ICYMI: Fear of a Black Hat (1993)
A few weeks ago I wrote about A Shock to the System and the difficulty of making a successful Black Comedy. Another difficult but equally rewarding sub-genre of comedy would have to be the mockumentary. The ability to craft and hone a faux documentary in which one spoof’s an individual or genre requires both endless inspiration and attention to detail but most importantly the ability to show some level of restraint. The best mockumentaries are all about poking fun and finding humor but without being overly cruel. From This is Spinal Tap to Waiting for Guffman to Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon to What We Do in the Shadows, a good mockumentary has fun at the expense of a subject that they have a genuine affection for.
1993’s Fear of a Black Hat came at just right time to properly spoof the exploding world of Gangsta Rap. From writer-director Rusty Cundieff (who also stars) comes this truly inspired and very fun take on the rise of the fictional NWH (N***s With Hats). The film chronicles the group, which features Ice Cold (Cundieff), Tasty Taste (Larry B. Scott) and Tone Def (Mark Christopher Lawrence), as they navigate the ups and downs of the modern music industry. There are plenty of nods to Spinal Tap, chief being that their managers have very short life expectancies. Additionally, they always choose white managers since it would be wrong to expose a brother to that risk.
NWH must deal with many detractors who complain that their music is sexist thanks to tracks like “Booty Juice”, that their music is racist thanks to tracks like “Kill Whitey” and that their music encourages violence thanks to the track “I’m Gonna Kick Yo Black Ass.” Violence seems to follow them coincidentally and when specific murders are mentioned they sincerely explain, “We weren’t in town when THAT happened.” We also get the explanation of their name being derived from the stories of slaves dying in the fields for not having proper head wear as well as an uneasy meeting among half a dozen rappers who all have “Ice” in their name.
Rusty Cundieff pulls no punches and yet throughout the film you can feel his admiration for this genre of music and their artists. He has a complete understanding for this music and lifestyle. We get plenty of 90’s style music videos along with the fellas just being fellas as they expound on their philosophies, especially Ice Cold who has a series of hilariously titled memoirs that I will not spoil. The fact this film didn’t garner a decent audience may not be too surprising, it may have been seen as being too smart for its time or too on point. The film is just as timely today. In fact, I would recommend watching it as the 2nd half of a double feature with 2015’s Straight Outta Compton.