Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Caged Heat: Rappers In Prison

Rhyme and Punishment isn't really a good documentary film. If somebody came up to me asking for a good documentary recommendation, I wouldn't show them this. But, if a hip-hop fan specifically was looking for a quick rap doc to watch, then I might point them in this direction.

Rhyme and Punishment is about rappers who've committed crimes and been sent to jail. Strictly speaking, it may just be about rappers who've been to jail; but while many said they were unfairly prosecuted or excessively sentenced, I don't think anyone said they were strictly innocent. So it winds up being about both. So it's a series of interviews where each rapper - including some big names, so the documentary doesn't come up short in that department - tell their stories of getting locked up.

It's directed by the guy who did the Beef documentaries, and it is very similar in style and presentation to those. Except, where each story of beef usually involved a group (or at least two) artists telling their stories; most of these are solo stories, which make the proceedings less fun and engaging. The piece on Prodigy near the beginning is a little richer than the others... they interview him on more than one occasion, and also interview his wife and 40 Glocc. But most of the rest are quick, single interviews - some just recorded over the phone from the inside, which tend to wind up being the most interesting - propped up by a lot of narration (by Krs-One). A LOT of narration. One entire segment, on the Prison Industrial Complex, consists of nothing but Krs explaining the film's theories on the concept. Not that what he's saying is stupid or anything... but no interviews, no figures or research or footage or experts... the narrator just talks us through the whole chapter, like a lecture except we don't even get to see Krs talking. That's not really the way to do a riveting documentary.

And a lot of the stories are frankly pretty similar. Spoiler alert: a lot of them broke parole, possessed guns they shouldn't've had, felt the judge was unfair, liked getting letters from the outside and hated the food. By the fifth guy making the same observations, it feels a bit redundant. So what winds up happening is whatever rappers you're a bigger fan of probably wind up feeling more interesting. But one or two do wind up being more interesting on their own terms, specifically Shorty and J-Dee of Da Lench Mob, one of whom apparently had a cheerful, fun time in prison, and the other who's mad at his crew for not holding him down (you'll have to watch the doc to find out who is which). And Big Lurch and his mom steal the show simply on virtue of how insane his story is - he ate his girlfriend's lungs while wacked out on PCP. Yeah, that's the bit that sticks with you long after seeing this film.

This isn't completist; in fact, some of the most famously imprisoned MCs aren't featured (Cool C & Steady B, X-Raided, Lifer's Group, etc; and Slick Rick's just here briefly in footage from some old interview seemingly taken from another source)... I suspect the filmmaker is thinking he'll get them in R&P 2, just like with the Beef films. But unlike Beef 2, I'm not sure I'm looking forward to a sequel to this. The stories just aren't as interesting. And in the Beefs, the stories of the battles are the glorious and historic stories of hip-hop art. Here, it's the crap they get into on their off time when they're not representing hip-hop. Like some celebrity gossip junk. So... I don't know. If you're a rap fan, it's worth a quick watch. But it's not worth adding the DVD to your collection or anything.


  1. you don't have a fu-king clue.

    1. I don't suppose you could be a little more specific...?

  2. Dang dude harsh word for someone doing his job...hes paid to give his opinion not do a book report lol

  3. It seems unpredictable that a rapper or a celebrity can also be so closely associated with crime. But it is not usual too since we have so many rappers in prison like Kanye West, Mitchell etc who have criminal records.