Wednesday, October 16, 2002

Brown Sugar

Posted By on Wed, Oct 16, 2002 at 12:00 AM

“So ... when’d you fall in love with hip hop?” Sidney Shaw (Sanaa Lathan) pops this question to her interviewees from jump street, as she has throughout her 10-year career as a music journalist.

Looking back, Shaw’s answer to her own question is July 18, 1984. That’s when 10-year-old Sidney strains up to tiptoe on her skinny legs to peep over a gathering crowd and check out the breakers, poppers and lockers getting down on brown cardboard laid on the hot Brooklyn pavement. Track-suited bodies make gymnastic magic, invisibly tagging the blue sky with their signature moves. And just beyond, the birth of hip hop’s second coming in one tight trinity — Doug E. Fresh, Slick Rick and Dana Dane — street jam, rapping their stories in clever rhymes.

Young Dre Ellis watches the happenings from his bleacher catbird seat. And soon he catches young Sidney’s eye. That look becomes an invitation. As the two-ring hip-hop circus of break dancing and rap story-hour doesn’t stop but goes on, something besides hip hop dawns: A few steps above the scene, the two are sitting together.

Sidney and Dre (Taye Diggs) are sitting in the bleachers not a tree — and even as the years roll on, there’s no k-i-s-s-i-n-g. There’s love. And there’s marriage — but not to Sidney’s advantage. Dre, now a designer-suited executive for a major rap record label, falls for a fine, fair-skinned buppie lawyer, Reese Marie Wiggins (Nicole Ari Parker), and takes her for his wedded wife. And Sidney gets more than an interview from a light-skinned basketball star, Kelby (Boris Kodjoe).

Romantic comedy is high in the mix. But director Rick Famuyiwa (The Wood) visually fades in issues of color and class, and assumptions of power. And the sweetening of Brown Sugar’s love plots more or less successfully echoes screenwriter Michael Elliot’s (Like Mike) fable of hip hop’s loss of innocence and its sold-out marriage to notorious big business.

The moral? Lauryn Hill rapped it: “Hip hop” — like love — “started in the heart ...”

James Keith La Croix writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to


We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Detroit Metro Times. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Detroit Metro Times, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at

Support Local Journalism.
Join the Detroit Metro Times Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.

Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.

Join the Metro Times Press Club for as little as $5 a month.

More by James Keith La Croix

Read the Digital Print Issue

October 27, 2021

View more issues


Never miss a beat

Sign Up Now

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.

Best Things to Do In Detroit

© 2021 Detroit Metro Times - Contact Us

Website powered by Foundation