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Gimme Some of that Brown Sugar

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In a world so driven by hip-hop culture, it's only logical that there would be a love story that revolves around hip-hop. But we aren't talking about today's profanity-laced rhymes that degrade women nor materialistic raps about the bling-bling, but rather the emcees of the '80s and early '90s like Queen Latifah, Common, De La Soul, and A Tribe Called Quest, who spat conscious rhymes about meaningful topics.

Brown Sugar (FOX/Searchlight), starring Sanaa Lathan, 31, and the recently engaged Taye Diggs, 30, is the story of two New York friends influenced by the hip-hop of those early days. Sidney (Sanaa), the young spunky editor of reigning hip-hop magazine XXL, and Dre (Taye), the successful yet unfulfilled music executive, attribute their love for hip-hop and their friendships to the first time they experienced hip-hop on a neighborhood street corner. Sidney and Dre have recently discovered their love for each other despite Sidney being engaged to Kelby (Boris Kodjoe) and Dre to Reese (Nicole Ari Parker). With hip-hop as a backdrop, the two feel their way through life and love.

"The film is about hip-hop - the birth of hip-hop and the people that were there and how it affected them their whole life," director and co-writer Rick Famuyiwa says. This is a film in a world about the music and I wanted the music to speak to the characters and I wanted the characters to speak through the music. This was important to me."

The film, which boasts a cast of Hollywood's best and brightest including Parker, Kodjoe, Queen Latifah, and Mos Def, interact with a certain ease on film. "We all have a natural chemistry and we're friends," says Taye of his fellow costars. "And it's always fun, easier and more convenient to work with friends. This movie is about friends that have grown up together and I thought that that lent to the movie."

At the chic Essex House hotel in Manhattan, ESSENCE.com sat down with Sanaa and Taye and chatted about their new movie Brown Sugar, the hip-hop movement and what's up next?


Sanaa, being a journalist is no easy feat. How did you prepare for your role as Sidney, an editor of a hip-hop magazine?}

I met a woman named Kierna Mayo she's a journalist (and founding editor of Honey magazine.) We hung out and she was really cool. And what I learned from her while we were hanging out was that she's not very much different from me or my friends, except for her notepad (laughs). Then I went to XXL, which I am the editor of in the movie. I turned on the TV and watched MTV and BET a lot} more than I usually do. I started reading XXL and The Source, which I never do (laughs), and I just paid more attention to the {hip-hop } culture, which was so easy because it's so prevalent. {Hip-hop } is everywhere. My brother is a deejay and a lot

Taye, in the film Dre gives up everything to start from scratch to pursue his dreams. Have you ever given up a cushy position at any point in your life to just go out on a limb?

Well, I feel like I was raised on a limb. I've never had much to lose. I didn't come from a lot of money. All I've ever had was the good sense my mom gave to me. It wasn't like I wanted to be a doctor and three years into it I was like 'let me come away and try to act.'  It was something that I wanted to do since I was younger and I did it. I didn't want to be a star when I was younger, and I hate to be judgmental, but I always find that suspect when people say they want to be a star. As far as I am concerned,  those are the wrong reasons to be in {the business.}] I was blessed with a couple of gifts that I enjoy doing and I just did what I did and took it from there.
[PARA]

The love scenes were hot and heavy in this film and you both seem to have a lot of chemistry? How did you prepare for these scenes?

Sanaa: You know it's always scary. Me and Taye were talking about this earlier. It would be like having your first kiss in front of a room full of 30 people and then it being recorded, you know what I mean? {laughs} And, not only that, but after its recorded, thousands of people are going to see it. So, not only do you want it to be hot, but you want it to look good. {People} don't really think about that. Everybody kisses differently and you just worry about that {but}] luckily with Taye it was fine. {Kissing} is part of the job-and those are the days that you're like what am I doing for a living? {laughs}

Taye: Well that goes back to the chemistry. It's so much less stressful with Sanaa just because we know each other  and we've done it before. I know and have worked with her man. She knows my lady. All the stuff that could be potentially problematic, isn't. So we chatted with the director and tried to get a vibe because certain scenes are supposed to be raunchier and some more romantic. You know it's a first kiss of sorts. So we chat and then we try it, and if it looks OK we keep it. I have to give the makeup department their credit too. In between takes, {when} Sanaa's lipstick would get smudged and I'd have her foundation all over my face, we'd have to go touched up and {the makeup department}] would always give their two cents, like, 'yeah, touch the back of her neck or caress her hair' (laughs). They helped a lot.


Hip-hop is the thread that holds this movie together.  How do you feel about hip-hop?

Sanaa: Well hip-hop is not just a rap song. Its really about the whole culture, it's about an energy, it's about a style. I just feel like at my age, which is 22 by the way {laughs.} How can you separate it. It's just so ingrained. Rap music {is not my favorite}]- no. But I played out Lauryn Hill's album and even Jill Scott- even the soul. You can't separate it, but it's not straight hard-core rap.



Taye: I think it's amazing. I am thankful for this movie for one reason because I feel it really made me aware. When hip-hop came to be I didn't stop to say this was new and interesting and flavorful music. So with this movie to do my research, it really made me focus and realize how wonderful this evolution has been. And I think it is amazing how when you look at the first rap and now when you listen to the Neptunes, it's come a long way. Hip-hop comes from the people and people are always going to have something to say, so I don't think hip-hop is on its last leg or is stumbling or has lost its way, I think it's doing what it's supposed to do.


So what's next for you two?

Sanaa: I just finished Out of Time with Denzel Washington. It was great. It's one of those double-identity, body heat kind of movies. It's a psychological romantic thriller. It's set in Miami and it's supposed to be sexy. Denzel is the chief of police and I am his mistress. And, into the movie, you find out I have cancer and I'm dying. Denzel is basically trying to help me get money to find alternative treatments to deal with my cancer. He made me step back and really look at how much I had to learn. And not just him, but (director) Carl Franklin too. It wasn't like teacher/student- and I was asking him how do you do this, because people's art is such a personal thing, but I did learn so much acting opposite him.

Taye: I am going into the Broadway musical Chicago. So that's been taking up a lot of my time. I'm also in a broad comedy with Jamie Kennedy called Malibu's Most Wanted. And, I'm in an upcoming film with Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta called Basic.

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