The history of hip-hop at the movies is not pretty.
While hip-hop culture has often been used effectively to push the narrative of a drama -- "Menace II Society," for example -- it has been less successful as the subject of a movie itself. "Wild Style," from the early '80s, was a standout, and now so is "Rhyme and Reason," a documentary from Peter Spirer, a 1994 Oscar nominee for his short subject, "Blood Ties: The Life and Work of Sally Mann."
Allowing two generations of hip-hop heavies -- from Kurtis Blow, Chuck D, KRS-One, Dr. Dre and Heavy D representing the old school, to the Fugees, Mack 10, Cypress Hill, and MC Eiht in the new -- to talk while dealing with such issues as violence, sexism and the West Coast/East Coast rap feud, "R&R" is a wide-ranging look at why hip-hop has become the voice of young urban America.
"R&R" works first and foremost as a history lesson, going back to the early days of rapping, graffiti art and breakdancing and chronicling how hip-hop became a multimillion dollar enterprise. The mood is low-key and instructive, using music as background instead of making it the center of attention like a concert video.
But, to many fans, this could be the film's fatal flaw. Instead of mirroring hip-hop's heady energy, "R&R" is at times detached. And others might criticize its lapses in history.
More important, though, "R&R" reflects an underlying sense of despair, and it courses through the film like a faultline.
In that sense, it is less of a musical and more of a tragedy.
'Rhyme & Reason'
Starring various rappers
Directed by Peter Spirer
Released by Miramax
Rated R (language)
Sun score: ***
Pub Date: 3/05/97