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Respect...In hip-hop it's the name of the game. Some rappers will do anything to get it, even starting a Beef with another rapper or crew...and that can lead to raw, brutal conflict in the ... See full summary »
Time Is Illmatic is a feature length documentary film that delves deep into the making of Nas' 1994 debut album, Illmatic, and the social conditions that influenced its creation. Twenty ... See full summary »
Better than I expected thanks to cultural relevance and a good structure (despite too much time for 50 and Ja)
I had not heard of this documentary series until recently when a track by Canibus ripped into the makers for hypocrisy and profiteering because of them not supposedly not paying anyone for their contributions. So, with that ringing in my ears I came to Beef assuming it would just be another cheaply made "documentary" about hip-hop which features loads of clips and talking heads but little in the way of interest or insight. Fortunately that his only partially true because the film is actually pretty interesting even if it does have the presentation style of a much lesser film.
The film does a good job of chronicling early battles in the industry where only bootlegs exist because they were straight disses in clubs or tracks thrown together in a few hours in a studio rented by the hour. Some of these I had never heard, I had only ever heard "of" them via other records and general hip-hop history, others I had but it was good to hear them discussed. The thing that elevates this film above the level of just talking heads is that it structures itself well in terms of the development of battle raps from those that focus on lyrical skills to those that are as much about physical presence on the street as they are about what is said. This change is well covered with the role that the media played in escalating and building things up into violent stand-offs rather than battles where people can respect each other but still come back at one another. Including Nas and Jay-Z is a very good example of a beef that went passed that between professionals, the records were intense and impacting but nothing beyond that.
Obviously I'm a hip-hop fan so the music and characters are familiar to me and interest me but I think the film is just about good enough to help the casual viewer get involved. The main criticism I have of it is that it goes over the top on Ja Rule and 50 Cent at the end. Their beef is interesting for sure but too much time is given over to it compared to some of the more influential battles and important disputes. This is a populist move in the DVD which is a shame because mostly the material it covers make it possible to watch the film as a cultural record.
The talking heads are mostly good of course some are just rapid fire and of little content but they get some good discussion from KRS-One, Common and a few others; again too much time is given to 50 Cent by comparison but still. Overall though, Beef surprised me by being relevant, culturally interesting and also having a structure that made it engaging even if it got a little preachy at the very end.
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