At 20 Years Old, Fresh Remains an Underrated Classic Hip-Hop Film (Video)

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As a part of the 2015 Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival, The ​Dummy Clap Film Festival ​will be hosting a special screening of the 1994 film Fresh. ​The film, which turns 21-years old in August, is perhaps the most underrated of a series of classic Hip-Hop themed films from the 1990s, which included Boyz N the Hood, Menace II Society, Juice and more.

If Boyz N the Hood was seen as an extension of its star Ice Cube, with its bold portrayal of life in the ‘hood, Fresh was the equivalent of Wu Tang Clan’s GZA–fiercely intelligent, with a quiet intensity that potentially caused it to be overlooked. Fittingly, Fresh‘s soundtrack featured three Wu-Tang Clan songs. While the Boaz Yakin film was critically-acclaimed, its box office reception of $8MM paled in comparison to those of some of its more high profile peers.

Fresh was a multi-layered film. It was part coming of age story, part revenge flick and part guide for how to survive in the hood, all using Chess as a metaphor. Its cast was also a who’s who of extraordinarily gifted thespians before they achieved their commercial peaks. Samuel L. Jackson was months away from his breakout role in Pulp Fiction, and Giancarlo Esposito, though a mainstay in Spike Lee films, would not receive his career-defining role as Breaking Bad’s Gus for another 15 years. N’Bushe Wright would also go on to reach greater fame in Dead Presidents and Blade.

However, despite the tremendous talent of his co-stars, it was then 14-year old Sean Nelson who stole the show. In many ways, Nelson delivered the performance of a lifetime as lead-character, Fresh. Though he would go on to star in The Wood, he seemed to wear the weight of the world on his face in his 1994 debut role. It was he who came of age playing chess in a park against a father who was otherwise absentee, and it was he who manipulated drug dealers and hustlers like pieces on the board. With minimal action and a plethora of psychological thrills, his subtle complexity is what carried the film.

The Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival’s Executive Director, Wes Jackson, said of Fresh, “In many ways film has done as much as music in terms of carrying the message of Hip-Hop worldwide. The moving image from Wild Style to Dope gives context and depth to our culture.”

The Fresh screening will be followed by a panel discussion with the creators of web video sensation, Money & Violence. Many have called the gritty web series Brooklyn’s version of The Wire. “Film and music also share an entrepreneurial spirit,” said Jackson. “Making a film or in the case of Money & Violence a web series, is the ultimate hustle. The brothers from Cloud 9 TV [Producers of Money & Violence] are writing the new roadmap for Hip-Hop TV and Film producers in the digital age. I feel like we are comrades in this struggle.”

The Dummy Clap Film Festival will take place as part of The Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival on July 9, 2015, at ​HOA Gallery, 408 Marcus Garvey Blvd., Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. For more information, visit bkhiphopfestival.com.

Related: Common, Mobb Deep, Freeway & More Set to Perform at The Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival