These days, I see a lot of people looking back fondly on ‘90s movies like Happy Gilmore and Pulp Fiction, and that’s cool. I love the ‘90s. That represents my youth. My childhood. But you know one ‘90s movie (late ‘90s, but I’ll get into that later) that I rarely ever hear anybody talking about? The Hype Williams, Nas and DMX crime drama, Belly. And I don’t understand why.
Okay, actually, I kind of do. Belly is not a masterpiece. It’s no Scarface. Hell, it’s not even Deep Cover with the excellent Laurence Fishburne. But I actually kind of think it’s more special to me than those two movies combined, or at least, more in tune with my personality, especially in that era. Belly was a movie by a director of rap videos (Hype Williams) and starring some of the greatest rappers in the game at the time (Nas, DMX, Method Man, AZ, etc). It’s a movie that holds a special place in my heart, but I also think it’s a genuinely good movie, and I have five reasons why.
The Acting Is Actually Really Good For A Film Mostly Starring Rappers
I’m going to assume that you’re around my age (late ‘30s) and listened to a lot of rap music back in the ‘90s if you’re reading this article. So, do you remember skits on rap albums? Sometimes, they were silly, but they were usually crime-laden segments where rappers would talk about weighing drugs or shooting people, or weighing drugs while shooting people. That sort of thing. Well, Belly feels like an hour and a half long rap skit, which sounds really terrible in concept, and would have been if it wasn’t for the acting in this movie.
Yeah, it surprised me then and it surprises me now that a movie that is mostly comprised of and starring rappers actually has some pretty good acting in it. Now, granted, I don’t think there’s really much range in Belly. This is like Eminem in 8 Mile playing himself, and doing a good job at it. But I think Nas, DMX, and especially Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins as Nas’ character’s girlfriend, er, Tionne, and the always great Method Man as Father Sha, really shine when they honestly didn’t have to for a movie of this nature.
The Soundtrack Is Fantastic
The Belly soundtrack is straight up fire, and it better have been with all these rappers in the movie. What I remember most from it is D’Angelo’s “Devil’s Pie,” which debuted on this soundtrack but later reappeared on his own Voodoo album. But track after track after track are great on this soundtrack. I really don’t think there’s a bad song on it.
And the best part is, it actually makes you think of the movie. The gritty soundscapes fit perfectly for the tone of the film. “Grand Finale” which is performed by DMX, Nas, Method Man and Ja Rule (Remember him?) really feels like it belongs in this story. I can’t say the same for a lot of other soundtracks, especially of that era, that really felt more like a separate thing entirely rather than connecting to the film itself. Not all soundtracks could be like the one for Reservoir Dogs that connected seamlessly with the film. And the same could be said for Belly.
Hype Williams' Flashy Video Directing Skills Really Shine In This Feature Length Film
I mentioned earlier how Belly feels like a 90-minute rap skit, but it also looks like a 90-minute rap video as well. Shots of people talking on the phone or even just sitting around a table look like something straight out of a Notorious B.I.G. or a 2Pac video, both of whom being artists who Hype Williams actually worked with.
Seriously, if you watched as many rap videos as I did back in the ‘90s, and again, I’m going to assume you did since you’re reading this article, then some of these shots would seriously remind you of a Missy Elliot or a Busta Rhymes video, and this definitely gives it a certain style that most other movies don’t have. Not even quintessential black movies. So, Belly definitely has a style and panache like no other. Especially when it comes to that intro.
That Intro Is Still Astonishing
Like that segue? A thank you, a thank you. But seriously, I get chills whenever I rewatch the intro to Belly. I can’t (Or rather, I won’t) show it here since there’s, like, naked women dancing in it, but you can YouTube it for yourself. With their glowing white eyes and the flickering lights, it almost reminds me of the club scene in the first Blade movie, which came out the same year in 1998.
And while there are no blood showers here or vampires getting cut up into shreds to booming techno, the violence and carnage are no less startling, especially when you were so used to hearing stories back then about people sneaking guns into the clubs and firing at people (“You got a gun up in your waist, please don’t shoot up the place”). Yep, that intro still hits me. Hard.
It's A True Time Capsule Of The Era
Lastly, Belly has a very specific, late ‘90s feel to it, especially if you were into rap at that time. We were smack dab in “the jiggy era” of rap, and Belly truly feels like a movie that shows it. Jay-Z was on the airwaves, spouting crime capers, and Bad Boy and even No Limit were life back then. Hot 97 was the station you listened to for the hottest jams, and MTV Raps was what you watched to see the newest videos.
And Belly is like, the culmination of all of that. It’s not a rap biopic like Straight Out of Compton that harkens back to a certain time period. It’s a movie that sits comfortably in the time period that it’s in, and it represents the ‘90s to its fullest. If you do happen to be young and didn’t grow up in this era but are still interested in this time period, then you should definitely check out Belly. It’s like, the purest representation of the late ‘90s, early 2000s when it came to rap and its figures.
Whew, that was some trip down memory lane. But have you ever seen Belly? I know I talked a lot about what some might call an “ancient movie,” but you really had to be there to truly appreciate it. For some more modern movies, check out this 2021 new movies releases list.