Most people probably think of the Los Angeles rap scene as primarily being comprised of the West Coast gangstas who became locked in a bloody turf war with their East Coast counterparts which claimed the lives of Tupac and Biggie.
While that sensationalized story was recently revisited by the bio-pic Notorious, folks interested in a more accurate, historical account of the evolution of the L.A. hip-hop scene ought to check out a documentary called This Is the Life.
The film marks the impressive directorial debut of Ava Duvernay, herself a founding member of this collective of talented artists who, in 1989, began gathering every Thursday evening at the Good Life Café, a health food store located in South Central.
Once a week, from 8 to 10 PM, proprietor B. Hall turned the place into an impromptu nightclub where street poets aspiring to be rap stars could hone their skills in front of critical audiences from the community which crammed into her tiny establishment.
Ms. Hall had a few rules which were strictly enforced, including “no profanity,” “no leaning on the paintings,” “no gum on the floor” and “please pass the mike” when being booed off the stage.
Via a vibrant mix of archival footage and present-day interviews with both performers and their appreciative fans, This Is the Life chronicles the rise and fall of an innovative, musical movement which profoundly influenced commercial hip-hop. Unfortunately, although a few of the emcees who got their start at the Good Life Café went on to enjoy a modest measure of success in hip-hop, we learn that they were generally unable to cash-in like their better-connected contemporaries with more business-savvy.
For apparently several industry icons like Ice Cube stole material from Good Life Café regulars en route to fame and fortune. But the movie opts to downplay incidents of plagiarism in favor of featuring appearances by artists who employed such colorful sobriquets as Abstract Rule, Born Allah, Pigeon John, Riddlore, Big Al, Wreckless, Ellay Khule, Medusa, Q., MYKA NYNE, Busdriver, Ganjah K, Big Baby, CVE, Tray-Loc, Cut Chemist, Volume 10, Jyant, Ronda Ross, 2 Mex, Fat Jack,T-Love, Peace, Chali 2NA and F Stl, and perhaps most notably Eve, aka Ava Duvernay, a rapper-turned-filmmaker with a very bright future behind the camera.
An overdue tribute to a generation of gifted youngsters whose seminal contributions to popular culture deserve to be acknowledged, if only to validate the fact that L.A. rap’s roots are far more rich, diverse, sophisticated and uplifting than the materialistic and misogynistic messages that they’ve been reduced to by the music videos found in regular rotation on BET and MTV.
Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 97 minutes
Studio: Forward Movement Films
To see a trailer for This Is the Life, Click HERE.
by Kam Williams / [email protected]