As far as late-’90s and early-2000s black cinema goes, Brown Sugar is probably my favorite movie. The Wood is as close a second as you can get, much in the way that Reasonable Doubt is my favorite Jay Z album but I can listen to The Blueprint all day every day. In fact, The Wood is a movie I loved so much that I was actually sad when it ended and wished for another 15 to 30 minutes of movie. Of course, that could be because I had the pleasure of watching it with the black community at Magic Johnson’s theater in Atlanta’s Greenbriar neighborhood, which means that the experience was just as entertaining as the movie.
RIP, Greenbriar 12.
But back to Brown Sugar: I realize that Love & Basketball is probably a better movie and that they are forever linked because L&B came first and Brown Sugar is pretty much the same movie except with hip-hop instead of basketballs, and it similarly included Sanaa Lathan as the main love interest. For those reasons, I can understand why Brown Sugar isn’t universally lauded the same way. But it was funnier (Love & Basketball wasn’t really that funny at all), Mos Def was tremendously hilarious, Taye Diggs was super corny and wore leather pants in the early 2000s in a movie about hip-hop, and Lathan was Sid Shaw, a music journalist who took over XXL magazine and was writing a hip-hop memoir of sorts, so it scored beaucoup points for personal relatability.
The fact that Brown Sugar came out in 2002 and I didn’t start blogging until 2004 is also a moot point, considering that R. Kelly said he came up with the remix to “Ignition” before the original song. The man created a remix to a song that didn’t actually exist yet.
Let that sink in.
Brown Sugar had love and it had hip-hop at the same damn time. It had New York City and the tension between selling out and “keeping it real.” It had the super-funny scene where Andre Romulus Ellis (Diggs) rolled up on his wife, played by Nicole Ari Parker, at the restaurant while she was out on a date with Richard Lawson (he sounded educated) and told the waiter that they were going to celebrate their divorce with an expensive bottle of champagne.
We had rapping ball players (in the vein of Allen Iverson or Kobe Bryant) in Boris Kodjoe’s Kelby Dawson. The movie had everything. It even had a ridiculous definition of “brown sugar,” for which the movie was named. It had Blackalicious songs playing throughout the movie—effectively, the Blazing Arrow album was the soundtrack (Blackalicious have long been one of my favorite rap groups, and they are the group that owns my favorite rap-group name of all time), with a few Kanye West-produced songs sprinkled throughout. It had Kanye West production!
If ever there was a rap group whose album I wanted to hear, it was them. They were Ren and Ten, a black-white rap group who weren’t sure who was named who, but they wore Dalmatian-looking furs and black-and-white clothes to illustrate that they were representing that whole unity thing. Because black and white. They take you one place, then they “go 160 degrees to the other side” and do something different!
The one song we partially heard, “The Ho Is Mine,” would have been a stone-cold hit. They remade—on Dre’s joking assertion in an impromptu meeting—Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney’s “The Girl Is Mine” into a song that I’d pay money to hear because in 2002, it perfectly summed up taking that old s–t and turning it into that new s–t that was super questionable. But in the words of the Hip-Hop Dalmatians, it was “real hip-hop, dawg!”