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Teamwork towards the American Dream in Hustle and Flow

“Everyone’s got to have a dream” (Brewer). Many Americans commonly hold that the American Dream is living and tangible. Through hard work, ingenuity, and persistence, regardless of background or race, one can build oneself up into anything. In Craig Brewer’s Hustle and Flow even a pimp experiencing a midlife crisis can reinvent himself as a hip hop artist. Though Djay (Terrence Howard) is the clear protagonist, the story also addresses the prostitutes and music producers that come into Djay’s life. Initially all of the characters are shown living uninspiring and even destitute lives.

Everyone wants to make something more of his/her life. Even the more professionally successful music producer, Key (Anthony Anderson), admits to the protagonist pimp, Djay, that although Djay physically resides in prison at the end of the movie, Key and Shelby were in a mental prison because they had no dream to reach for. Djay and Key’s chance meeting in a convenience store brings two groups together on a common musical collaboration. Key and his friend Shelby (DJ Qualls) work day jobs and in music, while Djay, Nola (Taryn Manning), and Shug (Taraji P.

Henson) work as a pimp and prostitutes, respectively. Neither group can produce a hip hop record alone. The musicians need the lyricist Djay, who in turn needs his prostitutes to fund recording equipment. As well, Djay needs experienced musicians to develop his lyrical ideas into songs. The antagonists of the film, Lexus (Paula Jai Parker) and Skinny Black (Ludacris), are placed in conflict with Djay’s musical team because they are negative and do not care about making authentic music, respectively.

Although the protagonists start the movie in desperate situations, Djay, Key, Shelby, Nola, and Shug achieve redemption and a variation on the American Dream through their various contributions to the musical team. Hustle and Flow sympathetically portrays their effort to make successful music. Visibly pregnant, Shug is carrying DJay’s child and cannot work as a prostitute. She clearly loves Djay. When the male characters fight over Key’s marital conflict, Shug enters with a giddy grin, and she gives them a lava lamp. Tensions soften and the musicians get back to work.

Initially they have music beats and Djay’s verses, but they do not have a “hook,” or chorus. Shug surprises the men and the audience, belting out a soulful chorus: “It’s hard out there for a pimp. ” She looks into Djay’s eyes, showing him she understands his dire day-to-day work situation. Her choruses help the other musicians believe they can produce a track that will get “radio play”: commercial success. Before Djay’s meeting with Skinny Black, a successful rapper also from Memphis, Shug gives Djay a chain designed to spell his name, a gift he loves.

Before Djay leaves, they kiss passionately and solidify their relationship to each other. Shug gains a family and becomes a successful hip hop singer (ostensibly, as none of her songs are played by the movie’s end) through her support of Djay and the musical team. As Djay’s “investment partner,” Nola performs the grunt work for the team. Djay tells her, “We in charge. ” Although she doesn’t know what she wants, she knows that she does not want to work as a prostitute for the remainder of her life. Her work brings in desperately needed money to pay for Djay’s fledgling studio.

In one instance Djay cannot afford to pay for the professional microphone he needs to record vocals properly. Nola services the music store owner as barter for the microphone, doing this against her preference for the sake of Djay’s music. When Djay goes to jail, Nola takes charge working as a publicist, convincing radio DJ’s to put Djay’s single on the air by hyping the fight between DJay and Skinny Black and by her feminine charms. She dresses more professionally and walks confidently at the end of the movie. When Key meets Djay, he works recording choir music and court depositions.

He tells Djay that their collaboration “has to work,” revealing dreams of owning his own record label and studio. With crucial musical input from his friend Shelby, Key provides the musical beats and top-notch production needed to market Djay’s verses. Although Key and his wife Yevette (Elise Neal) fight over his musical obsessions and new lower-class friends, the music begins to take off when he wins her support—another member on the musical team. Despite Djay’s initially grouchy dismissal of the other women from entering the music studio, Key encourages them to come in and listen, building the community.

Key’s friendliness softens Djay and encourages the prostitutes to improve themselves by helping the musicians. He takes a chance on Djay, and it pays off. Shelby is a talented and passionate musician who admits to Nola that he hates his job stocking vending machines on the first shift and wants more for his life. Though at first Djay is suspicious of him due to his white skin color, Shelby proves himself to be relaxed, talented, and trustworthy. He becomes friends with Nola and treats her with respect.

Nola in turn begins to assert herself after she becomes friends with Shelby. When Skinny Black’s friend punches Djay in handcuffs, Shelby sticks up for Djay and yells at the antagonists. Upon hearing Djay’s song on the radio, Shelby dances and exclaims, “I made this! ” Shelby and Key have achieved their goal of writing successful songs. The protagonist, Djay, experiencing a mid-life crisis, realizes that he wants more for his life. Pouring his passion into songwriting, he draws on his experiences as a pimp and drug dealer for lyrical inspiration.

Key questions whether Djay “talk[s] the talk” or “walk[s] the walk,” but Djay turns his hustling boasts into a self-fulfilling prophecy. His hopeful meeting with Skinny Black has ended disastrously, and Djay is in jail for a gun shooting. At this point in the movie it appears everybody’s dreams are shattered. Ironically Djay’s violent confrontation with Skinny Black enhances his tough, urban persona, and the DJ on 107. 1 FM who plays DJay’s track sounds fascinated by the altercation, wanting Djay to contact him with the details. Djay and his friends work together on a common musical project and succeed.

While Hustle and Flow asserts a belief in teamwork to achieve the American dream, it criticizes those people who antagonize Djay’s group: Lexus and Skinny Black. Lexus works as a prostitute and stripper for Djay. Always negative, she discourages Djay from striving for a better life, telling him, “You ain’t never gonna be more than what you is right now. ” Djay thus feels compelled to kick Lexus and her son out of the house. Although the audience might find it harsh to put a woman and her child out on the street, the movie asserts that a team working towards a common dream is best off removing destructive presences like Lexus.

The final shot of Lexus shows her smiling sadly, realizing she was wrong when Djay’s song makes it to the radio. Skinny Black has coasted on his commercial success and no longer creates authentic music. Shelby has Skinny Black’s old records, “when he used to be good. ” Djay hopes to get a professional push from Skinny Black anyway. Throughout the movie Skinny Black is portrayed as Djay’s ideal of success, but upon meeting Skinny Black, the audience learns that he is selfish and phony.

Djay’s music, on the other hand, tells of his real-life experiences on the streets: he is rapping from his heart. Hustle and Flow asserts that hip hop music should be authentic and about the message rather than about the money. By working as a team, Djay, Nola, Shug, Key, and Shelby all reach their different versions of the American Dream when they produce a hit hip hop song. Hustle and Flow does not promote a pimp’s lifestyle; rather it promotes the authentic struggle of a pimp who wants a better life.

Not only have the protagonists become successful, they feel important and gratified when making the music. For many people living the American Dream means doing work that one enjoys. Rather than each character working alone, their collaboration led to new friendships and happiness from making music they loved. Doubly fortunate, the characters in Hustle and Flow find success through enjoyable teamwork.

Work Cited

Hustle and Flow. Dir. Craig Brewer. Crunk Pictures, Homegrown Pictures, MTV Films, New Deal Productions, 2005.

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