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Writer/director Craig Brewer spins the romantic and streetwise story of DJay (Terrence Dashon Howard, Ray), a low-level pimp and hustler living in Memphis. Going nowhere fast and in mid-life crisis, DJay decides to take one last shot at his dream of rap stardom by enlisting Key (Anthony Anderson) to help him finally put together that elusive demo tape. Co-starring Ludacris, Taryn Manning, DJ Qualls and Isaac Hayes. Winner of the Audience and Cinematography Awards for Drama at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival.
 

 Music By Any Means

In 1951, somewhere in Clarksdale, Mississippi, Ike Turner walked into a juke joint to hear his friend, B.B. King, play a set. Both of them had been known in local music circles, but they had not yet reached the fame they would soon come to experience. They were musical hustlers, playing different gigs, making money by picking strings and pounding on ivory keys.

“There’s a white man recording black folks up in Memphis,” B.B. told Ike. “Best get on up there.”

So Ike Turner, at the age of 20, packed his entire band into his car, strapping all their instruments on top. The journey to Memphis had been made before by Ike. Beale Street had called many a bluesman to the Gateway of the Delta, with its nightly shows at the Palace Theatre, hosted by the legendary Rufus Thomas.

But on this trip, heading North on Highway 61, Ike Turner had vinyl on his mind. He even had a song written and ready to record called ”Rocket 88.”

Ike was talented, driven and focused. So focused that the flashing red and blue lights in his rearview mirror must have startled him. A patrol car was on his ass like a pesky sweat bee. Ike pulled over to the side of the road and hit the brakes, sending all his equipment crashing to the pavement.

With a ticket in his pocket and a busted amplifier, Ike Turner walked through the door at 706 Union Avenue. Here, in this limited space, Sam Phillips had set up shop recording “race records” for his new label, The Memphis Recording Service. Everyone thought Sam was crazy to do this, and they might have been right. So committed to recording the best of his region, Phillips arranged for the State of Tennessee to escort five convicts, the Prisonaires, into the studio to record under armed guard.

Ike thought his recording career was as dead as his amplifier. He plugged in the busted amp and strummed a few chords on his guitar. The sound was no longer clean and crisp. It was distorted, fuzzy and raw. To the mortal ear the sound could be called disturbing. But to Sam Phillips, it sounded like gold. He shoved newspaper inside the amp to deaden the distortion and quickly got to work setting up microphones.

The rest is history. Many historians consider “Rocket 88” to be the first Rock & Roll song because of that busted amp. Recording music, by any means necessary, is a Memphis tradition. Whether it is Sam Phillips recording in a small room, or Isaac Hayes cutting tracks in an abandoned movie theater, these musical hustlers laid down their groove and got it heard.

Being a big fan of Dirty South rap, I started meeting with local rappers to place music in my little movies I was shooting on DV around Memphis. When I saw how these young producers were making their music, I couldn’t help but recognize their connection to the city’s musical heritage. Beats were created on pawn shop-bought Dr. Grooves. Casio keyboards were channeled through Radio Shack mixers. Rappers would swap hooks (the chorus of a rap track) in exchange for appearing on each other’s albums. And were these raw tracks put to tape in a 24-track recording studio, rented at $100 an hour? No. They were recorded at home, in their bedrooms, in their closets, or their grandmom’s kitchens.

Just like Ike, limitation led to innovation.

I have been asked many times why a white guy from the South would want to make a movie about a black pimp trying to reinvent himself through recording rap music in his shotgun house.

The truth is, I just wanted to make a Memphis movie.