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‘Black Snake Moan’ Brings Blues to the Box Office

“I’m not making stories and going ‘Oh, it would be cool if there was some rap music in it,’ or ‘it would be cool if there was some blues music in it.’ I try to get to the essence of the music before I can get to the specifics of the narrative,” said director Craig Brewer at a recent press roundtable for his upcoming flick, Black Snake Moan. His critical smash, Hustle & Flow, showed an ambitious Memphis pimp’s potential for redemption through rap music and its soundtrack standout, “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp,” won an Oscar for Best Original Song. The theme got a showy performance by Three 6 Mafia at the Academy Awards, but if a song from Black Snake Moan ever takes the stage, expect it to be stripped of such theatrics: The essence of the blues, as Brewer noted in a statement, is “one man, one guitar, and a whole lotta pain.”

Despite the musical move, Black Snake Moan, about the unlikely (and sometimes chain-linked literal) bond that develops between bitter, cuckolded farmer and former bluesman Lazarus (Samuel L. Jackson) and reckless town tramp Rae (Christina Ricci) has thematic similarities to Brewer’s breakout. “I see blues a lot like I see rap: I see it as exorcism music. It articulates the things we are not comfortable articulating, that dance between fantasy and reality,” Brewer explained at the roundtable. “There may be a lyric, ‘I’m gonna buy me a bulldog and chain it in my front yard and that’ll keep my woman from sneaking off at night.’ I’ve felt that kind of jealousy, that kind of rage. But, I’m not going to do something like that. No more than I would with some violent rap song, saying ‘I’m gonna put two bullets in your dome.’ I’m not, but I’d like to. And it’s good to be riding around in a car blarin’ that shit and get it out of my system before I go in and talk to that person.”

Brewer seems to hope viewers also spot the rap-blues connection. “I wish I could explain to young people into rap is that [blues players] were the original O.G.’s. In a time where if blacks even expressed any injustice there was true fear for their lives, these men were calling it out in clubs. I look at that as incredibly brave, I look at that as being true music pioneers.” During a sequence in the film, Brewer briefly echoes that history, as Lazarus takes the stage, and Rae shares a collective catharsis with the packed club:

As for Jackson’s newfound musical aspirations? “I’ll be at the Grammys next year to pick up one for Best Soundtrack!” the actor joked.

Black Snake Moan slithers into theaters March 2.

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Talk: Is Black Snake Moan truly bluesy?