Review: 'Love Beats Rhymes' Starring Azealia Banks And Jill Scott, Directed By The RZA

I wonder why Hollywood loves stories about urban black or black adjacent youth (looking at you Step Up) who are very talented in, what used to be, the outsider culture of Hip Hop, then they create conflict with some facet of classic academia and have them ascend to meet their potential? And now you’re like why are you starting this review this way? It’s because Love Beats Rhymes is one of those movies, but unlike others in this trope it’s 2018 and Hip Hop culture is by far the most dominant form of black culture, we have the metric data to prove it's popularity, and that now we have ivy league institutions teaching classes about hip hop and it’s lyrics,  so why am I watching a movie about a young woman having to conform her beliefs and talents in a poetry class that's telling her rapping isn’t on the same level as written poetry?

Before I go further, Love Beats Rhymes is about a young woman, a battle rapper name Coco Ford , portrayed by Azealia Banks. She and her group compete in Battle Rap competitions and are successful but want to take it the next level by getting signed to a record label. Only known for battle raps they are having a hard time getting signed. After having some heartbreak with a fellow member of the group, Mahlik (John David Washington) at the behest of her mother she goes back to school to finish up her last few credits to graduate. Here she takes a poetry class taught by Professor Dixon (Jill Scott) and her teaching assistant Derek (Lucien Laviscout) who constantly discounts the nature and content of rap music and tries to get her to find her voice in the ways of poetry. The movie is pretty paint by numbers in terms of story and plot, it feels like you’ve seen this story before, like it’s a script from an earlier time put through a new lens. What really holds this movie together is Banks’ performance. Banks has so much screen presence and charisma that even when the story becomes baffling Banks can keeps the viewer interested and makes you want her to win.

--> Both of the love interests in this movie are quite weak and don't feel up to par with Banks’ Coco. We’ve seen better from Washington in HBOs  Ballers but he’s not given enough to make an actual character in this story. He feels wasted the whole time. The character of Derek does so many things to tear down Coco that I don’t see why she wants to be with him in the end other than his attractiveness and London accent. Lorraine Toussaint plays Coco’s mother Nichelle and like Banks really lights up the screen and works well with Banks but isn’t in the movie much at all. Jill Scott’s Professor Dixon only comes off as a petty, mean teacher that really doesn’t even come off as being hard on her students to make them better,  just jealous. Scott really plays into it well. Almost femme fatale like in her portrayal while the character feels like a waste Scott makes the best out of what she had. This movie overall is just ok, not outstanding in any way but it was nice to see a story like this with a black woman as the hero so it wasn’t a complete waste.

2.5 out of 5 stars