Prison Song

  • 2001
  • Movie
  • R
  • Crime, Drama

Screenwriters Q-Tip and Darnell Martin suggest that the ghetto is a recruiting office for penitentiaries in this gritty urban film. Although his buddies cut up in class, studious Elijah Butler (Justin DJ Spaulding) shows budding artistic promise. His mother (Mary J. Blige) is trying to better herself by studying to be a paralegal and her new boyfriend,...read more

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Reviewed by Robert Pardi
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Screenwriters Q-Tip and Darnell Martin suggest that the ghetto is a recruiting office for penitentiaries in this gritty urban film.

Although his buddies cut up in class, studious Elijah Butler (Justin DJ Spaulding) shows budding artistic promise. His mother (Mary J. Blige) is trying to better herself by studying to be a paralegal and her new boyfriend, ex-con Steve (Harold Perrineau), ekes out a living as a street vendor and is a caring surrogate dad to Elijah. But they're still barely scraping by: Manhattan rents are high and the streets are full of danger and temptation. A scuffle with officious cops lands Steve back in prison and Mrs. Butler, depressed by the long sentence Steve receives, begins to self-medicate and loses custody of

her son. Life in foster care is a rude awakening for Elijah, who was sheltered by his protective mother. Elijah’s caregivers and social workers appreciate his talent and want to see him succeed, but older state wards like Big Pete (Fat Joe) resent him. The teenaged Elijah (Q-Tip) wins a partial scholarship to Langhorn Art Institute, and to raise the remainder of his tuition, Elijah falls in with his old neighborhood crowd. Far worse than any potential robbery charge is a manslaughter rap; Elijah’s subway face-off with Big Pete propels the abusive bully onto the third rail. Like his "Uncle" Steve, Elijah doesn’t have the right stuff to survive jail-time and quickly angers the warden by exhibiting paintings of convict construction workers who've been exposed to asbestos. Elijah has found his calling as a social critic, but when the art community takes notice, the imprisoned artist is endangered.

Just as James L. Brooks cut the tunes from I’LL DO ANYTHING (1994) after unfavorable test screenings, the makers of this rap musical felt compelled to remove most of the hip-hop numbers. But even in this truncated reshaping, Q-Tip and Martin make this howl of protest sing.

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  • Released: 2001
  • Rating: R
  • Review: Screenwriters Q-Tip and Darnell Martin suggest that the ghetto is a recruiting office for penitentiaries in this gritty urban film. Although his buddies cut up in class, studious Elijah Butler (Justin DJ Spaulding) shows budding artistic promise. His mo… (more)

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