‘Love Beats Rhymes’ literally has one of the most cringeworthy scenes in Black cinematic history…and I love it

OPINION: The 2017 film starring Azealia Banks had a scene that made me hide my head under my pillow—it is also completely unrealistic.

Azealia Banks in “Love Beats Rhymes” (Screenshot/YouTube)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

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Have you seen Love Beats Rhymes? And no, that’s not the title of the A Tribe Called Quest documentary directed by that dude who got hit with a snowball while doing an IG live in a moment of poetic justice. Naw, Love Beats Rhymes is a movie starring Azealia Banks, Jill Scott, Common, John David Washington and Lucien Laviscount (my goodness, is that a regal name) about an aspiring rapper Coco (Banks), who, while trying to graduate from college, enrolls in a poetry 101 class taught by Professor Dixon (Scott) and learns the power of poetry, heartbreak and British accents. 

Coco is in a situationship with one of the rappers in her crew SI’s Finest (SI stands for Staten Island), Malik (Washington), who not only isn’t about Coco’s growth, he’s a user of the highest order. He clearly sees Coco’s talent but really needs her to fuel his own stalled rap career. You know this movie; you’ve seen it in a million different iterations. It even goes the route of having Professor Dixon be one of those poets who looks down on hip-hop (“hip-hop isn’t poetry!”). 

Coco, while learning about herself and discovering poetry, also falls in love with Derek (Laviscount), Professor Dixon’s teaching assistant, who opens her mind and her heart to what could be…with poetry. It’s like the version of Disney’s Let It Shine (a phenomenal and also cringey movie starring, coincidentally, Coco Jones from Bel-Air fame and Tyler James Darden, currently of Abbott Elementary) where they get to curse, show pseudo-sex scenes but continue with the absolutely ridiculous “hip-hop has no place in civilized society” bits. 

So on her journey, Coco learns how to challenge her way of thinking and stop making everything rhyme while venturing into New York City’s poetry scene—the Nuyorican Poets’ Cafe features prominently. While she initially tries to force Professor Dixon’s hand to accept hip-hop as poetry, Professor Dixon just isn’t having it. So Coco must stretch. And she does! In a breakthrough moment, she recites a poem in class that has Professor Dixon speechless. Eventually, Professor Dixon invites Coco to a salon at her home. Not the hairdo kind, but the reading works kind; I honestly don’t think I’ve ever heard of that term before seeing this movie some years ago, and I’m being dead serious. Anyway, Derek, suspecting something is up from Professor Dixon, warns Coco that the professor might have something up her sleeve and to be careful. I believe we call that foreshadowing. 

This leads to seriously one of the most cringeworthy scenes I’ve seen in a movie. I actually put a pillow over my head. Let me break this down.

Jill Scott, left, and Azealia Banks in “Love Beats Rhymes.” (Screenshot)

So Coco is invited to the salon and decides to go and bring new boo, Derek. Professor Dixon, clearly on that sauce, calls her cheating husband, Coltrane (Common). Dixon then gets on the microphone and reads one of her poems about what kind of woman she isn’t and what kind of woman she is, which is probably one of the more self-deprecating poems I’ve heard that also takes as many shots at her husband and, well, everybody else as possible. It’s like Michael Jordan’s basketball hall of fame acceptance speech set in the poetry world. 

Now, remember, by this point in the movie, Coco has discovered poetry and realizes the “difference” between a poem and a freestyle rap verse, something she struggled with early on. This fact is important. In a moment of pure a–holery, Professor Dixon calls Coco up to the stage to recite a poem. Coco, CLEARLY not prepared, begs the professor not to make her do this. But somehow, the professor convinces her to perform by saying, “I don’t like it when people tell me no.” I’ve heard way more convincing arguments in my life, but go awf, sis. 

Coco, who CLEARLY KNOWS BETTER AT THIS POINT and also realizes that this ain’t a rap battle or the streets, gets on the microphone and spits the most nonsensical verse with all the profanities and sexual innuendos and the foolywang. I saw this movie years ago and completely forgot about this part because it embarrassed me in a real way. I felt it in my sha-na-na. The crowd was silent save for a few folks hitting a “WTF?” (paraphrasing). Coco, embarrassed (as she should be), leaves with Derek, who resists the urge to say, “I told you.” And he doesn’t even need to. Coco knows, chile. Coco knows. 

And you know what, it NEVER would have happened. By this point in the film, Coco, who, while stubborn, has a ton of common sense, would never have gotten up there and done that. She’s not that intent on making the professor look crazy; she is actually learning and getting into poetry. No way does she get up on a stage and entirely ignore everything she’d already fought so hard to prove about her growth. No way. And yet, somehow, in Love Beats Rhymes, she does it anyway. So I got embarrassed for something that would never happen in real life. High entertainment value, though, that’s for sure. 

When the movie ends, Coco is pretty much on the way to a record deal, having secured the interest of an A&R through a song she wrote using her newfound poetry skills, meshing both worlds and showing us all that poetry and hip-hop can co-exist. And she gets the guy in the end. 

You see: Love. Beats. Rhymes.


Panama Jackson is a columnist at theGrio. He writes very Black things and drinks very brown liquors, and is pretty fly for a light guy. His biggest accomplishment to date coincides with his Blackest accomplishment to date in that he received a phone call from Oprah Winfrey after she read one of his pieces (biggest) but he didn’t answer the phone because the caller ID said “Unknown” (Blackest).

Panama Jackson theGrio.com

Panama Jackson is a columnist at theGrio. He writes very Black things and drinks very brown liquors, and is pretty fly for a light guy. His biggest accomplishment to date coincides with his Blackest accomplishment to date in that he received a phone call from Oprah Winfrey after she read one of his pieces (biggest) but he didn’t answer the phone because the caller ID said “Unknown” (Blackest).

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