Hustle & Flow is a 2005 American drama film written and directed by Craig Brewer and produced by John Singleton and Stephanie Allain. It was released on July 22, 2005. Terrence Howard stars as a Memphis hustler and pimp who faces his aspiration to become a rapper. The film is dedicated to Sun Records founder Sam Phillips.
DJay (Terrence Howard) is a pimp and drug dealer who is dissatisfied with his life. After acquiring a keyboard and reacquainting himself with an old friend from school, Key (Anthony Anderson), who has become a sound technician, DJay decides to try his hand at making hip hop songs.
Key and his sound-mixer friend Shelby (DJ Qualls) help DJay put together several "flow" songs in which he expresses the frustrations of a small-time hustler struggling to survive. DJay quickly proves to have a real talent for lyrics, and his first fixed-length song, done at the urging of his friends, appears to have a decent chance of becoming a hit and getting local radio play.
The group experiences many setbacks throughout the creative process. DJay must hustle those around him in order to procure proper equipment and recording time, and Key's relationship with his wife becomes strained. DJay throws out one of his prostitutes, Lexus, along with her one-year-old son Roger, for ridiculing his art. DJay's pregnant prostitute, Shug (Taraji P. Henson), joins in the creative process, singing hooks, and the group eventually records several fixed-length tracks, including "Whoop That Trick" and their primary single "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp". After their first recording, DJay falls in love with Shug.
DJay's friend, Arnel (Isaac Hayes), informs him that Skinny Black (Chris "Ludacris" Bridges), a successful Memphis rapper, will be returning to the neighborhood for a Fourth of July party. DJay gains admittance to the party under the pretext of providing marijuana, with the intention of giving Skinny Black his demo tape. Black is dismissive at first, but after a long night of reminiscing DJay successfully persuades him into taking the tape.
Before leaving the party, however, DJay discovers that the drunken Black has destroyed his tape, leaving it in the toilet. When DJay confronts Skinny Black, Black laughs at the idea of touring with DJay and insults him. In a fit of rage, DJay beats and pistol whips Black with his own gun. Realizing what he has done, DJay attempts to resuscitate the unconscious Black, until a member of Black's crew enters the bathroom and quickly pulls out his gun. DJay shoots the man in his arm, then uses him as a human shield to make his escape.
DJay arrives home to find the police and Black's associates waiting for him. DJay turns himself in and tells Nola (Taryn Manning) to keep his writing pad, with his rap lyrics. He tells her she is "in charge" of getting his songs on local radio stations, and exchanges a glance with a tearful Shug. DJay is charged for assault and possession of a firearm and is sentenced to 11 months in prison.
While serving his time, DJay gets a visit from Key. When Key asks DJay if he really knew Skinny Black, DJay reveals that he made it up in order to keep the group's dream alive. DJay learns from Key that Nola has hustled the local radio DJs into playing his songs, which have become local hits. Key says he and Nola want to discuss his future plans. The film ends as we see a friendly duo of prison guards who have their own rap group asking DJay to listen to their demo, much as DJay had approached Skinny Black. Humbled and flattered, DJay accepts their tape and responds with: "You know what they say, everybody gotta have a dream".
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Terrence Howard initially turned down the role of DJay. He reportedly was attempting to avoid being typecast as a "pimp" archetype. However, after recognizing the complexity and depth of the character, he reversed his earlier decision and took on the role.
As concepts of both hustle and flow are unique to African American culture, it turned out to be nearly impossible to find proper translations for international release of the film. For example, the Russian translation of the title means "The bustle and the motion". The Italian title is appended with "Il colore della musica" which means "The color of music".
The film experienced many years of near-misses and outright rejection from major studios and potential financiers before finally being backed by its longtime supporter John Singleton. In the DVD extras Singleton says that he decided at last to put up the money himself because he was exasperated at his friends' not getting what their film deserved.
The film received positive reviews overall. Rotten Tomatoes gives the film an 82% "fresh" rating. Metacritic gives the film a rating of 68/100 based on 37 reviews. The Boston Globe said, "Some will find it chicly inspired, recalling blaxploitation's heyday with its grimy urban realism. Some will find it corny, absurd, and a limited view of options for disenfranchised African-Americans."
According to Entertainment Weekly, "The home-studio recording sequences in Hustle & Flow are funky, rowdy, and indelible. Brewer gives us the pleasure of watching characters create music from the ground up."
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