‘Love Beats Rhymes’ Gives An Unexpectedly Admirable Performance by Azealia Banks

Is there a difference between hip-hop and poetry? If so what are those discrepancies and why?  In the new film, Love Beats Rhymes directed by esteemed rapper and actor RZA, and written by Nicole Jefferson Asher—this film answers those questions.

The film is told through the lens of Coco (Azealia Banks) and is a romantic genre about her exploration as a struggling rapper who enrolls in a poetry class. She thinks her rhymes will impress her teacher, Professor Dixon (Jill Scott). Instead, Dixon challenges Coco to seek real meaning in her lyrics, setting her on a path of discovery that takes her through rap clubs and poetry slams, leading her to find her true voice — and true love — in this compelling tale of love and life’s passions.

New York City is the backdrop for our narrative that tells the story of Coco, a young woman who’s trying to make in the music industry as a hip-hop artist.  She works with three men in a group and they perform rap battles in various clubs scraping money here and there until they can get themselves the one opportunity to get signed to a label.  They meet Naveen (Arjun Gupta), who’s an artists and repertoire liaison, that isn’t ready just yet to sign Coco and her group to the label he works for. Coco tells her mother (Lorraine Toussaint) about her aspirations as a rapper and her mother insists that she take and complete her courses in school before pursuing anything in hip-hop. Coco’s best friend Julie (Hana Mae Lee) convinces her to take a poetry course as a way to earn an easy A in school.  Coco reluctantly agrees and what happens during her semester is what changes the course of Coco’s life forever.

Our protagonist unexpectedly finds new purpose in her work as an artist through poetry and stumbles upon finding love with a gorgeous English teacher’s aide by the name of Derek (Lucien Laviscount).

Jill Scott (Professor Dixon) and Lucien Laviscount (Derek)

Professor Dixon, played by singer and actress Jill Scott—pulls off a compelling performance as the stern, petty, and impudent teacher whose method of giving lessons to her students is by insult and embarrassment. She narrows in on Coco, and you get a sense that she does this because Coco reminds her a lot of herself.  Scott plays this role with grace and finesse; she emphasizes to us in her brashness as Professor Dixon, how talented she can be as an actor. Writer Nicole Jefferson Asher gives us some juicy backstory about the “nutty professor” that is delivered in a jaw-dropping poem she gives in her home among family and friends.  We learn that she has her own skeletons and is struggling in her marriage to her husband Coltrane played by rapper/actor Common.

Azealia Banks pulls off a surprising and delightful performance as the lead protagonist Coco.  This is the first I’ve seen of her work as an actor, and I must say I came in with low expectations and yet, Banks exceeded them all. Banks does a fantastic job of convincing viewers to care and empathize with Coco and her story. Her character goes through a gamut of emotions from being funny, angry, romantic, and heartbroken.  Her performance is consistent throughout, and her chemistry with actor Lucien Laviscount who plays her love interest Derek is palpable.

Lucien Laviscount is an enchanting snack who’s work you may remember from in the Shondaland ABC series Still-Star Crossed as Romeo Montague. His thick English brogue and stunning good looks make it a little too predictable that Coco will fall for him in this narrative—so if there was one critical thing I had to say about the plot it would be that I saw that coming.  However, for the most part, this was an entertaining film to watch.

Azealia Banks (Coco) and Lucien Laviscount (Derek)

Within the grand scheme of things, the plot is not the most original and does fall pretty flat at the end, but it’s not so jarring that you are no longer interested or feel like the story is not captivating enough to keep watching.  What keeps you watching are the characters, their character development and the brewing romance between Derek and Coco that in an unexpected plot twist; suddenly gets complicated.

The highs of the film were an entangled story arc that occurs between Professor Dixon, Derek, and Coco. It was a great twist to a romance where we thought was once without flaws.  The lows are the ragtag team of Coco’s hip-hop group that is trying to get themselves together and make their names known as a force in the music industry.  I understand why they were a significant part of the plot, but at times it seemed like having them along for the ride of this story caused the pacing to drag.

Love Beats Rhymes is a story of love, hope, drive, passion, and self-identity.  It also dives into an interesting take also on how hip-hop is perceived within the subcultural community of poetry.

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Love Beats Rhymes premieres in select theaters, on Digital HD, and On Demand December 1, 2017 and available on DVD January 2, 2018.

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