SLAM: A Hip-Hop Movie Review

Slam is the story of Ray Joshua (Saul Williams), a poet and pot dealer in the projects of Washington, D.C. one day a friend is shot in front of him and because he runs from the scene, police chase, catch, and arrest Ray for the shooting, as well as possession.  While in jail, awaiting trail, poetry is his only means of survival. He recites to himself on the prison bus, improvises a duet with a prisoner in the next cell whom he can’t even see, and scribbles furiously on yellow legal pads.

Then comes the prison politics, his crew from the street think he shot one of his own and his street rivals look at the chance to protect him as an opputunity to gain a new recruit. When threatened in the yard by his new rivals, he responds with an explosive poem that startles the prisoners and sends them back to their respective corners to reconsider their feud. In our opinion, the poem was so good we had to include the whole thing here for you: “I stand on the corner of the block slangin Amethyst Rocks, drinkin 40s of Mother Earth’s private nectar stock, dodgin cops, cuz 5-0 be the 6-6-6, and I need a fix of that Purple Rain, the type of shit that drives membranes insane, oh yeah I’m in the fast-lane snorting candy-yams, that free my body and soul and send me like “Shazzam!” Never question who I am, God knows, and I know God personally, in fact, he lets me call him Me, yeah I’m serious B! Dog-gone niggas plotted shit lovely, but the Feds is also plottin me, they’re tryin to imprison my astrology, put our stars behind bars, our stars and stripes, using blood splattered banners as nationalist kites, but I control the wind, that’s why they call it the Hawk, I am Horus, son of Isis, son of Osiris, worshipped as Jesus, resurrected like Lazarus, but you can call me Lazey, Lazy, yeah I’m lazy cuz I’d rather sit and build, than work and plow a field, worshipping the daily yield of cash-green crops, STEALING US WAS THE SMARTEST THING THEY EVER DID! Too bad they don’t teach the truth to their kids, our influence on them is the reflection they see when they look into their minstrel mirror and talk about their culture, their existence is that of a schizophrenic vulture, yeah, there’s no repentance, they are bound to live an infinite consecutive executive life sentence, so what are you bound to live nigga? So while you’re out there serving the time B, I’ll be in sync with the sun, while you run from the moon, life of the womb, reflected by guns, worshipper of moons, I am the Sun, and we are Public Enemies Number 1!”       

While in jail, Ray meets a passionate writing teacher and fellow slam poet, Lauren (Sonja Sohn from HBO’s The Wire) who encourages him to pursue his poetry. After he is released on bail, the teacher invites him into her circle of spoken word artists and persuades him to take the stage at a poetry slam. At the same time he swept back into his old street crew and attempts to stop the violence that is about to take the life of more young black men.

In this inner-city fable, poetry is the means of redemption that allows Ray to discover a different path and recognize his true potential. The story is punctuated by performances of poems written by the film’s cast of slam luminaries, including Saul Williams in the lead role, and cameos by Taylor Mali and Bob Holman. Many of these moving pieces represent deeply felt reactions to the desperate conditions in Washington, D.C.’s inner city.

Written and directed by Marc Levin in 1998, Slam won the Grand Jury Prize for a Dramatic Film at the Sundance Film Festival. Go to for more information.

Categories: Movie Review, Prisoner Issues

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