Review: RZA’s ‘Love Beats Rhymes’ spins out clichés
What you do on top of a beat is everything in hip-hop. Movies have their regular rhythms too, but there’s not much added to the static thump of cliché in “Love Beats Rhymes” to give this tale of a struggling young female rapper-poet any special life.
Real-life recording artist Azealia Banks stars as sometime college student Coco, a standout verse-slinger in a battle-rapping Brooklyn group with label aspirations and little success to show for it. Reluctantly spurred to go back to school by her mom (Lorraine Toussaint), Coco takes a poetry class, determined to legitimize rap in the eyes of hip-hop-disdaining Professor Dixon (Jill Scott), while also incorporating into her own work the personalized aesthetics of classic English verse and contemporary slam poetry championed by Derek (Lucien Laviscount), a British-born teaching assistant.
The aesthetic clash between boastful rap and highfalutin poetry is a regrettably simplistic, straw argument in Nicole Jefferson Asher’s screenplay, designed to underscore a formulaic romance between streetwise Coco and sensitive Derek that undergoes some woefully melodramatic hiccups. Behind the camera, hip-hop legend RZA directs with obvious affinity for the challenges of being talented, driven and emotionally swept up in a new world, but simultaneously with little concern for smoothing out rough story patches or the predictability of dream-big scenarios.
Outside of Scott’s baroque, bizarre turn, there’s comfortable energy to the performances — both acted and rapped — but “Love Beats Rhymes” lacks its own ambition to be something different.
‘Love Beats Rhymes’
Running time: 1 hour, 46 minutes
Rating: R, for language and some sexual material
Playing: Ahrya Fine Arts, Beverly Hills
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