Set in a time that assumingly predates the recent rise of the South as a regional hip-hop stronghold, DJay (Terrence Dashon Howard) hooks up with an old friend, Key (Anthony Anderson), to produce a demo tape that will exhibit his talent to famed hometown rapper Skinny Black (Ludacris), in a meeting that will ultimately decide his fate.
Along the way, between the epiphany and the production, its nothing but a display of heart and emotion, vulnerabilities and strengths. The abrasive and dogged landscape of Memphis streets colors DJays scanty world, but inside his home the relationships with his live-in prostitutes counter any stereotypical perception of a pimp. His dichotomy of shrewdness and desperation is present in every scene, exposing both his sense of street survival and his deep longing for a dream deferred.
The proverbs and conversations that flow from DJays lips could have been lost with any other actor, but with Howard, theyre naturally pushed forth with the raw ease that has signified his seamless performances since his breakthrough role in The Best Man.
Performances by the rest of the cast, including Taryn Manning as Nola and Taraji P. Henson as Shug, are exceptional as well.
Producer John Singleton had no help from his friends in Hollywood while making the film, having to finance the film himself. Studios passed on the story probably because it lacked the hype and gilded MTV-like veneer of films such as 2003s Honey. Despite an undeniably impressive screenplay and the fact that hip-hop music generates billions of dollars based on lyrics that convey tales of hustling and poverty (along with those flossing money and lavish cars), the mainstream movie industry is hesitant to back films like this one, perhaps foolishly choosing to leave the profits of underclass stories to the record labels.
Ultimately, Paramount won the bidding war for Hustle & Flow. Most fortunately for the film itself, it was acquired after production, before it could be subjected to the "Hollywood Studios Guide to Mass Appeal." Most fortunately for the audience, it will be delivered to the screen as is, and at its best.
Hustle & Flow is currently in theaters.