Some people would argue that Belly is one of the most important movies in the history of Black cinema. This movie is highly debated among Black people. Is the movie a cinematic masterpiece? It’s valuable because the film captured so much of the ethos of the era when released in 1998.
Kids today won’t understand, but people actually used to sit around the television watching hours and hours of music videos. You’d wait for a music video you really loved to come on, and you’d discover entirely new music that way. Music videos had reached the level of short feature films.
During that time, Hype Williams was one of the most prolific and sought after video directors. So it was inevitable that he would one day make a feature length film, and when he did, its opening sequence would look like this:
I can say this without hyperbole: I’m going to let you finish — but Hype Williams created one of the greatest opening film sequences of all time. Of course it looks like a music video. That was the point. The hip-hop essence of it makes the scene matter much more than it already does. This scene breathed new life into Soul II Soul’s classic tune, “Back To Life.” I can’t even hear that song without thinking about a slow motion robbery happening under ultraviolet lights.
I don’t know if Hype thought this would be his only movie ever, because it feels like he felt like he had to say it all in this one film. He seemed like he was dealing with every issue a thoughtful black guy in his late twenties or early thirties would have been concerned about in the late ’90s. He dealt with the drug trade, with the violence that comes from that, with the migration of people and drugs from northern metropolises to more rural areas (from New York to Omaha). He dealt with the stereotypes that New Yorkers have about anybody who isn’t from the Northeast—Big Head Rico in Omaha with the perm wasn’t as slow as they thought. He dealt with ego, jealousy, crabs in a barrel, religion, the prison system, black on black crime, the movement of harder drugs into the inner cities, racism, black conceptions of beauty…. and government conspiracies to assassinate community leaders.
This movie, more than a lot of others, is about more than just the story told by the script. This is a movie that you can’t just watch— you have to actually look at. You don’t just hear the film, you have to listen to it. Forget about what the movie is about, and think about what the movie is really about. That’s the key to appreciating and maybe even enjoying Belly.
Listen to some our favorite tracks from the Belly soundtrack below:
Nas, DMX, Method Man & Ja Rule – “Grand Finale”
D’Angelo – “Devil’s Pie”
DMX – Top Shotter (Here Comes The Boom) (Feat. Sean Paul & Mr. Vegas)
Mr. Vegas – Sucky Ducky
Soul II Soul – “Back To Life”