—Y”) serve as welcome punctuation to a film that grows increasingly tedious. In the last half-an hour, when the movie begins to run out of steam, one wishes there were more production numbers.

Like This Is Spinal Tap, this send-up integrates “in-depth” interviews and live concert footage. But unlike Rob Reiner’s work, it is too self-conscious, too satisfied with itself.

Special kudos go to production designer Stuart Platt and costumer Rita McGhee for creating a visually striking film, dominated by bold colors. Fear of a Black Hat is a shade too repetitious, but directed by Cundieff at fever pitch, its high energy never falters.