From Nick Broomfield giving us the Biggie & Tupac speculation piece of the defining era, to 40 Years of Hip Hop with KRS-One, documentaries have played a huge part in archiving, explaining and celebrating both the culture and music behind hip hop. We learnt the importance and endurance of friendship in ‘A Tribe Called Quest: Beats Rhymes and Life’, and the repercussions of self-sabotage in ‘Welcome to Deathrow parts 1 & 2’, but now, we take time to recall and rejoice the smaller, lesser known docs of the field. A run down we’re calling ‘The Best Overlooked Hip Hop documentaries’ here we sort through the Netflix noise and go deeper than the usual hero worship formats to provide you with the most important watches of the week.
J Dilla – Still Shining
With comedian Dave Chappelle dedicating his famed 2005 documentary ‘Dave Chappelle’s Block Party’ to the life and memory of J Dilla, here director Brian Atkins shines equal spotlight on Dilla himself. Pieced together after his early death at 32 from lupus, this short doc goes a long way in proving Dilla’s wealth of significance as being a large reason for the spiked interest in hip-hop production over the last 20 years. Having over 150 unreleased beats at the time of his death according to fellow Slum Village member T3, Dilla’s influence and impact upon both the genre and the culture did by no means end in 2006. ‘Yancey Boys’ the debut album by J Dilla’s younger brother John Yancey, was released in 2008 on Delicious Vinyl Records, and was produced entirely by Dilla himself. In 2009 Nature Sounds then released ‘Jay Stay Paid’ an album featuring 28 previously unreleased instrumental tracks made at various points throughout Dilla’s career. As true now as it was then, Dilla’s still shining – and like many in the game, his legacy only grows as the decades’ role on.
Bone Thugs N’Harmony – The Untold Story (Art Of War Tour)
Eazy-E signed Bone Thugs-N-Harmony to Ruthless Records in late 1993, whereby soon after they released their EP ‘Creepin on ah Come Up’ which included their breakout hit single “Thuggish Ruggish Bone”. Comprised of members Bizzy Bone, Wish Bone, Layzie Bone, Krayzie Bone and Flesh n Bone, Bone Thugs are the only group that have worked with 2Pac, Biggie, Eazy-E and Big Pun while they were all still alive. In this one-hour doc, we get introspective access to the tour of the groups third album ‘The Art of War’ released 1997. Making you say, Migos who? This doc gets inside a group who were largely before their time, and largely, sadly, overlooked today.
A perhaps more articulate but complicated look at hip hop construction, ‘Copyright Criminals’ is a 2009 documentary project directed and produced by Benjamin Franzen which examines the creative and commercial value of sampling, the undeniable backbone of this art form. The film includes the related debates over artistic expression, copyright law, and money, going on to feature many of hip-hop musics most celebrated figures—including Public Enemy, De La Soul, The Beastie Boys, and Digital Underground. A good extension of Mark Ronson’s 2014 Ted Talk ‘How Sampling Transformed Music’ Copyright Criminals will make you listen to hip hop in a different way to how you ever did before.
WHATS UP, FATLIP?
in 1999 the sensational Spike Jonze turned the lens more intimately and directly on Fatlip (Derrick Stewart) to capture a series of interviews filmed over a few days during the production of the music video for ‘What’s up, Fatlip?’ taken from the rappers debut album ‘The Loneliest Punk.’ The piece by Jonze deals with the aftermath of fame, as Fatlip comes to terms with leaving his former group ‘The Pharcyde’ who formed in 1989. It acutely documents the rappers struggle to return to the spotlight, and for all its charm and warmth, the film is entangled with sadness and desperation as dreams slip further away.
Bosses In The Booth – West Coast Hip Hop Documentary
Directed by Karl Gandy in 2003, Bosses In The Booth is a classic West Coast Hip-Hop documentary that focuses on artists from the Bay Area, such as 2Pac, E-40, Richie Rich and C-BO as well as key producers from the area, Mike Mosley, Rick Rock, Femi Ojetunde and Bosko. Allowing for the spinning transitions and lofi skater video aesthetic, Pac is shown in his element through raw footage as Gandy perfectly shows the process behind the product.