23 Jul 2012

The Art of Rap - review

I was excited to see this documentary existed and even more so, to attend a screening with a Director Q&A. The director in this case being Ice-T, who was joined onstage prior to the film by its two British Producers. The session didn’t prove too illuminating. I was hoping for more insight about the background context of the film and the filmmaking process, but as everyone was there for the film and time was getting on it wrapped up after about 30 minutes.

The movie began promisingly, if not predictably. Skyline/helicopter shots of New York in blown out colours (the West Coast would get it’s mention in the last quarter). The silent flight of the camera juxtaposed with the loud beats of the hip hop soundtrack. The directors stated that the film contained ‘no archive footage whatsoever’. I’m still unsure why this is. The repetitive nature of the visual is one of the major failings of the piece. Two hours of the same format got tiring, until I actually found myself losing focus on a subject I have loved for the last 25 years.

The film was ‘not about Hip Hop culture or the history of rap.’ they said. But again, to be informative to the layman, any documentary around this topic must surely cover as many of its diverse and varied proponents as it can within the running time without such restrictions? As a long time fan of the music I was gripped by much of what was on screen, but people wanting to discover something new, I feel might be left lacking.

On the point of omitting certain subjects entirely, an acknowledgment by Ice-T that they had to leave a lot of interviews on the cutting room floor made no real sense when even key figures such as Bambaataa or even Rakim, were given a mere 5 minutes screen time. While Grandmaster Cas featured prominently throughout due to – according to the directors ‘the fact he let us into his home and had a great deal to say’.

I did enjoy most of the interviews and stories probably never before heard. However there were so many missed opportunities from scene to scene that it became frustrating to watch. It felt like hip hop 101; an introduction for the uninitiated, rather than an intricate study of the artform’s various masters or huge diversity of styles, that people were expecting.

Too much focus was also given to the OG rappers of the 80’s, with some of the segments bordering on embarrassing. Where in some cases they would state unequivocally how they were still on top of the rhyme game (when in reality some are no longer recording). 
Redman was caught for interview while shopping for trainers, yet no mention was made of EPMD, under whom he came up into the rap game. And even when arriving on the West Coast, it was down mainly to Snoop and Dre to offer opinions and advice – rather than the film crew searching out a member of Funkdoobiest or the Pharcyde – two of the key groups in hip hop’s 'original style' category.

This is a film full of highlights and low points, an oftentimes contradictory account on rap and rap only according to its makers, yet featuring an interview with DJ Premier. And with absolutely no mention of contemporary masters of the form like Saul Williams or Aesop Rock, Black Thought or Reks, nor many of the standards such as De La, Kool G Rap or Big L (who was merely among those credited in the ‘RIP’ end credits) you can but hope that the question asked at the start of the night regarding a Blu Ray disc with extra footage will become reality. There is a lot more to see and hear.